The Chicago Bears dropped a very tough game to the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday in London. After being completely dominated in the first half, the Bears roared back to take the lead in a wild third quarter, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in the final two minutes. The loss dropped them to 3-2 on the season. My weekly, post-game Twitter Thoughts Thread is below.
The Bears are now on their bye week and will welcome the New Orleans Saints to Soldier Field two Sundays from now. While Week 6 is considered an early bye, it probably comes at a good time for the Bears, who could use the time off to get healthier and figure things out on offense.
There are a few things gnawing at Bears’ fans minds right now — what’s up with the offensive line? Why does the running game suck? Is Matt Nagy or Mitch Trubisky to blame for the Bears’ offensive struggles?
I get into all of that below in my Bears Mailbag. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions; I always appreciate the participation! Follow me on Twitter @DhruvKoul to continue the conversation.
Unsurprisingly, a good portion of the questions I received this week concerned the Bears’ offensive line. This is a unit that has vastly under-performed this season — a bit in the passing game and significantly in the running game. And all of this has happened under the tutelage of legendary offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
The funny thing is, all five offensive linemen from 2018 returned this year. In the offseason, James Daniels and Cody Whitehair switched positions to go back to their “natural” spots — Daniels moved to C and Whitehair to LG. That hasn’t brought good enough results so far. Kyle Long has been a total liability at RG, being consistently overpowered at the point of attack and, in some cases, missing blocks entirely. Charles Leno Jr. had a strong 2018 but has struggled mightily with penalties in 2019. He’s been flagged eight times in five games this year. He was flagged six times all of last season. Remarkable.
So, what can be done? One of the most logical options was to switch Daniels and Whitehair back to the positions where they both enjoyed success a year ago. But Matt Nagy rejected that idea after the loss to the Raiders. So for the time being, they will remain the C and LG, respectively.
The next idea is to bench Kyle Long. This comes at a bit of an emotional price — Long has been the face of the Bears for years, going back multiple coaching eras. He’s been the rock of the organization through very dark days and has been one of the biggest and most vocal leaders as the Bears have built a contender. But he just hasn’t been effective enough to warrant a spot on the starting unit anymore.
Ted Larsen played well in relief of Long when he missed the Minnesota game, and when Larsen went down with injury in the same game, Rashaad Coward stepped up and played well. Larsen is still injured, so if Long hits the bench, Coward is the most logical option to replace him at the moment.
The tackles will remain the same. Bobby Massie has played quite well, and the Bears don’t have a better option than Charles Leno Jr. at LT — he just has to play better. After the loss to Oakland, he said he’d use the bye week as an opportunity to “search” for ways to improve — let’s see what he comes up with.
Alex Bars is a very promising prospect and I would absolutely expect him to join the team sooner rather than later. Whether he plays right away or becomes the “next man up” in case of another injury remains to be seen. The good thing is Bars should have a bit of positional versatility.
The other thing to keep in mind is that too much change on the offensive line at once isn’t good, either. It’s a unit that’s meant to play bigger than the sum of its individual parts. It takes time for linemen to establish that level of rapport. So my guess is Nagy is looking for the most effective way to improve the line without introducing too many changes. In my opinion, that means that Long will be benched.
You can bet the Bears will use the draft to come up with offensive line depth moving forward. It may be prudent for them to invest early-round resources there. It all starts up front, as the Bears learned the hard way against Oakland.
It’s simple — the offensive line just has to do its job a hell of a lot better than it has. They’ve been absolutely dismal at run blocking dating back to 2018. The Bears traded Jordan Howard to Philadelphia and then traded up to secure David Montgomery, in part, because they believed Montgomery would adapt to the run blocking better. That hasn’t happened, because the run blocking has been that bad.
To his credit, Montgomery has turned countless, sure losses into (albeit minimal) gains by running exceptionally hard. He’s displaying good vision and he’s doing a great job avoiding getting tackled in the backfield every play, even though it’s warranted! On tape, you’ll see countless occasions of the Bears’ offensive linemen getting overpowered in the running game, missing blocks, running into each other, etc. It’s been pathetic.
There’s no single correct answer for this question. Ryan Pace has done a great job putting together a talented roster. The QB is the biggest question mark right now, sure, but the skill position talent is there. The offensive line, on paper, was there — they’re returning all the guys from last year who played rather well and are getting another year under Harry Hiestand. On paper, the offense is fine.
Nagy isn’t perfect by any means, but he is a creative play designer and an overall strong play caller. He and Mitch Trubisky talked about installing the ‘202’ offense this year; but through five games, it seems that was way too much material to implement early on. Nagy has tendencies that can be annoying — falling in love with gadget players and continuing to send Tarik Cohen on inside runs. But overall, he’s been creative, he’s scheming guys open all over the field, and putting his players in position to make plays.
The offensive line bears a big amount of blame in the failures so far — the running game has been nonexistent, thanks to dismal run blocking. And so even when the Bears run the ball for the sake of ‘balance’, it isn’t anywhere near effective enough to matter. And the pass protection has been generally OK, but penalties galore have KILLED momentum time and again throughout these first five games. That has to improve drastically if this team has any hope of competing on offense.
Unfortunately, the guy getting the football to his skill players, Trubisky, has looked lost, overwhelmed, and uncomfortable for large stretches in running the offense. His trajectory was trending relatively upwards before he got injured against Minnesota, but he hasn’t made enough tangible, consistent progress from last year to feel comfortable that the Bears have the right guy moving forward at QB. In fact, Trubisky’s play has cast more doubt so far than not.
The Bears have 11 difficult games left this season — they need to show that they can put together a competent offense to support a strong defense. The offensive line has to improve, and so does the quarterback. Without good execution, Nagy’s scheme and creativity only mean so much.
This is a complicated answer. Matt Nagy brought over his West Coast scheme from Kansas City and it’s clear that, for the most part, he’s tried to get Trubisky to perform well in the pocket. Success has been fleeting.
Trubisky has certainly proven he is a rhythmic passer and does well on the move. The Bears haven’t sent Trubisky out of the pocket much so far, probably because teams are scheming to keep him contained. They know that’s his strength, so they’re taking it away. And play-action concepts aren’t going to work well because the running game just isn’t well established. So the things Trubisky does well, the Bears aren’t able to run convincingly enough to be effective.
If the other aspects of the offense improve where the Bears can get Trubisky into positions of strength, you can bet Nagy will do that. But there are dependencies that go outside of both Nagy and Trubisky. In the meantime, Trubisky must improve his field vision and ability to throw accurately in the pocket. If he doesn’t, he’ll never realize his potential.
It’s difficult to explore mid-season additions, especially at QB, because teams just aren’t making good ones available. One name to perhaps keep an eye on (despite crazy salary cap ramifications) is Nick Foles. With Gardner Minshew becoming a Jacksonville sensation, they may be eager to make Foles available and rid themselves of his massive contract. I don’t think this kind of deal would ever work financially for the Bears, but scheme-wise, it’d make a ton of sense. I wanted the Bears to explore trading for Josh Rosen as well, but Miami just committed to him starting the rest of this season, so that’s out the window.
In the offseason, however, I could see the Bears bring in plenty of competition. If Tennessee lets him go, I’d love to see the Bears make a play for Marcus Mariota. He’s done a solid job individually with the Titans despite inept coaching and support from his ‘playmakers’. He was Ryan Pace’s first QB crush; Pace reportedly wanted to trade up for him in the 2015 draft, but didn’t have the draft capital to do so. Reuniting Mariota with Mark Helfrich in Chicago, under Nagy’s scheme, and this set of weapons? That’d be fantastic.
In the draft, keep an eye on guys like Joe Burrow and Jake Fromm. It’s not clear if they will be available by the time the Bears draft, but those are two options that would fit well in this offense.