The Chicago Bears enter their bye week at a much needed time this weekend. Following the team’s loss to the Oakland Raiders in London last Sunday, the offense has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness. Head coach Matt Nagy was hired for his offensive innovation but has lost his way in year two, especially when it has come to utilizing his offensive playmakers.
Last season, although the offense wasn’t one of the league’s best, it still was effective enough to put points on the board and move the ball. Nagy’s offense relied on getting the tight end and running back positions involved in the passing game. Tight end Trey Burton was brought in to stretch the field vertically to clear room for the running backs who ran passing routes underneath. Running back Tarik Cohen made several big plays coming out of the backfield. The plays Nagy called last season, have been rarely seen so far this season.
In 2018, Burton caught six touchdown passes with three being 12 yards or longer. The three came on vertical routes while two others came on shovel passes behind the line of scrimmage, Burton hasn’t been targeted or seen running these routes so far this season. In the Raiders game last week, his longest reception was for 11 yards coming on an underneath crossing pattern. When Nagy was an offensive coordinator in Kansas City in 2017, tight end Travis Kelce was consistently running vertical routes. Burton ran similar routes with success last season but has not done so far this season.
For Nagy’s offense to work at its best, the running backs need to be involved in the passing game consistently. So far in 2019 that is not taking place as Chicago’s three running backs have combined for 34 receptions for 217 yards. Cohen and Jordan Howard had 31 receptions and through five games for 337 yards in 2018. Chicago was utilizing wheels routes and short passes over the middle to get their running backs involved in 2018. Cohen has yet to be targeted this season over the middle or on a wheel route.
When the Bears drafted rookie running back David Montgomery earlier this year, many believed he would be used similarly to how Kareem Hunt was in Kansas City. Montgomery has just one deep route reception this season of 27 yards coming in the season opener. In his lone preseason game, Chicago’s rookie running back was involved in a screen pass that went for 23 yards. Neither a screen pass or a deep wheel route has been called for Montgomery through the first five games.
When Nagy was calling plays with the Chiefs for the final five games of the 2017 season, their offense averaged 27 points per game. The offense was successful because they were consistently utilizing deep passing routes. Hunt and Kelce’s ability to work in tandem freed up Kansas City’s wide receivers to get open down the field. In Chicago’s five games this season, the offense has averaged just 20 points and has just one pass play to a tight end or running back longer than 25 yards.
For the Bears offense to find success coming out of the bye week, they need to get back to what was successful last season. There are too many playmakers on offense for the team not to be able to move the ball consistently. It is up to Nagy to go back and see what worked for him the previous two seasons as a play-caller and implement it for the remainder of the 2019 season.