It's been gone over to a nauseating extent at this point, but at the midway point, the Bears sit at 3-5 for the third time in four seasons. There are reasons for hope, and places to adjust for the stretch run down the season.
This is where we yet again take stock of these not yet good, kind of actually fun to watch on some level, but also bad Bears.
For one, why is the offensive passing game so limited? Who to blame? Where does confidence play into Chicago's recent defensive success?
Here's this week's mailbag regarding those questions and more at the break.
Which is more to blame for the weak passing attack: Loggains, the wide receivers, or Trubisky? - Marquess de Sade
Is it a cop out to say all three are to blame? And is it okay to include John Fox? I'll do it anyway, because that's the correct answer. It's a combination of everyone.
Regarding Loggains, he's not helping Mitchell Trubisky enough with well crafted play design. There aren't enough "easy yards" to help a young passer get comfortable. The talent level of playmakers isn't there for Chicago, yes, but you still have to cater to your young quarterback's strengths. I'm not seeing enough run pass options. I'm not seeing any quick play design, bunch formations, or pick plays. The variation of plays and passing out of typical running formations, an aspect that throws defenses off with ease, isn't present either.
Instead, every drive, or at least seemingly every possession, it's "run, run, pass." If the Bears don't get positive yardage on that first down running play, you might as well chalk up the drive as dead, because there's no other worthwhile innovation. Unless Trubisky does something special on third and long while unreasonably asking him to be a savior in the face of incompetence, these drives go kaput.
There's nothing being done to stay ahead of the chains i.e. creating short down and distances to convert and keep defenses on their toes. It's one thing to limit your offense to protect a quarterback. It's another to deliberately handicap him while also placing him in a precarious spot in the process of that protection.
Move over to the playmakers or lack thereof, and there aren't enough guys getting open downfield consistently. A general review of All-22 sees Bears receivers bracketed far too often and creating no separation. Everyone from Kendall Wright to the "vaunted" Tanner Gentry has been a culprit. In turn, Trubisky feels less confident going in anyone's direction and has held the ball taking inopportune sacks or tried to force plays and create something out of nothing. Not an ideal mix.
Building off of Trubisky's issues in this inept attack, he often makes the proper reads, which is encouraging, but loses his cool and forgets his progressions in the face of rampant pressure and live bullets. WIth an already discombobulated game plan and a lack of talent, he's pressing and over compensating - not how you want the future of your franchise to proceed and develop. Throw in the fact that's he still an incredibly raw player in my mind, and the struggles on occasion are no surprise.
And finally, last but not least (okay, maybe least), this is essentially exactly what Fox wants out of his offense: minimal risk with no turnovers and strong running game that buoys a defense.
The only reason Mike Glennon was benched earlier this year was because he was turning the ball over too much. It certainly wasn't a look towards the future with Trubisky. It was placing a player the Bears believed would give the ball away less because he was more naturally talented, not because they wanted to open up the offense more. You'd be giving Fox and company too much credit banking on the latter.
It's not a coincidence that Fox was at the helm of the last three quarterbacks to win a game while completing four passes or less. This is what he does. This is what he wants. A conservative, holding the reins mindset. He's never developed a young quarterback and stay with me: he never will.
Can we win with Fox-ball? Do you think we can win with this style of football? Or do we need a more balanced game plan? And I’m not talking about getting the occasional win when our defense balls. Is it reasonable or unreasonable to think Fox-ball can be a model for sustained success? - RickSanchez
10 years ago, yes, Fox-ball could be seen as a reasonable model of success in the NFL. But even then, as passing offenses began to implement more spread concepts and attain better athletes at playmaking positions, it became a stretch.
In the present wide open NFL, if you're banking on your defense and running game being the primary mechanisms of victory and contention - because that's what should be the goal every season with reasonable talent - you'll have a rude awakening. Sitting on the ball with any lead late in the game rarely works without a degree of aggressiveness to close a team out. And outside of the blip championship seasons by teams such as the Buccaneers and Broncos in recent memory, you need a balanced offense and timely defensive play to win a championship, and to be a sustained contender. Bar none.
As currently constructed, perhaps Fox-ball is indeed Chicago's best ideal to have a chance to win every week. It's not going to get them very far, though.
Here's the rub.
This Bears team is good enough to win every single game down the stretch of the 2017 season. This defense is that good. Jordan Howard is that special as a runner. However they're still too flawed and limited offensively to actually accomplish said feat. A better description of the second half will be that that they'll be in every game with a chance to win, yet ultimately fall short on occasion in crunch time because of their offense - as they already unfortunately have against the Falcons, Vikings, and Saints.
Fox-ball is good enough to have a team compete. It's a good enough model to get a squad to .500, which is where these Bears will end up. It's not going to take anyone much further. The buck stops at a very concrete, final point.
What plausible reasons do the Bears have for not playing Kendall Wright at least 75 percent of offensive snaps? - C.Nelson42
The best answer to this is that the Bears have had no desire to hide their intentions of focusing on running the ball. Frustrating, I know. They believe Wright isn't a much of a factor as a blocker, but don't give him much opportunity to prove himself wholesale anyway.
With their limited talent at wideout and a focused plan on developing younger players such as Tre McBride and Gentry that has mostly gone awry with the exception of McBride's relative breakout in New Orleans, it's why Wright has been mostly phased out. It doesn't make sense. There's no logic to it. But then again, has much of what the Bears have done offensively this year made sense? That's a rhetorical question.
Needless to say, I suspect this changes very soon with the addition and integration of another actual competent NFL wide receiver in Dontrelle Inman. The bye week will allow Chicago to evaluate their passing situation and I bet your top three moving forward through the rest of the year will be Inman, Wright, and McBride. Nothing too flashy, but passable, have no fear.
How is it that our defense has begun to produce takeaways and score touchdowns at a rate we haven’t seen since 2012 as soon as Mitch takes the field? - MadFox
There are two facets of both sides of the ball that need to be understood.
Offensive football is all about rhythm and timing. It's about comfort for all 11 players as they keep a defense on their toes. It's more about preparation done beforehand. Once a game flow is established, an offensive machine is difficult to stop. Throw an offense out of rhythm and have their timing off, perhaps with a dynamite pass rush, and you can stymie anyone. It doesn't matter.
Defensive football is also to an extent about preparation and familiarity with a scheme, but more about chemistry, comfort, talent, and most importantly, confidence.
It was a pure coincidence that the Bears' defense started to dominate as soon as Trubisky took the field. Perhaps there was a small tidbit of inspiration from the future of the franchise taking center, but that's a discredit to the talent and ability clearly on display in Chicago.
After a grueling two and a half years, there's finally a good amount of natural ability and playmakers at every level of the Bears defense. Go on down the line with literally almost every starter in Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller, Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman, and of course, Eddie Jackson. Don't discount Prince Amukamara and Christian Jones' play either, as both have been solid.
That surprising secondary in particular has been what's boosted an at times dominant Bears front seven and pass rush. When you have the combination of the pass rushers Chicago possesses with a youthful, boisterous secondary that quite frankly, has been balling: takeaways begin to happen and happen in bunches. That's how it's been since the beginning of time and that's how defense will always work.
With the Bears finally possessing the roster to play the brand of defense Vic Fangio wants, and with the players being fully comfortable in his scheme, the defense has been free to play with a simultaneously reckless but also controlled abandon. When a defense is only reading and reacting, instead of thinking, physicality increases, and big plays occur.
The Broncos wisely fired John Fox despite a 12-4 record. How likely is it that the Bears fire John Fox if he leads the team to 8-8? - Ryan Wetnight
If Ryan Pace wants to protect his primary investment i.e. what will ultimately make or break the Bears as true championship contenders in the development of Trubisky into a star, then he has to let Fox go no matter how this team finishes.
Fox is not the head coach you want at the helm of developing a quarterback, because: 1. Again, he's never done it successfully (nor do I suspect that he wants to).
2. You see the current results of how Trubisky is hampered in his philosophies.
I talked about it earlier this week, but Fox has essentially done his job. He was the "bridge" coach that set the Bears up well on their launch-to-contention platform. The defense is playing at an elite level. The culture is changed. The hopeful franchise quarterback is in place. Now it's time for him to ride off into the sunset.
Fox will, or rather, should leave the franchise in an advantageous place for the next coach after this season concludes. That man will ideally be the modern leader who has the Bears eventually win a Super Bowl(s).
And on a deeper level: how on Earth could the Bears justifiably sell bringing back a coach like Fox merely because he's hovering around .500? Doesn't he at least have to make the playoffs? How could any competent franchise sell that mediocrity to a fan base optics-wise, again? Not exactly the message you want to send.
Overall, when it comes down to the pivotal moment in early January, I'm confident Pace makes the proper choice and brings in an offensive mind as head coach to help Trubisky grow into the stud quarterback he believes he drafted. Any notion of the way Fox handles himself at press conferences being an indicator of his job being safe, for example, is merely the veteran coach displaying his trademark lack of self-awareness and deliberate aloofness to keep fans as well as media on their toes.
It might not have been what he originally set out to do when hired in Chicago, but Fox did the Bears franchise good in setting the foundation. Sometimes that's how life goes. Now the firm and rising reins will be handed off for the bright window on the near horizon.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.