To say the Bears have enjoyed a rough start to the 2019 season would be an understatement. Their situation could be worse. They could be winless and staring a wasted campaign in its eyes before having a chance to take a breath. But it’s not as if significant concerns don’t remain.
While Chicago’s defense and special teams groups are firing on all cylinders thanks to the efforts of Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller, Eddy Pineiro, and Chris Tabor, an abhorrent offense continues to leave a lot to be desired. Mitchell Trubisky looks as if he’s regressed to a rookie level of play, Matt Nagy seems to have no legitimate answers to the glaring problem, and the rest of the Bears’ playmakers have suffered. The Bears can float on for a time where they lean on their defense and special teams, but if the offense doesn’t pick it up soon, their life preserver will deflate and run out of air.
Fortunately for the anxious souls in Lake Forest, the Bears have a favorable matchup against Washington this coming Monday night. If there were a moment for a lackluster offense to get a second wind, it would be against the NFL’s current third-worst pass defense. If there were a stage where the Bears could collectively build on a positive mental psyche, it would be against one of the worst teams in the league.
Here’s where Nagy, Trubisky, and company have to direct their energy toward in the District of Columbia.
- Don’t let the underdog hang around.
The Bears have a better defense than Washington. They have more talent offensively, and are more disciplined than Jay Gruden’s bumbling group of players masquerading as a professional football team. Dan Snyder: running a tight ship since 1999.
The Bears possess a better team than Washington ... on paper.
All these facts don’t mean the Bears aren’t vulnerable to the foibles of human complacency. While the NFL has become rote and uncompetitive in many avenues—take Thursday Night Football or the Patriots winning a junior varsity conference every season, for instance—inferior opponents can still pull off upsets and catch their competitors off guard if they aren’t careful. If the Bears let Washington hang around Monday night, they’ll be at risk of suffering a defeat they can’t afford this early on. A sliver of hope is all an underdog needs to believe everything will work out in the end. Hell, it’s the basis for Case Keenum’s entire career.
Washington jumped out to a 20-7 halftime lead over the rival Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 before the Eagles mounted a spirited comeback. Last week, the Cowboys, perhaps the NFC’s current premier team, took a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter and never looked back. As their offense stands on the weakest of legs, the Bears are not actively built to come back in the fashion the Eagles did. They have to follow Dallas’s steady lead and cruise out a smooth victory.
A fast start is paramount for the Bears to step above .500 for the first time in 2019.
2. Faith and rhythm, they go hand in hand
There’s already an abundance of panic over the merits of Trubisky as a championship-caliber passer. That’s what happens when you’re 32nd in many relevant quarterback metrics (touchdown passes, yards per attempt, yards per completion). But at least there’s a degree of excuses for Trubisky’s putrid start to his third NFL season: the Packers’ defense might be special, and Denver’s altitude combined with Vic Fangio channelling any Chicago secrets he remembers is a lot to overcome.
If Trubisky can’t light up a porous Washington defense, the only reasonable justification will be that he suffered some sort of unfortunate injury taking him out of most of the night’s proceedings. Anything less than a competent, manageable effort to the tune of 240-plus yards and a couple of scores, and trepidation over Trubisky’s standing will go from DEFCON 1 to a number off the scale. It’s a measurement of chaos the Bears aren’t prepared for.
The only way Trubisky takes any step forward is if the Bears’ offensive staff snaps off the training wheels and begins to show faith in his natural ability. As flawed as he may be, getting their quarterback comfortable and optimizing his skill set should be the primary goal. Good coaches with a sound thought process make the most of what they have. Work in quick-hitting passes designed for the quarterback to find his groove. Implement explosive weapons such as Tarik Cohen more efficiently, or in Anthony Miller’s case, implement him altogether. Give Trubisky options to work with downfield aside from staring down Allen Robinson and checking into the flat. Using a similar game-plan from the first two weeks of the season is begging for familiar eye-scratching, agonizing results.
There’s a clear disconnect over what Trubisky is capable of and what Matt Nagy and his subordinates see in their prodigy. Washington’s walking turnstile of a defense has to help bridge that gap.
3. When a quarterback shows you who he is, believe him
There’s a reason Keenum is on his fifth team in five years. It’s rather simple. Stay with me as the truth sets you free: he isn’t good. He offers the illusion of stability and confidence, otherwise known as what many NFL coaches and executives value far more than tangible winning and success. He’s the picture of mediocrity under center, a walking scapegoat front offices can reliably point to when the rest of their poorly-scaled operation inevitably falls apart. This, predictably, is even after they initially insisted he was a quality “pro and leader.”
There aren’t many quality starting quarterbacks in the NFL. There are barely a handful of respectable understudies to count behind them. Keenum somehow manages to fit in that Purgatory of occasionally very rare proficiency and mind-numbing listlessness. He’s the ideal “bridge” quarterback, if you are naive enough to believe in such a racket.
Two games into the 2019 season and Keenum’s 111.2 passer rating is sixth in the NFL. He’s tied for fourth (with four others) with five touchdown passes. At first glance, Washington being 0-2 is not Keenum’s fault. This, at its core, is the essence of Keenum and most ineffectual, uninspiring quarterbacks. (See Cousins, Kirk for a more prominent example.) Keenum appears respectable to a certain extent, but can’t lift his team past a necessary line. He pads his stats when the games mean the least and can build a hollow resume out of his somewhat gaudy box scores. Washington can win with a quarterback such as Keenum, but only sometimes and mostly never. Some other poor sap of a general manager will readily be sold on Keenum’s services in 2020, if only because it will offer a chance at false offensive virtue to sell to a desperate fanbase seeking the faintest hope.
Suffice to say, the Bears’ great defense has to turn Keenum into the trademark pumpkin he really is lying beneath the surface. It was always going to be a stretch for Chicago to match their lofty turnover expectations of last season. If they’re to start matching that standard, they have to begin against a quarterback who will afford them every opportunity to humiliate him. If there isn’t serious consideration for hotshot rookie Dwayne Haskins to start the following week, then one-man scoring machine Eddie Jackson and friends have failed.
Robert knows Dan Snyder is too stubborn to seriously consider changing his franchise’s namesake. It’s understandable. He does have to maintain an over two-decade long standard of mediocrity that lacks any hint of self-awareness.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.