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Bears Mailbag: Troubles on offense, time to draft a QB, Cole Kmet concerns?

The Chicago Bears are on a short week before Thursday night’s game, while currently sitting at (3-1). How concerned should we be with this offense? All that and more in this week’s mailbag.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Chicago Bears starting off (3-1), there seems to be concerns that this is a team heading down a similar path to last year and rightfully so. The offense has failed to get on track despite a quarterback change and there’s been other troubling signs, as well. Even so, the Bears currently sit in a playoff spot just four games through the season and have a chance to right the ship on Thursday night against a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.

The question still remains — Can the Bears fix this offense or is it a lost cause again in 2020? You’ve got questions and as always, we’ve got answers. So let’s dive into another packed edition of this week’s mailbag.

The Bears are just one game removed from shaking up their starting quarterback situation and to put it lightly, it did not go well in Nick Foles’ first start. Despite finishing with somewhat average numbers, the team failed to score a touchdown until the final two minutes of last Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, they have a good defense, but no, there’s zero excuse for that poor of an offensive performance.

As you’ve pointed out, the Bears have made sweeping changes all along the offense. Whether it was the coaching staff, tight end room or even new starting quarterback, this offense still stinks.

As most know, it’s always important not to overreact to a single game. With that being said, the concerns of head coach Matt Nagy as a play caller are valid because it’s not just a one-game reaction. Nagy has failed to properly and consistently adjust through his time as the Bears’ play caller. 2018 was a transitional year and for the most part, I’d argue he did a pretty fine job in that department. 2019 and so far in 2020, it has been a different story though.

Focusing on common trends with Nagy, one thing that truly bothers me is how he continues to handle the run game. From a personnel standpoint, we were all told Jordan Howard wasn’t a fit. Yet in a similar offensive scheme, he did well last year in Philadelphia. Mike Davis was signed last year and released mid-season and is now finding success in Carolina with the Panthers after Christian McCaffrey went down. Despite switching up the coaching staff in that regard, Nagy continues to fall back into the trap of running far too much inside zone for my liking.

From a passing standpoint, the play calling has also been conservative and not many down the field shots are being taken. Obviously, most play callers need a good quarterback, but as we’ve seen with other teams, good coaches can get around that to a certain extent.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Nagy’s offensive play calling just yet, but I do believe we are getting close to understanding who he truly is in that regard and that it may be time for a different approach. A better quarterback would obviously help, but I do think there are core issues that can only really come back to the person calling the plays. I also believe that it’s important to differentiate the difference between Nagy the head coach (who I really like) and Nagy the offensive play caller (who I have a lot of issues with). I think many are likely in this boat and the time of “judgement” is quickly approaching.

Much like my answer above, I think we have all noticed quite the 180 in offensive philosophy from Week 1 to where the team currently stands. Despite their lack of overall production until the fourth quarter in Week 1, I think most fans would agree that there appeared to be some core differences within the offense. Much more outside zone in the run game, less shotgun, more tight ends on the field, etc.

Some of that is going to change with a different and less mobile quarterback, but because of this things have become much more predictable for defenses to diagnose. In terms of strictly shotgun, I think more shotgun was expected when Foles took over because that’s where he’s best at. Even so, Nagy has to do a better job of mixing things up because if fans can watch a game on television and know what the Bears are about to run, opposing teams also know what the Bears are about to run.

Nagy talked a lot about self-reflection this past off-season. I hope that he and this offensive staff are currently doing that in regards to this offense as a whole, because things appear to be slowly morphing back into 2019’s struggles.

In today’s NFL, that’s just not a very realistic possibility. Ultimately, I think it’s going to take an injury for the team’s quarterback situation to change again this year, regardless of what Foles does in terms of production.

When a team benches their No. 2 overall pick, especially one that lacks confidence, that is a signal that they are completely done. For as many fun jokes as people make about the team’s commitment to Tyler Bray, he’s someone who has been in the league for years and has never got a chance to start. There’s a reason for that.

I also just generally believe that there’s minimal benefit to switching out quarterbacks so often at the NFL level. Especially in game. At this point, I’m sure everyone in the building agrees that their long-term starting quarterback isn’t currently on the roster. It’ll just be a matter of getting through 2020 to start working on the bigger questions of the future, but the solution listed above is not likely to be it.

NCAA Football: FCS Championship Game-North Dakota State vs James Madison Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Lance is going to be a player that many will tie to the Bears and for good reason. It was reported over the weekend that the Bears were one of many teams at that game scouting Lance. The team also has a clear need for a long-term starter at the position.

The biggest question comes down to where the Bears are going to pick. Do they finish with nine or 10 wins? If so, they’ll have to pull off a Deshaun Watson type trade up to get the second or third best quarterback in the 2021 draft. I’d argue that Lance is likely going to be the third quarterback taken after Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields.

My overall impression of Lance is that he has a load of talent but needs a lot of development. He’s the type of quarterback that ultimately has one year (and a game) of starting experience against lesser competition. He has all of the tools, but as you pointed out, accuracy and ball placement aren’t exactly consistent aspects of his game. We’ve seen players with his profile succeed (Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson come to mind), but he’s not nearly as refined in terms of experience as either one of those players.

In terms of overall risk, I’d say it’s somewhat high (even higher than drafting a quarterback as a whole). It would come down to trusting the Bears to properly develop him. My initial impression of Lance is simple, he could be a top-end quarterback, but needs to sit on the bench for at least a year before he starts in an NFL game. Can the Bears be that patient? Will they be? Those are my bigger concerns for a player like Lance with his profile when looking at potential fits for this team.

As we’ve seen in the past, if teams want to draft a quarterback, they’ll find a way to do it regardless of draft positioning. Almost every year, we see teams trade up for “their guy”. The Bears have also shown a propensity to do exactly that.

Obviously, we’ll need to see where this team finishes in 2020, but I don’t think their draft positioning is going to preclude them from finding a way to get to one of “their guys” at quarterback if that is the direction that general manager Ryan Pace wants to go into.

My guess is that they’ll draft one this year. I think that’s more likely than dealing for someone like Gardner Minshew II, etc.

I absolutely do. I believe this team needs to split their next two games against the Bucs and Panthers, which will get them to (4-2). Since 1990, teams that get off to that type of start have a (69%) chance of making the playoffs. That would also leave them with a combination of the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars for five of their last 10 games. Those teams have combined for a total of (3-13) so far.

At some point the Bears will need to beat some good teams, but that can come over time and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so. I think it’s also worth mentioning that each conference will have an extra wild card team that will make the playoffs starting this year as a part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Which obviously also helps them get in at nine or 10 wins.

There’s a good chance that these next two weeks will go a long way in telling us who this team actually is.

Barring some unforeseen collapse (a four or five win finish), I fully expect both Pace and Nagy back for 2021. I came into the year believing that despite other reports, neither guy was particularly on the hot seat heading into this season. I continue to believe that.

Ownership loves Pace and let’s just assume that the Bears finish around .500 again, that would still give Nagy an overall record over the .500 mark just three years in with bad quarterback play. Maybe Pace forces Nagy to give up play calling? I’m not sure and that will depend on these next 12 games but again, I think both guys are generally safe heading into the near future.

Barring an injury to either Charles Leno Jr. or Bobby Massie, I don’t see that as much of a possibility. Now, I’ll agree that neither tackle position has played overly well, especially Leno, but they have good money invested in both players. Not to mention, Alex Bars has never really seen action in an NFL game, so handing over the reigns to an undrafted rookie in Year 2 at a new position isn’t likely to happen.

With that being said, the offensive tackle position is one that the Bears need to start paying more attention to. Granted there have been issues on this line as a whole, but for the monetary investments that they have made at both spots, they haven’t exactly received a great return on their investment since 2018. Between the need at quarterback and at least one of the tackle positions, Pace has his work cut out for him this upcoming off-season. I don’t think we see an in-season move, though.

I may be in the minority here, but I tend to believe his “learning a new offense” has been a bit overblown. I mean, one of the main reasons they traded away a fourth-round pick and guaranteed him over $20 million was because of his familiarity within this offense.

Are there smaller details he needs to master? Sure, but in terms of his broad view of this offense? That shouldn’t be a factor right now and if it is, there’s bigger issues with this acquisition than I had originally thought. Simply put, Foles just needs to play better. The receivers need to make plays and the coaching needs to put this offense in better positions to be successful.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Training Camp Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This is exactly why I always caution fans when they get overly excited about reports coming out of training camp. To be blunt, training camp is practice and while things are always fun when positive developments happen in those environments, it’s still just practice. Which is why those reports always need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Here’s the reality- Jimmy Graham is a veteran that is on the tail end of his career. Demetrius Harris is a good third tight end and brings value in that aspect.

Cole Kmet is a high round rookie that (in my opinion) was drafted higher than he should have been due to a weak overall tight end class. Even so, rookie tight ends rarely produce at a high level in Year 1. Obviously you’d like to see him on the field more and on Monday, Nagy said that as well, but the reality is, Kmet was never going to produce much as a rookie, anyways.

The bigger focus will be watching his development as the year progresses and hoping that he turns more into a threat beyond this year. While I personally have doubts, he just turned 21-years-old and wasn’t some three or four year starter in college. It’s going to take time, but they really do like him.

As a general rule of thumb, most positional groups don’t see a night and day difference in one off-season. It’ll take time, assuming Pace has finally evaluated this group properly.