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Bears Mailbag: Danny Trevathan’s decline, Riley Ridley’s lack of usage and pinpointing the team’s offensive identity

The Chicago Bears are (2-0) for the first time since 2013 but we’ve got 15 weeks left in the season and plenty of questions to answer. One question for you guys: Are you ready to dive in? If so, let’s do it!

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks into the season and the Chicago Bears find themselves sharing something only 11 teams in the NFL have and that’s a (2-0) record with a chance to extend that on Sunday in Atlanta against the Falcons. While it hasn’t exactly been pretty or consistent, the team has rattled off two straight nail biters and will face their third winless team in a row this weekend.

Despite the surprising start, there’s still many questions for them to answer in the coming weeks. Which is exactly why we are here. We’ll dive into another packed edition of our weekly mailbag to try and provide answers to your burning questions.

That’s a great question and one that I’m sure the Bears are trying to answer for themselves as well. In Week 1, Danny Trevathan was consistently beat in coverage. That included two very bad plays on the final drive of the game, one of which could have resulted in a loss had the Lions not dropped the ball.

In Week 2, the 30-year-old found his snaps cut in half and still didn’t perform overly well. Not only was he taken off the field more than usual, but Roquan Smith is clearly the guy calling plays and the one they trust in passing downs. In place of the veteran, they used Deon Bush quite a bit, which paid off as he had the team’s only Week 2 interception.

Going into the off-season, the Bears had a tough choice to make. With Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis all set to be free agents, the Bears didn’t have the cap space to keep all three. They opted to keep the veteran and one of their primary leaders on defense, despite Kwiatkoski being younger and Pierre-Louis being substantially cheaper. After two weeks, it’s fair to question if they made the right decision.

As I noted last week, plenty of players have looked a step slower around the league, but not many are seeing the bench more because of it. That tells me that either Trevathan is not in the best football shape or they see something (maybe within the aging process) in which they are trying to limit the liability of keeping him out on the field.

Either way, when you look at his contract, he’s locked in for three full seasons due to the structure and will still cost the team a pretty penny in 2023, even after his contract expires because of how general manager Ryan Pace structured it. For the Bears sake, they better hope he’s simply out of shape and working into the groove. If not, this is going to be a three-year mistake that is just starting.

I would imagine that this question is going to start popping up more and more as we start to see the Raiders re-tool come into fruition and honestly, it’s a fair question.

I think the biggest thing to keep in mind with the Khalil Mack trade was that the Bears were sold they had a franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. No team makes the deal they did unless they fully believe in their quarterback situation. At the time, it’s not hard to see why the Bears felt that way, either. They had a brand new offensive minded head coach and had just spent a second overall pick (a year prior) on who they viewed as the best quarterback in the 2017 draft. This was coming off the heels of the John Fox era and also before we knew that Patrick Mahomes was the second coming.

So, at the time, the move made all the sense in the world. The Bears had who they viewed as their franchise quarterback, a brand new head coach and a roster that was coming out of rebuild mode after being stuck in that hell for four years. Remember, they finished (12-4) the year they dealt for Mack and one could argue they had a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl had Cody Parkey made the kick.

Now we look two years into the future and the cap is tight, the Bears are 2-0 but haven’t been overly impressive, and what once felt the start of a big window, now feels like one that is one strong gust of wind away from slamming shut.

All in all, I think the move was worth it. Look at some of the other deals that have been made for players of Mack’s caliber. Simply put, the Bears thought they were “there”. It turns out (at least as of now), they were not, but I don’t think we can look at the results in Year 3 without truly understanding where this team was when they actually made the deal.

As I talked about earlier Tuesday on Twitter, I actually think the team’s offense has been better than their points scored would show. One of the main reasons for that is how well they’ve moved the ball and how successful they’ve been early in downs. A big reason for that? Their commitment and success in the run game.

When looking at their percentages the first two weeks of the season, the Bears have thrown the ball just four more times (64 times passing to 60 times rushing) so far this year. When you consider how much they were down in Week 1, that’s a pretty impressive number.

When I look at their successful drives, I see a lot of good runs and a strong commitment to a balanced attack. I actually believe that’s a key to keeping quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as level as possible.

That leads me to believe that they are establishing themselves as a run first time. Now that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to run it (48%) of the time, but I do think that they’ll continue to allow the run to set up more ideal passing situations and for how this team is constructed, I think that’s the best approach moving forward.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

To put it simply, Riley Ridley has been a healthy scratch for the first two games of the season, much like he was the majority of last year. Many (including myself) believed that he would follow closely in Javon Wims’ foot steps in Year 2 of seeing a bigger role, but to this point he has not.

Could that change down the road? Absolutely, but as we’ve seen, the team continues to prefer Wims over Ridley on the active game day roster and also seems to prefer Wims over Anthony Miller on the field as well — at least when you look at snap counts from Week 2. Considering what the Bears had to work with in last year’s draft, Ridley not becoming at least a role player would be quite the swing and miss for Pace, even for a fourth round pick (see Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen as examples of how well he’s done in the fourth round).

Well, Ken. I wish I had a good answer for you.

When looking at Pace’s first few rounds in the draft, it has been pretty hit or miss. While I wouldn’t consider players like Leonard Floyd or Roquan Smith to be “busts,” I do think a lot of his other picks in the top two rounds speak for themselves in terms of how bad they were in hindsight.

Then you look into the fourth and fifth rounds and see some of the good value he has poached. Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen from the fourth round and names like Adrian Amos, Bilal Nichols and maybe even Darnell Mooney (though it’s still very early, obviously).

I do believe that moving forward, Pace will need to truly examine why he’s missed so much early in the draft and try and correct that. Especially since this is the first time in two years that the Bears are actually slated to have a first round pick in the upcoming April draft.

I do think Mooney has a high ceiling and I think the Bears’ coaching staff feels the same. Not only has Mooney went from being a fifth-round pick and somewhat of an afterthought in this year’s offense to now the number two receiver, but he’s quickly gaining everyone’s trust.

Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. was inactive on Sunday and Mooney played more snaps than all but Allen Robinson as well. That includes Anthony Miller. So that speaks to how the team feels about him just two games into the season.

Ultimately, I think that he’s still best as a team’s No. 2 option, which is exactly what he is in Chicago right now. The big thing with Mooney is his speed and that brings a whole new value to this offense that they were missing once the cut Taylor Gabriel earlier in the off-season.

At this point, I think that Mooney has a Emmanuel Sanders type look to him, but as we know, Sanders has been a very good player for a very long time. So I won’t make that comparison quite yet, but to me their games are very similar.

To the surprise of no one who follows me, I’ve actually been looking at quarterback scenarios for the Bears in both free agency and the draft heading into the 2021 off-season. While I do think Trubisky has been closer to his 2018 self, than the product we saw last year, to put it simply, he hasn’t been remotely consistent enough to warrant even the smallest thought of keeping him past this year. Obviously a lot can change over the next 14 weeks, but he’d have to prove a lot in that time for me to fully buy in to keeping him around any longer than this current season.

With that said, the Bears will be walking into an interesting situation next draft. As of right now, we know where this team sits in the standings. They are one of 11 undefeated teams, but clearly that won’t remain the case. I still lean toward this team being over the .500 mark when the year ends, possibly landing one of the final wild card spots. Let’s just assume they go 9-7 and either make the wild card round and lose in the first round or just miss out, that leaves them picking right around the early twenties. In that scenario, Trevor Lawrence is long gone. Justin Fields and Trey Lance are the next two names that will be intriguing in terms of first round prospects. I’d guess one goes Top 5 and the other floats around the first 10-to-12 picks.

That would leave the Bears in a somewhat similar situation to what the Houston Texans faced in 2017 when they dealt up for Deshaun Watson when they went from No. 25 to No. 12. That cost them their 25th overall pick and a 2018 first round pick as well. So that should give a decent idea of what it would require the Bears to give up in order to land the second or third drafted quarterback in this next class and that seems like the most likely scenario because no team with the first overall pick is going to deal into the 20’s without a Ricky Williams type draft trade scenario and even that may not be enough to justify the value given up.

Obviously if they have their guy, they should absolutely do it. They’ll also have Nick Foles under contract which should help not rush a rookie into the mix right away if that’s the route they go.

I guess that all depends on what you mean by “a long season.” I would assume that you’re thinking that the Bears won’t be very good and it will feel long because they won’t be a playoff contender and Bears fans will just be in for more misery. If that’s the case, I don’t believe that to be the case.

Ultimately, I think the Bears have too much talent and too favorable of a schedule in the early going (especially after a 2-0 start) to bury themselves too much before they get into November. As I said before the start of the season, I thought the team would at least be in the middle of a battle for the final wild card spot. To this point, I don’t see anything that has changed that for me.

I won’t sit here and say that their first two games have been “pretty” wins, but they are still (2-0) for the first time since 2013 and have quite a few winnable games in their immediate schedule. I think it’s also important to reflect back on 2018 and realize that not many of their wins were pretty throughout the entire year, but they simply won games. It’s also key to remember that many teams are going through a “break in” period right now, since there was no preseason and a shortened camp situation. I’d give it another few weeks before I predetermine any feelings for the Bears season as a whole.