I’m not sure there were many people that expected the Chicago Bears to pull off the upset on Sunday afternoon. The opening line against the defending Super Bowl Champions looked more like an over/under of the Bears projected point total on a weekly basis. But even so, I’m not sure anybody was expecting the Bears to be down 35-3 at the half and ultimately lose by 35 points.
Yet, that’s exactly where the Bears are, as they exit Week 7 and head into a winnable Week 8 matchup at Soldier Field. In many ways, this season has one of those “here we go again” type of feels to it. The Bears have proven they are good enough to beat any non-elite team, but they’ve also shown little-to-no progress in their overall approach to the season.
So, what now? In the short-term, the Bears have a pair of winnable games heading into their Week 10 bye. They’ll face a (2-4) San Francisco 49ers team in Chicago and head to Pittsburgh to take on an inconsistent Steelers team the following week. In the long-term, there are still many questions to be answered with 10 games remaining in the regular season.
1. Justin Fields had a bad game on Sunday. His first five starts have been a mixed bag with more bad than good, but to label the rookie a “bust” this early is just too reactionary for my taste.
If you spend enough time on Twitter during game day, you’ll see multiple national media members chime in on the Bears current offensive situation. Frankly, if you watch this team, it’s hard not to. Sunday’s game was no different, as many saw the offensive line issues and overall offensive scheme issues.
None of that is to magically wash away Fields’ struggles over the past few weeks, but it is to show that the Bears have arguably the worst offensive situation of any of these first round rookie quarterbacks.
Fields is getting no time in the pocket. His receivers have had an alarming amount of drops and the play calling has been abysmal (regardless of who is calling plays). You combine all of that together and it’s going to be hard for any rookie quarterback to succeed. Again, Fields has plenty to work on and he has looked bad more than he has looked good, but what were fans really expecting?
I think it’s worth noting that on Sunday’s broadcast, Tony Romo noted that he “sees it” with Fields and believes he’ll be a good NFL quarterback. Development takes time and it’s not linear. Situations are different and each quarterback is different. I’d continue to caution against any real panic or concern until we see what this team does in the offseason.
2. It continues to amaze me how unprepared this coaching staff looks under Matt Nagy in games against superior teams.
Rinse and repeat. That’s something Bears fans have become accustomed to watching this team over the past few decades and the Nagy era has been no different. Yes, his first season in which they went (12-4) was impressive. But since then? Nagy has been a .500 coach and has shown the same issues without any sort of adjustments.
Simply put, the Bears were overwhelmed from the opening snap. They went three and out, gave up a big punt return and then gave up a quick touchdown. Before most fans could even settle in for the game, they were down 14-0. How many times have we seen the Bears go into a game where they were the overwhelming underdogs and just get flat out dominated?
Yes, there’s a clear talent gap between the Bears and a Super Bowl winning team like the Buccaneers. Yet, when you look around the league and see a winless Detroit Lions team come out aggressive and take a 10-0 lead over a stacked Los Angeles Rams team and proceed to hang in the game until the end, you have to question the coaching staff.
Again, there’s still 10 games left in the season and we’ve seen how much a meaningless late-season run and a first round playoff exit can influence ownership, but at the same time, the McCaskey family would be blind not to see where this team is ultimately heading. This is true “football hell.” Mediocrity with no way out. That’s where no team wants to be, but it’s exactly where the Bears have sat since the 2019 season.
3. Make no mistake, this is yet another game that the McCaskey family will bank in the back of their minds when “judgement day” comes following Week 18.
Whether or not you want to blame Nagy for Mitchell Trubisky’s failures are up to you. What is undeniable is how poor of a “plan” the head coach has had in terms of developing his newest young quarterback. Anybody with eyes and enough time to watch the Bears this season can see there are some serious long-term concerns about this coaching staff’s approach developing any young quarterback.
Take all of that out of the equation though. Let’s just look at what Nagy has done as a head coach since his impressive Year 1.
2019- (8-8) with two loses to the Green Bay Packers and a blowout loss in Week 16 to the Kansas City Chiefs on national television. Couple that with the disappointment of a team that was expected to become a true Super Bowl contender and an offense that went in the wrong direction.
2020- (8-8) with a first round playoff exit. They also lost two blowout games to the Packers, a six-game losing streak and three blowout loses in total. Coupled with a yet another step back offensively.
2021- (3-4 so far) with no real positive developments to speak of. They’ve been blown out three times and despite a pair of wins against (5-2) teams, it’s clear that this team is not anywhere near a Super Bowl contender.
Despite their record, their outlook has continued to get worse. Their offense continues to go backwards and they have hemorrhaged talent since the 2018 season. They now have one of the oldest roster in the league and again, they currently sit in “football hell”. Even the most “understanding” of people can see that a change is the only step left to take. Now we’ll have to wait and see if that includes both the head coach and general manager or if Ryan Pace will get a third head coach and his eighth season with the team.
4. Speaking of things to bank in your mind for later in the season, some of Nagy’s postgame comments on Sunday are worth monitoring in the coming weeks.
Following their 35-point loss, Nagy had a few quotes that many found strange.
“I will say the last couple days with our team, we’ve become really close. For us to become as close as we have the last 24-48 hours, I just trust and believe in them.” Nagy followed that up with saying that the Bears need to make sure they don’t turn one loss into three or four loses.
To me, that sounds like a head coach that is worried about losing grip on the season and ultimately, losing hold on his job.
Outside of the team’s six-game losing streak last year, this has never been a team (under Nagy) that has had many extended losing streaks. That’s why these I found some of his postgame words interesting.
Can Nagy feel the season slipping away? While it seems realistic to believe so, it’s worth noting that they are only a half a game out of the final wild card spot with a lot of conference games ahead in the coming months.
5. The team’s COVID “outbreak” has reached questionable levels and one has to wonder if it somehow gets worse in the coming week or two.
Here’s what we know- The Bears have had six players and one coach miss time with positive COVID tests over the past two weeks. Nagy announced on Monday that he has tested positive, although it’s unclear how much (if any) time he’ll miss because he is vaccinated. Running back Damien Williams and wide receivers coach Mike Furrey were the first two and Robert Quinn, Jimmy Graham, Caleb Johnson and Elijah Wilkinson have followed in the past week. We also know that Graham, Furrey and Quinn were all vaccinated. Williams was not and Wilkinson has been pretty vocal about not being vaccinated as well. There’s been little info on Johnson’s vaccine status.
Take the personal views out of it and just look at this from a football standpoint. On a team that absolutely cannot afford to be missing players, the Bears have hurt themselves with availability, on top of their injuries over the past few weeks. They have also had the most positive COVID test out of any team in the league. That is not something you want to be leading the league in. Especially when you have coaches missing time.
Either way, the Bears have to hope they can get this under control and get it under control in a hurry. Although, it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight.
6. It will be very interesting to see how the offensive line shapes up over the next few weeks with eyes into 2022.
Starting right tackle Germain Ifedi remains on Injured Reserve with a knee injury. Wilkinson remains on the COVID list and both 2021 draft picks are also dealing with their own injuries.
My guess is that we see Larry Borom come back over the next week or two, but he missed time in both training camp/preseason and has missed all but one game of the regular season. It’ll likely take some time for him to get back into the swing of things. Even then, Borom would likely have to slide over to right tackle, barring injury to veteran Jason Peters.
The biggest X-factor is second round pick Teven Jenkins. Let’s just say Peters stays healthy and Borom comes back soon, where does Jenkins play if he’s able to come back after the Week 10 bye? Peters has arguably been their best offensive lineman, but he’s also 39-years-old, would they decide to start both rookies down the stretch (assuming both are healthy)?
The only other move they could make is to slide James Daniels or Cody Whitehair to center and move Jenkins or Borom to the interior. Either way, they’re going to have some decisions to make in the coming weeks. Not only with eyes in the present but to 2022 and beyond.
7. If there was one bright spot in Sunday’s game, it was sixth-round rookie running back Khalil Herbert and he has once again proved one key thing moving forward.
“When one door closes, another door opens.” That’s a quote that can be related to almost anything in life but especially in the NFL. Three weeks ago, David Montgomery went down with a knee injury. Reports are that he may not come back until after the bye week. Two weeks ago, Williams was placed on the COVID list. Since that point, Herbert has taken over as the team’s primary running back and has not looked back.
In his starting debut, the rookie rushed for 97 yards. He also had two catches for 15 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, he had 100 yards rushing and another 33 yards receiving. Without question, Herbert has been the team’s best and most reliable offensive weapon over the past two weeks. It’s also impressive to note that Herbert was the first 100-yard rusher the Bucs have given up since December of last year.
More importantly, Herbert is proving that unless your an elite running back, the position is somewhat of a dime a dozen. Because of that, it’s hard to justify paying anything less than an elite running back. Again, that’s not a knock on Montgomery, but the Bears will be two-deep over the next two-plus seasons and that’s a good thing for this Bears’ offense.
8. Speaking of bright spots, it may be time to give DeAndre Houston-Carson a longer look as a starting safety.
Deon Bush went on Injured Reserve last week and Tashaun Gipson has been hurt and bad when he’s played. Yet, Houston-Carson has stepped in and played well when called upon. Even going back to last year, he seems to always be in positions to make plays and it may be about time to think about giving him a team-friendly multi-year extension.
If it’s me, I’d give Houston-Carson a look as a starter for the remainder of the year and see if he can be a long-term starter alongside Eddie Jackson.
9. For as bad of a two game stretch as the Bears have had, don’t be surprised to see them “right the ship” heading into the bye week.
If there’s one thing we’ve seen from a Nagy-led team, they tend to rebound against lesser teams and find a way to make their record look better than the actual team’s performance. With games against the 49ers and Steelers, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears found a way to go into their bye week at (5-4) and firmly in the “mix” for a final Wild Card spot with 8 games left to go.
With that all being said, that shouldn’t change anybody’s mind on what needs to be done this offseason. Simply hanging around the .500 mark and getting blown out by good teams is not a recipe for success, nor is it showing progress or any real reason for optimism.
10. If you’re a fan that likes to look ahead, it might be about that time to start “scouting” potential head coach and general manager candidates.
I know a lot fans are wanting to see changes happen mid-season, but that has never been the Bears style. There’s also a portion of the fanbase who are in “see it to believe it” mode with them making any real changes after the season. That’s also fair because if there was ever a time to make a change, this last offseason should have been it.
Even so, it’s just hard not to see how things can continue on like this for the Bears moving forward. If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic or have something to look forward to, looking at potential head coach and general manager candidates is always a fun way to pass some time.
My personal favorites? Brian Daboll (Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator) and Ed Dodds (Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager). There are plenty of intriguing names on each list of potential candidates, though.