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Bears Mailbag: Nickelback issues, tight end usage and getting the offense back on track

The Chicago Bears are (1-1) after a 20-17 win at Soldier Field. While the arrow seems to be pointing up from Week 1, there are still plenty of questions to be resolved. We’ll answers those and more in Week 3’s edition of the Windy City Gridiron Mailbag.

SPORTS-FBN-FANTASY-ADD-DROP-TB Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It’s amazing how different an entire team’s vibe can be from one week to the next, right? Last week, many fans were down after a blowout opening night loss. This week? Fans have come down off the high of celebrating their first win of the year and now have a new starting quarterback to look forward to.

On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Matt Nagy added a last minute press conference to the docket. It was there that he announced Justin Fields would be taking over the starting quarterback role while Andy Dalton heals from a bone bruise in his knee. It’s worth noting that Nagy did say the “plan” was for Dalton to remain the team’s starter once healthy, but all those really can be described as empty words for the time being.

With a (1-1) record, the Chicago Bears will head to Cleveland to take on the Browns in what has morphed into quite a big game for both teams. Even with the excitement, there are still plenty of questions to be answered. So we’ll do our best to answer them in Week 3’s edition of the Windy City Gridiron Mailbag.

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If there is one large concern on the defensive side of the ball, it is absolutely the nickel spot. In Week 1, Marqui Christian was cooked on more than one occasion and Duke Shelley was a healthy scratch. In Week 2, Shelley got the call to start and didn’t do much better. It’s very clear that teams will continue to exploit this weakness until the Bears figure it out. Where you’ll most see this spot exposed is over the middle of the field in late down situations. We saw it plenty on last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

In terms of options to fix the position, there’s not a whole lot. Internally, they could choose to call up sixth rounder Thomas Graham Jr. from the practice squad. They could also give someone like DeAndre Houston-Carson an extended look there, as he has already played similar roles in dime packages.

As far as outside options go, there aren’t a whole lot of choices either. There are veterans out on the market like Darqueze Dennard (who was placed on Injured Reserve and later released in the preseason), BW Webb or even former first round pick D.J. Hayden. Hayden was in for a tryout with the Bears last week and remains the strongest option of this group as an outside candidate. If they wanted to get “creative”, they could try and offer the Houston Texans a conditional late round pick for Jimmy Moreland.

At this point, there’s just not a lot out there. I also don’t think bringing back Buster Skrine is a realistic option. Expect a season-long battle at the position and one that they will likely have to put an emphasis on during the offseason.

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

That’s a question that many people have been wondering and I think a lot of it is in the overall game plan. In Week 1, the Bears clearly didn’t want to challenge the Los Angeles Rams vertically. Whether or not you agree with the plan (I know I didn’t), it made some sense and was a logical explanation for that game. Last week, they looked to challenge more down the field and didn’t connect a whole lot. I would expect that to continue over the next few weeks with a slate of defenses that aren’t overly impressive in the back end.

A lot of the speed element is within the play design(s). As the Bears choose to challenge more vertically, the more we should see guys like Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin come into play. It’s worth noting that Goodwin has been more involved than I would have thought for a No. 3 so far. I’d also factor in the quarterback situation here. Justin Fields is very accurate down the field. He’ll only get better the more comfortable he gets. The offensive line is another factor, but that can be schemed as well in terms of play calling and predictability.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune recently noted something that stuck out to me. Just because the Bears added fast players, doesn’t mean they’ve added established speed. When that added speed comes in the form of bottom of the depth chart players, how reliable is that speed? While I respect what Nagy is wanting to do, the quality of “speed” does need to be accounted for here as well. Ultimately, I think we’ll see this offense open up as the season goes on, but if they truly want to have a more vertical offense with more speed threats, they’ll need to do better than what they currently have for four or their six receivers. That can only come in time.

I think when a lot of people evaluate Nagy, they look at his offense’s production and not the segments of that offense. You bring up a good point with the design of the offense. A few days ago I pointed out that we know Nagy’s offense works. Many people questioned that, but here’s the thing — It’s Andy Reid’s offense with a few small verbiage changes and a different play caller.

That’s where one of the two big difference between Reid and Nagy come in.

  1. Nagy is calling plays, which he had minimal experience with in Kansas City.
  2. The Bears don’t have Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce.

I think Nagy lacks a lot of feel for in game situations. When plays are scripted, this offense seems to be at their best. When they are off script, things seem to go downhill. We’ve seen the same trend for four years now. Quarterback is another area that could help change the tide, but like you’ve pointed out, he lacks rhythm and hasn’t been great with adjustments. I’d say you’re dead on in your assessments. Again, I’m very curious to see how (or if) things will change now that Fields is starting for the foreseeable future.

Cincinnati Bengals v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Execution and rhythm are big reasons why the Bears offense continues to plod down the field and come away with minimal points. We’ve seen the same thing year in and year out with this offense. Despite multiple changes at quarterback and weeding through receivers.

I think we share similar feelings watching other teams operate their offenses. Even in the Lions vs Packers game on Monday night, the Lions looked more explosive with considerably less. They had a good pace in the first half and were making things happen. The fluidity of the Bears offense has been an issue for a while. I think that part of it is how complicated Nagy tends to make things. He also leaves his offense very little time for adjustments at the line of scrimmage when the huddle consistently breaks with under 15 seconds left on the play clock.

Both factors go hand in hand, but I think if they can ever get the execution part figured out, we’ll see a smoother working offense. Hopefully that’ll lead to more points.

I find it pretty interesting that despite the concerns at the tackle positions, their interior line has been the larger issue so far this year. I’d argue that none of James Daniels, Cody Whitehair or Sam Mustipher have played consistently well, at all.

The Bears have some things to get figured out there and my guess is that they take the patience route. They also have Alex Bars who has been their utility lineman. While I would not prefer to see him at center, he does give the team more options if they want to make a change on the interior. Right now, I think they’ll stick with what they have. I think it’s important to remember that injuries on the offense line happen often. We’ve already seen plenty of that.

I do think they’ll use the remaining 15 games to figure out whether or not Daniels or Mustipher are a part of their long-term plans. Daniels will be a free agent at year’s end and the former undrafted free agent could be replaced quite easily. I am with you, though. Mustipher’s strength at the point of attack is still a large issue for me and something that I don’t think he can magically fix. I don’t think he’s their long-term answer at center.

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

That was actually something Nagy was asked about on Monday. His response was quite simple saying they needed to get them more involved and that’s on him. Of course we all know that, but at least he has acknowledged it.

My bigger issue is that they chose to keep Jimmy Graham, despite the ability to save $7 million. So far, he has played less than (30%) of the team’s overall offensive snaps and that’s an issue. especially when you consider that they converted his base salary into a bonus and he’ll now count as close to $5 million in dead money in the 2022 offseason. When you make a conscious effort to keep a player like that, he has to be involved. If not, it’s an even poorer use of their limited cap resources.

Cole Kmet’s snap count has been there, but the production has been spotty. I’d expect for him to be used more, especially in the red zone. The reality is, they don’t have a lot of upside at the tight end position. At this point, I question whether or not they truly have the horses on the depth chart to make a sizable impact this year.

I do think they’ll be more involved as the season goes on, but a lot of that production will come from Kmet as an overall pass catcher and Graham in the red zone. Again, the change at quarterback could be beneficial here too. Fields loved to utilize his tight ends at Ohio State and for good reason.