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10 Bears Takes: Nothing is going right, so what’s next for this struggling team?

The Chicago Bears are (0-2) after a 27-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon. When considering disastrous starts to the season, this would have been labeled close to a worst-case scenario. Is there any hope moving forward or is this yet another lost season?

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

After enduring a rough (3-14) season in 2022, the Chicago Bears and their fans are starting another disaster in the face following a 27-17 loss on the road to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An (0-2) start is never ideal, but the way the Bears have arrived at this point is far more concerning. With another road matchup ahead in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the prospect of an (0-3) start is very real and highly likely. Before we move forward to a likely slaughter in Week 3, we’ll try to put a bow on another disappointing game in Week 2.

1. You could have drawn up many “bad starts” to the season for the Bears, but it’s hard to imagine many had them looking nearly as bad as they have.

Most spectators that followed this team last year understood what the Bears were doing in 2022. It might have taken some fans a certain amount of time to come to terms with the direction of this team, but it was clear they were a team in transition, and wins were not at the top of their priority list. Not only was their final (3-14) record understandable, but in many ways, it was a best-case scenario when they landed No. 1 overall. They promptly traded the pick for a haul and chose to give quarterback Justin Fields one more year surrounded by better talent.

The time is now. Patience has been exercised, and the standard has been raised. Yet, through two weeks, the Bears have arguably looked worse to start 2023 than they did for the majority of last year. I don’t need to lay out how big of an issue that is. Sure, there are still 15 games remaining, but they’ve lost two games that many viewed as “winnable.” Things don’t get any easier in Week 3, but we’ll talk about that more later.

Between bad play, questionable coaching, and a growing list of injuries, this has been a disastrous start for a team that should be vastly improved over last year’s product. Add in a lack of development around this roster, and these early season concerns might lead to much bigger questions (and decisions) following Week 18. There are minimal excuses for this team not to be improved, and so far, we’re seeing this team trend in the wrong direction. It needs to get fixed and get fixed soon.

2. Like it or not, we are 15 games away from another massive shakeup at Halas Hall (including a new coaching staff and quarterback) if things don’t turn around in a hurry.

Losing 14 games in Year 1 of a rebuild is somewhat understandable. Sure, it’s never ideal to lose that many games, but considering the amount of talent they lost and the total cost of dead cap space they had in 2022, it can be written off as a part of the process.

Starting off the next season (0-2) while being severely outplayed and outcoached is something that will put ownership on notice. This is not to say that things can’t improve, and this team won’t get back on track. But this is something every fan should ask themselves. Which scenario is more likely?

  1. The Bears figure things out and find a way to win seven or more games (i.e., the 2022 Detroit Lions).
  2. This team continues to flounder with an inconsistent product, and they win five or fewer games.

The “it’s still early” excuse can only last so long. At some point soon, we need to see sustainable progress. That starts with an improved defense and a young quarterback confidently stacking good performances each week. Can it still happen? Absolutely. But as each poor offensive and defensive series stacks up on a game-to-game basis, the chances for a turnaround with this group seem less likely.

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

3. Three things can all be true: The quarterback, offensive line, and offensive coordinator must be a whole lot better.

Let’s start with Justin Fields. Calling the start of his third NFL a “disappointment” would properly describe how most Bears fans feel. Despite a nice start to Week 1, it feels like things have been primarily downhill since. Fields’ inability to confidently throw down the field is still a big issue as is his anticipation on those throws. We’re seeing him take too many sacks and hold the ball far too long. Simply put, he’s not playing with confidence, and in many ways, it’s starting to feel like Deja Vu all over again at the quarterback position.

The offensive line has played better than they’ll get credit for, but it’s still a far cry from an acceptable unit. They are currently losing battles in short-yardage and key pass-protecting situations. They’ve seen plenty of chaos on the interior, but their tackles haven’t played well either. Second-year left tackle Braxton Jones has committed six penalties in two games and gave up a sack on Sunday. Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright has shown flashes, but like most rookies, there’s a lot of bad in there, too. Considering the team’s top two decision-makers are former offensive linemen, they haven’t inspired a lot of confidence in their ability to build up the trenches through two off-seasons.

Finally, we reach the final issue with this offense: Luke Getsy. Don’t get me wrong, I think there have been times when his playcalling has been better than the result of the play. With that said, he has completely abandoned what worked well last year, and I don’t know why. He’s taken one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league and made him a pocket passer again. They are consistently behind the sticks, and as a whole, their entire operation has been clunky.

The reality is that if two of these three improved, we’d likely see a much better product. Even so, without a more confident quarterback that can get rid of the ball on time, the ceiling of this unit is limited. The onus is back on Getsy to get back to what worked last season. Move the pocket, call more designed runs, and emphasize the play-action game. It’s time to stop calling the offense like you don’t trust your quarterback. Just like it’s time for Fields to either make a big jump in Year 3 or get replaced next off-season. The time is now. Excuses have run dry. All three factors must figure things out quickly, or this team’s ability to win games will look similar to last year.

4. The Bears brought in a defensive-minded head coach for a young quarterback last off-season. So far, the quarterback hasn’t developed, and the defense continues to get worse. Why?

These are questions that must be asked in the coming weeks. General manager Ryan Poles supposedly OK’d the list of three head coaching finalists (that he had not interviewed yet) before taking the Bears job in January of 2022. Of those finalists, only Jim Caldwell was an offensive-minded candidate. The issue? The now 68-year-old had not coached full-time since the 2017 season in Detroit. Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator was the remaining finalist.

While I fully understand the concept of hiring the best candidate, regardless of specialty, it’s highly uncommon for teams with young quarterbacks to hire a non-offensive-minded candidate. The primary reason (outside of the obvious)? Most good offensive coordinators will land head coaching jobs and leave too soon.

Fortunately for the Bears, Getsy has not had much interest in the head coaching circuit. The bad news? It’s because this offense has not been good and continues to trend in the wrong direction. Not only has the offense struggled more than it has succeeded, but an argument can be made that Fields’ best development was during his rookie year.

What’s done is done at this point, and unfortunately for Fields, there isn’t likely to be another chance if he doesn’t take a large step in these final 15 games. Regardless, one has to wonder what the logic was from the start when they made this hire. I would also be curious to know whether or not Poles has enough confidence in this coaching staff to develop a rookie quarterback in 2024 if things continue to trend in this current direction. Now is not the time to give up on Fields, but a succession plan should be strongly considered while they allow these final 15 games to play out. In my opinion, if Fields isn’t the quarterback, Matt Eberflus should not be the head coach.

5. The defensive back depth is being tested, and despite Poles calling it one of their deepest positions on the roster, there has to be some concern in the short-term

Former second-round pick and starting nickel Kyler Gordon was placed on Injured Reserve prior to Sunday’s game with a broken hand. While he has to miss a minimum of four games, my guess would be that the number might end up being closer to five or six.

Both starting safeties exited Sunday’s game with various ailments. Jaquan Brisker was questionable to return with an “illness” but did play the final quarter or so. My guess is that his illness was heat-related. The bigger concern is veteran Eddie Jackson, who left in the first quarter with what they called an ankle injury. It was a non-contact play, and he was quickly ruled out after going back to the locker room. Considering his injury history with his lower legs, there should be some cause for concern. This coaching staff has spoken highly of second-year safety Elijah Hicks, but his play on the field has not matched their optimism. It showed up again on Sunday when he whiffed on a tackle of Mike Evans, which led to a big gain.

Outside of drafting a struggling Tyrique Stevenson in the second round of this year’s draft, the Bears did very little to address any depth concerns or developmental pieces, especially at safety. Depending on the severity of Jackson’s ankle injury, they might need to dip into the free agent pool. The talent pool is shallow, but veterans like P.J. Williams or Logan Ryan could make sense.

6. Kicker Cairo Santos said he put an emphasis on leg strength during the off-season. So far, it appears to be paying off.

Earlier in the preseason, the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs reported that Santos was draining field goals from the deep 50s. At first, I wrote it off as nothing, but after watching the veteran kicker over the past two weeks, I’m a believer. Not only has he consistently booted the ball out of the end zone— Which I never saw him do before this season— He drained a 52-yard field goal on Sunday with relative ease and plenty of distance.

For as much negative as we’ve seen through the first two weeks of the season, Santos continues to be a very pleasant surprise. Especially when considering how bad he was in his first stint with the team. He’ll be a free agent at the end of this season. At this point, the Bears should be trying to work a deal with him well before he hits free agency.

On a side note, second-year punter Trenton Gill had a rough game today. I’m going to write it off as a product of a bad day overall by this team, but it’s something worth monitoring moving forward. Especially with how much this offense has struggled, the punting game will be big when it comes to field position.

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

7. Staying on the “positives,” my game ball this week goes to another running back, Khalil Herbert.

Again, the first two weeks of the season have been rough. The team hasn’t played well, and the “vibe” on the sidelines hasn’t been great. There’s been plenty of sloppy play, but there are always players that stand out as going above and beyond with their amount of effort. Last week, it was rookie Roschon Johnson. This week, it was his running mate Herbert.

Not only did he average five yards per carry and have a catch for 23 yards, but he was running hard and making something out of nothing on multiple plays.

Herbert’s transformation from a quality runner to a well-rounded back has been impressive. Going into the off-season, I was not sure he could become “passable” as a blocker and pass catcher. Yet, he has managed to do both. All while improving his contact balance and physicality. The Bears have to love their running back depth overall. It was evident this weekend when D’Onta Foreman was a healthy scratch. There’s not a whole lot going right for this team, but running back is one of their few non-concerning spots on the roster.

8. Heading into Monday Night, there are a grand total of eight (0-2) teams. Some of the names might surprise you.

The Bears come into Monday Night’s doubleheader of games as one of eight teams that has two losses. The other seven are the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, and Minnesota Vikings. Three of those teams made the playoffs in 2022.

Of those eight teams, the Bears rank dead last in point differential (-28). They have also given up the most points out of that group and second-most in the NFL overall. So, while there’s still some “hope” that Chicago can turn things around, there are not a lot of positive signs to lean on.

Of the eight (0-2) teams, I’d still bet on the Bengals and Chargers to push for a playoff spot. The Vikings have been hit hard by regression in one-score games. The Broncos are a below-average team with their third new head coach in as many seasons. The Cardinals are assumed to be actively tanking but have played two very close games. The Texans are starting a rookie quarterback and appear to be far off from contending, even in a subpar division. The Patriots are, well, I’m not sure what New England is. Long story short, I believe that the Bears will end up finishing better than a few of these teams, but they’ve done little to dispel the notion that they are still a bottom-tier team in the NFL.

9. NFC North Look Around: An (0-4) Week 2 in the black and blue division

All four teams in the NFC North lost this weekend. Despite the Detroit Lions’ impressive Week 1 victory to kick off the regular season, they fell in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks after another high-scoring affair. The offense continues to put up points, but the defense remains their biggest question.

The Green Bay Packers took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter in Atlanta but could not get the job done against the Falcons. Quarterback Jordan Love continues to put up better numbers than his actual performance. He had a chance in the two-minute drill to take the Packers down the field for a game-winning field goal and could not complete a pass. Green Bay might be better than I originally gave them credit for, but their best attribute continues to be their coaching.

The Vikings are in regression hell. After going (11-0) in one-score games last regular season, they are (0-3) since that point, which includes last year’s playoff loss to the New York Giants. To be fair, the final score in Thursday Night’s game ended up much closer than how the majority of the game played out.

Barring some serious changes, the Bears appear to be destined for another fourth-place finish. I’d still have my money on the Lions to win the division, but at this point, this does not look like a strong division. That should come as a surprise to nobody.

10. Week 3 Look ahead: The (1-1) Defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs

As if things couldn’t get any tougher for the Bears, they’ll go on the road to GEHA Field (AKA Arrowhead Stadium) to face the defending Super Bowl Champions. Sure, the Chiefs have started off 2023 a little slow, but they started hitting their stride in Week 2 against a good Jacksonville Jaguars team. Their offense is still sputtering a bit, but what better way to find a remedy than facing this porous Bears defense that can’t pressure a quarterback or get off the field on third and long? Hence Chicago going in as (12.5) point underdogs.

In the NFL, anything can happen, but at this point, this feels like a game that would take a modern-day miracle for the Bears to get a win in Week 3. If anything, fans should just hope they can take advantage of a banged-up Chiefs defense that likes to play a lot of man coverage. Outside of that, I’m not sure there are going to be many moral victories to hold onto come next Sunday night.