As Matt Nagy noted in his morning-after press conference in London, the focus of a potential Bears regression after a 12-4 season last year was the defense, with Chuck Pagano taking over as coordinator for Vic Fangio.
“I think that one’s been answered, Nagy said.
As it turns out, it’s Nagy’s offense that has taken the step back. Five games into Year 2, the only offseason offensive narrative that has been realized is Allen Robinson’s emergence as the No. 1 wide receiver now that he’s a full year removed from knee surgery.
Even in a discombobulated offense, Robinson has 31 receptions for 377 yards (12.2 avg.) and two touchdowns. He’s been Mitch Trubisky’s go-to guy since training camp. He’s on a pace for 99 receptions for 1,206 yards and six touchdowns.
But everything else is negative. It would be one thing if the offense was just progressing more slowly than anticipated. But virtually every facet of this offense — other than Robinson — is going the other way. They have to turn around just to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To wit:
- Mitch Trubisky: Still a passenger in the offense rather than the driver. Even his best game was really just one quarter, when he threw three touchdown passes to Taylor Gabriel.
- The offensive line: A year of continuity was supposed to be a boon, but the line is the biggest problem of all. Charles Leno has more penalties in five games this season (eight) than he had in 16 last season (seven). Kyle Long is not the player he was in his prime. Bobby Massie has not played at the same level. It’s a critical situation — if the line play doesn’t improve, it’s hard to see any other part of the offense getting better.
- James Daniels/Cody Whitehair: Putting each player at his best position — Whitehair at guard; Daniels at center — made sense. But neither player has been as effective at his new position. The Bears are 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per carry (3.5).
- David Montgomery: There was no doubt he was a better fit for Nagy’s offense than Jordan Howard. But with Howard averaging 4.7 yards per carry with the Eagles, the focus is on Nagy’s offense as the culprit instead of the lead running back’s fit.
- Tarik Cohen: He’s a gadget player perfectly suited for Nagy’s inventiveness, but no player represents the regression more. A year ago through five games, Cohen had six plays of 20 or more yards, including a 50-yard reception. This year, he has one — a 24-yard reception against the Redskins. He was more effective than this in Dowell Loggains’ offense in 2017.
- Anthony Miller: The second-year wide receiver appeared ready to take a big Year 2 step, but issues with his grasp of the nuances of Nagy’s offense suddenly have surfaced. He has eight catches for 80 yards after a productive game against the Raiders (4-52), but his biggest plays are tough catches. Last year they seemed to come when he was wide open.
- Adam Shaheen: Just not happening. The 6-6, 257-pound tight end has seven receptions for 50 yards (7.1 avg.) with a long catch of nine yards. He’s been on the sidelines in red-zone situations — the one spot he’s been effective. That’s not a good sign.
It’s a big mess right now, especially with Trubisky still recovering from a shoulder injury. Maybe there’s a chance for a dramatic turnaround. Maybe if the offensive line gets back to where it was last season, a chain reaction will follow. But it has to happen soon. It’s still kind of early. But this is the point of the season where it gets late quickly.
2. Searching for a positive, Nagy pointed to the Bears’ recovery from a 17-0 halftime deficit with three third-quarter touchdowns to take a 21-17 lead.
Fair enough. The Bears were one of six teams that fell behind by 14 or more points in the first half in Week 5. And — for what it’s worth — the only one to recover to take the lead. The others lost 31-3, 31-6, 34-24, 34-27 and 20-13.
3. The Bears, in fact, have yet to lose by more than a touchdown in the Nagy era. Their seven losses have been by one, three (OT), seven, three (OT), one, seven and three points. So there’s that.
4. The Bears’ 3-2 record is disappointing because the opening five games looked like a very playable part of the schedule — three road games against beatable teams (the Broncos, Redskins and Raiders in London) and the two difficult division games at home (Packers, Vikings).
But the upcoming schedule might not be as daunting as it appeared, either. The Saints are without Drew Brees; The Chargers are 2-3 and just lost to the previously winless Broncos at home; the Rams lost to the Buccaneers 55-40 at home.
Still, the schedule toughens up overall. The Bears probably need to go 5-2 in their next seven (Saints, Chargers, at Eagles, Lions, at Rams, Giants, at Lions) to be 8-4 heading into the final-month gantlet — Cowboys, at Packers, Chiefs and at Vikings.
5. The run defense isn’t always going to be as effective as it was against the Vikings, but the drop-off against the Raiders was dramatic.
The Bears allowed 100 yards on 20 carries on first down (5.0 avg.), including Josh Jacobs’ 12-yard touchdown and rushes of nine and eight yards on the first play after the Bears’ offense scored — helping extinguish the Bears’ momentum.
Jacobs’ 12-yard touchdown run was the longest the Bears’ have allowed since Week 10 of 2017, when the Packers’ Ty Montgomery scored on a 37-yard run.
6. Nagy has been good about preparing his team for challenging circumstances, but it sure looked like their Friday arrival in London played at least some part in their sluggish start on both sides of the ball.
Nagy wasn’t buying it, but he might have gotten a false-positive from his previous trip with the Chiefs in 2015. The Chiefs won 45-10, but they were playing a 1-6 Lions team that had just fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
7. If you’re lamenting the Bears’ decision to take Trubisky in the 2017 draft, Sunday’s Chiefs-Texans game featuring Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson might not be the game for you. Watson is coming off a career-best game — 426 yards, five touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a 53-32 victory over the Falcons. It seems like one or the other is perfect every week.
8. Prior to the 2018 draft, I didn’t think Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson was the choice at No. 8 overall, because you can find a Pro Bowl-quality interior lineman — a Whitehair or a Daniels — in the second or third round moreso than at other positions.
I take it back. Nelson is on another level as the best guard in football — his Pro Football Focus grade of 96.3 in a victory over the Chiefs on Sunday was the highest for a guard since 2012. And with a contagious nasty streak, he’s had a Khalil Mack-like transformative affect on the Colts’ offensive line — a big reason why the Colts are 3-2 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
The Bears never had a shot at Nelson — he went sixth overall to the Colts before the Bears took linebacker Roquan Smith. But the way things have played out, there’s no doubt the Bears should have — and probably would have — taken him.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Cardinals defensive end Jonathan Bullard had seven tackles, one for a loss, in the Cardinals 26-23 victory over the Bengals. Bullard, who was waived by the Bears in the cutdown to 53, has started in the Cardinals’ last two games.
10. Bear-ometer: 8-8 — vs. Saints (W); vs. Chargers (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Lions (L); vs. Cowboys (W); at Packers (L); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (L).