For the last two months, coach Matt Nagy has talked often about the importance of figuring out the ‘‘why’’ of the Bears’ problems. Apparently, it’s as elusive as Bigfoot and will take an entire offseason to sort out.
I thought NFL coaches were supposed to adjust as situations unfolded and trends revealed themselves, but it’s clear I was wrong about this. Trying to understand the ‘‘why’’ of quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s regression, Nagy’s uninspired play-calling and general manager Ryan Pace’s inability to see that two-time Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle (a fifth-round pick by the 49ers in 2017) might turn out to be better than Adam Shaheen (second round, Bears) will take months for the coaches to pinpoint.
Those of us not burdened by hours and hours of future tape-watching duties already know what the ‘‘why’’ of the Bears’ troubles is. It’s a question: Why did the Bears draft Trubisky in 2017 when they could have drafted Patrick Mahomes? Everything else about the franchise is peripheral to that question. If the Bears had Mahomes on their roster right now, we wouldn’t be talking about Nagy’s sad-face offense or the Bears’ lack of a solid tight end.
We’d be talking about the postseason, about the prospect of long-term, continued success and about a quarterback who makes everyone around him better.
Instead, we’re talking about all the ways Mahomes was superior to Trubisky in the Chiefs’ 26-3 victory Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field.
We’re talking about how Nagy can solve this problem. I don’t think he can. I don’t think anyone can. The Bears will have an easier schedule next season, and if defensive lineman Akiem Hicks can stay healthy, they should be better than the 7-8 disappointment they are now.
But none of that solves the ‘‘why’’ of their quarterback.
That there’s a talent gap between Trubisky and Mahomes isn’t breaking news. Yet it still was stunning to see it up close. Mahomes has a presence that is rare for any quarterback, but especially for someone in only his third NFL season. It’s not piling on to suggest that, if Trubisky has the potential for that kind of on-field command, it’s buried so deep inside him that it will take years and an oil drill to reach.
Do the Bears believe in Trubisky as much as Nagy says they do? Or do they know the sunshine they try to spread publicly about him lacks heat? Pace will meet with the media after the season and proclaim his faith in Trubisky, but it won’t mean much. The gushing he has done about him the last three years has been filled with hollow words.
We won’t know the truth until the Bears decide whether to give Trubisky a second contract. That wouldn’t seem to be a question, given his shortcomings. But these are the Bears, who have failed to make the playoffs in 22 of the last 28 seasons (including this one). They do dumb things.
The most optimistic view of Trubisky’s future would have him turning into a good starter well down the road, probably for another team. Think Ryan Tannehill, who has been successful for the Titans this season after six decent seasons with the Dolphins.
Would you wait three more years for Consistently Good Mitch to show up? That’s the wrong question. Would the Bears wait three more years for the slightest possibility of Consistently Good Mitch to show up? I’m sorry to slap ankle weights on your soaring holiday spirit, but that’s the concern. You say to yourself that the Bears couldn’t possibly do such a thing, but they’re the kings of Such a Thing, a land of missed opportunities and bewildering decisions.
Nagy bears a lot of the responsibility for why his team is 7-8 after going 12-4 last season. Taken together, his 2019 game plans have had no cohesive identity. He has given up on the run faster than any coach I’ve seen. More than anything else, however, a quarterback who isn’t star material has weighed him down. Mahomes made that painfully obvious Sunday.
Nagy is stuck with Trubisky instead of Mahomes because of one person: Pace. The GM is the one who fell in love with an inexperienced college quarterback. He’s the one who made a decision that stunned the NFL on draft day 2017.
Forget about the ‘‘why’’ of this painful season.
When the reclusive Pace does talk with media members again, we’ll ask him about the ‘‘what’’ of all the Bears’ troubles: What in the heck were you thinking when you drafted Mitch?