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1st-and-10: Playoffs or bust for Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky in 2020?

After taking a mulligan for 2019, another disappointing season could lead to a clean sweep at Halas Hall.

Both Bears coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitch Trubisky need big games in the last three weeks of the season.
Bears coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitch Trubisky (right) could face a tell-tale season in 2020. The Bears were 12-4 in 2018 and 8-8 in 2019 in their first two seasons together.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No excuses.

It’s probably a small consolation to disillusioned Bears fans, but general manager Ryan Pace’s resolute backing of quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy sets all three in place for a make-or-break season in 2020.

If the Bears falter again, the call for a clean sweep at Halas Hall would be hard to ignore. Pace will have been given every chance to make his hand-picked head coach (John Fox was kind of a marriage-of-convenience for the rookie GM in 2015) and his hand-picked quarterback work.

Three seasons might seem like impatience. But there are too many other quarterbacks and too many other offenses taking giant leaps quickly for the Bears to settle for a step-by-step process with Nagy and Trubisky that goes into its fourth season in 2021. And, unlike after this season, the Bears likely would have a top-10 draft pick to find a new quarterback.

Bears chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips — two family guys who don’t wield a heavy public hammer — weren’t about to put anybody under the gun when discussing Pace, Nagy and Trubisky after Tuesday’s season-ending news conference at Halas Hall. But Phillips, perhaps unwittingly, seemed to be setting a deadline when asked “How long is the organization willing to wait to get this team out of this?”

“I think [we] should be able to turn it around next year,” Phillips said. “I mean, we were 12-4 just a year ago. We had the coach of the year, the executive of the year. They haven’t lost their abilities, and we haven’t lost the talent level. We’ve just got to be able to maximize it better this coming season.”

And there’s one other thing to consider: The Bears could bounce back in 2020. They’re not doomed to a dreadful season by sticking with Trubisky. Even if he’s never going to be an elite quarterback in the NFL, he can get a team to the playoffs. He already proved that. And the Bears can still move on and find a better quarterback for 2021.

The only wrench in the make-or-break scenario is something in between, also known as “The Big Tease.” If the Nagy, Trubisky and the Bears show some improvement in 2020 but just miss out on the playoffs in Week 17, you know the Bears’ brass will be encouraged enough to bring everybody back. That might be the scenario to fear the most.

2. The 2019 season obviously ranks among the most disappointing in franchise history, but it still ranks behind the 2007 season in that category.

That team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance and had Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Devin Hester in their prime. Yet they were never above .500, did not even win consecutive games until Weeks 16-17 — after being eliminated from playoff contention — and finished 7-9.

3. Pace obviously was trying to avoid saying anything about anything at his season-ending news conference. But even considering that, his analysis of tight end Adam Shaheen was mind-boggling. “Shaheen’s talented,” he said. “When he’s played, we’ve liked what we’ve seen.”

Though Shaheen has been injured in each of his three seasons with the Bears, at no point has he shown the skills that made him the 45th pick of the 2017 draft. He has never looked athletic for his size. He has rarely run downfield. His longest catch is 31 yards, and his average catch is 9.6 yards.

4. While Trubisky, as Pace noted, has some “Ah-ha!” moments, he had many more “Oh, no!” moments — the interception by Adrian Amos against the Packers; overthrowing Allen Robinson against the Chiefs; overthrowing Taylor Gabriel against the Chargers; and misfiring on an early third-and-five against the Saints.

But a misread against the Eagles might have said more about Trubisky than any of those other plays. On a third-and-10 play, the Eagles overloaded the left side of the Bears’ offense pre-snap. Trubisky didn’t change the play or the protection and was sacked by at least three defenders. It was prime evidence that anything Nagy and the Bears aren’t prepared for throws them for a loop.

“It was an un-scouted look, and my thought was that they were going to bluff out of it, that they weren’t going to bring it,” Trubisky explained. “So we had the line sliding not the direction of the overload because we hadn’t seen that. So we were going with our game-plan look, something we decided to go with. That’s just one of those plays where you come back from, correct it and move forward.”

5. The Bears regressed virtually everywhere on the offensive line this season, leading to the firing of coach Harry Hiestand. The young interior — left guard James Daniels, center Cody Whitehair and right guards Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars — could be the focus of new offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who was fired by the Bills after a similarly disappointing season in 2018.

“You can say one thing about Juan Castillo — Juan Castillo develops players,” Castillo told the Buffalo News’ Vic Carucci after Castillo was fired by the Bills.

Castillo’s pet projects have included players he coached with the Ravens who signed big contracts elsewhere: Ryan Jensen (four years, $42 million with the Buccaneers), Kelechi Osemele (5-$58M with the Raiders) and Rick Wagner (5-$47M with the Lions).

“My job is to make the guys that they give me better,” Castillo said. “And that’s one thing that nobody can say I don’t do.”

6. Last season, the Bears’ defense was the first to rank in the top 10 in all 11 key categories kept by the NFL since the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Their average ranking of 2.7 was the best since the 2008 Steelers (2.0).

This season, the Bears still ranked in the top 10 in nine of 11 categories, but — with huge drops in interceptions (first to 28th) and sacks (ninth to 27th) — their average per category was 12.1.

7. One reason for the fewer takeaways: Opposing offenses were in fewer adverse, catch-up situations as they were in 2018. Last season, opposing offenses had 121 drives against the Bears’ defense while trailing. This year, it was down to 70, including nine in the meaningless finale against Vikings backups.

8. The schedule makes a difference. When the Bears went 12-4 last season, their strength of schedule (108-144-4, .430) ranked 32nd and last in the NFL. This season, their strength of schedule (129-125-2, .508) ranked 12th.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Year Award: Safety Adrian Amos gave the Packers what they were looking for when they signed him to a four-year, $37 million contract in free agency — reliability and consistency.

Amos had 84 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and eight pass breakups this season. His first interception, of course, virtually sealed a 10-3 victory over the Bears in Week 1.

10. Bear-ometer (2020): 9-7 — at Packers (L); vs. Colts (L); vs. Texans (W); at Panthers (W); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); vs. Giants (W); at Falcons (W); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); at Lions (L); vs. Packers (W); at Jaguars (W); vs. Saints (L); at Vikings (L).