5 things Bears coach Matt Nagy must address during break before Panthers game
It’s good to have a winning record at this point, but the Bears have a lot of work to do to get things running smoothly if they’re going to make any noise this season.
The Bears are still more than a month away from their bye week, but one of the benefits of playing on Thursday against the Buccaneers is it gives them nine days to reevaluate and course correct before visiting the Panthers on Oct. 18.
Despite a winning record at this stage, coach Matt Nagy knows there’s a lot the Bears need to look at during this break. There are issues on both sides of the ball. Here are five of them:
Ignite the pass rush
No matter how Nagy spins it, being 18th in sacks going into the Bucs game wasn’t what the team had in mind with Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks making $44.5 million. That’s 25.1% of their payroll, which is fine if they’re getting commensurate production.
Mack is particularly concerning, because the Bears traded two first-round picks and signed him for $141 million through 2024. He had a sack in the Giants game and half of one against the Falcons. That’s a sluggish start coming off just 8.5 sacks last season, but maybe his third-quarter sack of Tom Brady on Thursday was the start of something.
The coaching staff says Mack is playing well. If that’s true, it’s on them to create more opportunities for him, perhaps by playing Quinn more or devising better stunts.
Figure out Foles
Watching Nick Foles fling three fourth-quarter touchdown passes in his debut, then flounder the next game is maddening. It can’t be that surprising, though, because that’s the story of his career.
Some of his passes against the Colts and early in the Bucs game were so inaccurate that it raised the question of whether he’s hurt. He hasn’t been on the injury report, so if his arm is still sound, Nagy must get a much tighter grasp on how this offense will run with him instead of Mitch Trubisky.
Keep developing Trubisky
Speaking of Trubisky, he better stand by.
The Bears need to make sure they’re still trying to bring him along, because they might need him again. Foles has never played more than 13 games in a season and has gone on injured reserve three times.
Also, his play so far in relief of Trubisky has absolutely not closed the discussion on who should be playing quarterback for the Bears. The offense had zero rhythm in Foles’ first start, and he has missed some of the “layups” that left Nagy frustrated with Trubisky.
Reconfigure Mooney and Patterson’s roles
It’s clear based on playing time that Nagy trusts rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney as much as or more than anyone other than Allen Robinson. Mooney averaged just five targets per game going into the Bucs game, though, so Nagy needs to shift him into those advantageous situations more often and drum it into Foles’ head to look for him.
Then there’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who moved from receiver to running back hoping to be more than a gadget player. But Patterson had just four catches on five targets through Week 4, getting the majority of his work as a runner. He can stay at running back, but the Bears need him to get out for passes more often. The 25-yard catch he had out of the backfield just before halftime against the Bucs was a perfect example.
Accelerate Kmet’s growth
It’d be great if the Bears could give rookie tight end Cole Kmet ample time to develop, but urgency is at an all-time high at Halas Hall. He was the top tight end picked this year, and playing 30% of the offensive snaps over the first four games isn’t giving him the chance he needs to develop.
While Kmet might not be as good of a blocker as veteran Demetrius Harris, Nagy has to get him on the field more and see what he can bring to the passing attack. Harris has never been a receiving threat, but Kmet could be.