Matt Nagy’s determination to fix the Bears’ running game became a little more problematic with left guard James Daniels likely out for the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the Bears’ 20-19 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday. A source confirmed the injury, which is usually season-ending.
Daniels suffered the injury early in the second half and was replaced by second-year guard Alex Bars, a highly regarded undrafted free agent from Notre Dame in 2019. Bars figures to replace Daniels as the starter, though that is not certain. Rashaad Coward, a converted defensive lineman, started 10 games at right guard in place of Kyle Long last season.
The loss of Daniels is a blow to the Bears’ offensive line, which has struggled against top-flight defensive fronts the past two games after initially having success against the Lions, Giants and Falcons to start the season.
Daniels, a second-round draft pick from Iowa (39th overall) in 2018, arguably has been the Bears’ best offensive lineman this season. He’s an improving player who was getting comfortable at left guard after switching from guard to center and back to guard last season. At 23 in his third season, Daniels had the most room for growth as the 2020 season ensued.
The Bears have been more fortunate than most teams with injuries in the 2020 season, but Daniels is the second starter the Bears have lost in the past three games. Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL making a fair catch on a punt return against the Falcons in Week 3.
Torn pecs require surgery and generally are season-ending injuries. Bears linebacker Roquan Smith suffered a torn pec against the Cowboys in Week 14 last season and returned at 100 percent health by the opening of training camp. Last season, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt notably returned from torn pec surgery in 10 weeks to play in the postseason against the Bills and Chiefs. But he was not 100 percent. And there’s only one J.J. Watt.
Bars had early issues in his first significant playing time on offense in the NFL. He was beaten for a sack by Vita Vea on his second snap. He presumably would be better with a full week of practice. The Bears face the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 18 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. They face the Rams and Aaron Donald on Monday Night Football on Oct. 26 at SoFi Stadium.
And Coward remains an option.
“It’s a tough situation to roll into if you’re Alex — coming in against that stout d-line,” said Nagy, who did not know Daniels’ status when he met the media Friday morning. “Effort-wise, it’s good. There’s some technique things here or there. But for the most part, I was happy with how he [played]. There was one in there that they got [the sack] — that’s part of the game. But I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Losing Daniels increases the Bears’ challenge of improving their run game. The Bears averaged 138 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry in victories over the Lions, Giants and Falcons, but hit the wall against the Colts’ and Buccaneers’ more imposing defensive fronts. They rushed for 28 yards on 16 carries against the Colts and 35 yards on 14 carries against the Buccaneers.
“You gotta be able to run the football,” Nagy said. “These two teams we’ve faced on the front line and linebackers — they’re really good. Not to take anything away from the other teams we played — that’s just the simple truth.
“But that’s the challenge. We’re not going to abandon the run by any means. We’ve got to stay balanced — but none of that matters if you’re not detailed. So we better be detailed.”