Ray of hope? Cole Kmet catching on for Bears
The Bears’ offense has taken another step back this season, but Kmet, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and running back David Montgomery are worth watching in the final four games.
As much as Mitch Trubisky vs. Deshaun Watson has been a storyline this week as the Bears seek to end a six-game losing streak, the sad reality is this: There’s nothing Trubisky can do Sunday to change the narrative.
If he outplays Watson and leads the Bears to victory over the Texans, it’s not going to change anybody’s mind. The Bears still should have drafted Watson in 2017 (or, better yet, Patrick Mahomes). And Trubisky still figures to head into free agency and out of Chicago when this season ends.
But what about the rest of the Bears’ offense, most of which figures to be around in 2020 whether or not Matt Nagy is the head coach or Ryan Pace is the general manager? Is there anything salvageable out of an offense that ranks 30th in the NFL in total yards and 28th in points?
The final four games might not be a great indicator. The Bears’ offense will face three opponents that rank in the bottom 10 in total defense and scoring: the Texans (30th/24th), Vikings (23rd/26th) and Jaguars (32nd/29th). They finish with the Packers, who rank 11th in yards and 15th in scoring but might be coasting into the playoffs in Week 17.
Still, any sign of hope is better than nothing. Here are three players to watch in the final month who could signal better things to come in 2021.
After the Bears’ Oct. 26 loss to the Rams, Nagy kept a promise that he would play the rookie tight end from Notre Dame more. But it didn’t show up in production (three catches for 17 yards over four games) until last week, when Kmet had a modest five receptions for 37 yards and an impressive 11-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
“I’m excited for the future with him,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said this week. “You saw some toughness with the ball in his hand [on the touchdown]. You saw some play speed with the ball in his hand. Ability-wise, all the things you want to see, he’s already shown.”
The next step, Lazor said, is learning the nuances — reading defenders’ coverage and body language and knowing the details of pass routes versus zone or man defenses.
“Once you get a guy having success, if he’s hungry, you can start feeding him those little nuances,” Lazor said. “And that’s what will show up as we move forward — and I think we still have time for that to happen this year, and it will just accelerate.”
A fifth-round draft pick making an impression as a rookie in a bad offense is a pretty good sign of potential. So while Mooney’s overall numbers are modest — 40 receptions for 428 yards (10.7 average) and two touchdowns — his potential for growth, especially as a speed guy, is promising.
Mooney has started the last five games and has played nearly as many snaps (294, 88.1%) as Allen Robinson (301, 90.1%). But while Robinson has gotten 45 targets in that span and Anthony Miller has 37, Mooney has 34 — with 19 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown to show for it.
There’s a bit of buzz about the latest makeshift offensive line combination, with undrafted Sam Mustipher at center, Cody Whitehair at left guard and undrafted Alex Bars at right guard. But the Bears still figure to revamp the line in the offseason with the return of guard James Daniels and possibly two new tackles.
Montgomery has a chance at a strong finish. The second-year running back has struggled with the rest of the offense most of this season — 3.6 yards per carry in the first nine games. But since missing the Vikings game with a concussion, he has a combined 28 carries for 175 yards (6.3 average) against the Lions and Packers. With nine receptions for 79 yards, he has averaged 127 total yards the last two games.