Bears fans longing for Odell Beckham Jr. in the hours after the Browns said they planned to release him were met with the same joke across social media: The Bears already have one stud wide receiver they’re not throwing the ball to. Why do they need two?
They don’t figure to claim Beckham on Monday. Of far greater concern for the team this weekend is fixing the passing game that has allowed Allen Robinson — among others — to languish over the first eight games of the season.
“I just don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how many targets and catches a guy will end his year with,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Friday when asked about Robinson, who has only 26 catches. “I’m trying to get us to score enough points to beat the next team.
“To me, until the passing game changes, it’s going to be hard to be different.”
The Bears need it to change, starting Monday night in Pittsburgh. Their broken passing attack is the worst in the league — and has been that way for almost six weeks. The Bears had the 25th-fewest passing yards in Week 1, fell to No. 31 overall after Week 2 and have been in the basement since Week 3.
That corresponds with rookie Justin Fields taking over the starting role from injured Andy Dalton. Lazor chose his words carefully when asked whether the struggles were connected to breaking in a rookie quarterback — “I don’t want to make an excuse,” he said — but it’s clear they are. It’s also apparent that the fastest way for the Bears to get exponentially better is for Fields to continue making leaps like the one against the 49ers on Sunday, when he completed 19 of 27 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. His interception on a heave with less than two minutes to play knocked his passer rating down about 20 points, to 84.6.
Otherwise, Fields looked as sharp — and as in rhythm — as he had at any point during the season.
“He looked like he put video on that you could show to someone — ‘Hey, this is how this play is supposed to be run,’ ’’ Lazor said.
That’s progress. But Lazor isn’t doing cartwheels about the Bears scoring 22 points — or losing the game.
“There was a lot of good performance from him,” Lazor said. “It’s kind of hard to get too excited about the amount of points we scored.”
Fields said earlier in the week that he believed it was his best game as a pro — “Just completing the ball, being more decisive,” he said — but tried to balance his performance with the final score.
“[I] try to control everything that I can control,” he said. “Put my team in the best position that I can for us to win the game. Sometimes it’s gonna come out not the way you wanted it to, but just gotta go back and keep doing the same thing so it comes out your way.”
The difference between his Week 3 starting debut and Sunday was striking.
“I just feel comfortable all around,” Fields said. “Just more confident in myself and just going out there and making plays. . . . I just feel way better in terms of my command of the huddle — and of the offense. And kind of telling those guys where to go.”
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has seen the growth.
“I believe in his ability to lead the team and help us win,” Goodwin said. “It’s not all on him, either. We all have to do our parts to make it easier for him to win the game.”
The Bears are working on getting Robinson more involved — ‘‘Every day we talk about it,” Lazor said — but know that targets and catches are symptoms of a bigger problem. Robinson doesn’t have enough catches, but neither does tight end Cole Kmet nor Goodwin nor, well, anybody.
“The reality is the way we’re playing football right now, there are a lot of unhappy offensive pass catchers,” Lazor said. “But they’re being professional, and they’re trying to help us win. But when you’re running the ball so much, your pass catchers, no one is going to be happy. And that is the case.”
Lazor wondered out loud how many passes over 10 yards the Bears completed between the numbers against the 49ers. The answer was one: a third-down slant by Goodwin against man coverage.
“There are certain things we’re just not doing well,” Lazor said.
Until that changes, the other details don’t matter.
“Usually in this league, passing production leads to more points,” Lazor said. “Until we get the passing game to produce better, we’re gonna have a hard time.”