It was difficult to foresee Bill Lazor being this much of an asset when Bears coach Matt Nagy hired him as offensive coordinator in 2020. He had been out of the NFL for a year, and the two had never worked together.
Then there’s defensive coordinator Sean Desai, a semi-risky hire at 37 with only two seasons of experience as a position coach, who was charged with re-engineering a defense that still had some of the stars from its glory days but suffered some tough personnel losses in the offseason.
But both have done well, and, along with veteran special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor, they’ve prevented this season from sliding deeper into the sludge under Nagy.
Nagy has struggled throughout his four seasons to deliver on his reputation as a quarterback whisperer and offensive mastermind. While the Bears have scored the eighth-fewest points in the NFL during his tenure, Lazor was instrumental in getting them somewhat near the respectable range at No. 22 last season.
This season has been a lost cause, but it was Lazor who helped the Bears find an offensive identity — led by David Montgomery in a power running attack — that at least worked some of the time.
Offensive coordinator has been a difficult job to fill for Nagy, who started with former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich in 2018 and fired him after two seasons.
Lazor, however, gave Nagy a necessary push toward the ground game. The season before his arrival, Nagy set a franchise record for fewest running plays in a game with seven during a blowout loss to the Saints in which he had Mitch Trubisky throw the ball 54 times.
The Bears averaged the third-fewest yards per carry in the NFL that season at 3.7. Lazor helped bump them up to 4.2 in 2020 (19th) and 4.4 this season (11th).
So at least they have something. In 2019, they had nothing. And it’s not hard to imagine how things would be going with Nagy and Justin Fields because everyone saw the dysfunction in a 26-6 loss to the Browns that was so disastrous, it forced Nagy to give up play-calling for a second consecutive season.
As Nagy stumbled through various course corrections offensively, he had the luxury of an elite defense to cover for him. He has won an astounding eight games in which his team has scored 19 or fewer points.
And as things started to slip on that side of the ball and Nagy’s safety net frayed, he hoped Desai could bring back some of the ferocity the defense had under Vic Fangio in 2018.
But the catch was Desai would have to do it without any proven cornerbacks other than Jaylon Johnson. Desai’s charge was to unleash a pass rush that was so overwhelming, it would minimize the dependency on pass coverage, and one of the key pieces for that task was outside linebacker Robert Quinn — coming off the worst season of his career.
And Desai did a decent job of pulling off that magic trick for most of the season, even while losing Khalil Mack after seven games. Quinn has had an All-Pro-worthy resurgence, and the Bears rank fifth in sacks.
The downside is that when opposing quarterbacks have gotten the ball out, they’ve had a field day. The Bears have allowed the third-highest passer rating (104.5), 10th-highest completion percentage (66.7%) and seventh-most yards per pass (7.5).
Nonetheless, they still ranked near the middle of the NFL in most metrics before the season collapsed with losses to the Cardinals and Packers last month. And there’s no doubt that if the Bears clean house this offseason, Desai won’t be out of work for long.
Lazor and Desai haven’t been able to save the season, but there’s only so much they could do. And they’ve done it.