Bears WR Darnell Mooney, TE Cole Kmet must be at forefront of passing game

Mooney and Kmet have a combined seven targets through two games. Can the Bears have a thriving passing attack without them leading the way? “No,” coach Matt Eberflus says.

SHARE Bears WR Darnell Mooney, TE Cole Kmet must be at forefront of passing game
Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney sits on the turf at Lambeau Field after a play in the game against the Packers last season.

Darnell Mooney was a 1,000-yard receiver last season, but has just two catches for four yards over the first two games.

Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette via AP

When you go into a season with precious few proven threats in the passing game, you better make sure to use them.

For the Bears to get anything going in that department, it was expected to come from leaning heavily on 1,000-yard wide receiver Darnell Mooney and steadily improving tight end Cole Kmet. If anything, there was concern about being overly dependent on those two.

Instead, they’re invisible.

Through two games, Mooney and Kmet have gotten a combined seven targets. Kmet doesn’t have a catch yet, dropping a five-yard pass from Justin Fields in the loss to the Packers on Sunday, and Mooney has only two for four yards.

Mooney’s lone catch in Green Bay actually cut his season yardage total in half, losing four on a doomed screen pass — symbolic of the overall dysfunction.

“It’s Week 2, so I don’t think too much of it,” he said. “I just continue to push. I know what they think of me. They love me, and they know the playmaker that I am. I’ll shine when I get the opportunities.”

But getting the opportunities is no certainty.

Fields completed only

7 of 11 passes for 70 yards, and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy insisted on pounding the ground game even with the Bears down 14 in the fourth quarter. On the drive that got them within an inch of making things interesting, Getsy called a run on 10 of 13 plays. The three pass plays were an incompletion, a sack for a loss of 10 yards as pass rusher Preston Smith went unblocked and a scramble on third-and-goal at the 6-yard line.

The running game worked, but that’s at least in part because the Packers were correctly vigilant for passes. If the Bears wanted to grind their way nearly the length of the field and melt clock for half the fourth quarter, no problem.

That’s a time when Mooney and Kmet were absolutely necessary.

When coach Matt Eberflus was asked Monday if it was possible for the Bears to have a thriving passing game without those two leading the way, he said, “No. I think you’ve gotta highlight your skill.”

Instead, eight Bears have targets over the first two games, led by Equanimeous St. Brown with seven. Running back David Montgomery is the only player with more than three catches.

Unpredictability isn’t worth very much in this case. The Bears have the fewest passing yards in the NFL by far (169), the fewest passes (28), the second-worst passer rating (69.2) and the lowest completion percentage (53.6).

“Let’s feed the guys that have skill that can take a short throw and turn it into a big gain,” Eberflus said. “And we have a good deep-ball thrower, so we should utilize that, too. We’re going to look at all aspects of that.”

That’s not a real answer if it never gets implemented. Matt Nagy knew every Monday what his team should’ve done the day before, and that got him nowhere.

Is the real issue that the Bears are deliberately going ultra-conservative offensively to minimize what they ask of Fields? Eberflus said that wasn’t the case, but it seems highly likely. And if that’s by necessity, it’s a troubling sign in his second season.

Is the offensive line so shaky that Kmet has become indispensable as a blocker?

All Eberflus offered was, “We’re looking into that,” but Kmet has run routes on only 26 snaps, and that’s not how teams typically use their best pass-catching tight end.

There’s too much at stake and Fields’ development is too important for this to go unsolved. They can’t just be endlessly looking into it. By the time the Bears establish the panel to appoint a committee to form a task force to determine why they aren’t making the most of Mooney and Kmet, the season will have gotten away from them.

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