First things first — a checklist for Bears’ offensive improvement

First-down yardage ... third-and-short conversions ... a screen game ... scoring in the third quarter ... though Justin Fields is a potential franchise quarterback, simple things will be key to Luke Getsy & Co. breaking a 30-year drought of sustained success for the Bears’ offense.

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David Montgomery (32) struggles for yardage against the Browns in the preseason.

While much of the focus appropriately is on Justin. Fields, any progress this season is likely to start with a running game, led by running back David Montgomery.

Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

A never-ending quest for a quality Bears offense with staying power begins again Sunday at Soldier Field. 

And I mean never-ending — the Bears have been one of the most chronically challenged offensive teams in the NFL — really since the 1970 merger, but especially in the last 30 years. Since 1992, in fact, the Bears have scored the fewest offensive points of any team in the NFL — 17.7 per game. That’s three decades and two generations of suffering, if you’re scoring at home. 

The Bears have been so inept offensively for so long, many Bears fans didn’t know to be quiet when the offense has the ball until Jay Cutler told them to. That’s not their fault. How were they supposed to know? Even the rare good Bears offenses in the past 30 seasons have had the lifespan of a butterfly — often beautiful, but gone within a year. 

The Bears have finished in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring four times in the last 30 years — and each time they have quickly regressed to sub-standard. They were ninth in 2018 (actually 12th in offensive points), but 29th, 22nd and 27th the next three seasons. The same thing happened when they finished second in 2013 (23rd, 23rd, 28th, 29th the following four seasons) and second in 2006 (18th, 14th, 19th, 21st) and when they were eighth in 1995 (26th, 28th, 25th, 25th, 28th). 

And that includes some classic teases: Gary Crowton’s debut in 1999, when the Bears scored 20 points in the first half against the Chiefs in the opener — then were shut out in the second half and finished 25th in scoring. Or Marc Trestman’s debut in 2013, when Jay Cutler threw game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown passes against the Bengals and Vikings in Weeks 1-2. Or Matt Nagy’s debut in 2018, when the Bears and Mitch Trubisky opened with a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive against the Packers — and we know how that turned out. 

Every time it looks like the dawn of a new era, the Bears’ offense pulls the rug out from under Bears fans. That brings us to the 2022 season and Luke Getsy, who came to town with the huge advantage of not being Matt Nagy and now has to prove it on the field. 

Even with Justin Fields at quarterback, there’s not a lot of buzz about the Bears’ offense. The Bears’ most prominent offseason additions were wide receivers Velus Jones and Byron Pringle and center Lucas Patrick. The offensive line is unproven at best. And Fields has nothing more than moments on his resume. 

One play or one game is unlikely to indicate an offensive breakthrough. So expectations heading into the 2022 season are modest. Here’s a checklist of what might indicate the beginning of a new era: 

  • First-and-10 success — The Bears were 25th in the NFL last year in first-and-10 yardage (5.0). The Packers were second (6.3). 
  • Third-and-short plays — The Bears had the fifth most third-down plays of four yards or more in the NFL last season (185) — and were last in conversion percentage (25.4%). 
  • Score in the third quarter — The Bears scored 57 points in the third quarter last season — 24th in the NFL. The top 10 teams in third-quarter scoring last year were a combined 108-62 (.635), with eight making the playoffs.
  • Rank higher in points scored than yards gained — often a sign of an efficient offense. Every Bears playoff team since 2001 has had a positive points/yards differential. 
  • A running back gain 40-plus yards on a reception. The Bears haven’t done that since Tarik Cohen’s 70-yard touchdown in 2018. 
  • Score 24 or more points against a playoff team. It happened just twice in 26 games under Nagy — and only once without garbage points (31 points vs. the Patriots in Nagy’s sixth game in 2018). 

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