Five final takeaways from the Bears’ 2018 season
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As always, Bears coach Matt Nagy had a message for outsiders during his final postgame news conference of the season Monday.
‘‘Every team is different from here on out,’’ Nagy said in the wake of the Bears’ dramatic 16-15 playoff loss Sunday to the Eagles.
‘‘There will be, I’m sure, new players, new coaches. It’s always a little bit different. Those guys understand it. But we’re going to rally together.’’
That said, here are our final takeaways from Nagy’s first season with the Bears:
Dawn of a new era
It’s important to remember what the Bears were at this point last year, to recall why John Fox was fired after three seasons.
They were a 5-11 team that went 0-6 in the NFC North and had only three victories in the division in three years. Fox’s relationship with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was strained. And quarterback Mitch Trubisky struggled to make progress playing in a stale, old-fashioned offense that lacked true difference-makers.
How quickly things changed, right?
Nagy’s ‘‘be you’’ replaced Fox’s ‘‘be everything but you’’ way of life. Club Dub opened and Club Dud closed. Nagy’s booms replaced excuses.
Winning and the acquisition of outside linebacker Khalil Mack helped everything, but too many players talked about how much fun they had playing for Nagy this season to discount it. Fox helped change the culture at Halas Hall after Marc Trestman, but Nagy truly established one.
‘‘He created a very fun and exciting environment to come in here and play,’’ receiver Allen Robinson said. ‘‘This is one of the most memorable and fun seasons I’ve had since I’ve been in the NFL.’’
It starts with Nagy’s energy, excitement and confidence. The players called it his swagger. Robinson said everything Nagy said was meaningful and had purpose.
Fox-era players felt it, too.
‘‘He’s been preaching playing with confidence all season,’’ outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. ‘‘It really changed the culture.’’
When asked for signs of Trubisky’s development, Nagy — without hesitation — presented four after saying that he ‘‘threw a bunch at him,’’ starting during organized team activities:
1. Having a next-play mentality: ‘‘He got better in regards to he forgot about what just happened the previous play.’’
2. Seeing, then repeating: ‘‘His vision and his progression within this offense got a lot better. He starts to learn. He starts repeating plays. He gets to know the offense.’’
3. Understanding different coverages: ‘‘Now he can start seeing: ‘OK, was it cover-3? Was it cover-1? Was it 22 man? Was it 55 boundary? Was it cover-zero? Was it quarters?’ He can see all that and test [the offense].’’
4. Connecting with his teammates: ‘‘[It’s] having wide receivers, tight ends [and] running backs that have never been in this offense before helping him out, as well. [It’s] getting more volume and now that trust.’’
All that said, Trubisky will be expected to turn those things into something better in 2019. The Bears need to be better than 21st in total yards and passing offense.
But this season — one that featured statistical improvements in every major category from his rookie season — did provide Trubisky with plenty to build on, including his performance against the Eagles.
‘‘He made big throws in big-time opportunities that he had,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘So that’s another part of how he grew. In big-time situations, how did you respond? Well, I know this: I want him on my side.’’
Fix the running game
The Bears finished with 1,938 rushing yards in the regular season, 11th in the NFL, but Trubisky’s early success as a runner skewed that number.
Look at the loss to the Eagles. Jordan Howard was held to 35 yards on 10 carries after running for a season-best 109 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 against the Vikings.
In the end, lacking a consistent running game put limitations on Trubisky’s development. Part of that is on Nagy’s scheme, calls and preferences. And part of that is personnel.
Last season, Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in Nagy’s offense with the Chiefs. This season, Howard was 14th with 935 yards. His 3.7 yards per carry ranked 39th among qualified backs.
Nagy’s use of Taquan Mizzell was curious because it took touches away from Howard and Tarik Cohen. But it happened because it appears there is a role for a running back in Nagy’s offense who is not yet on the roster. Hello, NFL Draft?
Find a kicker
In Robbie Gould’s last season with the Bears in 2015, he was 33-for-39 on his field-goal attempts. His six misses were his most since his first season with the Bears in 2005. Gould also went 28-for-29 on extra points, but his miss was blocked.
In other words, there were reasons for concern. Gould’s struggles continued in training camp the next season. Fox and special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers wanted to move on from him, too.
The only question for general manager Ryan Pace was whether he had the guts to do it — and he did. It still stands as Pace’s most regrettable move.
To be fair — and to Gould’s credit — he said during a conference call with reporters in Week 16 that he wasn’t at his best at that point in his career.
But the question now is whether Pace has the stomach to eat what’s left of the guaranteed portion of Cody Parkey’s contract and move on.
If the Bears release Parkey, there will be $5 million in dead money on their books for next season. How much money is Pace willing to commit to kickers, including one not on his roster, for next season?
Since being cut by the Bears, Gould has made 82 of 85 field goals, including going 33-for-34 this season for the 49ers. He’s set to be a free agent.
‘‘For me, [getting cut was] probably a decision that has helped my career,’’ Gould said.
As much as the offense and defense improved this season, it still felt like certain components were missing on both sides.
Do the Bears need another pass rusher? Yes, it appears so, even though Leonard Floyd made strides this season.
Do the Bears need another pass-catcher? Sure, even though Anthony Miller should improve in his second season.
What do the Bears do with safety Adrian Amos? He’s experienced, but the Eagles targeted him for a reason.
What do the Bears do with veteran right tackle Bobby Massie? He improved in the final year of his contract, but the Bears explored upgrades in the past.
A strong core of starters will return, but Pace and Nagy surely will be looking at players who can help them take that next step.