Chicago Bears Need Improvement Despite Success

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CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Mitchell Trubisky #10 and Marcus Williams #31 of the Chicago Bears walk out to the field before an NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field on January 6, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The Eagles defeated the Bears 16-15. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Seven Chicago Bears will participate in the Pro Bowl this weekend. Five were voted in (Khalil Mack will not participate) and three are alternates. It puts the disappointing end to an otherwise promising season in perspective. Still, it is time to focus on the areas where the Bears need improvement to take the next step. Offensively, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky‘s continued progression, the play of the line in the run game, and the running backs themselves will have to be better next year.

Chicago Bears Need Improvement Despite Strong Season

Throw to Score

Trubisky’s development will determine how far the Bears go. He showed progress but does need improvement in protecting the football. 11 of his 12 interceptions occurred between the twenties. He also lost three fumbles and had numerous passes dropped by defenders. Most effective on passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, he struggled to throw intermediately, particularly across the middle. It is also concerning he had such poor numbers on passes thrown behind the line in a screen-heavy system.

Trubisky threw most of his touchdowns in the first half of the season. His attempts per game dropped following his two-game absence due to a shoulder injury. He raised his completion percentage but scored less as the team focused on igniting the running game and shorter passes.

He did have a top-10 passer rating against the blitz and was tremendous as a runner. Trubisky also had a 17:1 TD to INT ratio inside the opponents 20-yard line. He showed great poise running the two-minute offense in the playoff loss; setting up a field goal before halftime and the missed game-winner. Another area in need of improvement: being more of a playmaker on the road. He completed a higher percentage of (fewer) passes away from Chicago, but only threw five touchdowns.

Run to Win

The Bears per-carry average fell for the third consecutive season, but only slightly. Chicago seemed to especially struggle running in the second and fourth quarters; averaging 3.7 and 2.6 yards per carry, respectively. The league averages are 4.5 and 3.9 YPC. This reflected in their time of possession plummeting from number one in the first quarter all the way to 27th in the fourth. More from the passing game will help but other areas also need improvement.

Running back Jordan Howard had his worst season as a pro despite receiving only two fewer carries than his stellar rookie season. In 2018 he ran better on the road, averaging 4.11 YPC compared to 3.76 at home even though he saw roughly the same carries in either setting. Tarik Cohen only averaged 6.2 carries per game and had one game with double-digit totes. His production through the air is nice but the coaching staff seems reluctant to give him a workhorse’s workload.

Howard had shown improvement as a receiver out of the backfield early on the season but overall was unable to get untracked until the final month of the season. Cohen played a role similar to Alvin Kamara if the New Orleans Saints but the sense is that the team would prefer to have a three-down runner, hence the chatter of Kareem Hunt possibly resurfacing in Chicago.

Line of Sight

Chicago’s offensive line did the running backs no favors. They only produced 3.91 adjusted line yards, ranked 18th in power run success, and 22nd in stuffed runs. Chicago ranked 30th on runs between the guards (20th in 2017) even though they only ran that direction with the 12th-highest frequency. They also ranked 31st on runs off right end, averaging 2.92 YPC, far below the league average of 4.3 YPC. Right tackle is a position the Bears need improvement in play but Bobby Massie signed an extension to keep him in Chicago through 2021.

The Bears passing blocking was better, so maybe that kept Massie around. They tied in allowing the seventh-fewest sacks, giving up 33. Still, the Chicago passing game was very hit-or-miss. Mostly due to Trubisky’s mixed effectiveness and short fields, rather than blocking. Conversely, the running game was sixth in attempts and 11th in yards but was greatly boosted by Trubisky’s scrambling.

They ran well late in the season after the coaching staff recommitted to it. But the Bears need improvement running late in games. The backs and even the play calling of Head Coach Matt Nagy need to be better and more consistent. But the five guys up front will have to step up. Massie along with Charles LenoCody Whitehair and James Daniels all have to be better in the run game. Kyle Long‘s return to full health would also be a boon for this group after he missed eight games this season.

Home Improvement

The 2018 season was a good one for Chicago. However, the way it ended showed the Bears need improvement. They won’t be making the big splash in free agency like last year, as most of their resources will likely go towards resigning safety Adrian Amos and nickel corner Bryce Callahan. Still, there is hope that the organization’s history of unearthing late-round gems holds true. As GM Ryan Pace pointed out, the last time his team did not have a first or second-round pick, they drafted Akiem Hicks.

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