This feels like as good a time as any to examine the Chicago Bears other non-quarterback issues. Yes, they face the Detroit Lions this weekend. And despite how bleak things seem they still have an outside chance of making it to the postseason. The likelihood of that is only greater than the sense they could make some noise if they were to make the playoffs.
We have spent the last few weeks addressing the issues of the team in general rather than anything game-specific. From Matt Nagy’s demeanor growing more defensive and short with the media to Ryan Pace’s shortcomings in five seasons at the helm. And, of course, the biggest hindrance, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. But he is not the only one who could be better.
Non-Quarterback Issues for the Chicago Bears
Drops Catching On
Bad throws make up just over 17 percent of Trubisky’s throws (league average is 15.9 percent). That puts him at 17th among qualified passers ahead of notable names like former MVPs Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. He’s also ahead of Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson, the 2019 MVP frontrunners. So why is the Bears quarterback only 22nd in completion percentage?
With an average depth of target of 7.4 yards (23rd), Trubisky’s erratic passes should still be hitting their mark at a higher clip. The Bears receivers have suffered from a case of the dropsies this season. The Bears receivers dropped 11 passes total all last season. This year that number is up to 14 with eight games still to play.
Chicago has 18 drops in 276 passes for the sixth-highest percentage of drops in the NFL. They had 13 in all of 2018. Going from second-best to sixth-worst in dropped passes will make any quarterback look bad. Doing it to one that already has accuracy issues has been a recipe for a 3-5 first half to 2019.
The biggest offenders have been running back Tarik Cohen and top wide receiver Allen Robinson. Cohen has six drops already after having only one all of last season. Meanwhile, Robinson is having a great season otherwise, but he has three drops of his own after having the same number after all of 2018.
Trubisky’s bad throw percentage is down slightly compared to last season when his 18 percent was the sixth-highest. But he’s among the more-fortunate quarterbacks in terms of receiver error. Robinson is sixth in created catch percentage among receivers with more than 20 targets and only 66.1 percent of his targets have been accurate.
Detroit is right behind the Bears at eight in passing yards allowed per game but a lot of that is due to running the ball on them at the eighth-highest clip. The Bears would be wise to do the same; Trubisky is 17th with eight interceptable passes despite essentially missing two full games and having the bye week.
Blocking It All Out
The Bears offensive line has been much-maligned the entire year. They’ve rightfully been criticized for blown assignments in the passing game, not getting any push, and penalties. Tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are problematic. They have been since before Kyle Long was shut down. His replacement, Rashaad Coward has also struggled in three starts.
Leno is fifth in the NFL in accepted penalties with eight, double the amount of his two closest teammates Kyle Fuller and Aaron Lynch (who has way too many for a backup). The sixth-year man had six enforced penalties in 2018 (Prince Amukamara led the team with seven). Four of those have been holds.
The other side is in no better shape with Massie who at one point ranked at the bottom in Pass Block Win Rate. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 59.9, which is third among the Bears offensive linemen. Guard Cody Whitehair has been the best, receiving a 67.4 followed by Daniels with 60.2. Leno and Coward bring up the rear at 53.5 and 52, respectively.
Coward also has three penalties that fall squarely under the same critique as Lynch. A converted defensive lineman, Coward is learning his second position in the NFL so some growing pains are to be expected. But they are still costly, especially considering that two have been false starts, killing plays before they even start.
Coward’s struggles could eventually give way to rookie Alex Bars. The Notre Dame product has a history with Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and was a four-year starter before a knee injury ended his senior season. Promoted from the practice squad and turned down a solid offer from the New England Patriots. His time may be drawing near.
The hope was that getting the oft-injured Long out of the lineup would help shore things up but the issues extend beyond him. Switching Daniels and Whitehair around this offseason isn’t working out. Switching back could be an option but if they Bears ultimately see the two at their current positions long-term, they might be reluctant to do so.
Back to Backs
During the Bears three-game win streak they ran the ball an average of 28.7 times per game. That number has expectedly plummeted to 20 times per contest during their current four-game slide. Take away the seven-carry outing against the New Orleans Saints and they averaged a little over 24 carries per game in the other three contests.
The offensive line has been worse in run blocking (29th) compared to pass protection (18th) but the backs haven’t done them any favors. David Montgomery began the year approaching the line of scrimmage timidly, dancing behind his blocker instead of attacking the hole. He has run with more authority of late, though.
Mike Davis was a key signing for this franchise in the off-season but he has been a complete non-factor in either the ground or passing games since week one. His last carry came two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Chargers and he went two weeks before that without a carry as well. He recently spoke about the situation but it shows poorly on management.
Cohen’s usage has shifted towards catching passes. Just under 38 percent of his touches came through the air as a rookie. That number rose to just under 42 percent last year and has rocketed to over 56 percent this year. Cohen’s touches also go from just over six per game in wins to about eight per game in losses.
Usage is to blame for some of the failings in the running game. Cohen’s is so skewed that even Nagy acknowledged weeks ago that teams (rightfully) play him like a receiver. Working in Cohen’s (and Montgomery’s ) favor, Detroit has faced the 11th-most passes to running backs and has allowed four touchdowns, second-most in the NFL.
Run DMC hasn’t materialized as envisioned in the off-season but there are signs it still can. Montgomery has shown more of the dual-threat ability that made the Bears brass trade up for him and had coaches raving in camp. Cohen just needs to get past the drops. Davis is tricky because he is a cut candidate since the Bears can get a compensatory pick.
Bears Have Non-Quarterback Issues Too
Trubisky is an easy (and very deserving) target. His recent comments about trying to get the televisions at the Bears practice facility turned off due to the amount of negative coverage may very well have been made tongue in cheek. But it does play into a larger narrative that Trubisky does not thrive in pressure situations.
In college, he failed to beat out a non-NFL prospect and didn’t start full-time until his senior season. Nagy said that during the draft process before he got the Bears head coaching job, he felt Trubisky was probably scripted during their 15-minute interview but that his personality came out in their private interview.
That fits with what we have seen from Trubisky, he seems at his best when on the move and improvising. The problem is that isn’t happening and Trubisky’s accuracy has taken a sizeable step back. The two seem to go hand-in-hand so the Bears need him to get back to that. Perhaps his having suffered injuries to both shoulders in less than a year has played a part.
The majority of the blame will always fall on the quarterback. Trubisky’s supporting cast hasn’t been as crisp and Nagy has seems to lose his play-calling mojo at the worst times. But the Saints, Dallas Cowboys, and Buffalo Bills all have a higher drop percentage but better win total and the Bears wideouts are still getting schemed open. The quarterback has to hit them.
Prediction: The Bears won the last two matchups against the Lions, one of which with Chase Daniel at the helm. Both teams are so inconsistent that this game is a toss-up. Whoever wins, though, keeps their slim playoff hopes alive. Bears 26 Lions 20
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