[Editor’s Note: The following column is written from a place of jubilance. The Bears are 5-1. They are playing some of the best defense in the National Football League. But if our expectations are going to venture beyond just making it to January, they need to improve.]
3rd down and 2.
1:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Bears are nursing what feels like a tenuous seven-point lead.
Two yards ends the game. Two yards and the Bears are coasting to 5-1, allowing their defense to relax on the sideline and celebrate a job well done.
This is when you call your best play.
Your two-point conversion play.
Your “Chicago Special”.
This is when you roll out that thing you’ve been practicing every week because these moments don’t often present themselves over the course of a game. How many times are you actually in the position to say, “Get a couple yards and get a W.” The Bears faced one Sunday.
And then they ran…something. I don’t have the foggiest idea what it was. Foles took the snap and threw a dud of a pass to Allen Robinson on a well-covered shallow cross. No creativity. No imagination. I’ve drawn up better plays during street games in Kearny, New Jersey. (“Run to the Buick bumper and turn” always worked.) In the notebook I’ve been keeping during these games I wrote a single word.
And this is the word that defines the Bears offense.
Cole Kmet looks like he’s going to have a breakout game and then disappears. Demetrius Harris continues to be inexplicably targeted in big situations. When the run game faltered, the Bears seemed to pivot to the short passing game as a substitute. It worked. So they stopped doing it, of course.
And on the team’s first drive Sunday, Matt Nagy couldn’t decide whether he wanted Jimmy Graham – the team’s best red zone threat – on the damn field! Even Graham seemed perplexed by the indecision.
There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. There’s no vision. When the Bears have success offensively it almost feels like an accident. Like they stumbled into some successful moments by pure chance. Good offenses have identities. Hell, even bad offenses usually have a semblance of an identity. We’re aware of what they want to do even if they can’t do it. What do the Bears want to do?
Take Carolina. Sunday, they made a decision. Until the Bears covered DJ Moore, Teddy Bridgewater was going to throw him the ball. Over and over and over again. They identified the mismatch and exploited it. You know what happened on Bridgewater’s final pass? He was trying to force the ball to DJ Moore. Because Sunday, that’s who they were. That’s called identity.
Is this all correctable in-season? One would believe so. The Bears have a player at quarterback who can get the ball out quickly to the right players. They have playmakers at the skill spots. Their offensive line is not particularly good at run blocking but their pass protection has been solid. The Bears should now know – six games into the season – what they can and can’t do as an offense and adjust accordingly.
Does it require Nagy giving up play-calling? It very well could. Nagy has shown himself to be a terrific head coach. He’s changed entirely the culture of this franchise and his players never quit. But the Bears have an experienced play caller in Bill Lazor on this coaching staff. Why not give him a chance and see if he can inspire improvement? Would it be a blow to Nagy’s ego? Probably. But it would also be a testament to his abilities as the head coach, the guy in charge of the entire team. He owes it to every member of this franchise to do everything possible to get this unit turned around. No decision should be off the table.
Whatever happens, the Bears must answer the why question. They must decide who they are as an offense and be that thing. Because their championship-caliber defense needs help.