ATM: Bears Finding Answers During Playoff Push

| December 22nd, 2020

A month ago it looked like the Chicago Bears were heading towards a full-scale rebuild. But after two straight wins and a few quality offensive performances, the Bears might be finding they already have answers to some expected offseason questions.

The most significant answers are on the offensive side of the ball where Matt Nagy appears to have fixed what was wrong, even if that meant partially by stepping aside. It’s easy to say that Nagy giving up play calling was a negative on him, but fans should know better. The best Bears coach in recent history, Lovie Smith, had to convince his buddy Rod Marinelli to take defensive play calling away from him and we have seen numerous offensive geniuses – Sean Payton, Andy Reid come to mind – do the same for at least a short period of time.

While he isn’t calling the plays, Nagy still has oversight over the offense. It’s still his direction the team is following and his hires of Bill Lazor and Juan Castillo are suddenly looking fantastic. Lazor has found ways to consistently keep the offense simple for Mitch Trubisky and Castillo is getting standout play from undrafted free agents Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, two players who certainly look as if they could compete for starting spots next year.

Mustipher has played at a high level since entering the lineup against the Saints on Nov. 1. An injury knocked him out the next few weeks, but he returned Nov. 29 and seems to have locked down the job. In his five starts, the Bears have averaged 7.8 yards per carry when they run behind him. In all other games they’ve averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

Theoretically, most would be fine with the Bears going into the 2021 season with Leno, Whitehair and Mustipher taking up three of the five spots while James Daniels and Alex Bars compete at right guard. While they’d surely like to bring in more young depth, what once looked to be a full rebuild of the offensive line could now be the team focusing on just the tackle positions.

With that, we’ve realized that David Montgomery is a legitimate stud when he has blocking. Suddenly, the Bears just might have a piece to build their offense around.

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ATM: Can Trubisky Make the 2021 Quarterback Decision Interesting? Yes, He Can.

| December 16th, 2020

As the Chicago Bears offense had roared back to life with Mitch Trubisky under center, some Bears fans are getting excited about what his play can mean for his future and the future of the franchise.

The numbers over the past two weeks have been promising.

  • Two straight games with a passer rating over 100.
  • Averaging eight yards per attempt.
  • Completing about 75% of his passes.

Trubisky is finally playing the way the Bears hoped he would entering the season. But it’s still not good enough. And the most likely scenario remains that Trubisky becomes a compensatory pick for the Bears this off-season.

Lost in the hype of his three-game surge have been four catastrophic turnovers. They could’ve at least been in a shootout against the Packers if not for two horrendous interceptions and a lost fumble. Who knows what would’ve happened without Trubisky’s fumble against the Lions, but when he lost the ball, he made it very difficult for his team to win.

While Trubisky is nearing a 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and playing the best football of his career, the totality of what we have seen isn’t enough for the Bears to even consider investing in him long term.

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ATM: Could Offensive Improvement & Lack of Talent Save Nagy’s Job?

| December 8th, 2020

While fans are calling for a complete house cleaning, there are a number of factors that could lead to Matt Nagy’s job being safe this offseason.

The most important thing we’ve seen from the Chicago Bears the last two weeks has been offensive improvement around the quarterback. No team could win with Mitch Trubisky being a turnover machine, but we’ve seen the Bears manage to produce the last two weeks. What Nagy has been able to prove is that when the talent is nearly equal, and the quarterback is competent, his offense can work.

There’s no arguing that it took Nagy too long to fix the offense, but the fix still would’ve come in time for the team to make the playoffs if the defense hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth. If the Bears finish the last month as productive as they have been the last two weeks, Nagy can enter the offseason telling ownership that he can get the job done, he just needs better players and a new defensive coordinator.

And it’s a valid argument.

As bad as the Bears have been under Nagy, they still average almost two more points per game than the 49ers have when Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had Jimmy G. If the Bears fire Nagy after the 2020 season, they’ll be left wondering if he could’ve succeeded with a better roster, and especially a better quarterback. What if they could pair him with an Eliot Wolf-led front office or poach Mike Borgonzi from Kansas City? Is it that much of a stretch to think that Nagy, with adequate offensive talent, could get the job done? He checks every other box as a coach.

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ATM: Bears, Wolf Could Be Perfect Pairing

| December 1st, 2020

The interview would be simple.

Former Packers and Browns executive Eliot Wolf, son of the famed Ron Wolf, would explain to George McCaskey one simple truth: he wants to beat the Packers as much as anyone in and around Halas Hall.

The reason Wolf isn’t already a general manager in the league is because the Packers wouldn’t let him leave. Wolf was said to be the favorite for the Detroit Lions job that ultimately went to Bob Quinn but he was never even allowed to interview for it. The Packers did let him speak with the 49ers about their GM opening, but that wasn’t a traditional GM job, as the coach they were certainly hiring — Kyle Shanahan — would have the keys to the organization. Wolf withdrew from that possibility thinking he would be next in line for the soon-to-open Packers job.

It never happened.

In fact, Ted Thompson’s position – which was held by Wolf’s father – was eliminated by Mark Murphy, the club’s financial guy. Murphy changed the organizations structure so that all football decisions would, ultimately, run through him. The job Wolf had always dreamt of having was taken away from him and Brian Gutekunst was promoted up the Packers personnel chain. Wolf wanted to pick the coach. Wolf wanted to pick the players. He didn’t want to share the GM role with the club’s salary cap manager.

Wolf was left in a limbo. He spent a season as Assistant General Manager for the Browns, barely even getting his feet wet before his boss – John Dorsey – was fired. Wolf then chose to leave Cleveland, first helping out in Seattle and then working as a consultant with the New England Patriots.

(As the Bears were picked apart by the likes of Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, it’s worth remembering that Wolf was the second-highest ranking executive when the team drafted them. As Ted Thompson’s health declined, Wolf began doing even more. He was training to be the team’s football czar without knowing that Murphy already planned that position for himself.)

There is no way that didn’t piss him off and the Bears have the opportunity to allow Wolf to show the Packers they screwed up.

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ATM: Final Six Games Will Determine Nagy’s Fate

| November 23rd, 2020

There’s no evidence that Matt Nagy can fix the Chicago Bears offense. But if he’s going to keep his job, he has no choice.

The Bears have six games against mostly bad defenses. (The Vikings are actually the best defense left on their schedule and they’re not very good.) Six games in which they have to score points. Six games in which Nagy has to show that he can do something, ANYTHING, schematically that will put the team in a position to win.

All of the arguments about a lack of talent are correct, but an offensive head coach can’t be this bad. Just can’t be. His job is to get the most out of the talent he has. That isn’t happening. The idea of hiring one of his buddies – namely Louis Riddick – to take over for Ryan Pace loses steam with every stinker Nagy’s unit puts up. Why would the Bears keep a coach who struggles so much just to get first downs, let alone actual points?

As I wrote last week, every coach needs at least some talent to succeed, but every good coach finds a way to at least do something well. Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers didn’t light the scoreboard up prior to the 2019 season, but they ran the ball and threatened defenses even with pathetic quarterback play. While yardage is generally useless when it comes to determining which teams are good, it does give you insight about which coaches are good. Shanahan has had one year in the bottom 10, Andy Reid 3 and Sean McVay zero. Nagy’s best finish was 21st.

The most important project of the 2021 offseason is going to be finding a quarterback and having a young signal caller with a lame duck head coach is nothing more than a waste of time.

The first step is immediately firing Bill Lazor from play-calling. It didn’t work and it’s pretty telling that the worst game of the Nagy era came with someone else calling the shots. If Nagy is going to get out of this season with his job, he has to be the one doing the heavy lifting.

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ATM: Offensive Ceiling is ‘Adequate’. Who Takes the Heat?

| November 11th, 2020

Whether Matt Nagy should be fired following the 2020 season is being hammered to death by fans on Twitter. The question does not come with an easy answer.

Down six offensive linemen against Tennessee, and with a quarterback requiring protection, one could argue Nagy did an adequate job on Sunday. This coming after the Saints game in which it now seems inarguable that the offense was somewhat adequate. The 2020 Chicago Bears offense is not going to be good and that is not Nagy’s sole fault. The coach just doesn’t have the horses to put a high-octane offense on the field. Adequate is the ceiling.

The Bears are 20th in the league in amount of salary cap space spent on offense. They entered last week 27th in DVOA. That’s a slight underachievement. But when you consider their most explosive player went down for the season in Week Three and their best offensive lineman was gone two weeks later, it’s more of a shoulder shrug than cause for alarm.

But it’s also evidence that Nagy certainly isn’t doing the job. The great offensive coaches elevate the talent on the roster. Does anyone on the Bears offense outplay their talent level?

A coach not putting up points without talent to work with shouldn’t be a surprise. Kyle Shanahan couldn’t do anything against Green Bay’s bad defense last Thursday night, as he was forced to shuffle his lineup. If Shanahan were in Chicago, you can bet people would be calling for his job, especially considering he is just 27-30 as a head coach. His 49ers were 27th in DVOA in 2018 and 19th in 2017. They jumped up to seventh last year.

What changed? Well, they’ve spent four top-70 picks on wide receivers and a top-10 pick at right tackle. They’ve invested a ton in the running back position and, perhaps most importantly, the offense has just been different when Jimmy Garoppolo — as average as he may be — is on the field.

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ATM: Offense is Terrible, But Did We See Signs of Improvement Sunday?

| November 4th, 2020

None of it was pretty. But 23 points and roughly 330 yards was about the best anybody could have or should have expected from the Chicago Bears offense on Sunday. That is a sad statement. But it is our current reality.

Already with a bad offensive line, the Bears got worse up front early in the game when Bobby Massie went down. His replacement, Jason Spriggs, is a backup for a reason, and a backup on this offensive is most likely a third stringer elsewhere. The Bears ended the game with an offensive line that included two UDFAs (one was a defensive lineman three years ago), a seventh-round pick turned average veteran, a second-round bust and a first-round bust. Some teams can win with a bad offensive line. A team with Nick Foles at quarterback can’t. To their credit, the Bears battled and scored 23 points against a Saints defense just hitting its stride.

The offense wasn’t good enough by NFL standards, but it could have been good enough to win Sunday. If the Bears defense plays to their potential, the same type of performance could also be good enough to win enough games down the stretch.

Could this have been a performance upon which to build?

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ATM: Don’t Let the Defense Off the Hook for Monday Night Debacle

| October 28th, 2020

Last week began with comparisons between the 2020 and 2018 Chicago Bears defenses. This week begins with us finding there is no comparison.

There are two simple truths about Monday night’s beat down:

One. The Bears couldn’t realistically expect to win by scoring just three offensive points.

Two. The Bears couldn’t realistically expect to win by allowing 24 points.

Only one offense this season has scored more than 24 points against the Rams. That came in a weird Week Three game as the then-red hot Buffalo Bills took a huge lead early. Since then, the Rams have allowed 10 or fewer points in three of four — Monday night included. (As you read that, keep in mind that the Bears haven’t held a single opponent to 10 or fewer points yet this season.)

To win on Monday night, the Bears needed the game to be a low-scoring slugfest. Their offense looked only slightly worse than we should’ve expected going against a top-five defense. The Bears defense, however, couldn’t get off the field in the first three quarters allowing drives that either resulted in scores or flipped the field, leaving the offense in an inopportune position. Five of the Bears first six drives began inside their own 20. For the game, they had eight drives start inside their own 20 and five inside the 10. Imagine how fun that is for Nick Foles when the team is asking Rashaad Coward to block Aaron Donald.

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Are There Potential OL Upgrades Available for the Bears?

| October 21st, 2020

Nick Foles, in his inspirational postgame press conference on Sunday, said, “without belief nothing is possible”. There’s truth to that. But with all due respect to Foles, belief alone isn’t going to get the Chicago Bears offense anywhere.

Foles was excited after the Bears defeated the Carolina Panthers to move to 5-1. And he should be, as another win buys the Bears more time to figure out what is hurting their offense. Foles believes they will, and he has his reasons, but six games into the season — and 38 into the Matt Nagy era — there’s little reason for anyone on the outside to believe the Bears are going to get where they need to be offensively.

There’s no reason to believe Foles’ belief is anything but blind optimism. In the same press conference he also said, “There have been teams that have been bad offensively for a very long time, we’re not one of those teams.”

But, hey, he’s new here. We’ll cut him some slack on that one.

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ATM: Next 5 Weeks Will Tell Us Who These Bears Are

| October 17th, 2020

With four wins in their first five games, the Chicago Bears did more than tread water over this initial stretch. They put themselves in good position to make a playoff run. And while beating bad teams typically doesn’t mean much, last Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay was a good sign that these Bears might not just be the best of the bad teams. They might actually be good.

The next five weeks will tell the tale.

The offense has to be better. On Friday, Matt Nagy hammered home a point about how they needed to be more detailed, but it’s unclear if he realized that he was really telling the world his offense is poorly coached. The details of a specific offense, after all, have to be taught. They’re not innately known.  The good news is that the Bears had some more time to figure it out and they’ll need it with this upcoming stretch of games.

The defense gets a pass, but shouldn’t. Playing offense is more difficult when the defense gives up early scores and puts the team in a double-digit hole before halftime. While they rank in the top ten in many statistical categories, the truth is, they should be much higher considering who they played and the injuries they’ve encountered. In every game, there has been a stretch of three or four possessions where the opposing offensive coordinator runs circles around Chuck Pagano. (Perhaps the biggest difference between Pagano and Vic Fangio is that Fangio would figure out the problem after one possession.)

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