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Mid-Term Bears Grade

Difficult first half reflected in overall grade given the Bears for nine games.

Three out of nine is pretty good in baseball. You're hitting .333.

For the Bears, 3-6 means total disappointment. Yet, it's also probably something they deserve because they mishandled the quarterback position once again.

What's worse is this time they actually had the guy of their dreams and didn't use him.

For years they only wished they had a quarterback with talent and then when they finally had him, Matt Nagy and/or Ryan Pace decided it was better to make Andy Dalton the starter at the outset just to insure they'd get a win or two early. 

Some people can't stand prosperity.

Looking at the Bears schedule before the season, they figured at best to have one more win than they have now no matter who started at quarterback. So they could have been developing Justin Fields all along without much penalty for starting a passer who didn't yet have it fully figured out.

It's just one of the moves that weighs heavily against decision makers in grades for the season's first half.

It's mid-term grades time for the Bears.

Don't point out we're past the halfway point because the only way to actually hit the halfway point with this ridiculous 17-game schedule would have been doing a report card at halftime of the Steelers game.

Quarterbacks: D

Rookies don't get graded on a curve. Sorry. Fields' numbers fail to stack up against most of the league overall but do compare well to his contemporaries—the 2021 quarterback draft class. He is a solid second best. And No. 1 Mac Jones had the benefit of a better approach by coaches to using him. He was in place and ready on Day 1. The problem with Fields' effort is he has to be as good as the better quarterbacks throughout the league, not just the rookies. The sticking point so far has been too few explosive plays but the second half of Sunday's game stirred optimism this can be increased. He displayed hesitancy as a runner at first but this seems to have changed, as well.

Running Backs: B

The fact David Montgomery missed half the season's first half and still is tied for 21st with seven broken tackles shows what type of year he'd be having if not for the knee injury. Combined, Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Justin Fields and Damien Williams have the Bears at fifth in broken tackles on rushing attempts with 39. The Bears are third in breaking runs 20 yards or longer (8). Again, the backs are still not getting the kind of run blocking overall that they need because they're hit too often in the backfield, although it has improved. They are 26th in yards (865) before contact. It only shows how much they've had to do on their own. They're also not getting the chance to be passing targets, but that's more the fault of their inexperienced quarterback and offensive line's problems blocking for the pass -- they've had to keep backs in to block rather than get involved as receivers.

Wide Receivers: C-

It's difficult to know the percentage of blame receivers own for a passing game ranking so low all year, or how much goes to the offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback. Based on sheer production, it's been a precipitous decline for Allen Robinson as he tries to figure out how to work with Fields. Darnell Mooney has been slightly ahead of his production overall, compared to last year, showing a real knack for adapting. His yards per catch is up 2.2 yards over last season. Use of Marquise Goodwin has been very limited but his 50-yarder against Pittsburgh and 21-yarder against San Francisco pointed his trend upward. If they can get an explosive pass or two per game from him they can stretch defenses. The rest of the receiver corps after these three has done nothing. It's a factor weighing into why they are last in passing yards and 31st in scoring offense.

Tight Ends: C-

Tight ends beyond Cole Kmet have been limited much of the time to blocking. Their run blocking has been above average, and assisted in the runs or 20 yards or longer. It could improve, though. The rediscovery of Jimmy Graham last game must continue. Kmet finally has his yards per catch up over the 10-yard barrier, 1.4 yards ahead of last year, and has as many receptions as he made all last season. The real missing element has been red zone receptions or TDs. Graham caught one last week that was wiped out by a blown call on a penalty. Look for expanded growth by a group that improved greatly the last three games.

Offensive Line: D+

Change at right tackle has ruined the line's cohesiveness, as they had a different starter each game over a four-game stretch before Larry Borom started consecutive games against San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Even then, they're relying on a rookie at the position. Jason Peters needed about three games to pick up the pace and his Pro Football Focus grade is a solid 76.7 and 17th overall, one spot above Charles Leno Jr. out of 79 graded. James Daniels has committed too many penalties, with a team-high seven, although one was an official's mistake. He'd still be leading the team without that one. Daniels and Cody Whitehair have been close to average as blockers, but more was expected. Sam Mustipher tries hard and leads, but might be overmatched at times in the running game. His overall PFF grade is 37th in a 32-team league but it has come up gradually over the last three weeks.

Defensive Line: D

So much more is expected of this group with Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols and Eddie Goldman. Each has dealt with injuries, none real severe but definitely they've been slowed and regressed. Last year the D-line had 26 of the defense's 63 tackles for loss or 41%. After nine games this year they have 10 of the 37 tackles for loss or 27%. And they added Goldman back into the mix this year. They're one major reason the defense has declined to 23rd in rushing yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. One of the most disappointing players is Mario Edwards Jr., who received a three-year, $11.6 million deal and has more penalty yards than anyone on the team. He has four penalties, all involving roughing for 57 total yards. He has 1 1/2 sacks after making four last year and one tackle for loss after six last season.

Linebackers: B-

Roquan Smith's pass defense continues to be solid and he is third in the NFL in tackles, but needs more impact plays. Last year he had 18 tackles for loss, tied for second best in the league. This year with less than half the schedule left he has just six and is third on the team, 17th in the league. Danny Trevathan's knee injury was a factor early and Alec Ogletree has had moments as a pass defender but the play they've had from both has been sub-par. Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn propped up the pass rush early, before Mack's foot injury and both have been among the most consistent performers on defense when available.

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Defensive Backs: D+

Pass defense is all about rush and cover. They've had plenty of rush but not enough cover. The 25 sacks, tying them for fourth in the league, has helped the defense rate 10th against the pass. They've been passed on the fifth-most times but still rate 10th, which indicates it's not all pass rush. Jaylon Johnson has been effective, less so when pressed into covering all over the field. Kindle Vildor has struggled greatly, having allowed more touchdown passes (5) than he has pass defenses (4), to go with a passer rating against of 150.3 when targeted. Eddie Jackson hasn't had a single pass defense or interception and now has a hamstring injury while Tashaun Gipson has allowed a passer rating of 110.6 but has cut down on the yards he's giving up per target to 6.1 from 9.0 last year. Slot cornerback Duke Shelley is showing some promise now after struggling early, and has lowered his passer rating against to 102.6, much better than the 125.7 they got last year from Buster Skrine.

Special Teams: C

The Cairo Santos watch finally is over after a game-ending miss Monday but 65 yards shouldn't even count as a miss. Santos remains the most steady special teams performer. Punter Pat O'Donnell has a chance of breaking his personal best for distance average. He's at 46.7 and 47.0 is his best, but his net is tied for the worst in the league because the Bears punt coverage team IS the worst in the league. Returner Jakeem Grant could finish among league leaders in both punt and kick returns but if he continues having problems handling the ball like against Pittsburgh it won't matter.

Coaching: D

Not getting Justin Fields the first-team snaps in the offseason and training camp and making him starter from Day 1 is the biggest mistake the team has had and this falls on Nagy, although the great collaboration means perhaps Ryan Pace fits in here. Pity defensive coordinator Sean Desai who hasn't had his actual starting defensive lineup on the field for a single game this season. No one in the league cares, though, and Desai needs to be better with adjustments as the game continues; they've been fading later in games and that can't all fall on their aging players. Bill Lazor and the offense haven't had the perpetual problem starting up in the first quarter, although there have been remnants of this. The Bears are 2-3 since Lazor became signal caller again and dedicated more emphasis to the run, but they have that established. Now he and Nagy need to improve how they blend Fields' deep-passing ability, which is starting to work, with the running attack, which was already working.

Personnel: D

For his part in the Andy Dalton acquisition, Pace gets blame for the biggest mistake. Dalton is no Mike Glennon but his presence wasn't required and only held back Fields. Pace did have a solid offseason bolstering depth at running back and found a veteran linebacker inside in Alec Ogletree, as well as edge rusher Cassius Marsh following the season-ending injury to Jeremiah Attaochu. However, none of the speed receivers they've brought in have really worked out and he traded away Anthony Miller, who last year had 49 receptions. Pace also had to trade for Grant as a return man when for what they spent on all of those "speed" receivers combined they could have just used the money to retain Cordarrelle Patterson and had an extra standout special teams performer. All this said, Pace's biggest mistake was relying on a rookie left tackle who hadn't played the position much and had a history of back problems before suffering a back injury. He found a suitable replacement but a little late in the game.

Overall: D+

The Bears have been dragged down by what everyone warned would be their problems. Their inexperienced quarterback was initially held back, so he couldn't develop fast enough. Their age on defense is showing in the form of numerous minor injuries. They don't have enough productive wide receivers. And their offensive line has lacked consistency. In the season's second half, drastic improvement might be necessary or there might be no need to offer up final grades on the coaching and personnel departments.

Twitter: BearDigest@onFanNation