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Grading the 2021 Bears

Crushing the hopes of their fans is where the Chicago Bears usually earn their highest marks.

Former Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammad said Chicago is where receivers go to die and he wasn't entirely wrong.

If he said Chicago is where football fans' hopes go to die, then he would have been entirely accurate.

Yet Bears fans can have some hope now going forward thanks to the L.A. Raiders. When the Raiders beat the Los Angeles Chargers late Sunday to make the playoffs, it might have ensured a new, more popular Bears coach.

How does Las Vegas possibly fire coach Rich Bisaccia now? 

And if that truly is the case, and Jim Harbaugh seriously is considering a return to the NFL, then what better place than Halas Hall and the team he played for to start his pro career?

The Bears not only were inept in Matt Nagy's fourth season as coach but had no luck through much of this season. The way they lost the Pittsburgh game showed this much. 

Sunday's season finale summed up their year well, with poor decisions, poor play calls and lack of execution. They did all of the things a poorly coached team does.

Here are final team grades for the 6-11 2021 Chicago Bears, a team capable of outgaining an opponent by 200 yards during the first half of a game for a 14-0 lead, and then also capable of quickly blowing that lead and losing by 14 points..

Passing Game: F

The only positives on the season came when Darnell Mooney stepped forward in his second year as Allen Robinson struggled with injuries, COVID and five missed games. Cole Kmet made strides with 60 catches for 612 yards but needed more red zone production. Actually, he needed some red zone production. The Bears were last in passing, their quarterbacks had an unacceptably bad 75.5 combined passer rating and for only 6.7 yards per attempt. So they couldn't get it downfield, couldn't throw it accurately and they were sacked a league-high 58 times. Other than that, they were fine when they passed.

Running Game: C-

David Montgomery's perpetual extra effort alone keeps them from getting a D grade or worse. His yards-per-carry average has plummeted, though, once they no longer had the threat of Justin Fields running in the backfield alongside him. He finished at 3.8 yards a carry and all the running backs at 3.92 per carry. The run blocking was inconsistent all year, and often poor in short-yardage situation. They rarely ran Fields on designed running plays and he needs to take a crash course on how to give fakes in RPO or bootlegs because he does it half-heartedly and indecisively.

Pass Defense: B-

The final statistics for the season show a team ranked third against the pass overall. Yet, their pass coverage gave up too many big plays at crucial times, and Sunday's season finale was an example. They lost to the Rams, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Minnesota by allowing deep passes mostly late in games. Their overall pass yardage allowed was held down by a pass rush that led the NFL in sacks per pass attempt. They did finish eighth in preventing third downs conversions, though, at 37.4%. Eddie Jackson took another step back in his coverage and tackling this season as the highest-paid player in their secondary, while the cornerbacks intercepted only one pass for the second straight season. They tied the franchise record for fewest interceptions with eight, except this was worse than the other times it occurred because it came in 17 games and not 16.

Run Defense: D

Part of the reason the Bears were so good on pass defense was they faced faced the fewest pass attempts in the NFL. This was the case because the run defense was their most obvious flaw besides their deep coverage, but many teams didn't want to risk deeper throws because of their pass rush. But the run defense was 24th overall and nose tackle Eddie Goldman experienced an awful year coming back from an opt-out. When opponents ran the ball up the middle, they averaged 5.06 yards per attempt. That's the highest average in the NFL. If Roquan Smith wants to be in the Pro Bowl, he needs to have more TFLs apparently, or at least not get blocked by guards on running plays. With Akiem Hicks leaving in free agency, you really have to wonder if the Bears are going to be able to stop the run at all in the future.

Special Teams: B

The Bears led the NFC in punt return average despite using four different return men. Jakeem Grant made it possible. Khalil Herbert's returns as a rookie let the Bears finish top 10 in team kick return average. Cairo Santos' kicking while not as good as last year, was still respectable at 26 of 30 (87%). They finished middle of the pack in covering kicks and punting but their punt coverage was miserable, ranked 30th overall and better only than the Raiders and last-place Packers.

Coaching: F

Some of the most ridiculous decisions were made in goal-line or short-yardage situations. Some of this occurred because their line never really established itself as a force in the running game, and the last game was a good example. They had David Montgomery off the field on fourth-and-short. They've run shotgun this year at the goal line and wildcat in fourth-and-short situations when opponents know they're not passing and have all their defenders at the line of scrimmage. The coordination of the running game in relation to the passing game is completely absent. They couldn't run-block out of the shotgun but insist on running it a good deal of the time on RPO plays. For a first-year coordinator Sean Desai had some strong moments but too many times had coverages burned at critical times. He fell in love too much with his own four-man pass rush and blitzed only 21.9% of the time, 24th most times in the league. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor had to contend with constant shuffling of his return and coverage groups due to COVID-19 and injuries throughout a year when the Bears were top eight in the league in key players lost to injuries or illness.

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Personnel: D

Ryan Pace went from the hero to the goat. He was part of the process of getting a trade for Justin Fields, then somehow managed to not bring in adequate left and slot cornerback help after losing Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine. The third and fourth wide receivers he brought in were not up to their tasks until very late in the season. They drafted a tackle to start who had back issues and were stunned when he had to have back surgery. Pace's draft class for this year eventually started to produce, though. They weren't at last year's level but they all contributed at least at one point.

Ownership: F

They looked like fools last year by insisting on a press conference that wasn't even necessary after the team made the playoffs, then made public what they needed to see from their coach and GM to be retained before tying the two with this ridiculous collaboration buzzword. So now when one fails, they're both to blame. And with everyone aware now the Bears need to have "progress" or win a playoff game, the coaches were put at a disadvantage competitively in games and in seeking out trades or talent. Then they let Matt Nagy dangle for about five weeks and could have fired him back two weeks ago in order to start the hiring process for a new coach by taking advantage of new rules allowing for in-season interviews of assistants by teams without coaches. The only thing ownership did well was pursue the Arlington Park racetrack property, and no one knows if they can fund the new stadium yet.

Overall: D-

There have been many worse Bears seasons but not many so frustrating. It all starts at the top, and as a result they really need Jeff Bezos to buckle down and forget outer space so he can focus on buying this team.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven