The book on the 2020 Chicago Bears has been written.
It's only going to make a best-seller list with their opponents.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said the team needed to establish an identity and in seven games it's clearly cemented.
The offensive identity won't change now whether Mitchell Trubisky winds up returning at quarterback again or Nick Foles continues playing.
From what Nagy said after Monday's loss, this isn't even an option.
If it's Foles, they're more likely to find some occasional bigger gains in the passing game through his experience and ability to read defenses. If it's Trubisky there would be more rushing game yardage because of the threat his legs pose and what they force opponents to do.
Regardless, they can't put Foles' head and arm on Trubisky's body. The tradeoff of both playing styles isn't a large enough factor to elevate the team, anyway.
It's fair to ask whether the 2020 Bears are who we thought they were. The answer if you were a skeptic of their 5-1 is a resounding yes.
"If you can't go through these parts of the game and if it's just easy and you win all the time, we'd all be great head coaches," Nagy said. "So you've got to be able to handle when things are a little bit tough."
They're plenty tough enough.
The same two problems plaguing the Bears since Nagy arrived as coach continue to exist. The reason for this is their root cause was created by general manager Ryan Pace and he preceded Nagy.
The reason isn't the quarterback. They don't have a superstar like Patrick Mahomes and everyone knows that whole scenario ad nauseum. It doesn't mean a team can't win with a dominant defense, but to do it requires other qualities they lack.
The root problem is they have not devoted enough attention and money to building a talented offensive line, and this contributes to colossal problems.
They talked this offseason about Juan Castillo being able to turn around the line with fundamentals, repetitions, doing it over and over again. No doubt this can help. However, it's a makeshift attempt to fortify a weak spot. It's all they have, and they have to hope it helps because there is a decided lack of quality blocking.
They have no first-round draft picks of their own on the line. The only one they have failed already in Seattle. Germain Ifedi is a waiver-wire pickup playing at a minimum NFL wage. Over the years, they spent their money on positions besides the line.
They tried to get by with a seventh-round draft pick at left tackle. Their two best linemen were second-round picks, nice players but not necessarily top of the line.
They've never treated tackle in the draft like it carried real significance and it does.
Kyle Long was a legitimate first-rounder and premier blocker but they haven't replaced him and now have lost James Daniels, and possibly Cody Whitehair to injuries. The backup situation is bleak. They're relying on two undrafted free agents, one who was initially a defensive player and the other who came into the league last year with an ACL tear.
Their neglect of the offensive line leads to two major problems.
1) They can't establish a running game. 2) They can't get vertical passing yardage.
"Ultimately I gotta play better and help our team out in these situations and we have to figure out how to run the ball effectively," Foles said. "I think the big thing is finding a rhythm of who we want to be and this situation, we’ve gotta continue to work.
"We’ve really gotta assess who we want to be and find that identity. And when we find the identity of what we want to be, that’s when we’ll take off. But that’s where we’re at right now."
Playing Foles helped their passing game initially because of his experience reading defenses, but if he doesn't have time to throw or wait for receivers on deeper routes to gain clearance then any advantage they recoup with experience is negated. Even then, he has gained even less on pass attempts than Trubisky—6.5 to 5.9—and now is forcing the ball downfield. As a result, Foles has as many interceptions as he has touchdowns (6).
Without a running attack for support, they become too predictable and the passing game can't work. More play-action passing was a major change in what they planned this year and the fake can't freeze any defense when there's no reason to fear the run.
Using Trubisky might clear some room for their running game to work, at least against average defenses.
The defense can't focus edges on stopping running backs with Trubisky playing because he can pull the ball and run, or it could be a bootleg with him rolling out to pass. This spreads out the defensive front more and aids blockers by creating more open space for running backs to operate right from the snap. It's a major reason they averaged 138 yards a game rushing the first three games and 43.75 yards with Foles starting.
Contributing greatly to their running-game problem is the loss of Tarik Cohen. When he lined up in the backfield, his speed also kept defenses from clamping down on the interior, and the prospect of him running around free in the secondary with short passes forced defenses to hedge instead of attacking.
Nagy admitted the decline in rushing yards with Foles at quarterback is a problem to be solved.
"If we had the exact answer, we would surely probably be doing a lot better, but it's a little bit of everything right now and for us," Nagy said. "I don't know if I have a specific answer as to why it's dropped a whole yard. But I do know we are focused on trying to make that a lot better and that's all we can really focus on right now."
They're still a stingy defense with play makers but the basis for this defense and any other good defense is stopping the run.
Pace never acquired an adequate replacement for nose tackle Eddie Goldman when he opted out. The importance of this can't be stressed enough. Seattle has the one player now who could have helped address this—Snacks Harrison.
Another aspect to this is Chuck Pagano's background. His Colts defenses only stopped the run one year he was there. It was always assumed talent had a lot to do with this, and it's true to an extent. But Pagano is a defensive backs coach by trade and he'll have good pass coverage first, run-stopping emphasis next. Having a good defensive line coach like Jay Rodgers offsets some of this, but with this overall trend and without a Goldman at the nose Bears linebackers can be reached by blockers before they have a chance to attack.
The Bears are 15th stopping the run and not top 10 like they have traditionally been.
Teams softer against the run absorb punishment and give opponents easy yardage. Eventually their third-down and red-zone dominance will vanish like on Monday night because they'll give up too many yards on first and second down, or too many points from inside the 5-yard line if they can't stop the run.
The same scenario for Bears games has been repeated the last four weeks and will continue.
The offense can't run. It can't get the ball downfield in the passing game without this threat. They can't gain an edge in a game as a result.
This forces their defense to play on its heels. If they're behind or even in a game, they're guessing and gambling and reaching and not teeing off on offenses.
The Bears start games playing back and forth, trading scores or falling behind. The defense will begin to wear down physically in games and as the season progresses because they're constantly taking punishment.
This all happened against the Colts. It repeated against the Rams. It happened to some extent against Tampa Bay and Carolina, but the defense was able to make enough big plays to give the offense a field-position edge and the offense did just enough to win.
The Potential Out
If they can trade for an acceptable left guard before the Nov. 2 deadline and quickly get him up and running in the offense, there is a remote chance they'll get the running game moving.
Running back Lamar Miller could possibly help, too.
Even better for the Bears, six of the remaining nine opponents possess run defenses ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. If these trends continue, they could have a shot at reviving the running attack. Only the Saints and Packers have stronger run defenses among the games left on their schedule.
The Bears need to do everything possible to fix this problem, or their offense continues to stall out, their defense will wear down, and a season that started with a 5-1 record could easily become 7-9 or 8-8 by the end.