Five Factors Defining Season's First Half for Bears
The Bears had solved their kicking problem with Eddy Pineiro, although he later displayed shaky kicking and cost them a game after winning one.
Yet the crispness evident at times in their passing game last season and the attacking running style they had with Jordan Howard were missing.
The defense knew going into the season it would be difficult to duplicate last year's forced turnover totals because turnovers tend to be more of an outlier as a statistic from year to year. But the defense was just as dominant as last year through four games.
Then came London, then came Akiem Hicks' arm injury and the Bears struggled into the the second half of the season with a losing record.
Here are the five factors most impacting their 3-5 record.
5. Improved NFC North
This extraneous factor only added pressure on the Bears for the most part. They've still played only two NFC North games, splitting them at home. However, the loss to Green Bay when the Packers' offense was entirely controlled in Week 1 not only hurt in the standings but had to be an ego bruiser. The entire NFC North stepped up early as the Vikings took off on a chase after the Packers following their loss to the Bears. The Lions even shared first for a while and still remain ahead of the Bears coming into Sunday's game at Soldier Field. Regardless of any improvements the Bears hoped to make, the improved NFC North was going to make repeating last year difficult.
4. Struggling Top Draft Picks
Bears 2016 first-round pick Leonard Floyd made two opening-night sacks of Aaron Rodgers, then didn't get another one until Sunday against the Eagles to close the season's first half. Bears 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky hasn't stepped into Year 2 of the Matt Nagy attack knowing it like the back of his hand, as had been promised. Bears 2018 first-round pick Roquan Smith went from making the NFL All-Rookie Team last year to struggling with a personal issue and playing at an inconsistently level. Tight end Adam Shaheen was the 2017 second-round pick who came to the league out of a small Division II school and still hasn't seemed to fit into his role. He's made 26 receptions in 27 career games. James Daniels was a promising 2018 second-round pick at guard and moved to his so-called natural position of center this year and has had trouble assuming this important role in the offense. Their 2015 first-round pick was receiver Kevin White and he's long gone as a bust, along with their 2015 third-round pick, Hroniss Grasu.
3. Akiem Hicks' injury
The cornerstone of the defensive line has been Akiem Hicks. The Bears overcame a knee injury and a missed game he had against the Vikings behind Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris, but the line backups were exposed by the Raiders' double-teaming, chop blocking and cutback running after Hicks went out with an arm injury. He remains on injured reserve, hoping to return in December. Meanwhile, opponent after opponent tries to take advantage of the gap Hicks' absence causes. The Eagles exploited it well last week with running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders.
2. Failure to Launch the Run
Is it the inability to block for the run or inability to block the run in Nagy's offense? Or is it their refusal to stick with the run? When the Bears went to the offset or even power I-formation with more power concepts in their blocking than the drop-step and zone blocking they'd been using, then they actually ran it with more consistency and explosiveness. Rookie David Montgomery looks like a back who can run in either blocking scheme, he just needs an opening however they achieve it. The use of J.P. Holtz as a fullback seemed to add something to the blocking and Montgomery broke a 55-yarder against the L.A. Chargers. Yet Nagy seems reluctant to go with this even if it's working. After all, it isn't really his offense, just a small part of his attack to be used in case of emergency. This almost seems like there is ego involved, but Nagy dislikes losing so much it would seem to outweigh any desire he might have of running it his own way.
1. Mitchell Trubisky Flunks Offense 201
Billed as ready for ascension to the next level by both Nagy and Pace, Trubisky has actually played at far lower level than last year. The only area of his game better than last year is fewer interceptions and interceptions per pass thrown. He has only three interceptions, but when you're only throwing the passes from zero to 10 yards like Trubisky is, then fewer interceptions should occur. His yards per pass attempt is an abysmal 5.6 yards. A good average is around 7.6 to 8.0
If Trubisky suddenly elevated his play, it could still make a huge difference for his future and the Bears' future, although probably not so much for this season. It would make a similar impact on Trubisky if the running game took root because he'd have that threat as a counterbalance and opponents couldn't lay back waiting in zones for his passes or for his runs, if he ever makes another one.