How Coaching Staff Changes Improve Bears Offense
Changes made by Bears coach Matt Nagy to his coaching staff indicate an attempt to improve in several different ways, but one in particular.
The Bears are serious about getting their RPO attack to work better. Both new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and offensive line Juan Castillo are keys to improving this.
When the Bears hired Mark Helrich as offensive coordinator and Harry Hiestand as offensive line coach, both had been able to use RPOs in college. Helfrich's Oregon teams were well known for this, and Notre Dame went to it more as Hiestand was the Fighting Irish line coach.
This was fine, except they moved into the NFL and tried to use their knowledge and techniques in a completely different situation.
As the season unfolded, and the Bears struggled in their own RPOs to get the running game going, and ultimately all aspects of it, Nagy grew frustrated and at times it was obvious when he talked about RPOs and how they sometimes were responsible for how few times the Bears actually ran in games.
RPO blocking on running and passing plays looks the same as it unfolds. However, in college football the linemen can go 3 yards downfield before they are called for illegally blocking downfield. In the NFL, linemen can go only 1 yard downfield before they are illegally past the line of scrimmage.
It makes a huge difference in how blocking patterns develop.
What the Bears have done is go to two coaches who have NFL RPO experience, although they weren't necessarily a part of winning NFL teams.
Lazor instituted the RPO attack with the Bengals in 2017 as offensive coordinator and quarterback Andy Dalton love it. The Bengals ran RPO plays 11.6 percent of the time, the fourth most in the league.
Now, saying they ran it successfully is an entirely different suggestion and a false one. The Bengals finished last in offense in 2017 under Lazor, largely because they were 31st in rushing. They couldn't get the running game and RPO passing synced up correctly and after just 37 carries lost running back Jeremy Hill for the season to injury when he'd gained 2,757 yards the previous three seasons. They also lost a starting tackle and, of course, Tyler Eifert suffered one of his myriad injuries and as all Bears followers know the tight end has a big part blocking running plays in addition to receiving in this offense.
It never went anywhere. They improved somewhat the following season but the staff was fired when the Cincinnati defense completely collapsed to last in the league.
Lazor spent last year working in a voluntary advisory role for Penn State, and saw new ways to bring the RPO to life.
As for Castillo, the Bills instituted the RPO in 2018 when he was the offensive line coach and they finished ninth in rushing, sixth in the important category of rushing attempts.
These are NFL coaches with solid NFL experience at doing what Nagy wants to have done.
Another minor advantage to what both of those coaches bring is experience using multiple backs in an offense.
Castillo was in charge of the run game and offensive line with the Bills and in 2018 they had a three-back concept with Shady McCoy gaining 514 yards, Chris Ivory 385 and Marcus Murphy 250.
Virtually all four seasons Lazor spent in the NFL he was involved with attacks using multiple backs.
Nagy has wanted this back-by-committee approach since coming to Chicago but injuries and ineffective execution kept the Bears from fully using it. In the future, since Lazor is not expected to be involved in play calling as a big part of his responsibility, getting the game plan organized and the proper packages intact to use other backs properly will be a key for him.
There are other benefits, like just getting new blood in to contribute different ideas. A different person to work with Trubisky now can't hurt.
The real question is how much Nagy will use all of this on game day.
He should make it easier for Cordarrelle Patterson, Tarik Cohen and any other backs to get attempts in addition to David Montgomery.
Whether than can combine all of it and make it work with Mitchell Trubisky or some other competitor for his starting job is what has to be determined.