There's Plenty of Bears Offense to Turn Around

The Bears haven't exactly set Justin Fields up for success with the offense they've built over Matt Nagy's first three years, and here's what they need to get better at to provide support.
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The drafting is over and the work on the field is about to begin for the Chicago Bears.

Now that they know the large majority of the players who will play offense for them this year, it's time to recall why they needed to draft five players on offense before they ever looked at the defensive side, why they spent money to bring in a couple of free agent wide receivers and a backup running back and why they trimmed two tackles from their roster.

It's time to remember why the Bears needed to draft Justin Fields and, for that matter, sign Andy Dalton.

Coach Matt Nagy's offenses have been terrible.

Save for a few big games late last year against struggling defenses, they're coming off another poor offensive showing.

Blaming Mitchell Trubisky became the easy out. Sure, Trubisky had his faults. More went wrong with Bears offenses so far under Nagy than just his quarterback.

Design, play calling, a poor running game, a struggling offensive line and the lack of receiver help at various position at different points in time over his three years have combined to drag down the offense.

General manager Ryan Pace has drawn plenty of heat for his draft picks, particularly the decision to ignore Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in favor of wasting draft picks so he could trade up for Trubisky.

Nagy deserves all the same criticism for failures on his watch.

Pointing the finger of blame at Trubisky is convenient. Saying Trubisky's selection wasn't Nagy's fault is true. Saying Trubisky's inability to improve enough wasn't Nagy's fault couldn't be further from the truth.

The Bears have brought in a quarterback with an arm and the pressure is on to play him as soon as possible.

What's the point if the offense he's taking over is incapable of doing much, anyway? Not everything revolves around the quarterback. Fields might be able to elevate it to some degree with his combination of athleticism and arm strength.

It's impossible for him to put the whole mess on his shoulders and turn it into a success overnight.

Here's what has to change with the Bears offense.

1. The Bears Couldn't Score

They were 23rd in scoring offense at 23.3 points a game last year. That would be fine in the 1980s and 90s. Teams don't win in the NFL now by limiting opponents to 17 points or less. It takes more points. The only time Nagy's three teams scored sufficiently came in 2018 when the defense scored points and set them up for easy points with 36 takeaways. They were a mediocre 22nd in converting red zone chances into TDs last year (56.4%) but they were next to last in the league in the number of times they got into the red zone. They had the advantage of averaging the 30.5-yard line to start their drives, seventh best field position in the league thanks largely to Cordarrelle Patterson's returns. They did nothing with this advantage.

2. The Bears Couldn't Run the Ball

In the final six regular-season games they did run it consistently with an outside zone blocking scheme and plenty of misdirection using bootleg action, but this is unlikely to be major point of their offensive emphasis going forward and when they did it last year the success came against poor run-stopping defenses. They ranked 27th in rushing touchdowns last year with 12. David Montgomery tied for fifth in rushing yards but gained 598 of his 1,070 yards in the final six games when they facd four poor rushing defenses. Montgomery showed he can make people miss and can break tackles to gain yardage. The Bears didn't show they could get it blocked for him when it counted against better defenses because he had only 69 yards against the Packers with the season on the line and then 31 yards the next week in the playoff loss to New Orleans.

3. Few Big Gains in the Passing Game

Fields' big arm can help this, no doubt. Andy Dalton can help it to some degree. However, the over passing game itself has not posed enough of a downfield threat to keep opponents from ganging up on the line against the run. The closest the Bears offense has come to respectability at this is 2018 when they averaged 7.3 yards per pass attempt and ranked 18th in the league. They averaged 10.9 yards per completion that season, which was 21st in the league.

In 2019 they averaged 6.2 yards a pass attempt, the worst in the NFL. That same season, they also averaged only 3.4 yards after the reception, worst in the NFL.

They improved only slightly at these last year, finishing 29th in yards after the catch at 3.6 and were 28th in yards per attempt (6.4).

Clearly this is a team struggling to get the ball down the field whether it means completing it there or letting someone catch it and run with it.

Before drafting Fields, they didn't exactly set themselves up for a change. Dalton's career low in yards per attempt came last year at 6.5 when he was playing with one of the league's most explosive sets of receivers. He hasn't been over 7.0 since 2016 and did it only four of his 10 years in the NFL.

One thing Dalton did do better than the Bears quarterbacks have done is set receivers up for yards after the catch with accurately thrown balls. His receivers averaged 4.8, 5.3 and 5.1 yards gained after making each completion. Then again, those Bengals teams and last year's Cowboys found themselves trailing so much that defenses were giving them the underneath catches and some yards after the reception. So yards after the catch became easier against looser coverage.

Fielding a better offense

If Fields gets to play and eventually gains an understanding of the offense, it can go a long way toward changing some of these issues. His bigger arm and threat as a runner can scare defenses off the line, open up parts of the attack in ways the Bears haven't seen.

A good example was the 2011 Washington Redskins with Rex Grossman at quarterback. They couldn't score and were 26th in points. The next year Robert Griffin III took over and they vaulted to fourth in points scored. Then again, they also had a new offensive system and new coach with Mike Shanahan calling the shots.

The Bears will have the same offense, same play caller and prep. 

They have to show they can at least provide Fields support better than they did when Trubisky was in charge of the attack.

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