I’m not a football coach, so I don’t presume to know how to fix the Bears. All I am is a frustrated Bears fan and part-time analyst who is seeking to find solutions.
So, let’s play armchair head coach. Let’s pretend Matt Nagy hands over his job for a day and says, “Here, random Joe … let’s see what you can do.
Let’s identify the problems, formulate solutions, and figure out how to fix the Bears. At the very least, it makes for good barstool fodder.
Get the ball out quick
A funny thing happened the other night while I was watching the Patriots dismantle the Jets on Monday Night Football. I watched the Great One, Tom Brady, systematically dissect the Jets’ defense when I had an epiphany.
“This isn’t overly complicated stuff,” I thought. “He just executes it so well.”
Just look at the Patriots’ drive chart for their first offensive series of the game. A 16-play, 78-yard opening drive that concluded with a touchdown.
- Brady pass short left to Julian Edelman for 6 yards.
- Brady pass incomplete short left to Ben Watson.
- Brady pass short left to Jakobi Meyers for 3 yards.
- Brady pass short middle to Meyers for 9 yards.
- Brady pass short right to Brandon Bolden for 2 yards.
- Brady pass short left to Edelman for 14 yards (catch-and-run)
- Brady pass short left to James White for 5 yards.
- Brady pass short middle to Watson for 10 yards.
- Brady pass short right to Edelman for 6 yards.
There were also 7 rushing attempts in addition to these 9 passes. So, not only did the Patriots have good balance on that drive, but did you happen to notice a recurring theme in the passing plays?
Everything was short left, short middle, or short right.
And I thought to myself: really? The Great One threw nothing but short passes — most of which were under five yards — and allowed his backs, receivers, and tight end to pick up yards after the catch.
It doesn’t take a future Hall of Famer to complete a pass under five yards. Hell, Mitch Trubisky completed 80% of his passes against the Redskins in Week 3, most of which were less than 10 yards.
Why would you not want to emulate arguably the best team in the NFL and the best quarterback ever? Am I saying that Trubisky can make the tougher plays that Brady can make? Of course not. But the quick, short swing passes? Hell yes, he can.
The quicker Trubisky can get rid of the ball, the better his chances are at succeeding.
Roll Mitch out
A few weeks ago, while watching the Raiders’ offense systematically dismantle the Bears’ defense, another idea struck me.
Perhaps Nagy can learn something from these rollouts for when Trubisky comes back. #CHIvsOAK
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) October 6, 2019
The Raiders rolled quarterback Derek Carr out of the pocket, left him isolated against a Bears end or ‘backer, and dragged a tight end or receiver across the middle of the field to follow Carr.
The goal was to get the Bears defender to commit to a decision. Either the defender would get up the field and try to sack Carr, or hang back and defend the tight end or other dragging receiver, thus allowing Carr to run with it if he should choose.
This, in theory, would be perfect for Trubisky. He can throw on the run, and he can throw short passes. And should the defenders give him a little room, he can run with the ball as well.
Limit Trubisky’s decisions
One of the criticisms currently reigning down upon Trubisky is that he just can’t seem to read the field well. To fix that, clearly the Bears have to limit his decisions.
Trubisky was a Pro Bowl alternate in his second season — his first under Nagy — because of his success running the ball. That’s about it. Trubisky made one read, maybe two, and if it looked bottled up, he would take off and run with the ball.
Bears coaches didn’t like this. They wanted him to read the field better, complete his progression, and only take off running as a last resort.
This is generally a good philosophy, but there are a few problems right now. First, the offensive line isn’t blocking well enough for Trubisky to go through every option. Second, Trubisky isn’t finding the open receiver — or delivering an accurate pass — anyway.
Let Trubisky be a one-read player once again. Yes, I know, this doesn’t bode well for his long-term progress as a quarterback. But what it does do is boost his confidence, which appears to be a major deficiency right now.
Force the run
What do you do when your offensive line can’t run block well?
You pass the ball 54 times with your quarterback who can’t throw accurately.
No, obviously that’s stupid and we saw how poorly that worked against the Saints last week. The Bears attempted 7 runs against New Orleans. Yep, just 7.
Sometimes, the threat of the run game is enough to help propel you to victory. You can’t run the ball 7 times, admit defeat, and give up the rest of the game. Even if you’re churning out 1- or 2-yard carries, you have to keep plugging away at it.
Believe it or not, if the Bears came out and ran the ball 75% of the time, but only picked up a few first downs in the process, I actually think Bears fans would be somewhat pleased. (At least, initially. Eventually, the punts would wear down their patience.)
One positive side effect to running the ball, whether it’s successful or not, is milking the clock.
The Bears defense has had it. Still one of the most talented units in the league, they’re breaking down even earlier in games. That partly has to do with the offense being bad and giving up the ball quickly. The Bears are ranked 24th in the league in time of possession. The good teams are the ones that hold onto the ball longer.
So, at the very least, a three-and-out on three-straight run plays chews up at least two minutes of game clock — assuming they use the full play clock.
I believe staying committed to the run and allowing the offensive linemen to fire off the ball and hit somebody is one way to help fix the Bears.
In addition to short, quick passes, the Bears beat the Redskins by controlling the tempo of the game.
The Bears ran a lot of no-huddle in that game. That allowed Nagy to relay the play and other pertinent information about the defense into Trubisky’s helmet up until 15 seconds remained on the play clock.
No-huddle is advantageous for multiple reasons.
First, no-huddle prevents the defense from making personnel changes. This leaves the defense gassed and looking for a breather.
Second, the no-huddle allows Nagy to coach Trubisky through pre-snap adjustments. Yeah, this amounts to training wheels and hand-holding. But so what? Trubisky needs it right now.
Finally, no-huddle gives the offense the ability to set and control the tempo. It chews up the clock, it forces the defense’s hand, and it puts Trubisky in the driver’s seat, slowing things down for him and allowing him to play and feel under control.
What’s the real head coach going to do to fix the Bears?
All right, I had my fun. I’m out of the armchair. I’m not sure if Nagy will do anything like what I’ve just outlined above. But the time for action has come. The Bears can’t keep doing what they’ve been doing the past six games and expect anything to change. That would be the definition of insanity.
What’s Nagy going to do when the Bears take the field against the Chargers? And how will Trubisky respond?