There’s more than enough blame to go around for the failures of the 2019 Chicago Bears.
The quarterback is struggling to read the field and to deliver accurate passes. The offensive line can’t block. The defense isn’t generating enough pressure or taking the ball away as much. The head coach is calling some head-scratching plays. And the general manager has misfired on a handful of player personnel decisions.
But who is most to blame for the Bears’ woes this season? Who are the leading culprits? And if we divvied up the blame pie, who would earn the biggest slice?
10. Running Backs
The Bears are averaging just 79.9 rushing yards per game, the fourth-worst total in the NFL. There’s a lot that goes into a run game, though, so it’s hard to blame strictly the running backs. Part of it is blocking (which I’ll get into in a moment). Another part is quarterback play — how do you run successfully when the box is stacked? And still another part is the play calling — you can’t have a good run game if you don’t commit to the run. The Bears are ranked 23rd in attempts per game. But David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen are not totally blameless. They’re just among the least of the Bears’ concerns right now.
9. Eddy Pineiro
Remember when the Bears thought they had their kicker position figured out? So much for that. It seems the kicker position is just as big a question mark as it was this offseason. Eddy Pineiro has converted on 70.6% of his field goal attempts this season. That ranks him 25th in the NFL. That’s just not good enough. Among his key misses are the potential game-winner against the Chargers as well as two field goals on Sunday against the Rams. Because the Bears have so many other issues, Pineiro doesn’t shoulder as much burden as Cody Parkey did at the end of last season.
8. Matt Nagy
The NFL’s reigning Coach of the Year has had his fair share of challenges this season. Early in the year, he was criticized for ignoring the run game completely. At other times, he’s been blamed for abandoning the run, even when it has been successful. Nagy’s play calling has left a lot to be desired. Once considered the “mad scientist,” he’s been compared this year to everyone from Marc Trestman to John Shoop. It’s safe to say other coaches have figured out his play calling and Nagy just hasn’t adjusted and counter-punched.
7. Ryan Pace
The buck stops with the general manager. Ryan Pace is responsible for assembling the talent on the field, and he’s missed on his share of personnel decisions. The most egregious miss was the selection of Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Trubisky’s regression has been one of the most disappointing aspects of this season. Pace also appeared to fail in selecting tight end Adam Shaheen in the second round, and he failed to adequately strengthen the offensive line for this season. He remains lower on the blame list, though, because he has assembled quite a bit of talent and has remade this roster since taking over the job in 2015.
6. Wide Receivers
The Bears lead the league in dropped passes, and that largely falls on the shoulders (or hands, as it were) of the receiving corps. Allen Robinson is a stud and has been about as good as you can ask him to be. Anthony Miller, meanwhile, has taken a major step back from his rookie season. He’s been accused of not knowing where he needs to be on the field and not putting in the work to rectify it. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. Taylor Gabriel has provided some nice flashes, but has had some bad drops, too. Nobody else is stepping up and helping Trubisky find his groove.
5. Pass Rush
I moved this item up and down the list several times, struggling with where to put it. Ultimately, I settled on somewhere in the middle. Because while it hasn’t yielded great production, it hasn’t been all bad. The pass rush is the second-most important asset a team can possess, next to the quarterback position. The Bears were third in the NFL last season with 50 sacks (about 3.1 per game). This year they’re averaging about 2.5 per game, and presently rank 15th in the league. Clearly, it’s not bad. It’s just not great. Part of the reason for the decline is the absence of Akiem Hicks. Another reason is that the Bears seldom play with a lead, thus opposing offenses don’t need to throw the ball as much.
4. Tight Ends
I can’t think of a more inept position on the team than tight end. Yes, that includes quarterback. The only reason why this is lower on the list of blame than quarterback is because it’s not as important a position. Trey Burton was brought in to be that versatile tight end who could spread the field and be used in a variety of ways for Matt Nagy’s offense. For the most part last year, he did that. And he did it well. Then injuries set it and Burton has essentially disappeared from the offense. He’s now on injured reserve. Adam Shaheen looks to be a huge bust in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft and is a red mark on general manager Ryan Pace’s record. The Bears have a host of other projects on their roster — including on the practice squad — and it’s high time they start experimenting with some of them.
3. Defensive Line
I think you would be hard-pressed to name a bigger turning point in the Bears’ season than when defensive lineman Akiem Hicks suffered an elbow injury. When Hicks went down in Week 5 against the Raiders, the entire defense suffered because of it. Beginning with that very same game, opponents started gashing the Bears’ run defense. The onslaught hasn’t really let up since. As a result of their inability to stop the run, the Bears’ defense hasn’t been able to get off the field in a timely manner. This has led to a wealth of other issues all across the field. Not only do the Bears miss Hicks’ run-stuffing, but they sorely need his ability to collapse a pocket right in the quarterback’s face, disrupting the passing game and flushing the quarterback into the waiting arms of Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Yes, reserve lineman Nick Williams leads the team with 6 sacks. But aside from that one statistic alone, the defensive line has been inadequate.
2. Mitch Trubisky
Some may disagree, but it is my belief that Trubisky is not the biggest problem on the team. Yes, he plays the most important position. And yes, he has regressed from Year 1 to 2 of Nagy’s offense. But the Bears won with him last year. He even made several big plays which earned him the honor of becoming a Pro Bowl alternate. This season, Trubisky’s inability to read the field and deliver accurate balls has stifled this offense. Trubisky is not taking off and running as much as he did last season. Whether that is tentativeness or a result of the coaching staff demanding that he complete his reads, I don’t know. But he has been a major liability this year and a leading cause for why the Bears are likely headed home for the playoffs.
1. Offensive Line
I have no doubt in my mind that the offensive line is the single biggest problem for the 2019 Bears. Trubisky has been bad, the receivers have dropped passes, the tight ends are non-existent, and the defense isn’t stopping the run or causing as many turnovers as they did a season ago. But everything starts up front for an offense and the line play has been simply horrendous. Right guard Kyle Long was hobbled by a hip injury from the get-go and was placed on injured reserve early in the season. Since then, the Bears have shuffled players in and out of the lineup and even swapped Cody Whitehair and James Daniels. Nothing has worked out to the Bears’ advantage. The run game has been one of the league’s worst. Trubisky rarely has a clean pocket from which to work. This is why the line deserves the biggest blame for the Bears’ woes this season. You could take one of the best quarterbacks in the league and stick him behind a bad offensive line and I guarantee he wouldn’t be one of the best in the league anymore.
There have been plenty of issues the Bears have faced in 2019, proving that the collapse they’ve suffered from last year’s NFC North championship has been a total team effort — or failure.