At the top of the list is the team’s virtually non-existent running game, its suddenly porous offensive line and an unnerving lack of discipline on both sides of the ball that has resulted in nearly as many penalties in some areas through five games as the team had in 16 games last season.
Here’s what Matt Nagy and the Bears must work on in the time they have during their week 6 bye:
Fix the Penalty Problem
The Bears have had 43 penalties called on them for a total of 360 yards through five games. The fewest number of penalties they have had in a game so far this season is seven. They rank 26th in penalties accrued among all NFL teams.
Last season, the Bears were much more disciplined. They averaged 5.9 penalties a game in 2018, and were among the league’s 10 least penalized teams. This season, they’re up to 8.6 penalties per game, and that simply cannot continue if they want to make the playoffs. Nagy and his coaching staff have to crack down on young players and veterans alike after an extremely messy game.
Retool the Offensive Line–and Bench Kyle Long
This offseason, the Bears decided to shift James Daniels to the center position, while moving Cody Whitehair to guard. Whitehair had played center all of 2018, and Daniels played well at guard as a rookie. Nagy and his coaching staff made the switch prior to this season, and so far, it hasn’t worked out well.
When asked if he has any plans to switch Daniels and Whitehair back to the way it was last season, Nagy said Monday morning that he had plans to do no such thing. But Nagy has other problems on the line to worry about. Charles Leno Jr. leads the NFL in penalties, and Leno himself seems flummoxed by it.
“We’ve just gotta do our job better,” Leno told reporters after the game. “I don’t even want to keep on saying it, but it’s gotta start with me. I’m gonna go to this bye week and do some real deep searching and see how I can get better…All I want to do is help the team win, and if I’m not doing my job, well…a la holding calls — some [expletive], in my opinion. But at the end of the day, if I’m not doing my job, I’m hurting the offense and we can’t get going.”
Leno Jr. is still young, and is coming off a Pro Bowl year in 2018, so there’s hope he can turn things around yet this season. Kyle Long is another story.
Whether Long is playing poorly due to a hip injury he has been battling, or whether the aging veteran has just lost a step, it’s been obvious for several games this season that his poor play is hurting the team. When Rashaad Coward filled in against Minnesota, the line looked the best it has looked all year. When both Ted Larsen (who is currently out with a knee injury) and Rashaad Coward are out-playing him, something needs to be done.
Long is a beloved veteran who has been plagued with injuries the bulk of his career. He’ll likely be gone after this season, but the team cannot afford to hurt itself any longer by starting players who aren’t performing at a high level.
Get the Running Game Going
When the Chicago Bears traded their star running back Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles this past off-season, the narrative surrounding the trade was that Howard didn’t fit in to Matt Nagy’s offense of system. Just five weeks into the 2019 season, Howe, Jordan Howard is flourishing in Philadelphia, while Matt Nagy’s offense–especially it’s running game–is worse than ever. In fact, it seems to be much worse than it was last year.
The Bears are averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and 80.6 yards a game, 26th in the NFL. Many Bears fans and media analysts have been baffled by Nagy’s use of rookie running back David Montgomery, who has displayed flashes of enormous potential–but he hasn’t been used as much as a feature back should be. Nagy has been incredibly slow to incorporate Montgomery, and he has been criticized for it after nearly every game this season.
Give Chris Tabor Fair Warning That He’s on Thin Ice
The Bears had a bad special teams penalty that cost them dearly late in the game against the Raiders. Kevin Pierre-Louis ran into punter A.J. Cole, which led to the Raiders converting a fake punt for a first down. Pierre-Louis said he was pushed into Cole, but regardless, the play hurt the Bears in a key moment.
It’s time for the Bears to strongly consider making some changes in their coaching staff. Special teams coach Chris Tabor has been the weakest link on this coaching staff for two seasons. The Bears ranked 26th overall in special teams last season, and while the Bears have excellent return specialists in Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson and a solid punter and kicker in Pat O’Donnell and Eddy Piñeiro, they haven’t had an excellent special teams scheme since Tabor took over. The Bears need to establish an identity on special teams. They haven’t had one since Dave Toub left in 2012.
The Defense Must Work on Tackling
While the Bears defense has been lights-out four out of five games this season, their tackling against the Raiders left a great deal to be desired.
They allowed their first 100-yard rusher of the season when Raiders rookie Josh Jacobs slashed and cut through them all day. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has done a great job in his first season with the team–he just needs to make sure this type of performance doesn’t become a frequent occurrence. The film review will sting, but the team needs to get back to basics and work on the fundamentals of tackling.