The Chicago Bears (3-2) begin the upward battle that is the remainder of their schedule when they return from their bye to face the 5-1 New Orleans Saints Week 7. The Bears performed badly on both sides of the ball in their last outing, a 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders in London, and they’ll be looking to rebound against one of the best teams in the league.
The Saints have been winning week after week with a top-ten defense, and they have been successful with their backup quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, under center. Bridgewater’s comeback has been one of the better storylines so far in 2019, and the Bears will have to play their best football of the season to beat him.
It can be done, but not without a pretty huge element that has been virtually nonexistent for the Bears this season: offensive production. The Bears are among the league’s worst teams on offense this season, and that can’t continue if they want a shot at the playoffs in a competitive conference and division. The offense has plenty of issues to work on, along with some developing changes and concerns. Here are the top five storylines to watch with the Bears offense against the Saints:
How’s Mitchell Trubisky’s Shoulder?
Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t played since the first series of the Bears’ Week 4 win against the Vikings. He dislocated and slightly tore the labrum in the same non-throwing (left) shoulder. How this affects his mobility is one thing. Whether it changes the way he moves in the pocket or throws the ball is another concern.
Trubisky wasn’t performing well prior to the injury. He has three touchdowns and two interceptions so far this season, but the three scores all came in one quarter against a bad Washington defense, and both interceptions were drive-killing and took place in the red zone.
The Saints have a decent secondary and are giving up just over 237 yards a game, so if Trubisky is healthy enough to play–and neither the team nor Nagy has confirmed that he will start–he’ll have his work cut out for him.
If Trubisky doesn’t play against the Saints, which is a possibility–although Nagy has hinted he is doing better–the Bears quarterback situation will only get murkier. It’s difficult to evaluate a quarterback who isn’t playing. Hopefully, the Bears’ third-year quarterback will be back on the field soon.
How Will Kyle Long’s Replacement Fare?
Matt Nagy confirmed Monday morning that the team will be placing veteran guard Kyle Long on injured reserve. Long had been performing uncharacteristically bad this season, a likely side effect of several seasons of health issues. Pro Football Focus has him rated as one of the worst-performing players in the league.
So how will the team fare without Long, who, if nothing else, provided strong veteran leadership this season? Can Rashaad Coward fill in capably, or will the Bears rotate Coward with undrafted rookie Alex Bars, who performed well in the preseason? Is Ted Larsen healthy enough to start and continue to start? There are several questions in need of answers, and the Bears’ biggest question mark remains their offensive line. But losing Long isn’t the only O-line issue going forward.
Will Charles Leno Jr. Begin to Play Better?
Leno Jr. was a Pro Bowl alternate last season. This year, he leads the entire NFL in penalties, and he is a huge reason the Bears offense has sputtered early on. Leno will be going up against a fierce Saints defensive front, and he has an opportunity to start righting the ship after a sloppy start.
Leno said he was going to use the bye week for reflection. We’ll see how he performs against a tough Saints defensive line in a crucial game at home.
Can the Bears Finally Establish the Running Game?
One of the most disappointing aspects of the Bears offense so far this season has been the absolute lack of a running game. The Bears are averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry, and that’s simply not good enough.
One thing fans and Bears media analysts alike have agreed on is the team’s surprising use–or lack thereof–of rookie running back David Montgomery. The team moved up in the draft to take him in the third round, and after months of preseason hype and glimpses of his potential, they have hardly used him.
Granted, much of Montgomery’s slow start can be attributed to poor offensive line play, but some of it is play-calling. Matt Nagy needs to get beyond the gadget plays and figure out how to get David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and yes, Mike Davis, going. Otherwise, the team might as well pack it in.
Will the Tight Ends Actually Be Utilized?
The Bears’ tight ends have been another disappointment this season. Trey Burton has been slow to come back from a groin injury, and Adam Shaheen has had a few drops and has also been under-utilized, which could suggest that the team doesn’t trust him. But if they don’t trust him, why is he still on the team?
Shaheen needs to be used more in quick outs in short-yardage and goal-line situations, where he can use his size to win one-on-one matchups. He has proven to be successful in those situations in the past. Both tight ends also need to establish themselves in the middle of the field. They can start by upping their game against the Saints.