Bears report card: How we graded Chicago at the midway point

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The Chicago Bears are in the middle of a much-needed bye week after their fourth straight loss, which dropped them to 3-6 on the season. There’s been a number of contributing factors to the teams’s struggles, from offense to defense to coaching.

Interesting enough, it appears the Bears offense and defense are trending in opposite directions heading into the bye week. And it’s hard to wonder why both units can’t play well at the same time.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what we’ve seen through the first nine games and how we graded the Bears through the midway point of the season.

Offense: D

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

The Bears offense has been the worst in the NFL through the first nine weeks. They rank near or at the bottom in most statistical categories — and this is in Year 4 under Matt Nagy. Nagy’s offense has gotten worse with each passing year, and it’s hard to deny the role that’s played in the offense’s failures this season. It would be one thing if there was no talent, but there’s talent on this offense, and still the unit has looked lost for most of the year.

You could argue it started with refusing to let rookie Justin Fields compete for the starting job, choosing to give Andy Dalton all of the reps with the starters. After turning to Fields in Week 3, we’ve seen that it’s taken some time for the chemistry to develop. Questionable play calling and inconsistent offensive line play certainly haven’t helped Fields as he made plenty of rookie mistakes. But we’ve seen Fields take a huge step forward in his development over the past two games, a reminder that his growth is the most important thing for this franchise in regards to the future.

The passing game has been a disaster, where they rank last or near last in most categories. When Allen Robinson becomes invisible on offense, there’s a problem. Darnell Mooney leads the Bears in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, but even his numbers aren’t reflective of a production passing attack. The tight ends have become more involved recently, and the hope is we’ll see the passing game progress over the final eight games of the season.

The one area of the Bears offense that has actually worked has been the run game, whether that’s with David Montgomery or Khalil Herbert. Even Damien Williams has found some success. Chicago ranks in the top 10 for most rushing categories, including averaging 136.6 rushing yards per game, sixth in the NFL. The Bears have a nice 1-2 punch with Montgomery and Herbert moving forward, in the short and long term.

The future with Fields is bright, but the offense itself has been the worst in the NFL through the first nine weeks, and Fields — and the run game — are the only reason why the offense didn’t receive an F.

Defense: C

AP Photo/David Banks

The Bears defense has been the one thing that’s held Matt Nagy’s teams afloat over the last four years. But there’s been noticeable regression since 2018. And while there was a belief this unit would rebound under new defensive coordinator Sean Desai, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

Chicago has struggled with injuries, including to stars Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, as well as deficiencies at certain areas, like the secondary, as well as some aging veterans. It’s clear the secondary is the weakest link on defense, where it’s the inexperienced cornerbacks and disappointing safeties struggling against some high-powered offenses. But some key veterans have also disappointed across the board, including safety Eddie Jackson, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and safety Tashaun Gipson.

Takeaways were a point of emphasis this offseason, which promoted Desai to implement the Takeaway Bucket in training camp, something that’s been noticeably absent during the regular season. The Bears have just nine takeaways, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. During Chicago’s four-game losing streak, they have just one takeaway compared to eight in the first five games. It clearly remains an issue, and it’s something Desai needs to work on improving in the second half of the season.

The one area that has improved the most this season has been the pass rush, where Mack and Robert Quinn have led one of the NFL’s best pass rushes this season. Chicago has 25 sacks, which is tied for the third-most in the league. Mack and Quinn have combined for 12.5 of those sacks, and that’s with Mack missing two games with a foot injury and Quinn missing a game on the COVID list.

That, and Roquan Smith appears primed for another All-Pro season — and we’re not talking second team. Smith hasn’t been perfect, but he continues to be one of the best linebackers in the game. Smith has 93 tackles, which is tied for the most in the NFL, as well as one sack, one interception and one touchdown. If anything, Chicago has found another great linebacker in its rich tradition.

Overall, the defense has been solid this season, with the exception of the last few weeks. But while the offense appears to be trending upward following Monday night’s loss, the defense appears to be trending downward after an impressive start to the season. Perhaps getting injured players like Mack and Jackson back will help. But right now, the defense has disappointed over the last few weeks.

Special Teams: B+

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears special teams might be their most consistent unit, which isn’t encouraging considering that’s usually the role of the defense. Aside from having one of the league’s worst punt coverage units, the special teams have been solid through the first half of the season.

That starts with kicker Cairo Santos, who made 40 straight field goals dating back to Week 3 of last season. Unfortunately, that streak came to an end when the Bears thought Santos attempting a 65-yarder — well outside his range — to win the game gave them the best chance to win. Aside from the miss on that kick that never should’ve happened, the only other blemish is a mixed extra point in Week 8. Santos has been Chicago’s most reliable form of offense since last season, and he’s been nearly flawless this season.

When David Montgomery suffered a knee sprain in Week 4, that forced rookie Khalil Herbert into a primary role, taking him off kick returns, where he’d been solid. The Bears made a midseason trade for return specialist Jakeem Grant, sending a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Dolphins in exchange. And, so far, it’s been a mixed bag. Grant is someone that has the potential to break off a huge run, as evidenced by how he’s brought out pretty much every kickoff and punt return this season. But he did commit a turnover for the first time this season after returning a kickoff 32 yards. Aside from that, he’s been solid.

Coaching: D+

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pretty clear at this point that head coach Matt Nagy has cemented his future in Chicago. While the Bears have never fired a head coach midseason, everything is pointing to the team moving on from him in 2022. Which is the right choice — and would’ve been the right choice last offseason. Nagy was brought here to fix the offense, which has gotten worse each year. But you’re starting to see some of the discipline issues affect the team, as well, which has included three players getting ejected from games in the last two seasons. Given the most important thing at this point is Justin Fields’ development, Nagy’s made it clear he’s not the guy to be entrusted with that.

For the most part, Bill Lazor has occupied the role of offensive coordinator in name only. That is until Nagy’s play calling became such a determent to Fields’ development that he eventually gave into the pressure and handed play-calling duties over to Lazor. And while Lazor isn’t a great play caller, he’s better than what the Bears were getting out of Nagy. There’s been a bigger emphasis on running the ball, we’ve seen him utilize some of Fields’ strengths. But, ultimately, the offense is one of the worst in the NFL, and Lazor deserves some of the blame as he’s been calling plays since Week 4.

Sean Desai has had his shares of highs and lows in his first year as defensive coordinator. But all in all, he’s doing the best with what he’s been given, which includes two of the best pass rushers in the league in Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, one of the game’s best linebackers in Roquan Smith and a suspect secondary. The defense has been solid up until the last few weeks, which started with the blowout loss to the Bucs. They have one of the NFL’s best pass rushes, they’ve battled injuries but they’ve also struggled with takeaways, again.

Chris Tabor’s special teams have fared well this season, and he stepped up when the Bears needed him to after Nagy tested positive for COVID-19. While the team didn’t get the win in Week 8, that wasn’t due to Tabor, rather the defense’s second-half breakdown. It’s nice to know they have someone like Tabor in place should the Bears decide to part ways with Nagy midseason — or at least a couple of weeks before season’s end should they try to get a head start on finding a new head coach.

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