Bears Begin Searching For Solutions After Ugly 2019

The Bears have an array of flaws to address this offseason.

Chris Emma
December 29, 2019 - 6:20 pm
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MINNEAPOLIS (670 The Score) -- Matt Nagy wants his Bears to celebrate every victory, even if the only stakes on the line come in the form of pride. 

That was the case Sunday, when the Bears finished a disappointing season on a positive note by earning a 21-19 win against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. After the team concluded its "Club Dub" celebration, Nagy spoke to the Bears and reminded them more of their eight losses than eight wins.

"What we went through this year, we need to turn that into a glass-half-full deal and learn from it," Nagy said. "If you don’t learn from it, then shame on you."

Related: Bernstein: Bears put us out of our misery

When the season began, the Bears dreamed of winning a Super Bowl championship in South Florida. Instead, it concluded with a win over the Vikings' second-team offense and defense that meant nothing in the standings.

The Bears pulled through in the final minutes, with the big play coming when quarterback Mitchell Trubisky hitting rookie receiver Riley Ridley for 32 yards on a fourth-and-9 play. The Bears capped their game-winning 15-play, 71-yard drive with a go-ahead 22-yard field goal from kicker Eddy Pineiro with 10 seconds left.

Safety Eddie Jackson then hauled in the Bears' third takeaway of the game -- and 19th of the season -- on the final play of the game, a heave from Vikings quarterback Sean Mannion. 

These were the final moments of a positive day in a year that will otherwise be remembered for what could've been. The Bears were led by the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, had a young quarterback whom they believed could lead them forward and boasted a defense that was dominant in 2018.

And they finished 8-8.

"It’s not where we want to be," Nagy said. "It’s not acceptable. We know that. But we’re going to learn from this.”

As the Bears begin their offseason, every aspect of this team needs to be addressed.

Offense

At the root of addressing the Bears' offensive woes is a simple question.

Do they want to move forward with Nagy's preferred offense and a better fit at quarterback? Or do they have Nagy cater his offense to Trubisky's strengths and cover for his weaknesses?

The Bears need to reboot their offense, which averaged 4.65 yards per play as one of the league's worst units this season. Considering how high the expectations once were for Nagy, Trubisky and the offense, and there's no downplaying the disappointment.

While there were many reasons for why the Bears sputtered offensively, a major problem was the disconnect between Trubisky's preferences and Nagy's play-calling

Nagy continued to rely on a system that prioritizes pocket passing and multiple reads. Those aren't Trubisky's strengths, which contributed to his inconsistency and overthinking in the pocket. Trubisky was at his best when Nagy got him outside the pocket and played to his running strengths. 

Nagy let down Trubisky, who himself failed to elevate his struggling team.

"I'm just going to be super honest with how the film looks and what we need to work on this offseason and go from there," Trubisky said. "But I'm just focused and determined on getting better for the future."

Trubisky was also hurt by poor protection from an offensive line that struggled to both pass block and run block. Rookie running back David Montgomery didn't produce as imagined, rushing 242 times for 889 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry.

"Not good enough," Montgomery said of his season.

Beyond that, the Bears received poor play from their tight ends. That's a key position in Nagy's offense, and not a single Bears tight end hit the 100-yard receiving mark for the entire season. J.P. Holtz's seven receptions for 91 yards in 13 games led the way for Bears tight ends.

Defense

Upon his arrival as Bears defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano understood the high standard set for his unit. He was ready to embrace it.

"Our vision for this defense is to be the best," Pagano said last January. "Can we be the best in the history of the game? The pieces are there, and they will continue to add pieces. Can we continue to be better than we were last year? Absolutely. It's going to be very, very difficult and a huge challenge but one we will be up for."

Those lofty goals weren't reached. Regression and injuries hit the Bears defense, which was stout in allowing just 18.6 points per game in 2019, only a slight drop from its NFL-best mark of 17.7 a year before. The biggest difference for the Bears came in ability to produce turnovers. After leading the NFL with 36 takeaways in 2018, the Bears had 19 this season.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace will some important personnel decisions on his defense.

Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan is set to be a free agent in March, just weeks shy of his 30th birthday. Also set to become a free agent is the 26-year-old Nick Kwiatkoski, who impressed as a starter when Trevathan suffered a season-ending elbow injury. Will the Bears prefer Trevathan or Kwiatkoski? Or will the price tags force them in a different direction altogether at the position?

"I'm proud that I could step in and not have a drop-off," said Kwiatkoski, who recorded a safety Sunday.

The Bears also face a key decision in their secondary, where safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is set to become a free agent after completing his one-year contract. Clinton-Dix is likely to receive a more lucrative offer elsewhere, and the Bears may be best suited pairing Jackson with a more natural strong safety. The skills of Jackson and Clinton-Dix were redundant in some ways. 

Special teams

The Bears envisioned Pineiro winning more important games than Sunday's, but they at least ended the season confident at their once-doomed kicker position.

Pineiro converted 23 of 28 field-goal attempts (82.1%), including his last 12 of the season after some struggles. Pineiro felt good about his response from his midseason slump.

"I'm just happy I ended the season on a good note," Pineiro said.

The 24-year-old Pineiro earned his place back for 2020.

"That was a huge, huge, big void that we had going into this year," Nagy said of the kicker position. "I feel pretty good that void is filled."

Coaching

Nagy was honored as the NFL Coach of the Year in 2018, heralded for leading the Bears' turnaround and establishing a new culture. Now, the blame for a disappointing season starts with Nagy.

The Bears' offense broke down in 2019, and Nagy was the play-caller leading the way. Nagy must not only re-evaluate his offensive personnel and scheme entering 2020 but also assess how his role as the play-caller affected his ability as a game manager and leader of the entire team.

The Bears are unlikely to fire Nagy, who maintained the respect and focus of his team during a difficult season. But changes could come on Nagy's coaching staff, where offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and several assistants could find their jobs in jeopardy as early as Monday morning.

As for Nagy, his task moving forward will be honestly assessing his place in the Bears' failures this season.

Team

In the final postgame scene of 2019 for the Bears was a reminder of what could've been.

The Bears had a roster talented enough to win a division crown and make a playoff run. They instead finished in third place in the NFC North and with a .500 record.

Nagy believes there's a silver lining in everything, and he hopes the Bears find one in this disappointment. Come April, the Bears will return to Lake Forest for their offseason program and begin burying this season.

While these Bears will be defined by what they weren't, there's still hope for what's ahead.

"I feel like we're close," Trubisky said. "I feel like we're close. I feel like we got the pieces. We just need to put it all together.

"I'm excited for next year."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.