Haugh: All The Bears Inspire Is Doubt

Chicago fell to 3-5 with a 22-14 loss at Philadelphia on Sunday.

David Haugh
November 03, 2019 - 5:24 pm
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(670 The Score) With a miraculous last-minute drive unlikely in the Bears’ 22-14 defeat to the Eagles on Sunday, tight end Adam Shaheen removed doubt by muffing the kickoff return and losing a fumble with 25 seconds left.

How fitting.

On a dreadful day in Philadelphia when the Bears offense was too inept to take a lead and the defense too overworked to get off the field, the special teams did its part to pollute Lincoln Financial Field. And what a complete mess this season has become now that the Bears have dropped to 3-5 and emerged as arguably the league’s most disappointing team at the halfway point. A year many predicted would culminate with a Super Bowl appearance instead looks headed toward significant change in the offseason, starting with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky but not necessarily ending there. Not if the Bears want to take the no-holds-barred, honest approach necessary to resemble a playoff team again.

Related: Bernstein: Bears have to see reality

Matt Nagy, the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 2018, isn’t fooling anybody in 2019. Everything from the designing of Nagy’s offense to the play-calling process to the coaching of members of his offensive brain trust needs re-evaluated to make the scheme and the roster more compatible. The Bears now have scored 16 points or fewer in five of their eight games this season, a disturbing trend requiring more than a tweak or two. They haven’t won a game since Sept. 29. Their tough schedule suggests they could be fortunate to win as many in the second half as they did the first half – especially if things start to splinter. Everything about this team suddenly inspires more doubt than hope, a remarkable return to the way it used to be before Nagy arrived.

What happened? That’s complicated, but the unraveling Sunday began the way it has too often this season, with a limited offense that dug a hole too deep early to escape late. The first half ended with the Eagles having more points than the Bears had yards – 12 to 9. This season has included its share of valleys, but the Bears reached an offensive low in the first 30 minutes. No NFL team had gained as few as nine yards in the first half in 40 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. No opening drive has netted more than 7 yards in the past three games for the Bears, a troubling trend.

"We need to start faster," Nagy told reporters postgame in Philadelphia.

That’s an entry for understatement of the year. Meanwhile, Dolphins journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes in the first half against the Jets – a month’s work for a Bears quarterback. Not coincidentally, Trubisky struggled early and looked more tentative than a guy making his 33rd NFL start should look. Nagy had Trubisky watch the TV tape of a loss to the Chargers last week to study his body language and, in Sunday’s first half, it screamed, "Help."

Trubisky too often settled for short throws and seldom looked downfield. It got so bad early that Fox analyst Mark Schlereth complimented Trubisky after one incompletion in the first half, perhaps out of pity. It reminded me of the positive reviews of Trubisky that came out of the Chargers game despite his two fourth-quarter turnovers. The bar for quarterback play in Chicago hasn’t been this low since Craig Krenzel was being asked to clear it 15 years ago. The modest improvement Trubisky made in the second half likely will be exaggerated enough at Halas Hall to justify keeping him as the starter and believing he's capable of playing better than he has shown.

Just know that completing 10 of 21 passes for 125 yards without a touchdown or an interception is as pedestrian as it gets. A passer rating of 66.6 falls well below any acceptable standard. An offensive output of 164 yards borders on embarrassing. A 53-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel that ignited the offense in the second half – on a nice throw – hardly offered enough reason to think the pros outweigh the cons in the ongoing argument over Trubisky’s future. By the way, if Trubisky clearly plays with more confidence whenever he runs the ball or throws from a moving pocket, why don’t the Bears, with so many offensive geniuses on the payroll, call those plays more often?

Despite improved accuracy in the third quarter – there was nowhere to go but up – not enough happened to mask the reality about Trubisky that re-emerged against an Eagles defense that was supposedly susceptible to the passing game. At this stage of his career, Trubisky is either overmatched or unprepared for the role of NFL franchise quarterback, and the Bears can’t ignore or accept either conclusion. Of all the Bears’ problems, the hardest to solve wears No. 10.

And yet had rookie running back David Montgomery not dropped a screen pass on second-and-9 with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter, the Bears might have found a way to overcome it all. Center James Daniels and wide receiver Allen Robinson had blocked their defenders and plenty of open green space awaited Montgomery if he had only caught the pass. Montgomery gained 40 yards rushing and caught a nice 30-yard pass down the middle but always will remember his first trip to Philly for the ball slipping through his fingers on second down with his team trailing 19-14. The third-down pass called to Shaheen was as perplexing as Montgomery’s drop was frustrating.

The ensuing punt gave the ball back to the Eagles, who spent the next 8 minutes, 14 seconds making a bad day worse for the Bears defense. Four times on the 16-play drive the Eagles faced third down, and four times they converted – with Carson Wentz completing passes to four different receivers. In the first half, the Bears defense lacked discipline and were drawn offsides four times. In the second half, their endurance wore down when they most needed to make a stop.

"We can’t make any excuses," Khalil Mack told reporters at his locker. "You’ve got to make plays and win ball games."

The shortcomings go beyond missing defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. The mistakes are collective, the responsibility shared. The Bears' once-feared defense no longer scares anybody, no matter how much of a pass Nagy gave the unit postgame. Give the Eagles running game, led by former Bear Jordan Howard with 82 yards on 19 carries, credit for wearing the Bears down and moving the chains well enough to possess the ball for 40:18. Consider, the Eagles ran 78 plays compared to 42 for the Bears.

Shaheen muffing the kickoff return with 25 seconds left deprived the Bears from running a 43rd, the last missed opportunity in a game full of too many – in a season defined by them.

"It’s not where we wanted or where it should be," Nagy said. "It’s frustrating for all of us. We have to do everything we can to stick together."

Nagy knows the opponent within can challenge underachieving teams like the Bears as much as any left on the schedule.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.