Haugh: Bears' Offseason Focus Must Start With QB

The Bears must be honest in their assessment of Mitchell Trubisky this offseason.

David Haugh
December 29, 2019 - 4:46 pm
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(670 The Score) Nothing that happened in the Bears’ 21-19 victory over the Vikings backups Sunday changed the way general manager Ryan Pace needs to approach the aftermath of a disappointing 8-8 season.

Scratch that.

In fairness, Eddy Pineiro kicked four field goals – including a 22-yard game-winner with 10 seconds left – that will allow Pace to deal with more pressing issues than the one that preoccupied the Bears for too long last offseason. The mixture of joy and relief on Pineiro’s face after his kick went through the uprights suggested just how taxing of a journey it had been for the kicker who survived the arduous tryout process and overcame chronic inconsistency to finish strong by converting 11 straight field-goal attempts.

Everything else that occurred requires context, starting with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Related: Bernstein: Bears put us out of our misery

The play the Bears want everybody to focus on came on fourth-and-9 from their own 49-yard line on the game-winning drive when Trubisky rolled right. He spotted rookie Riley Ridley and hit him in stride for a 32-yard gain to the Vikings’ 19-yard line. Seven plays later, the Bears had drained the clock and put themselves in position to finish a dreadful 2019 season with a respectable .500 record.

The Bears believe Trubisky’s knack for making something out of nothing in clutch situations represents one of his strengths and, in those moments, it can become easier for them to overlook the shortcomings that were harder to find against the Vikings.

"In situational football ... I think Mitch has shown what he can do in those scenarios," coach Matt Nagy told reporters at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

As long as Nagy remembers that the Vikings were playing the game without their best players on both sides of the ball, creating an asterisk next to every statistic. Trubisky completed 26 of 37 passes for 207 yards without a touchdown or an interception, executing a passing attack more efficient than explosive and, again, maddeningly more horizontal than vertical. A fourth-quarter strip-and-sack by Ifeadi Odenigbo went down as a Trubisky fumble, but left tackle Charles Leno whiffed badly enough to deserve more blame than his quarterback for the turnover. The Trubisky tease also included an earlier dart on second-and-6 off a play-action pass in the shotgun formation that demonstrated accuracy rarely seen. Javon Wims caught the pass in stride over the middle for a gain of 17 and a rare example of aggressive downfield passing.

But regardless of the performance Sunday, Pace and Nagy still need to engage in a brutally honest discussion about Trubisky’s future in light of the way he regressed all season. No matter what the Bears have said or done to this point and regardless of what they've invested in Trubisky, bringing in a veteran quarterback capable of challenging or replacing Trubisky represents priority No. 1 if Pace and Nagy tell the truth about what they have -- and what they don’t.

They have a playoff-caliber defense. They have a broken offense and a flawed quarterback. They have a chance to compete for a playoff spot as soon as next season if they truly care about accountability, from Nagy’s scheme to Trubisky’s talent.

Trubisky finished the season completing 63.2% of his passes (326-of-516) for 3,138 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 83.0 – numbers that rank him in the bottom-third of NFL quarterbacks. Numbers that, after 41 NFL starts, aren’t good enough for the second pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Numbers that merely needed to be in the middle of the pack for this Bears team to be in the playoff mix instead of on the outside looking in. Pace and Nagy must realize that in a season in which Trubisky failed to meet a standard that wasn’t very high at all, they can’t reward that failure by embracing the status quo.

That no-holds barred evaluation of the roster also must apply to the offensive line – especially both tackles. Leno struggled too obviously too often, and the unavailability of right tackle Bobby Massie makes him replaceable. Center Cody Whitehair and left guard James Daniels, who swapped spots at midseason, need to take the next step. At right guard, Rashaad Coward showed signs of growth in replacing Kyle Long, who raised some eyebrows on Twitter on Sunday for anyone struggling to pay attention to the game.

In response to a follower pining for his return, Long tweeted: "I played every snap of my final game before being put on IR. I’m no genius ... but I can take a hint." If Long indeed has played his final game in a Bears uniform, that will leave three spots on the offensive line that need addressed. That qualifies as an overhaul.

In terms of priorities, fixing the offensive line falls just under figuring out what to do at quarterback. The Bears also need a reliable tight end and another receiver for an offense without an identity. At least the running back position appears to be in good hands after rookie David Montgomery reminded everyone why the Bears liked him so much. Montgomery posted his second 100-yard game of the season with 113 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries while also showing savvy by sliding inside the 5-yard line instead of scoring in the final minute when the Vikings tried to let the Bears score in order to get the ball back with enough time to stage a game-winning drive of their own.

When Nagy spoke postgame about learning from mistakes, the second-year NFL head coach could've been referring to himself as easily as his team. In the too-little, too-late department, the Bears opened the second half committed to running the football more than Nagy had all season. On a 75-yard scoring drive that ate 5:11, the Bears ran on eight of nine plays. That’s one more carry than Nagy called the entire game in a loss to the Saints earlier in the season. The drive culminated with a 14-yard run by Montgomery, who carried four Vikings into the end zone. Montgomery fell short of many statistical goals, such as 1,000 yards rushing, but runs like his touchdown will help reinforce the value of going north-south for a shifty back who can bounce plays outside too soon.

Defensively, coordinator Chuck Pagano’s group finally ended a three-game drought by producing two early takeaways -- a fumble recovery by tackle Bilal Nichols and an interception by linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who has fared well in a fill-in role this season despite two highly publicized bone-headed penalties rushing the punter. The highlight of the first half came when linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski finished the biggest breakout season of a Bears defensive player with a safety. Unblocked, Kwiatkoski brought down Vikings running back Mike Boone in the end zone – a place the offense visited too infrequently.

Career backup quarterback Sean Mannion started in place of Kirk Cousins for the Vikings, his first meaningful action in a year. Mannion hadn’t thrown a pass since Week 17 of last season for the Rams, but the Bears never stopped the run well enough to put the game in Mannion’s shaky hands. That inexperience – Mannion completed 12 of 21 passes for 126 yards and two interceptions – helps explain why the Vikings only managed 19 points despite controlling the line of scrimmage enough to gain 174 yards rushing, including 148 by Boone, who broke a 59-yarder.

Like many Vikings backups, Boone made the most of his opportunity in a relatively meaningless game. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wisely opted to rest all his key players with the NFC playoffs looming.

The Bears simply made it too hard to tell, taking the drama down to the final possession before claiming victory.

"I hope that all of us understand that what we went through this year, we need to turn that into a glass half-full deal and learn from it," Nagy said. "For me, 2020 starts the minute I walk off this stage. I’m ready to go in attack mode."

Everyone in Chicago knows the first area to attack. The only question is whether Pace’s actions will reflect Nagy’s bold words.

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.