What’s working, what’s not — and what’s next – The Denver Post


After the Chicago Bears’ mini-bye weekend, coaches met with players Tuesday at Halas Hall to discuss their individual six-game evaluations. They addressed the fundamentals and techniques each player needs to clean up as they look ahead to Monday night’s road game against the New England Patriots.

On the offensive side, there were many areas of improvement to discuss for a team averaging 293.7 yards and 15.5 points per game — both figures in the bottom five in the league.

Here’s the Tribune’s assessment of the good and bad on the Bears offense over the first six weeks.

What’s working

The running game is one of the few areas of the offense that has consistently worked.

The Bears are second in the NFL with 170.8 rushing yards per game and seventh with 5.2 rushing yards per play.

Khalil Herbert leads the way with 63 carries for 403 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Quarterback Justin Fields has 54 carries for 282 yards and a touchdown. And David Montgomery has 62 carries for 246 yards and a touchdown — plus 10 catches for 113 yards — giving the Bears multiple options on the ground.

“We’re just going to go with the hot hand,” coach Matt Eberflus said of the balance between using Herbert and Montgomery. “Whoever’s hot right there, we’re going to stay with him and go from there.”

Fields has made some dynamic plays with his feet, fresh in mind the 39-yard scramble late against the Washington Commanders that brought the Bears to the 5-yard line.

The best thing that can be said of the passing game is that the numbers have improved somewhat from an abysmal start. Over the last three games, Fields completed 40 of 70 passes for 572 yards with two touchdowns, an interception and an 87.3 passer rating.

That includes a solid performance in the second half of the loss to the Minnesota Vikings in which Fields helped lead the Bears back from an 18-point second-quarter deficit to take the lead. It also includes a pretty 40-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis in the loss to the Commanders.

And Fields showed impressive toughness in playing through some big hits against the Commanders.

What’s not

Let’s start with Fields, whose 54.8% completion rate is among the worst in the NFL. He’s tied for fourth with five interceptions. And among the players with at least five interceptions, only Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has fewer touchdown passes than Fields’ four. (Jones has two and New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston also has four, both in three games.)

Fields and the Commanders’ Carson Wentz are the most-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, each going down 23 times.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Fields’ minus-10.7 completion percentage above expectation is the second-worst among starters with at least 45 attempts, behind Baker Mayfield’s minus-11.7 for the Carolina Panthers.

Situationally, after the Bears went 0-for-3 in the red zone against the Commanders, they rank 28th with a 46.67% red-zone percentage and 31st in goal-to-go percentage at 42.86%.

All of those numbers are a product of a lot of problems with the Bears offense. That includes, at times, anxious play and inaccuracy on Fields’ part. And it’s fair to put the play-calling of first-year offensive coordinator Luke Getsy under the microscope.

The blame for the 23 sacks and frequent pressure falls in part on an offensive line that is developing rookie left tackle Braxton Jones and two second-year players in right guard Teven Jenkins and right tackle Larry Borom. The Bears also had to change their plans when center Lucas Patrick’s hand injury prevented him from snapping early in the season and left guard Cody Whitehair went out with a knee injury.

However, ESPN Analytics recently put the Bears’ pass blocking win rate at 68%, and Next Gen Stats has Fields’ average time to throw at 3.03 seconds. That’s among the longest in the NFL and a stat that can be a product of many factors, including Fields taking too long to process or not finding open receivers.

“We all know we are improving there, but pass protection is everybody, right?” Eberflus said. “It’s not only the offensive line, it’s the tight ends, it’s the running backs, it’s the quarterback. … Pass protection is always going to be all 11 of them, and we will improve on that.”

The inaccuracy falls in part on the receiving corps, which has had multiple drops and mistakes. Darnell Mooney, who topped 1,000 receiving yards in 2021, has 17 catches for 241 yards on 33 targets. Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet have 10 catches apiece. No other pass catcher has more than six catches.

Injuries to receivers have played a part in the offensive problems. Byron Pringle is on injured reserve with a calf injury. N’Keal Harry hasn’t played after recovering from August ankle surgery. And Velus Jones Jr. has played just 15 offensive snaps after missing a lot of time with a hamstring injury.

Reliable player

Herbert showed he could be counted on in a pinch in 2021 when he filled in for Montgomery over a four-game October stretch. He stepped up big again this year when Montgomery went down with an ankle injury against the Houston Texans. Herbert rushed for 157 yards in that game and 77 the following week against the New York Giants.

His season-best, 64-yard run against the Commanders put the Bears in prime scoring position, though he still was beating himself up this week about not getting into the end zone on fourth-and-1 on that drive.

The 2021 sixth-round pick said Tuesday he wants to improve on a lot of things.

“Especially short yardage, find a way to punch it in,” Herbert said. “When we’re in the red zone, find a way to get the ball in the end zone. Pass protection. Catching out of the backfield. Still making that first guy miss consistently.”

Second-half question: Will Justin Fields do enough to earn the Bears’ trust beyond 2022?

The Bears have a self-created predicament in evaluating Fields this season.

General manager Ryan Poles decided in the offseason to count on a young offensive line and mostly unproven wide receivers. Those decisions have shown up in some of the problems on offense, and because of that it can be difficult at times to get a full read on where Fields is making strides.

Can Fields overcome some of the issues to show progress and make the Bears leaders — and the fans — more comfortable with where he’s headed beyond this season?

And will any of the Bears playmakers step up to help him get there? It seems like more could be in store for Mooney if he builds on his seven-catch night against the Commanders. And Poles was high on Jones’ potential when the Bears drafted the receiver in the third round this spring.

“Velus has got a lot of talent and a lot of things he can bring to the football team, certainly with his speed and athletic ability in space,” Eberflus said. “And we’re going to try to utilize that.”



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