Why the Chicago Bears offense could struggle to improve
The Chicago Bears have won back-to-back games for the first time in almost two years with rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky throwing a total of 23 passes, an ultraconservative approach that is not sustainable.
But without a go-to guy among a nondescript crew of receivers, how difficult will it be for the Bears (3-4) to develop an effective passing game?
"It's all tough," coach John Fox said. "You're going against the best in the world at what they do. We're still a work in progress. That's not necessarily a problem. That's actually pretty good. I think our guys are willing to work, and I think we'll improve.
"Forget about statistics. The biggest one is we haven't turned it over, so we've been able to win. Yards don't win football games."
The Bears proved that Sunday, when they were able to win with 153 yards of offense because they were plus-3 in takeaway-turnover edge and got 75- and 76-yard touchdown returns from their defense.
A week earlier, in a 27-24 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens, they were plus-1 in turnovers, got a 90-yard interception return for a TD and rushed for 231 yards.
None of that is sustainable, either. If this resurgence is to continue, the Bears have to move their offense out of the 1960s and let Trubisky put it up.
The problem is the Bears don't have a receiver with more than 236 yards, and tight end Zach Miller is the only pass-catcher with as many as 2 receiving touchdowns.
"A lot was made about the receiver position," Fox said. "We're learning more and more about those guys each week. Our stats weren't as glowing as they have been, but that (Carolina Panthers) defense is pretty good. In fact, really good.
"We were really close on some of those runs. We'll just continue to work at that. We doubled the opposing quarterback's (passer) rating."
Trubisky finished with a 101.98 rating on his 7 throws, mostly because he completed a 70-yard pass to rookie running back Tarik Cohen and was not intercepted. The Panthers' Cam Newton, the NFL's MVP in 2015, threw 34 passes and had a 54.9 passer rating that included 2 interceptions and no TD passes.
"It's a different formula, but we didn't turn it over; they turned it over twice," Fox said. "Those are the ways you win football games."
But, as the Panthers' defense proved, when there isn't the threat of a pass it's easy to shut down a team's ground game. The Bears picked up just 68 rushing yards on 26 attempts for a 2.6-yard average after averaging 4.4 yards in the first six games.
Despite the heady feeling of a two-game winning streak, players realize the current offensive model is not sustainable. Back-to-back games with more than 140 return yards and at least 1 touchdown off take-aways are an anomaly.
"I don't think any of us feel like we've arrived at all, especially for us offensively," said Miller, who caught 2 of Trubisky's 4 completions Sunday for 29 yards. "I'm happy to win, but I'm not happy with the way we played. That's just the bottom line.
"We need to be more balanced, open things up a little bit. That'll come. The game played out the way it did Sunday. The ultimate factor is we won. As we progress, hopefully we'll be better on the offensive side of the ball."
After all, Trubisky's ability to make plays in the passing game is the reason he was thrust into the lineup ahead of schedule.
Sunday at New Orleans offers the Bears an ideal opportunity to get the aerial game off the ground against a Saints defense that is 21st in passing yards allowed.
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