Bears film study: Offense in '19 had bigger problem than Trubisky
Quarantine gave Mike McGraw time to study coaches film from the Bears 2019 season. Here are his observations, beginning with the offense.
There's been no more popular storyline surrounding the Bears than how regression by quarterback Mitch Trubisky led to the disappointing 8-8 record in 2019.
But the film clearly shows the offensive downturn was a true group effort, with contributions from Trubisky, the line, receivers and playcallers.
In trying to figure out Trubisky, it helps to look at what he did well in the 2018 playoff season. One factor jumps out immediately -- time spent comfortably in the pocket.
Trubisky received great protection, particularly at the start of the 2018 season. He had time to stand back, scan the field, peel the 'C' off this helmet, ponder whether to run.
That rarely happened last season. There were plenty of times when he had a pass rusher in his lap by the time he finished his drop back. No NFL quarterback does particularly well under pressure.
And even though Trubisky is a good runner, he's not Russell Wilson. He's not a guy who can elude five rushers, keep his poise and make a play. Pressure generally leads to panic with Trubisky. Perhaps that's a skill he can improve.
Now, the actual pressure stats don't show a huge difference from 2018 to '19, but the start of each season was drastic. The pass protection was so solid at the start of 2018, it makes you wonder, "Where have you gone, Eric Kush?"
Kush started at left guard for about half of the 2018 season and the Bears offensive line looked really good and very confident when he was out there. Kush had some injuries, gave way to James Daniels, and spent 2019 with Cleveland. Now he's on the Raiders. So maybe Kush wasn't the long-term answer, but Trubisky had all the time he needed back in those days.
So we've reached the first conclusion. Yes, I'm saying the biggest problem with the 2019 offense was not Trubisky, but the offensive line.
Pro Football Focus ranked the NFL offensive lines after the 2019 season and put the Bears 25th. So maybe it wasn't a complete disaster, but it was definitely a problem.
And it's a little strange since the personnel was basically the same. Cody Whitehair was an All-Pro center in 2018, then opened last season at guard, with Daniels playing center. At midseason, they switched spots.
Longing for Long?
Losing Kyle Long in Game 5 didn't seem to be a major factor. When Long retired after the season, he mentioned all his injuries in one tweet, then claimed he was fired by the coaching staff at halftime of the Raiders game in another tweet.
Early last season, Long looked like a guy who was worn down by injuries and a shadow of his former self. The offensive line struggled with Long in the game and struggled after Rashaad Coward took over.
As it stands for the coming season, the Bears seem to have a couple decent pieces in Whitehair and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. They're counting heavily that after struggling at tackle in Seattle, free-agent signee Germain Ifedi will excel at Long's old right guard spot.
It does seem like the Bears could use upgrades at left guard and right tackle. GM Ryan Pace is no Jim Finks, someone who builds a team around first-round tackles. In the last five drafts, Pace has taken an offensive lineman in the fourth round or higher just twice -- Daniels in 2018 and Whitehair in 2016.
This isn't to say Trubisky is without flaws. He doesn't see the field well, is spotty with his longball accuracy and as mentioned above, doesn't deal well with pressure. It's possible teams recognized this and made a game plan of bringing the heat last fall.
One of Trubisky's strengths is his ability to pick up first downs with his legs. He scrambled for 230 fewer yards last season than he did in 2018. Maybe his shoulder injury in the Minnesota game contributed to a reluctance to run, but his best runs tend to occur when he has time to sit in the pocket to choose a path.
Last fall was obviously a lost season for tight ends. Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen both missed half the season and moved onto new teams. The leader in tight end snaps last year was J.P. Holtz.
It's easy to forget Burton was actually pretty good in 2018 with 54 catches and 6 touchdowns. But the Bears cleared the deck for veteran Jimmy Graham, rookie Cole Kmet, and an old Matt Nagy favorite from KC, Demetrius Harris.
Everybody get open
There were plenty of times last fall when Trubisky had nowhere to go with the ball. Allen Robinson is a very good receiver, but he's not a burner. Most of his big plays happened when he was well-defended, but used his hands, leaping ability and body leverage to come up with the ball.
One encouraging sign was Anthony Miller seemed to click with Trubisky late last season. Miller had 33 catches over a five-game stretch, with a couple of 100-yard games.
Veteran speedster Ted Ginn Jr. replaces Taylor Gabriel. Ginn has been mostly a home-run guy in recent years and Bears coaches have talked about how he can spread the field and open up space for Robinson. I'm skeptical, since Robinson isn't much of a space-opener on his routes.
Gabriel caught 67 passes in 2018. There's no chance Ginn does that at age 35. A reliable tight end and Miller taking another step forward is probably the best hope for the receiving corps. Second-year WR Riley Ridley still has a lot to prove.
It's hard to find fault in David Montgomery's rookie season. He ran for 889 yards with just 2 fumbles, and not many backs would have done better with the space he had to work with.
The Bears offensive line rarely moved people out of the way. Montgomery's best runs happened when the defense got spaced out and the linemen managed to wall off enough guys for the rookie to take off.
Coaches talked about Montgomery taking a step forward in his second season. Not if the offensive line doesn't give him more room.
Another problem is the Bears seemed to begin last season with a conservative philosophy. The defense figured to be one of the league's best, so Nagy was content to run the ball and run the clock.
It didn't work, because the Bears couldn't run it consistently and Trubisky often found himself buried by the pass rush on the resulting third-and-long.
When other teams faced the Bears, they expected to see a big rush. So they opened the game with play actions, roll outs, quick-hitters that would put their quarterback in a better spot. The Bears didn't do much of that, until later in the season after Plan A failed.
They resorted to using six offensive linemen at midseason against Philadelphia and Detroit -- which helped the run game a bit. Later in the year, they started rolling out Trubisky more often, which gave him more time to scan the field.
Whether it's Trubisky or Nick Foles behind center this season, some creativity from the first snap is needed with this offense. Along with some time to throw.