Despite being 3-2, the Bears have some flaws to address
Things did not go as planned in London as the Chicago Bears were outplayed, outcoached, and at times, outsmarted by the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday. Granted the Bears were shorthanded to some degree with injuries but were still favored to defeat Jon Gruden's team across the pond. The Raiders took a 17-0 lead at halftime, the Bears stormed back to take a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter, but the lack of available depth and some questionable play-calling doomed Chicago as Gruden's team came back to grab a 24-21 victory. The Bears sustained more injuries in London, Chase Daniel wasn't as efficient, the defense was worn down again, and their three-game winning streak was snapped in the process.
This team has quite a bit of work to do before hosting the streaking New Orleans Saints — who have continued to thrive without Drew Brees — in Week 7. The Bears also posted a 3-2 start last season, but their only glaring issues were Cody Parkey's missed field goals and the lack of a pass rush when Kahlil Mack sprained his ankle. This time the issues are slightly larger. Here are five areas that the Bears need to remedy before resuming the 2019 campaign.
1. Get healthy
The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Bears. Matt Nagy's team is banged up at multiple positions and it showed against the Raiders in London. The biggest injury is the dislocated left shoulder and partial labrum tear of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. While the team insists that Trubisky doesn't need surgery, anything involving a labrum is concerning. Thankfully this isn't Trubisky's throwing shoulder.
While Chase Daniel has proven to be slightly more accurate this season, Trubisky (21 rushing yards) is more athletic than Daniel (6 rushing yards) and has more chemistry with the pass catchers on this roster. The Bears invested a No. 2 overall pick (trading up one spot to get him) on the North Carolina product, and he's billed as the future of the franchise. All the Bears can do at this moment is wait until the medical staff clears Trubisky to play. Daniel certainly could have benefited from having wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on Sunday, but he's still in the NFL's concussion protocol.
Gabriel leads the Bears in touchdown catches (3), he's tied for second in yards per catch (12.2), and ranks third on the team in receiving yards (110). The defensive line also is hurting. Bilal Nichols hasn't played since the Week 2 win over Denver because of a broken hand, but he may be returning to the field soon with a club on that hand. But Pro Bowl defensive end Akiem Hicks is the more pressing concern. He initially banged up his knee against Washington three weeks ago, missed the win over Minnesota as a result, but returned to action against the Raiders but only to be pulled from the game after sustaining an elbow injury in the first quarter.
The video of said injury is painful to watch, and reports say that Hicks' elbow is indeed dislocated. Not having Hicks and Nichols limited the Bears up front so much that outside linebacker Aaron Lynch filled in at end against the Raiders. With both men absent, Chicago is depleted when it comes to stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe has missed time with a bad hamstring, offensive lineman Kyle Long (hip), and kicker Eddy Piniero (knee) have been playing through pain, while offensive lineman Ted Larsen missed the trip to London with a knee injury. Hopefully, the Bears can get some of these players back when the Saints come marching into Soldier Field.
2. Run the ball more
It's obvious that Nagy favors rookie David Montgomery as the Bears' feature back seeing that he is the team's leading rusher (69 carries, 225 yards, 2 TDs). But the third-round pick from Iowa State is only averaging 3.3 yards per attempt and 45 rushing yards per game. If the Bears really want to make Montgomery a force in this league, then Nagy needs to give him the ball early and often. With the passing game in flux and the defense struggling to a degree, running the ball is the best way to remedy that as history has shown us.
To this end, the Bears must also use more run-based formations such as the "I" and two tight end sets while snapping the ball from under center. Running out of the shotgun doesn't work for power run plays, and that was clearly evident in the loss to Oakland.
3. Tight ends need to step up
Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, and the recently added J.P. Holtz have combined for 20 catches for 154 yards and no touchdowns. The position has produced just eight first downs via a catch. While tight end hasn't exactly been a position of strength under Nagy, this position — with a healthy Trey Burton — was much more productive last season.
4. Better blocking from the offensive line
While injuries have put a damper on this unit recently, the truth is that the boys up front haven't been as solid as they were last season. They've given up 13 sacks with nearly half of those (5) coming in the last two games. One of those sacks was the one that injured Trubisky. The run blocking, on the few plays that they do run the ball, hasn't been effective either as the Bears are just averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Pass protection also can be somewhat to blame for the team's 6.1 yards per pass attempt.
The ball won't move if the line isn't consistently clearing a path for the ball carriers and keeping the pocket clean for whoever is at quarterback. It starts with the group in the trenches and this particular group needs to pick up the pace.
5. What has happened to the defense?
The Bears held the Packers and Vikings to just single digits. And while they held the Broncos and Redskins to 14 and 15 points, respectively, both teams outscored the Bears in the second halves of those games (23-13 combined). Then the Raiders exploded for 24 points against the Bears in London. The common denominator is that the defense has seemed to wear down during the second half.
In Denver, Chicago looked powerless as the Broncos successfully ran the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter for a touchdown and they converted the two-point try to give them a one-point lead with 31 seconds remaining. The following week, the Bears saw their 28-0 halftime lead on "Monday Night Football" disappear as Washington scored three times in the span of five possessions. This past Sunday, Oakland put together a 90-yard drive for its first touchdown and then marched 97 yards late in the fourth quarter for the game-winning score. Khalil Mack was a non-factor against his former team and has totaled five tackles and 1.5 sacks in the last two games combined.
After clamping down on the run early, Chicago has given up 209 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the last two games alone. The pass defense also has been suspect at times, which is not a good sign considering Teddy Bridgewater is coming off of his best performance of the season (314 passing yards, 4 TDs, INT). New Orleans has a game in Jacksonville this Sunday before coming to the Windy City, which means the Saints could have the advantage when it comes rhythm as the Bears are on bye this week.
The Saints have won their last three games, all with Bridgewater at the helm, and have averaged 25.3 points per game during this stretch. It's no stretch to say New Orleans has more offensive firepower than the Raiders, so the Bears will definitely need to clean things up on both sides of the ball or run the risk of facing their first losing streak since Weeks 6 and 7 (which came after the bye) of last season.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of www.chicagobears.com)