Quarter Season+ Report Card

Image by Zachary Rosenbaum – https://www.instagram.com/zacharyrosenbaumdesign/

With their win over the Raiders on Sunday, the Bears improved to 3-2 and ended the first quarter of the season a little bit above .500.

Yes, I know that 5 games isn’t one quarter of a 17-game season. But neither is 4… It’s somewhere in between, so I figured it made more sense to wait until just after than just before.

Either way…

The first few games of a season can really be telling. Some teams start out hotter than you would have thought, while some teams you thought would be stronger, suffer early on. September is one of the most fun months of the football year, and I think it might be nice to look back on the last four weeks, and grade out how the Chicago Bears have been doing. Offense, Defense, Special Teams, coaching, and front office will be receiving grades, as well as a final overall team grade. It was one of the more interesting September’s of Bears football in a while, so let’s jump right in, starting on O…

   OFFENSE 

No sugar coating it, the Bears offense has been down right terrible so far this year. The Bears were the ONLY team in the NFL to not amass 1000 yards of offense through the first 4 games of the season. I feel like the Cowboys go for 1000 yards of offense every Sunday, and the Bears weren’t able to do so through 4 games total. 

That’s pathetic.

On top of that, the Bears offense decided to not even show up at all in Cleveland. Attendance is something teachers notice, and it comes out at report card time.

They have rebounded nicely the last two games however. The running game has really picked up, and you can only imagine the passing game should be getting better each week. Lazor has been calling good games, and putting his players in a position to succeed.

The offense line has received a lot of hate, but to be honest, they haven’t been as bad as the media would have you believe. They’re not great, but I also don’t believe they are bad enough to sink the team. The pass protection has been helped by chips and tight ends in the last few weeks, and the run blocking has been well above average. One unit I think hasn’t received enough criticism this year is the tight end group. Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet need to be better. The Bears have committed a huge amount of resources to the position and have gotten almost nothing out of them this year, aside from chip blocks. Kmet is in his second year and needs to start flashing more.

Now with that, there has been a true bright spot worth mentioning. David Montgomery has looked amazing so far. Yes he is hurt and will miss probably close to two months, but he honestly looks like he’s ascended into one of the elite backs in the league. Montgomery always had amazing contact balance and explosion, but his long speed and vision have noticeably improved this year. As long as he is able to come back from his knee sprain with no long term issues, Bears have to be ecstatic about his future.

Overall, I’m giving this unit a higher grade than I probably should, because the arrow is pointing up. Justin Fields has been named the starter going forward, and that is going to pose some problems that this offense didn’t before.

C-

DEFENSE

The Bears defense, as is always the case, has been the stronger of the two units so far this year. They didn’t have a very good game against the Rams, but rebounded with strong performances in the next 4 games. The Bears young stars seem to have made considerable jumps, as Jaylon Johnson and Roquan Smith look like some of the best at their position. 

The Bears also have to be thrilled with how Robert Quinn has performed to start the year, looking every bit of his old self. With Quinn playing up to his pay grade, the front seven has been feasting all year, and the Bears find themselves leading the league in sacks through 5 games. Mack leads the unit with 5 sacks, and Quinn has added 4.5 as well. Gipson has stepped up, Mario Edwards has been earning his extension, and even Angelo Blackson has flashed. Bears have to be thrilled with their front seven.

This unit really seems to be hitting their stride, and if the offense can take a step forward with Fields at the helm, the Bears could be a lot more competitive than some realize going forward. A couple very tough games are coming up. If the Bears can prove to be competitive in those games, they can be competitive in any game this season.

A-

SPECIAL TEAMS

To some extent, no news is good news with a special teams unit. 

The kick off and punt return duties have been fairly underwhelming, but they also haven’t shot the Bears in the foot yet, so hard to be too angry. The Bears traded for Jakeem Grant last week and he seemed confident and decisive in his first game. The Bears have been spoiled with amazing returners over the last couple decades, so standards are probably unreasonably high. 

O’Donnell has handled the punting duties this year very well, no terrible punts, a couple great ones, and Cairo Santos hasn’t missed a kick in over a year (September 27th of 2020 was his last). I will say, the Bears have been fairly good to Santos, and haven’t put him in spots to be trying unreasonably long kicks too often. Still, Santos is currently on a streak of 33 makes in a row. This time two years ago, the Bears kicking situation was one of the worst in the league. Much was made about the work the Bears put in to find a kicker, so credit to Pace, but more importantly Santos, for changing the narrative seemingly overnight.

B+

COACHING

This is a tough one to grade. If it were just a grade for Matt Nagy, it would have been an easy choice: F.

Nagy has been embarrassing. And this is coming from one of the bigger Nagy supporters throughout his time. I’ve always thought that Nagy was a very quality head coach, but was too in his own head to run the offense. And I was OK with that. That’s why you have coordinators, to help take care of those large jobs, and leave high level stuff to the coach. I always thought Nagy could be a head coach like Mike Tomlin, but I just don’t know anymore.

The problem is, Nagy has been absolutely gaffing all the high level stuff since about June. He was overtly dishonest and untrusting with the media, he wasn’t forthcoming about any thing he was questioned about. Like if you had any questions about why the team did what they did, or possibly an update on someone’s injury status, good luck getting a straight answer. 

On top of that, the offense was clearly failing under his playcalling, and Nagy was almost assuredly told, by Pace or higher up, that he had to give someone else the reins. And what did Nagy do when Bill Lazor started calling plays, and the offense seemed to start clicking? Well, Nagy addressed the situation in about the worst way possible. First off, he basically refused to say he was calling plays (although he did slip up a couple times and hint that it was indeed Lazor). But to make matters worse, he then went on to say no matter who is calling plays, everything goes through him in the end. I can’t even begin to address how egotistical that is. Even if, in the end, the system they are running are Nagy’s system, his refusal to give his coordinators their due has been very off-putting. Not giving Lazor his praise is a bad, bad look.

Matt Nagy failed September. He actually did so in spectacular fashion. I love Nagy, but I said he deserved to be fired after the Cleveland game and how he handled it afterwards. Things were so bad that you really started to wonder if Trubisky didn’t ruin Nagy’s offense, but Nagy’s offense ruined Trubisky. Those were words I literally never thought I’d say, and yet here we are.

The reason this unit as a whole doesn’t fail, is because Nagy’s other coaches are the only reason the Bears are 3-2 so far. 

Sean Desai, the Bears defensive coordinator, has the defense playing amazing. Everybody on that defense is playing at or above what we have come to expect of them (aside from Eddie Jackson), and you have to be happy with that. Desai has schemed up big plays, and also put players in their comfort zones to make plays on their own. The Bears D is ferocious again, after taking a bit of a step back last season, and Desai has a lot to do with that.

Hard to fully assess Lazor, as we have really only seen two outings from him. But they were the best outings thus far, and you really have to believe the arrow is pointing up for the offensive unit with Fields and Lazor over Dalton and Nagy.

C+

THE FRONT OFFICE

Now usually, there wouldn’t be enough action on this end to even deem worthy of receiving a grade, especially over such a short time frame. Usually, decisions that come directly from the top of the food chain happen just every so often. But since the start of the season, three big decisions were made by the Bears brass, and I cannot stress enough how important they were. The first decision was the purchase agreement the Bears signed for the Arlington Park property. This all but signifies an eventual move from the downtown Soldier Field to what will be a newly configured stadium in Arlington Heights. A shiny larger new stadium would likely become home to the Bears as early as 2026, and I am a huge fan of the move.

The other two, probably more important, decision the front office made was finally slapping Nagy on the wrist. Specifically in regards to playcalling, and Justin Fields. Everyone that had been paying attention knew the issues that were plaguing the Bears, and the only person determined to not address them was Matt Nagy. Now this is just speculation, but all signs point to one of the front office members coming overtop of Nagy and likely Pace as well. Now I’m not sure if the Bears front office would have ever told Pace and Nagy exactly what to do, per se, but I’d assume a conversation was had where they were told that something had to change. Pace may have asked Nagy to give up playcalling, but I doubt it, as Pace trusts Nagy almost to a fault. Also, Nagy was steadfast in his continued support of Andy Dalton as the starter, and then, literally overnight, he was thrilled to announce that he believed Justin was ready. 

It just didn’t make sense. 

If Nagy was actually interested in seeing Justin become ready, he would have made the connection after the game versus the Lions Sunday. Nothing has changed since then, so why the delay? Someone from the Bears front office must have come down and said “listen, I know we were working through a plan to protect this kid, but enough is enough. He’s ready. No more Dalton.”

It is exactly what the Bears needed. Especially if they plan on keeping Nagy long term. His refusal to give up playcalling and keep Fields on the bench was beginning to rub people in the building the wrong way. He was being unbelievably stubborn and everyone could see it. Players and media were beginning to speak out in a way that has never really happened in the Nagy tenure. We may forget about this whole debacle months down the road, but the front office may have stepped in and saved Matt Nagy from himself at the perfect time.

A+

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