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NFL Open Thread: Da Bears edition

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Usually I go to Vegas for Week 1 of the NFL season, for a quick vacation before the quarter starts. I typically have 7 or 8 NFL over/unders picked out, and end up not playing most of them because the sharps have pounded them so hard the juice is no longer worth the squeeze. This year, however, I was thrilled to find that by far my favorite number — the Bears under 7 1/2 — was paying +110. Let’s just say I’m feeling pretty good about that right now, and still have no idea what the hell anyone saw in this team:

 I will try to list everything that’s wrong with the Chicago Bears offense right now. It would be far, far easier to list everything that’s right with the Bears offense right now, but it would not be nearly as illuminating or depressing. There is no order here—just a running list from my notes while watching Bears film. Here we go.

  • Justin Fields is terrible through his progressions. He is comfortable with neither open first reads nor open second reads. He is either way too fast or way too slow through his reads, with no rhyme or reason as to why.
  • This scheme makes no sense. They’ll run a play that implies they have no faith in Fields at all—like one with only one viable option or a gadget play—and then on the very next play, there will be a full-field progression from the pocket. Neither works.
  • The Bears also stopped doing the stuff that worked last season, which is inexplicable. From Week 7 on last season, Fields averaged 7.78 designed quarterback runs (i.e., not scrambles, but called runs) a game. He’s had five total through the first two games of the season.
  • Chase Claypool does not want to be playing football. He runs the wrong routes. He doesn’t adjust routes to coverage. He doesn’t fight for tough catches. He doesn’t give consistent effort as a blocker.
  • Fields is uncomfortable in the pocket. He drifts away from even the slightest pressure. He often runs into defenders on the few plays on which his pass protection holds up.
  • The absences of starting guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis thrust Ja’Tyre Carter and Lucas Patrick into action. Neither can win against average defensive tackles.
  • While we’re on the offensive line: Braxton Jones is better than expected for a 2022 fifth-round selection, but he is a below-average starting left tackle.
  • Also while we’re on the offensive line: Cody Whitehair is playing some rough football. Remember, this is a five-year, $51 million player. Whitehair is 31 years old and, theoretically, the steadying veteran presence on an otherwise young line. He’s playing out of position right now, taking snaps at guard so Patrick can play center, but he is playing below-average football. On Sunday against the Bucs, every single starting offensive lineman was below average.
  • And hey, while we’re on the offensive line: They don’t communicate at all. Blitzes and stunts have a 100 percent success rate against them (not a real stat, but it very well could be).
  • Cole Kmet is a fine player, but he really is not a needle mover at tight end. He doesn’t run great routes, he doesn’t provide anything after the catch, and he isn’t even a reliable pass catcher. He’s also been guilty of running the incorrect routes.
  • Why do you keep running in-breakers if Fields has shown you he won’t throw them? Sometimes it feels like the Bears are calling plays to make a point about how much Fields limits them.
  • The Bears spent a 2022 third-round pick on wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. He was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and took four offensive snaps in Week 2.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen the Bears run an option route this year.
  • Fields has extremely slow feet in the pocket. He cannot snap to new targets or make off-platform throws the way 95 percent of starting quarterbacks can. This gives defenders time to react to his every move, which makes his margins for error very thin.
  • Fields has three or four throws a game on which the ball just comes out wrong. Wobbling, nose up, nose down. No consistency.
  • Remember Darnell Mooney? Zero targets in Week 2. Also: He’s often guilty of running the wrong route.
  • The receivers and Fields are literally never on the same page. When he’s ready to throw, nobody is ready to break. Next play: Receivers are breaking, and he isn’t ready to throw. They regularly disagree on landmarks, which leads to inaccurate passes. No other team has issues like this.
  • I think Khalil Herbert is still good, but it is hard to tell, because at least five runs are dead on arrival in each game due to offensive line issues.
  • Thirty-seven percent of Fields’s pass attempts are at or behind the line of scrimmage. That leads the league. Fifty percent of Fields’s pass attempts that are behind the line of scrimmage are completed. That’s the worst in the league.

Despite the onerous list you just read, this is not a “what’s wrong with the Bears offense” piece. I don’t even think I’m capable of writing a “what’s wrong with the Bears offense” piece. Not because I don’t know what’s wrong with the Bears offense—it’s that big list up there—but because I wouldn’t even know where to start or end. I can’t figure out what’s a symptom and what’s a cause. Fields is playing so poorly that there’s no way the offense could ever work; the offense is so poorly schemed and coached that there’s no way Fields could ever look good; the offensive line prohibits any sort of offensive scheme anyway; the wide receiver play prohibits a successful passing offense. The Bears offense is a four-sided chicken-or-egg conundrum.

In the NFL in particular is can be very hard to disentangle inadequate talent and bad coaching, but in this case “everything is terrible” is a hard conclusion to avoid. And their defense is as bad as the offense with even less theoretical upside!

It seems crazy to recommend a 90-minute video about a single game played by the 2023 Chicago Bears, but I found this oddly hypnotic when I threw it on, and I learned a lot. It’s not a hatchet job — he’s careful to point out every play where Fields still shows some of the arm that made him a top prospect at Ohio State — and it’s all the more damning for that.

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