Chicago Bears Are NFL's Biggest Mystery Team of 2020August 6, 2020
When you think about the Chicago Bears' 2020 outlook, nothing seems conclusive. Following a division title and then an 8-8 season, we can argue this team has the roster to bounce back but goes into the upcoming campaign with major question marks.
General manager Ryan Pace contributed to his team's uncertainty when he acquired Nick Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars and declined Mitchell Trubisky's fifth-year option. That's clearly a quarterback controversy, though the Bears call it an open competition.
Head coach Matt Nagy has been transparent about the imminent battle between Foles and Trubisky, and without a preseason, the coaching staff will assess the two signal-callers on every snap and situation, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"When we get a chance to go out there, we're evaluating those quarterbacks with every single play. Not just throw, but every single check that they make at the line of scrimmage, every bit of leadership that they show in and out of the huddle, we're there watching how they react to a specific play in practice. ...
"And we feel confident that we believe it'll all play itself out. It'll be completely open, and we're just going to take it day by day."
On one hand, Trubisky has two years of experience in Nagy's system, and he threw for 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a 66.6 percent completion rate as a 2018 Pro Bowler before a step back last year. However, Allen Robinson II had a big season, eclipsing 1,100 receiving yards for the first time since 2015 and registering a 63.6 percent catch rate.
Yet Foles won Super Bowl LII MVP, knocking off the New England Patriots in a thriller. With the Philadelphia Eagles, he earned his keep coming off the sideline and operating an efficient offense to close out two seasons, which included four playoff victories.
Foles doesn't need first-string reps through the offseason to take full command of an offense. That's a positive for Nagy, who regretted sitting his starters during the preseason after the Bears' slow offensive start to the 2019 campaign, scoring 21 points or fewer in four of the first five games.
Then again, Foles has a journeyman resume, playing for four teams without starting for a full 16-game slate. If the 31-year-old wins the quarterback competition, Trubisky cannot allow that missed opportunity to hurt his confidence because he may still have a chance to redeem himself.
Either Trubisky or Foles will face pressure to move the ball through the air, as Nagy struggled to incorporate an effective ground attack during the previous term. He had a tense moment with the media concerning his play-calling after a Week 7 loss to the New Orleans Saints when Chicago had just seven runs for 17 yards:
Trubisky also said the following about the game plan after a Week 15 loss to the Green Bay Packers:
Nagy garnered praise for his play-calling after fielding a top-10 scoring offense in his first year with the Bears, but in 2019, the unit accumulated the fourth-fewest points, which led to criticism of his method.
Although we could give Nagy the benefit of the doubt because of recent success, the Bears will return four primary starters on their offensive line that ranked 29th in run blocking in 2019, per Football Outsiders. Fourth-year pro Rashaad Coward and Germain Ifedi will battle for the right guard spot, and the latter hasn't played the position since his rookie year with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016.
In 2018, Nagy's offense ranked 11th in rushing with four of the same offensive linemen expected to start in 2020. If he exercises more balance in play sequence and heavily featuring running back David Montgomery, the offense may hit some high notes this season.
Since 2017, the Bears have ranked in the top 10 in yards and points allowed. Last season, Chuck Pagano took over the defensive coordinator position, and the unit's production faded in two key areas: sacks and takeaways.
- 2019: 32 sacks (T-24th), 19 takeaways (T-22nd)
- 2018: 50 sacks (T-3rd), 36 takeaways (1st)
When Pagano's predecessor, Vic Fangio, accepted the head coaching job in Denver, he didn't take key starters with him, other than slot cornerback Bryce Callahan. Perhaps the players needed a year to adjust within a new system.
Pagano's star edge-rusher, Khalil Mack, had a disappointing campaign by his standards, logging the fewest sacks (8.5) since his rookie year in 2014. According to Bears senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, the three-time All-Pro will attempt to use that as motivation, per Finley.
"I just think that this is a special guy that has something to prove and has approached the last several months with a chip on his shoulder," Monachino said. "And I think that's good for everybody."
No one should doubt Mack when he's revved up. With Robert Quinn, who's coming off an 11.5-sack season, the edge-rushing duo could ramp up the Bears' pocket pressure and force some ill-advised throws.
On the back end, cornerback Prince Amukamara's departure to the Las Vegas Raiders opens up the spot for rookie second-rounder Jaylon Johnson, Kevin Toliver II or Artie Burns, an underachieving 2016 first-rounder.
At Utah, Johnson flashed his ball skills, registering six interceptions and 15 pass breakups over the last two seasons. He also brings a physical presence in coverage.
Nonetheless, an offseason without OTAs or a preseason doesn't allow Johnson much time to grasp the pro game before Week 1, which makes Toliver or Burns legitimate but uninspiring starting options. Safety Eddie Jackson may have to provide consistent help to prevent quarterbacks from exploiting a weakness on one side of the field.
Pagano has the playmakers to field a dominant defense and cover up a questionable area in the secondary, though he must tap into the group's collective talent with innovative play design.
Between arguably the biggest quarterback controversy and a defense that's top-notch on paper but lacked the game-changing plays last year, the Bears' expectations are a tough call for 2020. Nagy, Trubisky and Pagano have something to prove, and Mack thinks he does as well.
The Patriots have a lot of uncertainty as well, with eight of their players opting out of the 2020 season and a question mark as to who will start at quarterback between Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, though they still have head coach Bill Belichick and longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in place. So as hard-to-predict as the Patriots' 2020 season feels, Chicago is clearly home to the NFL's biggest mystery team.
With so many hypotheticals, ifs and uncertainties for key roles and the decision-makers for those positions, an atypical offseason isn't the Bears' only significant concern this year.