Hoge: Bears’ Biggest Failure In 2019? The Run Game

Adam Hoge's Bears Blog
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 15: Defensive back Chandon Sullivan #39 of the Green Bay Packers tackles running back David Montgomery #32 of the Chicago Bears during the game at Lambeau Field on December 15, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, Wis. The Bears’ 100th season is officially a disappointment.

Realistically, it has felt that way for a couple months now, but Sunday’s 21-13 loss to the Packers — coupled with the Vikings win over the Chargers — officially eliminated the Bears from playoff contention in a season that started with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. 

The reality check actually occurred way back on Sept. 5 when the Packers’ defense exposed major flaws in the Bears’ offense in a 10-3 win at Soldier Field, but the Bears were still clinging to life until Jesper Horsted’s failed pitch to Allen Robinson bounced away and fell just short of the end zone at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The finality of the loss in Green Bay leaves a few reflections, both on this specific game and the grand context of a failed 2019 campaign:

Bears Must Solve Run Game Woes In 2020

When the Bears lost to the Raiders in London back in Week 5, my biggest takeaway was that the only way to save the season was to fix the running game. While Mitchell Trubisky was hurt and struggling — he didn’t play in London because of his shoulder injury — the run game was virtually non-existent. 

The Bears entered that game with the league’s 25th-ranked rushing offense, averaging just 90.3 yards per game. Ten games later, the Bears rank 29th with 85.6 rushing yards per game — and that includes a recent uptick in Trubisky running with the ball.

As much as this season has been about Trubisky’s development, nothing has been more disappointing than the Bears’ inability to run the football. Monday, I asked Bears head coach Matt Nagy about his team’s failure to run the ball consistently over the last two seasons, and he delivered a rather heartfelt intention to fix it.

“That’s going to be, for myself, just something that I know that I take personally,” Nagy said. “I understand how important it is to run the football.”

Sunday’s game in Green Bay was particularly alarming because the Packers came in with the 25th-ranked rushing defense and played most of the game with five or six defensive backs on the field. The Bears should have been able to pound the ball on the ground all day at Lambeau Field, but they couldn’t move the Packers’ front-four. On the first five rushing attempts by running backs, the Bears had -2 rushing yards. David Montgomery finished the game with 39 yards on 14 carries — an average of 2.8 yards/carry.

If you think back to the offseason, the biggest storylines were about Trubisky, the kicking competition and how Nagy and Ryan Pace planned on fixing the run game. In the end, they traded Jordan Howard, signed Mike Davis, drafted Montgomery and brought all five starting offensive linemen back. As it stands in mid-December, Davis is on the Carolina Panthers, Kyle Long was benched/put on injured reserve, Cody Whitehair and James Daniels have switched positions, and Howard is averaging 4.4 yards/carry on the Philadelphia Eagles to Montgomery’s 3.5. 

Essentially, the Bears enter this offseason the same way they did last year, knowing they need to return in the spring with both a better commitment to the run and a more effective scheme/identity. And this time, they must get it right.

“We’ll go back as a staff and we’ll go back as an organization and just kind of figure that out, everything included,” Nagy said. “But we do know we need to be better there.”

Trubisky Stands Up For Himself, O-line

Ever since Trubisky was pulled in Los Angeles with a hip injury, he’s been more vocal about what he wants to see in the offense. That continued after Sunday’s loss in Green Bay — a game in which Nagy often made calls into Trubisky’s headset after both teams were lined up.

“I thought we could have taken more pressure off (the offensive line) by moving the pocket a little more and me getting out (of the pocket),” Trubisky said. “We just got to continue to find ways to take pressure off our O-line with a good pass rush like that — continue to mix it up, whether its screens, running it, draws, all that kind of stuff that helps.”

A reporter then followed up to clarify that Trubisky was referring to the design of the offense and the quarterback replied: “Could have done a lot of stuff, yeah.”

At this point, it doesn’t take a football expert to realize that Trubisky is a better playmaker outside of the pocket. Like most quarterbacks, he can read defenses and make accurate throws inside a calm pocket, but if there is pressure, the mechanics and decision-making break down. That’s pretty much how quarterbacking works.

But Trubisky has traits that most quarterbacks do not. He has an outstanding athletic ability to make plays on the run, both with his legs and his arm. And since he’s playing behind an inconsistent offensive line, it’s no surprise that he has improved this season as Nagy has tailored his offense to Trubisky’s strengths.

That’s why it was surprising to see Nagy get away those strengths in Green Bay. It’s not like they were completely ignored, but the offensive line was clearly struggling and it seemed like more adjustments could have been made to help the line out.

“We called screens and we called some different stuff throughout the game. We changed it up,” Nagy said before adding that the 21-3 deficit resulted in more Cover-2, shell coverage from the Packers. “And then before that, we did exactly what we wanted, which was all that stuff — screens, draws, play-actions, etc.”

The Bears ran 83 offensive plays in the game, so there’s no doubt a little of everything was called, but based on the quarterback’s comments, it seems Trubisky wanted more of the things that are tailored to his strengths and help the offensive line.

Trubisky knows this is a critical juncture in his NFL career. He knows it’s a possibility the Bears bring in competition this offseason. I don’t believe Trubisky was calling Nagy out in any way with his comments, but I do think he was being honest about his desires within the offense. At this point, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Blown Call Was A Big One

The awful “kick-catch interference” call on Cordarrelle Patterson wasn’t THE reason why the Bears lost to the Packers, but it undoubtedly was A reason. Based on how the offense was operating early, I’m not confident the Bears would have scored after Patterson successfully jarred the ball loose from Tramon Williams in punt coverage, but they would have been set up in Packers’ territory. Instead, the egregious penalty gave possession to Green Bay inside Bears territory and Aaron Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a 29-yard touchdown four plays later to put the Packers up 7-0.

OK, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way: Yes, the Bears’ defense still could have and should have made a stop. Yes, it was still the first quarter. And yes, there’s no guarantee the Bears would have scored if they had received the football. 

None of that excuses another awful game-swinging call. As I’ve preached all year long, in the NFL’s crusade to make the game “safer,” they’ve essentially made it impossible for humans to officiate the game in real-time. As a result, virtually any hard hit has become a penalty. There’s specific language about the “crown of the helmet” and “defenseless players” and “blindside blocks” but the reality is that these plays happen too quickly for any human to process all of it without the benefit of replay.

Watching the play live, Patterson’s hit on Williams looked like a penalty. No one was surprised to see the flag thrown. It must have been helmet-to-helmet. He must have gotten there before the ball did. 

It looked bad.

It was actually good. In fact, it was as good of a play as a gunner can have. Patterson is having an unbelievable season as a gunner and this was his best play of the season.

But it was taken away because it looked bad. 

This is what the NFL has created. Game-changing football plays are getting negated. Patterson and the Bears should have been rewarded for a great play. The Bears may have gone down the field a taken a lead. Perhaps their offense would have looked different the rest of the game had they not been playing from behind. We’ll never know. 

That’s the point. Officiating is supposed to make the game more fair. Instead, it’s having a terribly negative impact on the current state of football. This is just the latest example.

Extra Points

  • At first glance, I thought Riley Ridley should have been more prepared to catch the Hail Mary off the tip on the second-to-last play of the game. The ball hit him in the hands and as a receiver, you’re expecting to catch a tipped ball in that situation. That’s why they practice those plays. On the other hand, it’s much easier said than done. And on review of the tape, I’m not sure Ridley’s feet would have been in bounds anyway. His second foot appeared to be on the end line.
  • When Jesper Horsted failed to lateral the ball to Allen Robinson on the game’s final play and instead fumbled it, neither Robinson or Anthony Miller went after the ball because they thought he fumbled the ball forward. Upon further review, the ball very clearly went off of Packers cornerback Kevin King’s left foot and King was behind Horsted. Tramon Williams fell on the loose ball, but he did briefly bobble it and who knows where the ball would have bounced had either Robinson or Miller made a move for it? Of course, the 2019 Chicago Bears season never should have come down to that.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also hosts “The Hoge & Jahns Podcast.” Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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