Grounded, with no end in sight: Bears rushing game leaving a lot to be desired
By Robert Zeglinski
Facing pressure against the Patriots on Sunday, Mitchell Trubisky veered right and spun around. The Bears quarterback committed a cardinal sin of turning his back to the play and began scrambling out of trouble he largely created himself. As Trubisky began reversing field to his left, a convoy of Bears offensive linemen formed to carve out a path for Trubisky on his way to walk into the end zone. The ultimate “no, no, no, YES” play in football as Trubisky covered 72 yards of ground to score an eight-yard touchdown.
That difficult, roundabout and extremely fortunate score by Trubisky was, at it’s core, one of the easiest rushing plays the Bears have had the entire season. Let that indictment sink in.
It’s easy to gloss over the Bears’ rushing struggles as the offense has blossomed of late, and tremendously so. In their last three games, Trubisky’s crew has averaged 467 yards and 36 points a game. While they aren’t putting together complete 60 minute performances, the Bears inarguably have one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL when they’re locked in. The only issue is the fact that they aren’t playing well wire-to-wire. That sentiment is largely thanks to an offensive balance, or lack thereof, that’s hanging them out to dry.
A fact head coach Matt Nagy hasn’t lost sight of as the Bears now sit at a disappointing 3-3.
“No, no, our run game needs to improve,” Nagy said earlier this week when asked about his satisfaction with the Bears’ ground attack. “Our run game has to get better, and it’s everybody.”
“Everybody” is an interesting assertion on the part of the Bears’ leader because that would insinuate that it indeed wasn’t all on one individual Bears player to get going. That would maintain that the Bears have a systematic issue plaguing an offense that can get the big play, but never the simple one. If you look closely at the tale of the tape, Nagy isn’t wrong.
Jordan Howard, for one, is on pace for career lows in every relevant rushing statistic. After easily eclipsing 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, Howard looks like nothing more than a glorified complementary back in Nagy’s scheme. When the Bears feed Howard, it often bogs their offense down entirely: a risk that isn’t worth the hassle. There’s a lacking consistent patience and vision the 23-year-old hasn’t had issues with in the past, and it’s a situation the Bears can’t dwell on much longer.
Chicago’s offensive line also isn’t creating the same holes as it has in recent years. Whereas offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has galvanized one of the more underrated units in pro football, there isn’t that same push up front the Bears have routinely created. Some of that can be attributed to an offensive front still gelling. Some of it is rooted in the strange Eric Kush-James Daniels rotation hoopla that has no resolution in sight. Some of it is teams not remotely fearing Trubisky as a passing threat and stacking defenders in the box: making the big boys’ job that much harder.
While the Bears currently sit with the NFL’s 12th overall rushing offense, you’d be hard-pressed to ascertain them as anything competent in this aspect of their offense. Trubisky hasn’t thrown less than 30 passes except for an enthralling victory over the Buccaneers before Chicago’s bye week. You’d think that with a young quarterback acclimating to a new offense, you’d do more to protect him, to at least have the threat of a different element in your scheme.
Yet, here the Bears and Nagy are asking Trubisky to do everything. Putting the pressure intensely on a young passer not equipped to handle it at this point. If you thought that Trubisky was, at times, rattled against the Patriots while throwing an astonishing 50 passes, you’d be correct.
It’s obvious that the days of pounding away with Howard are long gone for these Bears. Asserting that they have to rely on their workhorse solely is also a foolhardy suggestion. The best offenses in the NFL, like New England, merely have the ideal of a quality rushing attack. They never rely on one player, because they have multiple that can do their job. They’ve established a stable of tailbacks that can get it done in respective situations, and always have a means of versatility to rely on across the board.
The Bears possess that ideal on paper with Trubisky being the athlete he is, Howard the grinder, and Tarik Cohen the explosive all-around dynamo, but they haven’t applied it in a similar ideal fashion. They don’t know what works in individual situations. They don’t understand each other at a base level. They haven’t worked out the kinks at all, as much as they show off occasional fireworks downfield.
Until the Bears are able to establish the run in a way that can even act as an effective decoy, this offense is going to continue to go through periods of frustrating turnovers, senseless three-and-outs, and empty red zone trips. The rushing offense’s most explosive plays will continue to be unsustainable Trubisky runs, as exciting as they are.. Nagy and company will be standing on their respective soapboxes once again soon. This is a team effort that must be addressed, and quickly.
“We just need to figure out what’s best for us identity-wise,” Nagy said. “Again, it’s not one person.”
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.