Across The Middle: Pace Still Has His Work Cut Out For Him

| January 17th, 2018

Matt Nagy could be the greatest offensive mind in the history of the league and even he couldn’t have succeeded with the Bears talent this season. A telling quote from Bob McGinn’s annual :All-NFC North team column, polling multiple scouts:

“Personnel people find it hard to believe what the Bears were employing with at WR after Cameron Meredith and, to a much lesser extent, Kevin White, suffered season-ending injuries early. ‘Just a bunch of names, really,’ one scout said.”

In the piece the Bears had four players  — Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and Jordan Howard —  take first-team spots offensively. They also had five starters finish last in their positions and two more were second-to-last.

The Bears have a lot more talent on defense, where seven players finished in the top two at their positions, which is impressive with the All-Pro laden Vikings unit in the division. The Bears’ talent resulted in a top-10 finish and that group still needs help in the pass rush department.

The offense is a huge concern, even when it comes to McGinn’s first-teamers. Long is going to have multiple surgeries this off-season and has been a shell of what he once was the last two seasons due to injury. There seems to be a good chance that Sitton doesn’t return.

Since Nagy was hired, it’s been popular for reporters and bloggers to post stories trying to show how Nagy’s Bears offense will look. But it’s impossible to compare the 2018 Bears to the 2017 Chiefs because the Bears don’t have anywhere near the caliber of player.

Getting Meredith back from a torn ACL should help the offense a lot. He was clearly the best receiver on the team throughout camp and outperformed Alshon Jeffery in 2016. Kevin White is a wildcard who they can’t count on for anything. Other than that, they could — and probably should — have a complete turnover at the receiver position.

The Bears should get improvement from Adam Shaheen and, most importantly, Mitch Trubisky. Both players were trending upward as the season closed and the spread-hybrid offense the Bears figure on running should make the quarterback’s life easy. While there’s no questioning his talent, Bears fans thinking Shaheen is going to be Travis Kelce should learn to manage their expectations.

Other than that, Pace has a lot of work to do.

As exciting as Kansas City’s offense was last year, that really hasn’t been the case for most of the Andy Reid era. While this is the third time they’ve finished in the top 10 in points scored, it’s the first time they’ve been better than 20th in yardage. They have primarily been a ball control offense that runs the ball and a team that relies on its defense. Up until last year, they were the kind of team John Fox wanted to build.

What changed?

Nagy deserves some credit. He got Alex Smith to start taking shots down the field and implemented some spread sets to help maximize their talent. The biggest change, however, was the addition of Kareem Hunt to complement Tyreek Hill and Kelce.

The Bears need impact players.

Howard is one. The Bears hope Meredith and Shaheen can be. Tarik Cohen has shown the ability to change games quickly.

We could see the Bears go after free agents like Albert Wilson or Taylor Gabriel to add speed — something that should open things up for Shaheen, Howard and Cohen. Paul Richardson is another option, although he may end up cashing in at a price the Bears aren’t willing to play. All of those guys would prove to be significant upgrades from the likes of Tanner Gentry and Josh Bellamy, but none are blue chip-level players like Kansas City has in Hill and Kelce.

In all likelihood, the Bears aren’t going to invest major draft assets in the skill positions. Kansas City was able to find their big players in the middle rounds. It’s really too early to speculate on who some of those players might be — this time of year, if there’s a player fans love as a middle-round pick, that player is almost surely going to be drafted higher than they expect.

Ultimately, the Bears will go as far as Trubisky takes them, but it’s too early for us to realistically expect Trubisky to carry the team. The thing lost when talking about the development of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff is the fact that their teams revamped their supporting casts. Now, the Bears must do the same.

It’s too early to talk about the Bears as a possible playoff team like the Eagles and Rams turned out to be, but there’s reason for hope. The reality is, they need to make numerous significant additions to the offense.

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