ATM: Bears Finding Answers During Playoff Push

| December 22nd, 2020

A month ago it looked like the Chicago Bears were heading towards a full-scale rebuild. But after two straight wins and a few quality offensive performances, the Bears might be finding they already have answers to some expected offseason questions.

The most significant answers are on the offensive side of the ball where Matt Nagy appears to have fixed what was wrong, even if that meant partially by stepping aside. It’s easy to say that Nagy giving up play calling was a negative on him, but fans should know better. The best Bears coach in recent history, Lovie Smith, had to convince his buddy Rod Marinelli to take defensive play calling away from him and we have seen numerous offensive geniuses – Sean Payton, Andy Reid come to mind – do the same for at least a short period of time.

While he isn’t calling the plays, Nagy still has oversight over the offense. It’s still his direction the team is following and his hires of Bill Lazor and Juan Castillo are suddenly looking fantastic. Lazor has found ways to consistently keep the offense simple for Mitch Trubisky and Castillo is getting standout play from undrafted free agents Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, two players who certainly look as if they could compete for starting spots next year.

Mustipher has played at a high level since entering the lineup against the Saints on Nov. 1. An injury knocked him out the next few weeks, but he returned Nov. 29 and seems to have locked down the job. In his five starts, the Bears have averaged 7.8 yards per carry when they run behind him. In all other games they’ve averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

Theoretically, most would be fine with the Bears going into the 2021 season with Leno, Whitehair and Mustipher taking up three of the five spots while James Daniels and Alex Bars compete at right guard. While they’d surely like to bring in more young depth, what once looked to be a full rebuild of the offensive line could now be the team focusing on just the tackle positions.

With that, we’ve realized that David Montgomery is a legitimate stud when he has blocking. Suddenly, the Bears just might have a piece to build their offense around.

We’ve known for weeks that Darnell Mooney is a valuable piece and we’re seeing why Cole Kmet was picked 43rd overall.

The quarterback is still the biggest question mark on the offense, but Mitch Trubisky could go a long way toward answering that too if he eliminates his horrendous turnovers while still making throws all over the field like he did this week. Even if he doesn’t, the draft needs may no longer include some of the positions previously penciled in, allowing the Bears to invest assets to move up in the draft for a new quarterback.

Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor filled in admirably last week and Shelley doesn’t seem to be much of a drop off from Buster Skrine. (He likely could be an upgrade in the near future.) With a tough assignment last week, Vildor did about as well as could be expected.

Perhaps the most promising emergence on the defense in 2020 has been Bilal Nichols, who is now up to five sacks on the season and has been living in opponent’s backfields in recent weeks. Suddenly, the future without Akiem Hicks isn’t nearly as scary when you consider the return of Eddie Goldman in 2021.

There’s no question that the defense has dropped off in recent weeks, but there still seems to be plenty of talent to work with, especially with a new coordinator added to the “must have” list in the offseason.

The Bears will have work to do this offseason and there are plenty of questions about Ryan Pace still to be answered. Perhaps with the answers the team has found in recent weeks, they’ve unearthed an even bigger question: should they really move on from Pace if Trubisky proves to be capable and the other young players on the roster continue to show their development?

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