It’s hard to pinpoint the most troubling aspect of the 2022 offseason: is it that Ryan Poles didn’t acquire enough good players or that he didn’t even try to upgrade the roster?
Regardless of where the Bears are in their team building process, the goal of the offseason is to acquire good players. That’s it. Simple. While Poles was certainly active, how many players did he bring in that we know are going to start in 2023? Jaquan Brisker is the only lock. Kyler Gordon is trending in the right direction, but the bad has still far outweighed the good to this point.
Poles has referenced the lack of resources when pressed on such questions, but that’s a farce. He could’ve used 2023 salary cap space in 2022 to bring in players. Instead, the team’s second-leading wide receiver is a player who didn’t even make the Green Bay Packers roster last year and their third was the sixth wide receiver on the New York Giants. It isn’t like either of those teams had an embarrassment of riches.
Then there’s Velus Jones, a high third round pick who specializes in gimmick plays and returns – except he isn’t a good return man. Jones is currently averaging 21 yards per kick return and 6.8 per punt return with two – yes, two – fumbles. Oh, and he fumbled a kick in the preseason. Poles complained about a lack of resources, then used one of his best resources on a 25-year-old gimmick player. The very next pick was Abraham Lucas, who looks like a long-term starter at tackle for Seattle.
The biggest investments Poles made in the offense were Byron Pringle at wide receiver and Alex Leatherwood on the offensive line. Pringle caught two passes in three games before landing on IR; Leatherwood has yet to play a snap.
Poles is said to be known for his ability to scout offensive linemen, but it appears as if he had no plan to fix that group last offseason. The Bears are relying on a fifth-round rookie at left tackle, fifth-round second-year player at right tackle, a converted tackle at right guard and backup-level players at center and left guard.
And that’s it. That was the plan. Poles certainly can’t be blamed for Cody Whitehair being injured and it wasn’t out of the question that Lucas Patrick could be an adequate option at center. But why did he leave three positions in absolute limbo? While they’ve managed to get push in the running game – though even that hasn’t been happening in the last two weeks – the Bears can barely complete a simple drop back without pressure. The book on Justin Fields going back to Ohio State is that he holds onto the ball too long and would need good blocking to succeed in the NFL. The Bears went the opposite direction.
The Bears have to keep extra blockers in and then hope their pedestrian wide receivers can get free despite being outnumbered in the defensive backfield. It’s as if the Bears hoped to build a roster that would make Fields’ life more difficult than it was a season ago. They succeeded.
Poles simply did not bring in enough good players this offseason. The question Bears ownership have to ask is if that was intentional. If it wasn’t intentional, there is a very real problem with a GM who simply can’t evaluate talent. If it was, then he is tanking the season in hopes for a high draft pick very likely because…
Scouting QBs a Must
With all that has gone wrong around Justin Fields, we can’t ignore his faults.
Fields has struggled with anticipation, pocket management and, at times, accuracy. There is no question that there is a better player in there and that his upside remains tremendous, but the odds of him actually being a special, Aaron Rodgers-type of quarterback are really quite low. His ceiling seems to be in the Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton range.
Again, that’s his ceiling, and he is pretty far from that.
If Poles thought Fields was going to be the guy, he would’ve done something – anything – to help him succeed. The Bears are going to be picking in the top five and there are at least two quarterbacks who would warrant such a pick. Poles knew what the 2023 quarterback draft would look like when he took the Bears job.
It isn’t illogical to think that Poles doesn’t like Fields and wants his own quarterback. If that’s the case, Fields hasn’t done much to disprove Poles’ initial impression.
For two seasons, the Green Bay Packers had one of the most unstoppable offenses in the league. Now they’re in the bottom ten in scoring, as are two play callers from that system.
The Packers averaged nearly 30 points per game in 2020 and 2021 and are currently averaging 17.8. Their former offensive coordinator is now the head coach of the Denver Broncos, the team that has scored the fewest points in the league.
Both of those teams have Hall of Fame quarterbacks, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the Bears are 31st in the league, averaging 15.5 points per game with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, the former passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach for the Packers.
The Bears have bad players, but the issues have been compounded by a scheme that has, apparently, been figured out. If Getsy deserves to have the job beyond this season, he is going to find a way to adjust and score more points going forward.
Zappe Us Back to Life
Perhaps what makes the Bears’ offensive struggles so frustrating is what the New England Patriots have done with Bailey Zappe.
We can debate whether anybody should name a boy “Bailey” all day long, but the quarterback has completed 73% of his passes, with four touchdowns and one interception. The Patriots are successfully running the type of conservative offense the Bears intended.
It’s worth noting that Zappe might not be the quarterback Monday night, as the team might go back to 2021 first round pick Mac Jones. Jones struggled before he was injured, but the Patriots seem to have figured out their offense since then. The biggest mismatch is simply New England’s power rushing attack against a Bears defense that is soft against the run.
The Patriots are competitive because Bill Belichick is the best coach in NFL history. Young quarterbacks often struggle against him and it’s hard to see how the Bears could find any answers when they haven’t been able to thus far.