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2020 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,302 (26th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 38 (23rd)
Offensive Plays: 1,043 (11th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 650 (Ninth)
Rush Attempts: 393 (27th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 48 (27th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 99 (15th)
“Offensive mind” Matt Nagy has never produced a top-20 offense by yardage, only once cracking the top 10 in scoring. That 2018 squad was buoyed by one of the best defenses of the decade, one that carried an abnormal amount of the “offensive” burden. In the two years since, Nagy’s unit has finished 29th and 22nd in points. It hasn’t been hard to spot why: The quarterbacks. Not that the surrounding talent has been amazing, but it is under center where Nagy’s attack has foundered again and again. 2020 was the nadir of the Mitchell Trubisky project, with the fourth-year former No. 2 overall pick getting benched following an awful three-game start only for Nick Foles to be even worse. By the time Trubisky got the job back in Week 12, Nagy was riding a run-centered approach against a soft portion of the schedule. David Montgomery had the best stretch of his young career as the Bears snuck into the playoffs. Beyond Allen Robinson and Montgomery’s fast finish, notable offensive performances were few and far between.
The Bears saw all they needed from Trubisky, letting him walk to the Bills for a paltry $2.5 million. It was step one in what turned out to be an overly-elaborate plan. GM Ryan Pace guaranteed Andy Dalton $7 million in the opening hours of free agency, prompting the social media team to hail him as the franchise’s “QB1.” Various Bears officials spent the next month swearing on bibles and going on talk shows insisting that Dalton truly was the club’s starter, but that mercifully changed when Pace made a characteristically aggressive move up for Ohio State’s Justin Fields at No. 11 overall.
Whatever you think of the process, it was the right result. Trubisky had no more upside left to tap, and this roster is no longer good enough for a caretaker quarterback like Dalton. It was time for the next generation, and Fields is very much a part of this generation of quarterbacking. Fields does not beat you over the head with his dual-threat ability, but it’s always there. He is a big-play hunter as both a passer and runner, one who does not have to rely on scheme to change games. That is going to be critical in this offense, as Nagy hasn’t proven to be a sideline game changer like Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan.
It is also important because the cavalry isn’t coming in the supporting cast. A disgruntled Robinson — he’s playing 2021 on the franchise tag — remains one of the league’s best overall wideouts, but No. 2 on the depth chart is either wild card second-year deep threat Darnell Mooney or out-of-favor slot man Anthony Miller. Whether it is Dalton’s station-to-station game managing or Fields’ likely frenetic rookie play under center, Robinson belongs in his ancestral “borderline WR1” homeland.
The No. 173 overall pick of last year’s draft, Mooney surprised by carving out an immediate role in the Bears’ talent-desperate offense, but he was an awful fit with Trubisky’s inaccurate skill-set. Amongst the league leaders in average separation, Next Gen Stats charted Mooney as commanding the most cushion of any pass catcher. He nevertheless finished 10th in “unrealized air yards” with 739. Mooney was getting open and putting fear in defenses, but Trubisky was incapable of delivering him the ball. Nagy still came away impressed, praising Mooney’s “rare element of speed combined with route running, hands, and passion.” Mooney is an unproven commodity catching passes from either a rookie or Dalton, but there is massive upside here for a wideout spending his summer coming off the board in the WR50 range.
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The ceiling potential ends there. Miller has proven to be one of the NFL’s least satisfying slot options, to the degree that the Bears spent the offseason leaking to anybody who would listen that he was on the trade block. His yards per catch cratered from north of 12 to under 10 in 2021, while his yards per route run barely cracked the top 100 at 1.12. It remains possible Miller is granted a change of scenery ahead of Week 1. If not, Miller has zero path to weekly relevance in a run-based offense where he could end up the fourth or fifth read behind A-Rob, Mooney, Cole Kmet and the backfield.
The seam is where the remaining intrigue is. Jimmy Graham remained stubbornly involved last season as he bettered his dismal 2019 output for the Packers, but Kmet spent the second half of the year in the left lane passing up his veteran teammate. Kmet out-targeted Graham 34-20 from Week 10 forward, with that number checking in 13th amongst tight ends. Kmet produced 67 percent of his yardage in that timespan, never playing fewer than 70 percent of the snaps. He flashed the upside the Bears are desperately counting on for 2021. Graham, whose 19 red zone targets were tied for fifth last season, figures to remain involved in the painted area, but any compiling will be accomplished by Kmet. Barely being drafted as a TE2 right now, Kmet is a freebie late-round flier at an always-volatile position. Graham is a tight end-premium league spot-starter.
Was there anything more 2020 than Montgomery being a league winner? After managing a woeful 131/472/1/3.6 over his first nine appearances, Montgomery piled up 116/598/7/5.2 over the season’s final six games. Famously, he was taking advantage of the softest of stretch-run schedules, but if anyone has proven that cannot be taken for granted, it’s Montgomery.
For the season, Montgomery ran the second most routes of any running back. That’s because Tarik Cohen was limited to three games and 20 touches before tearing his ACL. Cohen was coming off a 2019 where he caught a ridiculous 79 passes but averaged a putrid 5.8 yards per pop. The Bears seemed to notice, targeting Cohen just nine times in three appearances before his injury. Cohen’s healthy returns means Montgomery’s free ride on third downs is over, but Cohen should be considered a badly wounded entity. Montgomery will probably split the difference between his rookie and sophomore reception totals of 25 and 54.
Fantasy managers are predictably fading Montgomery’s RB7 finish by average half PPR points, but his mid-June ADP of RB20 is arguably too pessimistic. If nothing else, it’s just right. Cohen’s 2019 efficiency was awful across the board, and he’s a 5-foot-6 back who now has a major knee injury on his résumé. Montgomery is going to permanently maintain an increased chunk of the passing-game usage. On the ground, both his floor and ceiling should be helped by Fields’ dual threat. It will be basically impossible for Montgomery to finish outside the RB2 range if he stays healthy. Cohen is a strict deep leaguer in PPR formats.
Should Montgomery go down with injury, the Bears finally have a legit backup in 2020 Chiefs COVID opt-out Damien Williams. It’s still important to remember that 29-year-old Williams won’t be a set-and-forget RB2 if Montgomery misses time. Williams has never reached 20 carries in a game, clearing 15 only twice. Williams is there to be a part of the picture, not solve the puzzle if Montgomery gets hurt.
Set at 7.5 on PointsBet, the Bears’ over/under feels uncharitable in a year where the schedule is increasing to 17 games. Nagy has cleared that number in 16 games all three of his seasons on the job, while there are still the kernels of a solid defense here. The Bears’ schedule is manageable in an in-transition NFC North. Even should Aaron Rodgers return under center for the Packers, this is not an imposing division. It pains me to suggest the over on a frequently-unwatchable franchise, but Fields should hopefully be changing that. Hold your nose and hit send.