Whether you loved Charles Leno or hated him, the Bears miss him — already.
Leno was an overachiever in his seven seasons with the Bears — a seventh-round draft pick in 2014 who ended up starting for six seasons. But at a critical position, he never was consistently good enough to reach “anchor” status.
Leno probably didn’t make that many more egregious mistakes that most of the more-respected tackles in the league, but in generally subpar Bears offenses, every error seemed to stand out like a beacon. He was good. But with the Bears, he needed to be great.
And, as the Bears and general manager Ryan Pace are finding out already, there’s something to be said for Leno’s dependability. He made 95 consecutive starts — and played 6,213-of-6,221 snaps (99.9%) — since replacing veteran Jermon Bushrod in the second half against the Seahawks in Week 4 in 2015.
The only eight snaps Leno missed came against the Vikings in Week 17 of the 2018 season, when coach Matt Nagy pulled many starters in anticipation of the playoffs. In fact, Leno played 6,257 snaps without getting injured in his seven seasons with the Bears. By the fourth quarter of their first game without him, the Bears already were on their fourth replacement.
Rookie Teven Jenkins is on injured reserve after undergoing back surgery on Aug. 18. His replacement, 39-year-old Jason Peters, lasted 32 snaps against the Rams before suffering a quad injury. Peters’ replacement, rookie Larry Borom, lasted all of 15 snaps before he suffered an ankle injury. Borom’s replacement, Elijah Wilkinson, played the final 22 snaps against the Rams without incident.
The Bears’ predicament at left tackle epitomizes Pace’s struggle to build a playoff-caliber offensive line. Upgrading at tackle was a wise move. But upgrading both tackles in the same year — Leno and Bobby Massie — has proven to be too much too soon.
Pace took a chance on a quality tackle prospect whose college season ended because of a back injury in Jenkins and already has been burned — Jenkins did not participate at all in training camp because of another back injury. Peters rushed to camp in mid-August and not that surprisingly couldn’t make it through a game.
Pace has his hits and misses, but the situation at left tackle reeks of poor management, with a heightened element of risk in every move. Pace cut Leno in a salary cap move (Leno signed with Washington, and is starting at left tackle). The initial candidates to replace Leno had little to no experience on the left side. Jenkins (Oklahoma State) and Borom (Missouri) were primarily right tackles in college. Wilkinson’s 26 NFL starts with the Broncos all are on the right side — seven at guard and 19 at tackle. Peters is 39, was injured twice last season and was literally fishing in Texas when he got the call from the Bears. This was his third injury in his last nine NFL games.
(Not everybody does it this way. When the 49ers had to replace left tackle Joe Staley, they traded for Washington holdout Trent Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl tackle still in his prime. When the Chiefs looked to replace injured left tackle Eric Fisher, they traded for Orlando Brown, who made the Pro Bowl playing mostly left tackle with the Ravens last season.)
It might turn out that Jenkins and Borom eventually become offensive line anchors at left and right tackle. But Pace’s luck has to change quickly for that to happen under his watch.
2. The hole at left tackle is particularly unfortunate because the Bears’ ability to run against a quality defense was arguably the best sign for the Bears’ offense in the opener.
The Bears rushed for 134 yards on 26 carries (5.2 avg.) and two touchdowns against the Rams, who ranked No. 1 in total defense and No. 3 in rushing defense last season. In three games against the top three rushing defenses last season — the Colts, Buccaneers and Rams — the Bears gained 112 rushing yards on 47 carries (2.4 avg.), with one touchdown.
3. Talk about bad luck … Nagy got cute twice with rookie Justin Fields against the Rams, both with negative results.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin lost two yards on an end around. And Borom suffered his ankle injury on a shovel pass to Allen Robinson that gained two yards.
The Borom injured brought back bad memories. Guard Kyle Long also suffered an ankle injury on a shovel pass — a failed attempt to fullback Paul Lasike — against the Buccaneers in 2016. Long, who had made the Pro Bowl the three previous seasons at the time, missed the rest of the 2016 season, and was never the same — playing in just 22 of 56 games before he “retired” after the 2019 season.
4. It seems like everything Matt Nagy does is off kilter these days. When Fields made his NFL debut with a nine-yard pass on second-and-10 on the Bears’ first possession, it seemed to make sense for Fields to build on the momentum and continue with a third-and-one situation at the Rams 3-yard line that was tailor-made for him.
Instead, Nagy went back to Andy Dalton and the Bears imploded — a false start by tight end Cole Kmet, a time out, and a Dalton pass that was tipped and intercepted in the end zone.
Using Fields intermittently at all seems fraught with danger, but especially one play at a time. It’s a constant battle for Nagy. The reason these devices — shovel passes, end arounds, Taysom Hill, etc. — work elsewhere is because they’re being used in offenses that already are established. Emulating them in a fledgling offense is often problematic and risky.
5. The Bears’ defense in Sean Desai’s debut as defensive coordinator was discombobulated from the start. Matthew Stafford’s 156.1 passer rating (20-of-26, 321 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) was the highest against the Bears for a passer with 20 or more attempts in franchise history.
Stafford’s 12.3 yards per pass attempt was the highest for a passer with more than 20 attempts since the Lions’ Eric Hipple’s 13.4 yards per attempt in 1981 (14-for-25, 336 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, 140.4).
6. The Bears’ defense had one sack (shared by Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn), no tackles-for-loss and four quarterback hits against the Rams. In fact, the Bears had a combined six “impact plays” per the NFL’s stat sheet (sacks, TFLs, quarterback hits, interceptions, pass defenses, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries). They averaged 17.9 per game last year — with at least 12 in every game except the Packers at Lambeau (4) — and 23.9 in 2018.
7. The List: The Bears’ top six players in salary-cap figures, combining for 38.8% of the cap, per spotrac.com: Allen Robinson ($17.98M), Robert Quinn ($14.7M), Khalil Mack ($14.64M), Akiem Hicks ($12.0M), Eddie Goldman ($7.8M) and Nick Foles ($6.66M).
Those six players combined for six receptions for 35 yards, five tackles, one sack and four pressures against the Rams — though Goldman (injured) and Foles (inactive) did not play.
8. Bits & Pieces: Dalton has a career 122.6 passer rating against the Bengals. … David Montgomery’s 100-yard game against the Rams (16 carries, 108 yards) was only the fourth in a Bears season opener since 1990 (Raymont Harris, Matt Forte twice). … Jimmy Graham played 14 snaps against the Rams. … The Bears are 5-14 against playoff teams under Nagy — not including the Rams game — averaging 15.1 offensive points. … The Bears defense has allowed a passer rating of 98.6 or higher in 11 of their last 12 games — that had happened just three times in the previous 38 games. … Former Bears defensive coaches Vic Fangio, Brandon Staley, Ed Donatell and Jay Rodgers are 1-0.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Kicker Robbie Gould kicked field goals of 52 and 40 yards and was 5-for-5 on PATs in the 49ers’ 41-33 victory over the Lions at Ford Field. Gould’s 11 points moved him past Norm Johnson into 14th place on the NFL’s all-time scoring list (1,742 points).
10. Bear-ometer: 7-10 — vs. Bengals (W); at Browns (L); vs. Lions (W); at Raiders (L); vs. Packers (W); at Buccaneers (L); vs. 49ers (L); at Steelers (L); vs. Ravens (L); at Lions (W); vs. Cardinals (L); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Seahawks (L); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (W).