Bears 1st-and-10: New receivers fueling giant offensive leaps

It’s only Week 3, but one early NFL trend can’t be ignored as it relates to the Bears’ offensive issues — wide receivers matter.

While the Bears are dead last in the NFL with 153 passing yards through two games, the Dolphins, Commanders and Jets among others have parlayed recently acquired receivers into an early giant leap in their passing game.

The Dolphins, with trade-acquisition Tyreek Hill (19 catches, 284 yards, two touchdowns) added to 2021 first-round pick Jaylen Waddle (15-240, three touchdowns), have jumped from 17th in passing yards in 2021 to first in the early going.

The Commanders, with 2022 first-round draft pick Jahan Dotson (7-99, three touchdowns) have jumped from 21st to second.

The Jets, with 2022 first-round draft pick Garrett Wilson (12-154, two touchdowns) have jumped from 20th to third.

The Eagles, who acquired A.J. Brown (15-224) in a trade with the Titans, have jumped from 25th to seventh.

Even over-paying for a quality wide receiver has been worth it so far. The Jaguars were mocked for signing Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million contract in free agency. But he’s already paying off. Kirk has 12 receptions for 195 yards and two touchdowns as the Jaguars have improved from 22nd to 12th in the NFL in passing.

The young quarterbacks in that group have benefitted –the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa (from a 90.1 passer rating last year to 116.5); the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (87.2 to 97.1) and the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence (71.9 to 96.4). The Bears’ Justin Fields, meanwhile, has dropped from 73.2 last year to 69.2 through the first two games.

That doesn’t mean Bears general manager Ryan Poles was wrong to prioritize defense in the draft and free agency in 2022. He’s surely eyeing a big splurge on offensive weapons with better draft capital and a ton of salary cap space in 2023. But if Fields continues to struggle, it’ll be a tough sell for Poles to move on from Fields without having given him the weapons that other developing quarterbacks have benefitted from. Because it clearly makes a difference.

2. How bad is it? The Bears’ 153 passing yards not only are last in the NFL (even the 31st-ranked Giants have more than twice as many yards), it’s the fewest passing yards through two games since 2005 (the fourth-year Texans with 133), and the fifth fewest in the NFL after two games in the last 40 seasons.

Two of the four teams ahead of them on that list were expansion teams — the 1999 Browns (121 yards) and the 2002 Texans (152). The other team was the 1999 Eagles in Andy Reid’s first season (133 yards), when he was starting Doug Pederson but playing rookie Donovan McNabb, who became the starter in Week 10. And the rest is history.

3a. Not-So-Fun-Fact: Exactly 33% of the Bears’ passing yards have come on one play — Fields’ 51-yard pass to Dante Pettis off a Fields scramble (and 49ers defensive breakdown) in Week 1.

3b. Not-So-Fun-Fact II: The Chiefs had more passing yards with 10:00 left in the second quarter of their opener against the Cardinals (159) than the Bears have in two games.

4a. Reality Check: After inflated hope following the opening victory over the 49ers on a sloppy track at Soldier Field in Week 1, the Bears are who we thought they were — a rebuilding team with a long way to go, especially on offense. That said, they’re 1-1 against two likely playoff teams, which is better than most experts predicted — for whatever that’s worth.

The next four games — the Texans, Giants, Vikings and Commanders — should paint a pretty clear picture of what kind of rebuilding year this will be.

4b. Grasping At Straws Dept.: The halftime-adjustment angle was about the only Week 1 positive left standing after the Packers game. After getting outscored 24-7 in the first half against the Packers, the Bears played to a 3-3 standoff in the second half.

(The Bears had been outscored by the Packers in the second half in 11 of their previous 12 games. And when the Bears outscored the Packers 15-14 in 2020, they scored two garbage touchdowns after trailing 41-10 at Lambeau.)

For what it’s worth, in two games this season, the Bears have been outscored 31-7 in the first half, and outscored the 49ers/Packers 22-6 in the second half.

5. Keeping an NFL rebuilding year in perspective is much more difficult in the modern era of Twitter, podcasts, social media in general and sports radio. Not everything is a defining moment. It’s Week 3.

6. The Bears’ 11 passes against the Packers are tied for the fourth fewest in a loss in the last 40 years.

The only teams to throw fewer passes in that span are the Cardinals against the Bills in 1990 (10, with quarterback Timm Rosenbach), the Broncos against the Saints in 2020 (nine, with Kendall Hinton — a practice squad wide receiver called up as an emergency quarterback during a COVID-19 outbreak), and the Texans against the Colts in 2005 (nine, with David Carr).

7.When Poles was asked prior to the season about the criticism that he had not provided Fields with enough support, he pointed to Darnell Mooney (“Mooney is balling right now”), tight end Cole Kmet and third-round rookie wide receiver Velus Jones as playmakers he was excited about.

In the first two games, Mooney has two receptions for four yards; Kmet has yet to catch a pass; and Jones has not played because of a hamstring injury.

It’s early — and two games is certainly not defining. But it’s uncanny how the best-laid plans at Halas Hall rarely come to fruition easily.

8a. The Bears should have a Lovie Smith appreciation video when Lovie returns to Soldier Field on Sunday with the Texans — because the nine seasons since Lovie was fired have been decidedly less fulfilling than his nine seasons as the Bears’ head coach.

In Lovie’s nine seasons, the Bears were 81-63 (.563) with five winning seasons, three playoff appearances, three playoff victories, two NFC Championship Game appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.

In the nine full seasons since, the Bears were 61-84 (.421) with one winning season, two playoff appearances (one of them only because of the COVID-19 season), zero playoff victories, zero NFC Championship Game appearances and zero Super Bowl appearances.

8b. Lovie is 0-2 against the Bears. He lost 21-13 with the Buccaneers in 2014 at Soldier Field in the Jay Cutler-Josh McCown Showdown; and he lost 26-21 with the Buccaneers in 2015 at Raymond James Stadium.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Rams wide receiver Allen Robinson caught four passes for 53 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown, in a 31-27 victory over the Falcons. That matched Robinson’s season total of one touchdown with the Bears last season.

Three of Robinson’s catches came on third down, including a 29-yard reception on third-and-10 in the third quarter.

It was the sixth quarterback Robinson has caught a touchdown pass from in the NFL — Blake Bortles (22), Mitch Trubisky (12), Chase Daniel (two), Nick Foles (three), Andy Dalton (one) and Stafford.

10. Bear-ometer: 7-10 –vs. Texans (W); at NY Giants (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Commanders (W); at Patriots (L); at Cowboys (L); vs. Dolphins (L); vs. Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at NY Jets (W); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (L); vs. Vikings (W).

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