Bears believe an offense shall come to passMark Potashon October 28, 2021 at 8:38 pm

Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) had 18 carries for 100 yards against the Buccaneers’ top-ranked run defense last week — the most by a single rusher against the Buccaneers this season. | Don Montague/AP Photos

They’ve established the run in four games with Bill Lazor calling plays. But parlaying that success into a productive passing game has been problematic. They’re sixth in rushing, but 32nd in passing.

The Bears’ offense under Matt Nagy is a twisted version of an old boxing maxim: They can run, but they can’t pass.

When the Bears established a running game against the Lions (188 yards) and Raiders (143) in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s first two games as the play-caller, the next logical step was an expansion of the passing game. In football theory, the defense focusing on stopping the running game should create opportunities in the passing game.

“You’re always trying to stay one step ahead of the defenses,” Nagy said after the Bears rushed for 143 yards but passed for 109 in a 20-9 victory over the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in Week 5.

“Maybe some games are some play-actions off that that are more successful than others. Maybe it’s drop-back or maybe it’s RPO or it’s getting out on the edge with movements and nakeds. It’s all based off the things you see that a team is going to [do].”

It sounds good in theory, but in practice it hasn’t quite worked out. The Bears have continued to run well against the Packers (140 yards) and even against the Buccaneers’ No. 1-ranked run defense (143 yards). But that has yet to translate to an improvement in the passing game. The Bears had 137 net passing yards against the Packers and 168 against the Buccaneers.

In the last four games, in fact, the Bears have rushed for 153.5 yards per game — fourth best in the NFL in that span. But they’re 32nd and last in the NFL in passing in that same span (149.8).

It seems like yet another red flag for the slow-developing Bears offense. Of the top eight rushing teams in the NFL this season, seen of them are in the top 11 in total offense. The outlier is the Bears, who are sixth in rushing and 32nd in total offense.

What’s up with that?

“I don’t think it has anything to do with the run game,” Lazor said of the Bears’ low passing-game production. “I think it has to do with [having] to be better with the details of the pass game — fitting it together; making the plays when they’re available. I don’t just mean jumping up and catching the ball. I mean, blocking the person we’re supposed to block; being together with how we’re going to block it; the timing of the firmness of protection; matching the timing of the routes.”

Lazor, who acknowledges reality as much as anyone on Matt Nagy’s staff, knows it’s a significant bugaboo. “When you’re 32nd [in the NFL], we could spend a lot of time talking about this,” he said.

Indeed, the little things are keeping the Bears’ passing offense from getting off the ground. On the second play against the Buccaneers, rookie running back Khalil Herbert reacted too late to a blitz pick-up and Justin Fields was sacked. On the Bears’ next possession, tight end Cole Kmet dropped a third-and-eight pass to force a punt.

“There were only probably two or three drives in that game — and the game was already out of hand — where you really felt we got into a rhythm, whether that was tempo or some completions,” Nagy said. “So you can get to a point to where you’re struggling and things don’t feel like they’re going your way and then people start to press, and that’s what we don’t want.”

Fields has started just five games in an offense that has been struggling for years regardless of the quarterback. But there are few signs of a breakthrough. The light at the end of the tunnel still looks like an oncoming train.

“We know we can be a lot better,” Nagy said. “We know it because we see it on tape. The stuff that we show on film that we’ve done in the past — it’s there. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

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