Don’t look now, but the Chicago Bears are on a two-game winning streak.
That has slowed the questions about Matt Nagy’s job status, but there’s plenty for Brad Biggs to dive into in his weekly Bears mailbag entering Sunday’s game at Soldier Field against the rival Green Bay Packers.
Is it more important to teach Justin Fields how to win as a game manager or to lose but develop his passing game? — @jimgottberg
I’m honestly a little stunned some have suggested Fields is a game manager. I wouldn’t look at him and his skill set and put him in that box. The Bears have to play to the strength of their roster, and as I’ve said previously, I think a lot of folks overrated their wide receivers after you get past Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. Some people talked up the speed the Bears added at the position, but Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd have not been consistent performers throughout their careers. The same goes for Breshad Perriman, who has yet to be active. The Bears have issues on the offensive line, so if they lean more on their tight ends, they can help out the line, improve the running game and protect the quarterback. Fields hasn’t had to throw much the last two weeks — both wins. He attempted 17 passes against the Detroit Lions and 20 against the Las Vegas Raiders. He will develop with playing time and get better at everything. He has made strides in pure passing situations. Look at the third-and-12 throw he made across the middle of the field midway through the fourth quarter Sunday. It required patience and he had to throw a dart. He delivered.
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The Bears are way better off carefully planning how they attack the opponent each week based on the strength of their roster and the weaknesses they identify in their opponent. The flip side is spreading out the field like they did in Cleveland and trying to throw it all over the place and getting Fields crushed. How would that benefit the rookie quarterback? The time will come, probably soon, when he needs to throw 30, 35 or even 40 times in a game. There are 12 regular-season games remaining. There’s a ton of time for him to develop. I don’t think you will see the 2005 Bears offense all over again when they tried to avoid throwing too much with rookie Kyle Orton. But if they do that and keep winning, it would be insane to change. The goal is to win every Sunday. Fields will mature along the way, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to make coaching corrections coming off a victory than off a defeat.
Khalil Herbert looking shockingly good, great cuts and quickness against the Raiders. Do you see him being RB1 this week? — @austing183
I agree that Herbert looked terrific against the Raiders. He ran with power and got downhill right away. He was impressive carrying the ball 18 times for 75 yards. Herbert was on the field for 34 snaps, and that’s telling because it shows the coaches are comfortable with him in pass protection. I don’t know that he will take Damien Williams’ position as the starter and I don’t think it matters much. Both will play and Herbert actually got three more snaps than Williams. The veteran Williams has more versatility as a receiver out of the backfield, so there’s plenty of work for both of them as David Montgomery bides his time on injured reserve for at least two more games. It’s about playing time and touches more than who starts, and Herbert will continue to get opportunities.
Have the first five games changed Allen Robinson’s negotiation leverage with the Bears or other teams? — @mastropc
The rough start for the passing offense hasn’t helped Robinson. I don’t know how much it has affected him, but he’s tied for 79th in the league with 17 receptions, he’s 84th with 181 yards and he’s tied for 55th with 29 targets. Robinson’s volume has been way down as he’s averaging only 5.8 targets per game — down from 9.4 last season and 9.6 in 2019. There’s only so much he can do if the ball isn’t coming his way. I expect his production to increase as quarterback Justin Fields gets more comfortable in the offense and the Bears almost certain to get into games that require them to throw the ball more.
Let’s be real here. When Robinson has been going well the last two seasons, he could have 29 targets, 17 catches and 181 yards in a two-week span. So to have those numbers after five games has to be challenging for him personally, but at least publicly he’s taking the right approach.
“Just try to contribute to help win games,” he said Tuesday. “That’s the main thing, being able to put everything else to the side. Figuring out how to capitalize on the opportunities that I have when I do have them and being able to come away with those, whether that’s gaining a pass interference or something on a 50-yard play or a 20-yard play. Or being able to catch a ball to move the chains on second down or third down. Or whether that’s blocking in the run game. Just trying to do whatever is asked of me to try to put this team and put this offense in the best situation to win games.”
Robinson will have a difficult time commanding top dollar on the open market if his numbers remain considerably down, but his health is the main thing. He’s only 28 and will be coming off a year of playing on the franchise tag. I’m sure he will receive ample interest as a free agent.
Do you think Mike Pettine will make a difference in game planning for Aaron Rodgers? — @j_w_redmon
Pettine might have a few ideas to share with defensive coordinator Sean Desai and the rest of the staff, but Rodgers has gone against all of the best defensive coaches in the NFL during his career and consistently has performed at a high level. I don’t think there’s any secret to unlocking success against him or any new tactic Pettine has in mind that will give the Bears a big edge. It comes down to basics. The Bears need to do a good job of stopping the run to force Rodgers into second- and third-and-long situations. If he’s in second-and-short consistently, that’s a very dangerous offense.
Every time the TV broadcast showed Matt Nagy on Sunday, he had the play card up by his face, so I assumed he took back the play calling from Bill Lazor. But nothing was mentioned in the press or at his news conference Sunday. Was I mistaken? — Steven D., Chicago
You are mistaken. Lazor called the plays again Sunday in Las Vegas. Nagy still has the call sheet for reference — just as I’m sure Lazor had one in the coaches box when Nagy was calling the plays. Nagy still communicates on the headset with the coaches in the box. If he wants to cover his mouth with the play card when he does so, no big deal. Nagy was complimentary of Lazor and his efforts in his postgame comments.
“I just think that Bill Lazor has done a phenomenal job of being able to come in here and get guys in a rhythm and be able to feel who’s hot and where we’re at,” Nagy said
I expect Lazor to call plays for the remainder of the season.
Now that the Bears have an offensive identity, what is the next step to improving the offensive output? — @beearsfan1235
First, I would caution against believing that a two-game span against the Lions and Raiders means the Bears’ long quest to discover an identity on offense has ended. Let’s see what they do over an eight- or 10-game stretch. Let’s see how they respond when upcoming opponents scheme to take away some of the things that have been working with bigger personnel on the field. Let’s see what happens when they get into games their defense doesn’t control as well and they are forced to throw the ball more.
Don’t get me wrong, there is reason to be encouraged with what we witnessed the last two weeks. But I don’t think the Bears or anyone else can claim they all of a sudden have cracked the riddle. They’ve had stints in the last couple of seasons when they went to bigger personnel for a stretch and then quickly got away from it. We need to see how they develop this. As far as increasing their output, they need more explosive plays. They need to develop more downfield plays in the passing game. There’s a good chance that will happen if they continue to produce in the running game. But in general, more explosive plays will lead to more scoring.
After watching the Jets-Falcons game Sunday morning, is there any better evidence that shows how poorly the Bears coaching staff used Cordarrelle Patterson over the last two years? — Phil S.
The Bears are not the only team to work hard to find a role that took advantage of Patterson’s skills on offense. He spent four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, one each with the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots and two with the Bears. None of those teams found a way to consistently unlock Patterson offensively.
Through five games with the Falcons, Patterson has 41 rushing attempts for 173 yards while splitting time in the backfield with another ex-Bear, Mike Davis. He’s 24 carries from surpassing his career high, set last season with the Bears, and he needs 60 rushing yards to establish a new personal mark. Patterson also has 25 receptions for 295 yards and four touchdowns for the Falcons. His best season catching passes came as a rookie with the Vikings in 2013, when he caught 45 passes for 469 yards and four scores.
It’s a credit to Falcons coach Arthur Smith and his staff — which includes former Bears assistants Dave Ragone and Charles London — more than a poor reflection on other staffs. One reason the Falcons have leaned so heavily on Patterson is they are short on skill-position talent. Some really good coaches have worked with him over the years and couldn’t regularly get him the ball in space. The Falcons have done a really nice job with him.
How can Eddie Goldman play 35-plus snaps and not get on the stat sheet? Does he even care anymore? — @illini8208
Goldman was on the field for 33 snaps against the Raiders, two more than he played the week before against the Lions. You are correct that Goldman wasn’t credited with a tackle in Las Vegas, but if you’re judging the effectiveness of nose tackles by the number of tackles they make, you’re going about it the wrong way. Goldman didn’t play very well against the Lions, and I think he was trying to get his feet under him after missing time with the knee injury and opting out last season. The Bears played pretty well against the run in Las Vegas, limiting Josh Jacobs to 48 yards on 15 carries. The Raiders averaged only 3.2 yards per carry. I think Goldman will get better in the next month as he gets back into the grind.
Justin Fields has great size and speed, but they don’t seem to be utilizing it. I expected him to get about 50 yards rushing per game. He doesn’t seem to know when to take off. Do you agree there is an issue here? Is this a scheme/coaching thing or instinct? — @pibliuscoscaf
I am a little surprised the Bears haven’t called more designed runs for Fields the last two weeks, but it’s a good sign he’s looking to throw first and not just pull the ball down and take off when a first or second read isn’t there. Those are the extended plays that can lead to huge gains downfield. Would you rather have a 10-yard run by Fields or a chance for a 40-yard pass play? Ultimately, his development as a passer will determine whether he emerges as a franchise quarterback. His athletic ability makes him a dual threat, and I’m confident we’ll see him produce more plays with his legs in the weeks to come. I don’t think he will rush for 50 yards on a regular basis, but if he’s around 30 to 35 yards a game, that would be valuable yardage because some of it would come on third downs and lead to first downs.
Sean Desai replaced Chuck Pagano on defense. Bill Lazor replaced Matt Nagy on offense. Things are looking better on both sides of the ball. Are coordinator roles more important than head coaching? — @brooklyncorn
I don’t think you can say that. A head coach sets the tone for the entire building. He gives directives to his staff and sends a message to the entire roster. It’s difficult for a team to have success if it doesn’t have a good head coach and good coordinators. All of the roles are important. Nagy considered a lot of options before promoting Desai, and he made the choice to delegate play-calling responsibilities to Lazor. He needs credit for both of those moves. Now the Bears need to build off of their success the last two weeks.
Now that you’ve seen the new stadiums Los Angeles and Las Vegas have built, assuming the Bears make a move, which one would you rather put down in Arlington Heights? Give us a feature or two you would borrow from the runner-up. — @armchairoc
Both SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas were terrific. SoFi had a ton more suites and specialty areas, but it’s a larger building. I’m sure the Bears would look to maximize those types of spaces if they continue with plans to develop a new stadium. As stadium expert Marc Ganis detailed for me in 10 thoughts last week, SoFi Stadium is a very vertical structure. Allegiant Stadium has that in common, and I imagine the Bears would look for something similar because it provides seats in the higher areas of the stadium with excellent sight lines.