Gabriel: Bears Offense's Midseason Report Card

November 06, 2018 - 12:05 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) Halfway through their regular season, the Bears are 5-3 and in first place in the rough NFC North.

With that in mind, we present our positional grades at the midseason point. The Bears are averaging 29.4 points per game, which is fifth-best in the NFL.

Quarterback

In evaluating Mitchell Trubisky, it's important to note that his play needs assessed in the context of what the Bears are asking of him. He shouldn't be evaluated in comparison to the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes or Texans' Deshaun Watson, two standout quarterbacks who were taken after him in the 2017 draft. 

Trubisky has grown tremendously since the beginning of the season. Early on, he was struggling with some blitz pickups and the need to get the ball out of his hand quickly. He has shown vast improvement in those areas in recent weeks. His decision-making has been good for the most part, and his ability to run is an added bonus to the offense. Trubisky has thrown for 1,949 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a 64.2 completion percentage and a 96.1 quarterback rating. All of those marks have been big improvements over his rookie season. 

Trubisky isn't perfect, but he and the offense he directs is growing in a new system. He also has the chance to have one of the best statistical seasons by a quarterback in Bears history. 

Grade: B+

Running back

The Bears' running game hasn't been as productive as the coaching staff had hoped for. Their 128.4 rushing yards per game is the seventh-best mark in the NFL, but Trubisky is averaging 37.8 yards per game. Take Trubisky's numbers away, and the Bears would rank in the bottom five of the NFL in rushing.

Lead running back Jordan Howard is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, which is down more than a yard from his first two seasons. The Bears have had too many rushes for loss or no gain. Part of that is the offensive line's fault, but some of it is on Howard as well. Howard has improved as a pass receiver but hasn’t had that many targets in recent weeks.

Tarik Cohen isn’t just a running back, as he also plays as a slot receiver and a returner. He's a big play waiting to happen and has to be accounted for by the defense. He's averaging 4.7 yards per rush, as his vision and quick cutting ability make for consistent production. Still, it will be important to moderate his workload or the diminutive Cohen will wear down late in the season.

The Bears could really use more production out of their running game in the second half, as the weather will turn worse and the ability to rush the ball will become more important.

Grade: B

Receiver

The Bears had one of the worst receiver corps in the NFL in 2017. Between the draft and free agency, it has been upgraded to a strength. All the key receivers are new to the Matt Nagy system and had to go through a period of adjustment. As good as the receivers have been in the first half, I believe there's a lot of room to grow.

Taylor Gabriel has been the big-play weapon. It took about four games for him to get going, but he has come on as he grew more comfortable with the scheme. Allen Robinson was playing great football before his groin injury, which has led to him sitting out the past two games. Robinson is an excellent route runner with good hands and the ability to run after the catch.

Rookie Anthony Miller has also dealt with some injuries but has also come on strong in recent weeks. He has big upside and may end up being the most productive Bears receiver in the second half of the season.

Kevin White being a healthy scratch Sunday shows that he's not highly thought of by the coaching staff. He has been replaced by Josh Bellamy as the Bears' fourth receiver. While Bellamy has had some production, his talent level isn't on the same plane as the others. Javon Wims is a rookie who's learning the game. We won't see much of him unless there are significant injuries.

Grade: A-  

Tight end

Trey Burton has nearly been a one-man unit at this position. He has done everything expect of him and has been a better blocker than I expected. Burton has good hands and consistently gets open. 

Dion Sims is what he is --  an old-fashioned Y tight end who's a blocker first.

The setback for this group has been the absence of Adam Shaheen, who was supposed to be a big part of the offense but who hit injured reserve to start the season with a foot/ankle injury. He's expected to begin practicing this week, after which the Bears will have three weeks to decide whether to activate him or keep him on IR. If Shaheen can return, we'll see a big difference in how the tight end is used in the Bears' offense. He has the potential to become important in the stretch run.

Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker are adequate reserves who do a good job on special teams but little for the offense.

Grade: B+ 

Offensive line

I'm a tougher grader on offensive lines. The Bears' has been good but not great. For this team to reach the playoffs, the offensive line must improve, which will be a tough task with guard Kyle Long out until at least Week 17. 

Long isn't as athletic as he used to be after multiple surgeries, but he's strong and really effective in the running game.

Save for this past Sunday when he struggled with false starts, tackle Charles Leno has had a good season. He will always have some trouble with wide speed, but he has improved in that area. 

Rookie guard James Daniels has improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the year. He has more size, power and athleticism than Eric Kush and as he grows, the Bears' running game should improve.

The poor snaps by center Cody Whitehair seem to be a problem of the past. Whitehair is a steady player with no glaring weaknesses. He's tough and has more athleticism than most of the centers in the league.

Kush rotated at guard with Bryan Witzmann on Sunday. He may keep getting starting nods but is a backup-caliber player, as he doesn’t have the power needed to generate movement. The Bears offense was more efficient when Witzmann was in the game against the Bills, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he's the starter at right guard this week.

Tackle Bobby Massie is as steady as they come. He’ll have a poor play every once in a while, but for the most part, he plays winning football.

Unlike other positional units, the offensive line has to play together in order to be successful. That's where the Bears need to show progress. Right now, they pass protect better than they run block, but it's the running game that has to improve in the second half.

Grade: B-

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​​​