Gabriel: Why Bears' O Hasn't Lived Up To Expectations

September 25, 2018 - 2:25 pm
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(670 The Score) Entering this season, there were many Bears fans who expected to see a high-powered, high-scoring offense. Amid the team's 2-1 start, we've seen a few glimpses of that, but for the most part, the offense has disappointed.

There are multiple reasons for this. The most significant is that second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's inexperience is on display. He only started 13 games in college before making 12 starts for the Bears as a rookie last season.

Trubisky can still become a really good NFL quarterback. I believe he will, but it's going to take more time that many originally anticipated. Some will wonder why Bears general manager Ryan Pace chose Trubisky over Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The answer is because Pace believed Trubisky has a higher ceiling than the others. While early returns are better for Watson and Mahomes, that may still be the case.

So, what has been Trubisky’s problem? It's his ability -- or inability -- to process everything at the line of scrimmage. The 24-year-old Trubisky has been slow to recognize blitzes ahead of the snap. After the snap, he has too often been slow to get the ball to a hot receiver. 

Executing such a task correctly is all about experience. The more a young quarterback sees it, the better he can anticipate a blitz and get the ball out quickly.

Trubisky hasn't been the whole problem offensively for the Bears, who are averaging 21.0 points in three games (18th in the NFL), with two of their touchdowns being produced by the defense. The Bears' play-calling and use of timeouts needs to improve, as does getting to the line of scrimmage faster. More time at the line of scrimmage would give Trubisky more time to process what the defense is doing.

In coach Matt Nagy's offense, there are several variations to each play and formation. On paper, the Bears have the players who can make plays. It’s now a matter of getting the ball into the hands of those individuals.

In the Bears' close 16-14 road win against the Cardinals on Sunday, Arizona felt that Chicago receiver Taylor Gabriel could be a difference-maker, so it flanked star cornerback Patrick Peterson on Gabriel no matter where he lined up. That took away Gabriel’s big-play ability. 

It also left the Bears' other receivers with more advantageous matchups, but Chicago didn't exploit those situations. That's a team-wide fault, not just Trubisky's.

Another trouble is that the Cubs' speed players -- Gabriel and rookie receiver Anthony Miller -- are getting the touches they need but aren't producing big plays. Gabriel is averaging 5.9 yards per catch, while Miller has a 7.5 mark. Gabriel averaged 11.5 yards per catch in 2017 and 16.5 yards in 2016 while with the Falcons.

It’s the responsibility of Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to scheme Gabriel in a way that he can be at least as productive as he was in Atlanta. The same holds true for Miller, who was a big playmaker while at Memphis. His ability to get yardage after the catch is excellent, so the Bears need to put him into position to do that.

When Nagy arrived in Chicago, he explained that he wanted to attack and have the offense dictate what the plays are. To date, that hasn’t been the case, as defenses have done an excellent job of taking away not only big plays but also what the Bears want to do in general. Again, we see flashes of what the Bears would like to be, just not with any consistency.

As always, it comes down to both play calling and execution, and the intersection of those hasn't become second nature for the Bears yet. They need to show some progress against the Bucs on Sunday, because it will likely take more than 20 points to win this game.

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