Hub Arkush: Halfway home, why the Bears are the NFC North’s best
Did you have the Chicago Bears at 5-3 getting ready to kick off the second half of the season?
Just how far exactly have these Bears come, how much farther can they go and what kind of job have they done in getting here?
Let’s take a unit-by-unit look and see if we’re all on the same page.
With the selection of Matt Nagy to be the new head coach, Mark Helfrich as offensive coordinator, free-agency splurges on Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Chase Daniel and big moves in the draft to add James Daniels and Anthony Miller, this is the place where most of us looked to see the greatest improvement.
The Bears were 30th in the NFL in total offense last year, 16th running the ball, dead last throwing it and 29th in points scored.
Through eight games this season, they are 17th in total offense, seventh on the ground, 21st through the air and an impressive fifth in the NFL in points scored, although the four touchdowns the defense has pitched in on (a fumble return and three interception returns) skew that a bit.
Much of the improvement is thanks to to the rapid growth of Mitch Trubisky at quarterback and the additions at receiver moving that group from one of the league’s weakest to one of its more diverse.
Even more impressive is the fact that the improvement has come with Robinson, the team’s best receiver, a nonfactor the past three weeks while battling a groin injury and without Adam Shaheen, who was supposed to be the No. 1 “Y” tight end.
There are concerns with the run blocking of the offensive line, and Jordan Howard’s production continues to lag well behind his first two seasons. Trubisky’s biggest challenge to date has been accuracy, an area that was supposed to be a strength.
But all things considered, Trubisky’s flaws appear correctable, this offense is well ahead of where we expected after only eight weeks and it merits a solid “B” at the least.
This was a very good group last year, finishing the season 10th in total defense and ninth in points allowed, and expectations were elevated after Roquan Smith was added in the first round of the draft and they skyrocketed with the trade for Khalil Mack.
Still, it is fair to say these guys have exceeded even those high hopes, currently ranking fifth in total defense, fourth in points allowed and second in turnover differential at plus-10 with 21 takeaways, and they’ve done all that with Mack at full speed in just half their games.
Eddie Goldman, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols, Smith, Bryce Callahan and Eddie Jackson have all shown dramatic improvement, and Kyle Fuller has been one of the best cornerbacks in the game, even after getting paid, while Akiem Hicks is having an All-Pro season.
The only reason this isn’t an “A” is that we have to admit the competition’s been iffy, they’re not the same when Mack isn’t going full tilt and Leonard Floyd has yet to become that second double-digit sack threat they need to make Mack that much scarier.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
This is the one area that has been somewhat blah. They are good returning and covering punts, but poor returning and covering kickoffs. P Pat O’Donnell is marginally improved but not special, and free-agent addition PK Cody Parkey has been OK but uninspiring.
Nagy is clearly ready for this, and so far he has done well. His offense is certainly inspiring, if not yet ticking like a clock, but we knew that would take time. He’s demonstrated excellent communication skills, and his players seem to love playing for him. Unlike so many NFL coaches, Nagy’s ego doesn’t appear to be an issue.
If there is a concern, even Nagy admits he’s still struggling to sort out the run game when the ball’s not in Trubisky’s hands, and his game and clock management is a work in progress.
Vic Fangio remains one of the best D-coordinators in the business, and the rest of the staff appears to work really well together, with most of the young players showing regular improvement.