Chicago Hope: The Next Few Weeks Will Define The Bears' Future

The bear is an animal synonymous with hibernation. 

As summer turns to fall, these mighty beasts will gorge themselves on the forest’s finest offerings before retreating to their den where they'll spend anywhere between two and seven months in slumber, hunkering down to survive the harsh winter.

Like their namesake, Chicago’s NFL team also find themselves in a very deep sleep, the likes of which has kept them out of the hunt where any kind of contention is concerned. 

Founder members of the league, the Chicago Bears are 9-time NFL champions (including a Super Bowl), have recorded the most victories (775) and have produced more Pro Football Hall of Famers than any other team in the history of the league. Yet, since Mike Ditka led the iconic ’85 Bears to their only Super Bowl victory, the ‘Monsters of the Midway’ have endured a near 40-year run of inconsistency. 

There have been good times, division titles, play-off runs and even a return to the Super Bowl in 2006, but they've all inevitably ended in disappointment. The peak always followed by a slump back in to mediocrity.

Their most recent attempt to shake awake the sleeping giant came in the form of the 2018 appointment of Matt Nagy. Where outgoing incumbent John Fox had just shy of 40 years of College and NFL coaching experience under his belt by the time he arrived at Soldier Field, Nagy arrived in Chicago as a head coaching rookie. 

Nagy had learned his craft as both as specialist quarterback coach and an assistant offensive co-ordinator first with the Philadelphia Eagles and later the Kansas City Chiefs. At both stops he impressed enough to convince the Chicago hierarchy that he was the man they needed to re-ignite their offence.

The new coach made a great start, picking up the Coach of the Year award in recognition of leading them to the NFC North title in his first year in the job. But true to form, it was not to last.

After throwing away (quite literally) a first half lead against the Vikings in the final game of their 2021 season a couple of weeks ago Nagy was relieved of his duties, with the man who hired him, general manager Ryan Pace, also following him through the exit. 

So what's gone wrong?

RELATED: Check out all of Stats Insider's Super Bowl projections 

Quarterback Dilemmas

Nagy’s experience of working directly with QBs played a significant role in his initial hiring. 

The team has struggled to replace Jay Cutler, who statistically at least, was the greatest arm the Bears possessed in the Super Bowl era leading the team in all-time completions, passing yards and touchdowns. While people certainly had mixed feelings about Cutler (he also leads the franchise with mammoth 109 interceptions) he remains underrated and the rare Bear Qb who was able to make noise under centre.

Ahead of Nagy’s hiring, the Bears had just traded up to draft a new franchise QB, passing on a certain Pat Mahomes in favour of Mitch Trubisky with Nagy brought in to get the best out of their new man.

It was a big gamble, and one that did not pay off. 

Trubisky failed to convince, making 10,609 passing yards, throwing 61 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. While he struggled the franchise spent big to bring in Nick Foles and later Andy Dalton at Nagy’s behest; the coach repeatedly stating the offence would improve when he got his man.

Yet the struggles remained. 

This season they had the 8th-worst passing offence, managing 3635 passing yards, and threw four more interceptions (20) than they managed to successfully get in to the end-zone (16 passing touchdowns) - placing them at 29th in the NFL. They were also sacked a league high 58 times.

In rookie Justin Fields they have an exciting young prospect. This season he completed 159 of his 270 attempted passes for 1,870 yards, throwing seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Potentially more worrisome is the fact the 22 year old was sacked 36 times. This was partly down to his inexperience, but also a lack of adequate preparation; Nagy had planned on easing the 22-year old into the NFL and as a result, Fields didn’t play with the starters in pre-season but a knee injury to Dalton forced his hand, seeing the former Ohio State QB playing 12 games this year. 

Can the youngster be the man to finally end the Bears search for a star QB? The jury remains out on that one, but one thing is for sure, whoever takes the hot seat next will be tasked with attempting to make sure Fields IS the man to bring success back to Soldier Field. 

Born to Run

Running the ball is part of the Chicago Bears DNA; After all, this is the team of Walter Payton, the greatest running back, and for some, the greatest player to ever play in the National Football League.

Chicago is a working class town, forged from steel, so it’s little wonder that there’s no greater thrill for Bears fans than the sight of a player taking the ball in hand and charging up field.

David Montgomery, the 24-year old out of Ohio State, is already a fan favourite - and the love appears to be mutual. Since arriving in 2019, Montgomery has averaged 935 rushing a yards a season and led the way in 2021 with 849 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. 

Having such a capable ball carrier but who was utilised so ineffectually under Nagy was a great frustration for the fan base. Nagy’s refusal to run the ball in the second half, even on a 4th and 1, played a huge part in them throwing away their lead against the Vikings and which condemned the team to their first losing campaign since the 2017 season. 

Laying the foundations

Despite the doom and gloom, the building blocks are there. 

The like of Fields, Montgomery, Khalil Herbert and Darnell Mooney represent some intriguing weapons on offence while the defence, as it often is in Chicago, remains a strength.

With that said the key for a true Chicago re-birth lies in the key hiring decisions that are immediately ahead of them. By bringing in the right GM as well as a head coach with a broad tactical palette, the Bears path to contention mightn’t be so elusive. 

Get it wrong however and that 37-year Super Bowl drought won’t be broken any time soon. 

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James Rhys

James is an experienced multi-sports journalist and editor based in the UK. 

During his career he has covered everything from rugby league to Major League Baseball, with work featured on major outlets including the BBC and Sky Sports.

He currently focuses predominantly on covering football in Australia from an international perspective. 

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