The Chicago Bears have reached the midway point of the season. The NFL schedule expanded to 17 games this year, meaning the season isn't split into two, eight-game halves anymore. Now with an odd number of games, it's 'take your pick' on whether the first half is nine games and the second half is eight games or vice versa. Fortunately for the Bears, their bye week comes in Week 10, which divides their season for us.
Through nine games, the Bears hold a 3-6 record. As a result, they find themselves four games behind the Green Bay Packers for first place in the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings have also pushed the Bears down to third place in the division by just a half-game.
Green Bay Packers
What about Chicago's playoff aspirations? Well, they're currently on life support. The Bears are the third-worst team in the conference but they are only one and a half games out of the final Wild Card spot.
How Did They Get Here?
- Week 1 at Los Angeles (Rams):L, 14-34
- Week 2 vs. Cincinnati:W, 20-17
- Week 3 at Cleveland:L, 6-26
- Week 4 vs. Detroit: W, 24-14
- Week 5 at Las Vegas:W, 20-9
- Week 6 vs. Green Bay:L, 14-24
- Week 7 at Tampa Bay:L, 3-38
- Week 8 vs. San Francisco:L, 22-33
- Week 9 at Pittsburgh:L, 27-29
The Bears currently have three wins on the season. However, it's been mostly uninspiring. In fact, the Bears' opponents so far this season have combined for a 10-15-0 record, which is good for a .400 winning percentage. Of course, beating a winless Detroit Lions team helps that. Their other two victories were over the now 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals and the 5-3 Las Vegas Raiders. Although, the Raiders were in disarray with the Jon Gruden email leaks at the time.
On the other hand, the Rams, Browns, and Buccaneers have handily beaten the Bears in their matchups. Three times in nine games the Bears have been on the wrong side of a blowout. However, the schedule makers did them no favors with a gauntlet of a slate. Their losses have come against teams with a combined record of 33-18-0. That's a winning percentage of .647.
In their six losses, they played against three Super Bowl contenders:
- Los Angeles Rams (7-2)
- Green Bay Packers (7-2)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)
In addition, two more of their losses have come against playoff-contending teams:
- Cleveland Browns (5-4)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
Lastly, the sixth loss of the season came against a team that just made no sense. The Bears simply got out-coached.
- San Francisco 49ers (3-5)
Nevertheless, the Bears are a hapless team that's three games under .500. So far, it's been a topsy-turvy season for them. Nothing has been in sync at all through nine games. When the defense shows up, the offense lets them down. When the offense shows up (on rare occasions), the defense blows it. When both phases are doing their jobs, it's the special teams or the coaching that costs them the game. Through the first half of the schedule, the Bears' point differential stands at -74, which is the second-worst mark in the NFC only ahead of the Detroit Lions.
Taking everything into consideration, it's time to assign midseason grades to each aspect of the team.
The offense continues to struggle. Wash, rinse, repeat. Overall, it's still a mess and nothing has changed since 2019 besides the quarterback. Even though Justin Fields is now under center, picking up yards and putting up points is like pulling teeth. It's hard to pinpoint what the issue is nowadays. The game plan and play-calling are still dreadful despite Bill Lazor calling or maybe not calling plays.
Additionally, Justin Fields' rookie year has been a rollercoaster. There have been obvious rookie moments but he continues to flash moments of excellence. While the stats don't look sexy overall, the trajectory of Fields is heading in the right direction. Currently, Fields has logged the following stat line:
- Completions: 111
- Attempts: 187
- Completion %: 59.4
- Yards: 1282
- Touchdowns: 4
- Interceptions: 8
- Sacks: 29
- Rating: 69.4
Furthermore, Fields added 288 yards and two touchdowns on 52 rushes. Overall, the only semblance of efficiency and competence on offense has been the running game. David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert lead the way in that category.
Below, Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic shares some additional and similar stats as well as an interesting nugget about the offense over the last two weeks.
In terms of offensive efficiency, FootballOutsiders.com ranks the Bears offense 29th overall in DVOA -- 29th in passing and 13th in rushing.
Offense Grade: D
Usually, the defense is hard to blame. Especially, when the offense is the unit holding the team back. But this year, the defense has not been great. Who can blame them though? They have been carrying the team and doing so since 2018.
As a fan of Sean Desai (obviously), it's safe to say his defense hasn't been great this year. Desai has had some positive moments as a defensive coordinator, but for the most part, it's been... meh.
In his defense, the secondary is weak outside of Jaylon Johnson and maybe Eddie Jackson. The Bears lack talent on the back end. While Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley are nice players to have, neither should be starting at CB2. It doesn't help that Akiem Hicks has been on and off on the injury front. Additionally, Khalil Mack has missed the last two games with an injury. This unit is less than 100% as they're playing through a magnitude of ailments.
On a positive note, the Bears are in a tie with the Arizona Cardinals for third-most defensive sacks at 25.0 total. Chicago only trails the following teams:
- Los Angeles Rams: 28.0
- Minnesota Vikings: 27.0
- Cleveland Browns: 27.0
As a unit, the Bears defense is ahead of pace from the previous two years in this department.
- 2020: 35.0
- 2019: 32.0
- 2018: 50.0
Here are some additional numbers:
FootballOutsiders.com ranks the Bears defense 19th overall in DVOA -- 16th in passing and 21st in rushing.
Defense Grade: C-
The Bears' special teams have been the most consistent aspect of the team. That's all thanks to Cairo Santos, who had made 40 straight field goals before finally missing. And that miss was not his fault as Matt Nagy opted to kick a 65-yard field goal as time expired on Monday night despite it being well out of Santos' range. On the season, Santos is 13-for-14 on field goal attempts, which translates to 92.9% success. Here is the breakdown of his kicks:
- 20-29 yards: 6-6
- 30-39 yards: 3-3
- 40-49 yards: 4-4
- 50+ yards: 0-1
Likewise, Santos is also 15-for-16 (93.8%) on extra points. His lone miss came in Week 8 against the 49ers.
Furthermore, Pat O'Donnell has been having a decent campaign. He has recorded 35 punts totaling 1,635 yards while averaging 46.7 yards per punt. This ranks 16th overall in the NFL. In addition, O'Donnell has logged 11 punts inside the 20 with two touchbacks and nine fair catches. Although, he has the second-lowest net yards at 39.0.
Coverage and Returns
The poor net yards total is reflective of how bad the coverage team has been. That unit has allowed 21 returns for 271 yards. On average, that's 12.9 yards per return, which ranks last in the NFL.
In contrast, the Bears have excelled in the return game:
- Kickoff returns: 29 (1st)
- Kickoff return yards: 714 (1st)
- Average KO return yards: 24.6 (T-7th)
- Kickoff return TDs: 0 (T-2nd)
- Punt returns: 10 (27th)
- Punt return yards: 75 (24th)
- Average Punt return yards: 7.5 (19th)
- Punt return TDs: 0 (T-1st)
The addition of Jakeem Grant has really helped the Bears' return game, especially after they parted ways with Cordarrelle Patterson this past offseason. The Bears rank 11th in Special Teams DVOA according to FootballOutsiders.com.
Special Teams Grade: B+
It's almost exhausting at this point, but Matt Nagy and his coaching staff have done a less than ideal job. The offense is sputtering and the defense is regressing. The Bears are not a good football team and have not been since 2018. There is talent on the roster, but the coaches have not maximized it.
It starts with Nagy, whose offense has yet to take off. In 2018, the Bears hired Nagy to be an offensive guru, but his offense has been abysmal. Furthermore, his teams, in general, have been in a steady decline and the proof is in the pudding.
Even when handing over the play-calling, the offense only improves marginally. During the lone game Nagy missed, the Bears' offense looked significantly better. Thus, removing Nagy from the equation may be the answer, but it's not the organization's style to do it midseason. That's not to say Bill Lazor is all that much better than Nagy. In fact, Lazor may just be an extension of the head coach but just with a little more experience.
As mentioned earlier, Sean Desai's defense hasn't been great in 2021. Surely, the secondary is the biggest weakness. The front seven is still the unit's strength, but they have been struggling in run defense. Although the pass rush, for the most part, has been decent.
Overall, there have been schematic problems from Desai's defense. The Vic Fangio disciple is failing to fill his mentor's shoes.
Special Teams Coach
When it comes to Chris Tabor, his unit has been fine. For the most part, the special teams have not been the problem. Although, correcting the coverage team issues would help. However, Cairo Santos and Jakeem Grant have more than covered for Tabor this year.
Overall, it's obvious how poor the coaching has been. There have been numerous mental mistakes and penalties, which shows the lack of discipline. The most recent game against the Steelers is a prime example of that. At the end of the day, Matt Nagy and company aren't the ones for this team. Right now, all that matters is Justin Fields and his development. So far, the coaches haven't done the best job in helping his progress. It's evident Nagy's seat is pretty hot right now, and it doesn't help his case that the fan base is calling for his head.
Unfortunately, some promising coaches may go in the house cleaning. Sean Desai may be one of those casualties, especially if the McCaskey's decide to make sweeping changes. But it's time to bring the Bears to the 21st century. The QB is already in place. Now, they just need the rest of the puzzle pieces and it starts with a head coach.
Coaching Grade: D+
Front Office/Ryan Pace
It's easy to criticize Ryan Pace for the mess that the Bears are in, and rightfully so. That includes hiring Matt Nagy back in 2018. However, he deserves some props for the 2021 draft class. Aside from getting a potential franchise QB in Justin Fields, he addressed the offensive line. Pace drafted two starting tackles in Larry Borom and Tevin Jenkins. He also added a nice piece to the offensive backfield in Khalil Herbert. Furthermore, seventh-round pick Khyiris Tonga has been playing pretty well as a contributor since day one.
For Pace, there have been obvious missteps, such as letting Kyle Fuller go and retaining Jimmy Graham. However, the Fuller decision doesn't look all that bad in hindsight. Likewise, Pace was aggressive in finding a QB during the offseason. When nothing came to fruition with Russell Wilson, he settled for Andy Dalton. Pace took a gamble and signed a 39-year-old Jason Peters to fill in at left tackle. So far, that move has paid off. Although, not extending Allen Robinson and letting Roquan Smith's contract linger may prove to be two major negatives for Pace.
Overall, the 2021 offseason was not egregious, but it definitely could have been better. If the Bears choose to retain Pace and let Nagy walk after this season, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Pace did seem to learn from his mistakes and finally get the QB situation right. In addition, there are some good building blocks for the future of this team already in Halas Hall. Keeping Pace around wouldn't be a total wash, especially if he's the one who fires Nagy.
Front Office Grade: C+
Let's call a spade a spade. The 2021 Chicago Bears are not good and are probably not heading to the playoffs. The offense is a mess and the defense is not just bending but now breaking. The coaching staff is not doing the roster any favors with their game plans and play-calling.
After nine games, the Bears sit at 3-6 and their second-half schedule doesn't any easier. This season could go south pretty quickly, but it will still be fun to watch Justin Fields leading the charge. Unlike in previous years, there is something to look forward to. Now, the goal is to just get through the end of the season. Then, the Bears must finally move on from Nagy and this coaching staff. After that, it's time to rebuild the roster around the face of the franchise.
Organizational Grade: C-
Overall GPA: 1.92