Nothing came easy for the Chicago Bears during the 2020 NFL season. They won five of their first six games by a combined margin of 20 points, and a 5-1 start was overshadowed by head coach Matt Nagy benching Mitchell Trubisky for Nick Foles. The switch didn’t maintain the winning run, with the Bears losing six straight before Nagy turned back to Trubisky.
Chicago beat up on some minnows but lost to the Green Bay Packers in the season finale. It would have been a wasted year if the Arizona Cardinals had beaten the Jared Goff-less Los Angeles Rams. Instead, the 8-8 Bears backed into the postseason, only to be one and done after losing 21-9 to the New Orleans Saints.
Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace have already been given a reprieve by chairman George McCaskey. Now the pair must address the mess at quarterback and also find ways to get more from a talented defense that may see some key members become casualties of the salary cap.
What Went Right
Nagy’s offense actually clicked on occasion in 2020, believe it or not. The unit scored 30 or more points in four-straight games during the run to the playoffs.
Trubisky was back under center but given more license to make plays with his feet. It helped to have a credible running game thanks to David Montgomery. The second-year back finished strong and posted 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Nagy also managed to coax some of the forgotten magic from Jimmy Graham. The 34-year-old tight end was clutch in the red zone, catching eight scoring passes. He was also third on the team with 50 receptions, although still a long way off the 102 catches made by Allen Robinson. The sure-handed wideout is a free agent after a banner 1,250-yard campaign. Pace will have a hard time convincing Robinson to stick around.
What Went Wrong
Anything at all to do with the quarterback position. Trubisky initially failed to convince, despite a 2-0 start. It didn’t matter to Nagy, who called for Foles during Week 3’s 30-26 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. While he began with a win, he could not recapture the magic from his days with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nagy went back to Trubisky for Week 12’s trip to Green Bay, although it was at least two games too late. Trubisky was effective in a watered-down version of the passing game Nagy wants. The Bears lived and died on the short game, but the inability to stretch defenses proved costly in the postseason.
Team Award Winners
MVP – David Montgomery
As previously stated, Trubisky didn’t need to be great on the run, because of how effectively Montgomery carried the load. He topped 100 yards three times and scored seven of his eight rushing touchdowns during the final six games. His best effort came in Minnesota in Week 15 when Montgomery gashed the Vikings for 146 yards on 32 punishing carries.
Most forced missed tackles on runs in Weeks 13-17
🔹 Jonathan Taylor – 29
🔹 Derrick Henry – 27
🔹 Nick Chubb – 25
🔹 David Montgomery – 21 pic.twitter.com/e0sOLOawNn
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 9, 2021
Montgomery is a workhorse who can carry the ball 25-30 times and grow stronger as the game wears on. He also has some useful versatility, evidenced by 54 catches for 438 yards and pair of touchdowns.
If Nagy is creative enough, he can make Montgomery the focal point of his offense in 2021 and potentially offset any lingering issues at quarterback.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Darnell Mooney
Outperforming top choice Cole Kmet makes Mooney a worthy award-winner. The wide receiver drafted in the fifth round added a true speedster to the passing game.
His ability to create separation (along with surprisingly sure hands) helped Mooney complement Robinson brilliantly. He played in all 16 games and set a franchise record for receptions by a rookie with 61.
An indication of how highly Mooney is regarded in Chicago, McCaskey referenced his selection as a reason behind the decision to keep Pace and Nagy:
“We added some more talented players this year. Darnell Mooney is a good example. A lower-round draft pick that Ryan and Matt found, who blossomed this year and became a key part of our offense.”
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jaylon Johnson
Jaylon Johnson started 13 games at cornerback and generally impressed. However, the second-rounder also summed up what’s wrong with the Bears’ defense. Namely, a lack of big plays. Johnson defended a team-high 15 passes, but failed to snatch a single interception. Of his 44 tackles, only one was made behind the line of scrimmage.
A more consistent pass rush would likely help Johnson turn his solid performances into a few highlight reel-worthy moments in his second season.
Biggest Surprise – Jimmy Graham
Graham was supposed to be washed-up but instead proved he still has plenty left in the tank. Certainly not the New Orleans days but the veteran came alive whenever the Bears entered the red zone, catching four touchdown passes during the 5-1 start. Graham added two more against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season’s penultimate week to strengthen Chicago’s playoff bid. Even his last act of the season, and possibly in a Bears uniform, landed Graham in the end zone.
Jimmy Graham caught the TD and left immediately
— PFF (@PFF) January 11, 2021
Biggest Disappointment – Robert Quinn
Like Graham, Quinn had a few miles on the odometer when the Bears signed him last offseason. Graham outperformed expectations as a veteran retread on a two-year deal. Quinn, meanwhile, flopped as a free agent who cost big bucks.
He managed just 3.5 sacks, a paltry return after the Bears invested $70 million across a five-year contract. Quinn’s rarely looked comfortable outside of a traditional 4-3 front but he dominated games early in his career. His meager production compounded the decision to move on from Leonard Floyd, who responded with a career-best 10.5 sacks as a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
Chicago’s defense is at its best with a bookend edge-rusher able to take attention away from Khalil Mack. Quinn does not look capable of handling the job.
One Burning Question
Who Will Play Quarterback in 2021?
There are a lot of questions facing Pace and Nagy, but the identity of the starting quarterback is the biggest. Trubisky is unlikely to keep the job. He is still prone to turnovers, while his curious decision-making makes Nagy’s offense one-dimensional and pedestrian.
Mitchell Trubisky had David Montgomery open at the sticks running a route out of the backfield. He was locked in on Allen Robinson, narrowly avoiding a pick.
The Bears went three plays and out.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) January 10, 2021
Finding a replacement won’t be easy. Not when a veteran like Graham costs at least $7 million against the cap, while D-tackle Akiem Hicks and cornerback Kyle Fuller account for $21.5 million, according to Spotrac.
The Bears also need money to bring Robinson back. It will not matter who the quarterback is if Pace and Nagy fail to equip him with more weapons.