On Oct. 18, things were looking up for the Chicago Bears. They stood at 5-1, and a switch at quarterback from Mitch Trubisky to Nick Foles in Week 3 seemed to have paid off.
But since then, it has all turned wrong. The team has lost four straight games, and in Monday night’s 19-13 loss to the divisional rival Minnesota Vikings, Foles hurt his hip with less than a minute to go in the game. “He was in a lot of pain,” Coach Matt Nagy said.
Trubisky was inactive for the game after injuring his shoulder on a one-play cameo in a loss to the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 1, leaving the game in the hands of third-stringer Tyler Bray, who made no impact whatsoever.
It is not yet clear whether either quarterback would be available for the Bears’ next game in two weeks, a vital Sunday night game against the division leading Green Bay Packers. Foles did not fracture his hip, the N.F.L. Network reported Tuesday, but more evaluations were coming.
The Bears could find themselves scrambling for a free agent replacement, trading for someone’s backup, or turning to Bray, who went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2013 and has completed one pass since he entered the N.F.L. That pass came Monday night.
The thing is, despite everything, the Bears are 5-5, and are still in the playoff chase: The New York Times’s Playoff Simulator gives them about a one-in-three chance of getting in.
So, quarterback situation aside, which is the accurate assessment of this team? Are the Bears the seemingly sharp team of the first few weeks, or the reeling one they have sunk to more recently?
The first concern for those fans with fond memories of the early season success is that the team’s fast start does not stand up to scrutiny.
The Bears beat the Lions in Week 1 after Detroit dropped a game-winning pass in the end zone. They beat the Giants in Week 2 after Golden Tate was called for a pushing-off penalty late in the game. In Week 3, the Atlanta Falcons self-destructed and blew a 16-point lead with nine minutes left. The Bears beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a point after Tom Brady seemed to lose track of downs. And they needed a late defensive stop to beat the Carolina Panthers by a touchdown.
The five teams Chicago beat were hardly murderer’s row, and though the Buccaneers (7-3) are quite strong, the other four are all losing teams who could charitably be described as mediocre.
As for Foles, despite receiving hosannas after his comeback win over the Falcons, his numbers have been quite poor. He has eight interceptions against 10 touchdowns, and a 5.44 adjusted yards per pass figure, ahead only of three badly struggling throwers: the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, Broncos’ Drew Lock and Jets’ Sam Darnold.
The Bears’ quarterback decisions have been somewhat eccentric this season. The team traded for Foles in the off-season, assuming quite a bit of guaranteed money in the deal, then decided to open the regular season with Trubisky under center. After picking up two wins, Trubisky was benched for Foles mid-game against Atlanta, and Foles has kept the job, despite the losing streak, and even though Trubisky’s own adjusted yards per pass figure, 6.34, though far from good, is better than his.
Chicago lacks star power at the skill positions, a fact that, taken alongside its quarterback struggles, has resulted is an offense that ranks 31st in yards per play (ahead of only the winless Jets) and 30th in net yards per pass (in front of the Eagles and Jets).
The anemic offense is wasting a good defense, which holds up against both the run and the pass. Football Outsiders ranks it fourth in the league in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or D.V.O.A. The disparity is puzzling, because when Nagy was hired in January 2018 he took over the team with a reputation burnished as the well-regarded quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bears do have the advantage of a few easy games the rest of the way. They face the Packers twice, in games that could certainly end up as losses, but Chicago could very well beat the woeful Lions, Texans and Jaguars.
That makes their key game Week 15 at the Vikings. Win that one, along with the cream puff games, and Chicago will probably make the playoffs. Lose it and they almost certainly won’t.
But if they are to pull off a tough win in Minnesota, or even beat the like of the Jaguars, the Bears are going to have to figure out some things quickly. Starting with who will take their snaps in the weeks ahead.