By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) The Bears hit their bye week at ideal time, with it being right at the midway point of the season.
The Bears are 3-5, which was a decent first half considering there were more than a few who felt the Bears might struggle to win one game in the first half. Chicago’s three wins are against quality teams (Pittsburgh, Carolina and Baltimore). With any luck, the Bears could’ve won one or two more games, but the reality is they’re 3-5. And frankly, that’s a fair result based on how they’ve played.
So what can we expect out of the Bears in the second half? I’d say a reasonable best-case scenario is 8-8 while a worst-case scenario is 6-10. The Bears open the second half by hosting the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers (4-3) next Sunday, then host the Lions (3-4) a week later.
From there, the Bears’ schedule plays out at the Eagles (8-1), vs. the 49ers (0-9), at the Bengals (3-5), at the Lions, vs. Browns (0-8) and at Vikings (6-2).
To have a strong finish, the Bears defense has to continue to play winning football. That’s the strong suit of this Bears team, and the defense is playing at a playoff-caliber level. That should continue and keep improving, assuming Chicago stays healthy.
The Bears’ weakness has been their offense, as they run the ball well but get little from the passing game. Opposing defenses have been playing to stop the run and forcing the Bears to throw. In a way, the final eight games are a tryout for many on the Bears offense.
The offensive line has to play with more consistency and do a better job in pass protection. And the wide receivers have to show they’re more than replacement-level players. The Bears are set to have Cam Meredith and maybe Kevin White back next year, but they need at least three more receivers who are threats to opposing defenses. The first may be the newly acquired Dontrelle Inman, who flashed the potential in San Diego/Los Angeles to be a legitimate No. 2 receiver.
Inman’s size and style of play is similar to that of Meredith. Inman was an undrafted free agent just like Meredith, and he got his chance to play in 2015 and 2016 because of injuries to Chargers starter Keenan Allen. Over those two seasons, Inman caught a combined 93 passes for 1,296 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s sure handed, can run after the catch and is a better-than-adequate blocker.
After Inman, the Bears need to find out more about Marcus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Tre McBride. Wheaton was slowed by injuries in the first half and has done nothing as a Bear. Wright has been the Bears’ best receiver to date, and McBride started to come on last week.
To show the much-needed improvement, the Bears’ receiver have to consistently separate from defenders and get open against man and zone coverage. That’s the entire key to any passing game, and if a receiver can’t separate, he’s not an NFL-caliber player.
Beyond that, rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky needs to step up as well. Trubisky has the talent to be special, but to do so, he has to throw with more consistency. The receivers getting open and the play-calling becoming less predictable will go a long way toward helping him.
I understand that the coaching staff is trying to bring Trubisky along slowly, but it’s time to take the kid gloves off and let him play. Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen rookie quarterbacks around the league perform at a high level and play with a full offense. There’s no reason why this can’t happen with the Bears. With the exception of Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, all of these young quarterbacks came from spread offenses in college, then made the adjustments in the NFL when given the responsibility.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear last week, both played in a half-field spread offense in college, then quickly became the engines of high-octane offenses. They have better supporting casts than Trubisky does, but Trubisky needs to be given more chances to make plays.
How Trubisky and the Bears offense performs will go a long ways toward determining the fate of this coaching staff. I’m not a fan of change, because continuity is the formula to win, but the Bears must show improvement down the stretch.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who’s an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.