Why have the Bears regressed? An old NFL cliche provides an answer

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There are two dueling lines of thought floating around Halas Hall this week: First, this is a Bears team confident it can fix its issues because of what it did in 2018. Second, it’s a team that understands the NFL is very much a year-to-year, week-to-week league. 

Those two perspectives do not necessarily work in concert. Players know what they can do based on the avalanche of Pro Bowlers and All Pros on their NFC North champion team last year. They also know the hackneyed cliche of “you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse” means teams have to evolve from season to season, since there’s no such thing as just staying the same. 

“That was last year,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “We had a successful season last year, but that’s in the past."

Individual regressions from a number of players have been clear. It’s a distressingly long list: Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen and the entire running back depth chart, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, the offensive line, Roquan Smith, Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller are on it, to varying extents. 

There are plenty of reasons for those individual regressions, be it injury (Burton), a slight position switch and/or off-the-field issues (Smith) or lack of opportunity (Miller, and to different extent, Jackson). But there’s a bigger issue at play here encompassing everyone on that list, and this entire team. 

The Bears’ opponents have a full year’s worth of film on this team, and there hasn’t been enough of an adjustment to how the league is using that tape. 

Opponents know what the Bears’ run scheme looks like, even if the personnel is different. Opponents know to not let Trubisky beat them with his legs. Opponents know an ineffective Burton means they can take away Cohen’s explosiveness. Opponents know what Harry Hiestand’s blocking schemes look like. 

Naturally, that's all led to some frustration bubbling inside the locker room. It's on this team's leadership to make sure that frustration does not turn into resignation. 

“We know the capabilities of this offense, know the capabilities of this team,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “For us, when we’re not going out there and exceeding those, then that’s when guys are frustrated. 

“But I don’t ever think frustration is a negative thing or is negatively impacting our team or impacting our offense. I think it’s actually good because you know guys actually care and want to change this thing. I think if there wasn’t any frustration then that wouldn’t be very positive at all because guys wouldn’t want to get it changed.” 

Most of all, though, every defensive coordinator in the league knows what Nagy’s offense looks like, and has tape on how to stop it. It’s a copycat league: What the Los Angeles Rams did in Week 14 of 2018 can have just as much influence as what the Philadelphia Eagles did in the wild card game. Bits and pieces of what opponents did to the Bears last year — and in Weeks 1 and 2 of 2019, especially — will be lifted into a team’s gameplan. 

“This is a different year, this is a different team, this is a different week,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “You just gotta look at it like that.” 

On defense, the coaching staff — save for defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — is different, but teams have a keen sense to avoid Jackson, who had six interceptions last year. With Akiem Hicks out and Leonard Floyd not winning enough one-on-one battles, teams can over-commit to blocking up Khalil Mack to protect their quarterback. The scheme is different, but the players largely are not (it may be notable, then, that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has two interceptions while Jackson has none). 

The Bears banked continuity with a young core producing an even better season than they had in 2018. But those improvements have not happened from both a coaching and player level. 

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. There’s no staying the same in the NFL. The Bears are learning that truth, banal as it may be, the hard way in 2019. 

“We essentially have the same guys as last year, we have the same pieces,” Miller said. “We just gotta put it together. And I know eventually we will do that.” 

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