Where did Ryan Poles go wrong? Are the pieces salvageable? Would Caleb Williams say no to Chicago? The 0-3 Bears mailbag is a dark place
It’s rarely a good sign when a general manager takes the podium after Week 2 of the NFL season.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles did just that last week at Halas Hall, addressing the wave of adversity that has hit a team many believed would show vast improvement after heavy offseason investments on both sides of the ball.
But no such improvements have occurred, and, as expected, the Bears were thoroughly outclassed Sunday in a 41-10 beatdown at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quarterback Justin Fields gets a lot of the heat. That comes with being a starting quarterback in the NFL. But the Bears’ issues go well beyond Fields so far this season. Yes, he has been bad through three games. Some of that is on him, some on the scheme, and some on the lack of execution around him.
The Bears’ defense has arguably been the worst in the NFL through three games (the Denver Broncos gave up 70 points in Week 3, so they might have a case).
The pieces Poles added have been either a net neutral or net negative so far this season. Their impact, if any, has barely registered during an 0-3 start in which the Bears have been outscored 106-47.
The players haven’t executed, but the lack of impact from Poles’ offseason additions brings into question his roster-building philosophy. That’s where we start this week’s Ryan Poles-centric mailbag:
Given the Bears have a young quarterback who needs to develop and run a defensive scheme that is predicated on getting pressure with four, Poles’ roster-construction philosophy this offseason has played a role in a poor start.
Instead of focusing on the lines of scrimmage, Poles and his staff grouped available free agents into “value buckets” based on their evaluation of the players, scheme fit, culture fit, and what they deemed fair price. It does not appear that those buckets were separated based on premium or non-premium position.
That led the Bears to spend a large chunk of money on linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Both Edmunds and Edwards are solid players, but they have been ineffective early on because the Bears have been unable to pressure the quarterback. So far this season, the Bears are playing zone on over 70 percent of defensive possessions but have just a 9 percent pressure rate. That lack of pressure has led to Edmunds and Edwards being picked on in coverage. Per Next Gen Stats, quarterbacks targeting Edmunds and Edwards are 25-for-27 for 234 yards and two touchdowns in three games.
Head coach Matt Eberflus doesn’t like to blitz. Still, the Bears’ defensive line, which Poles addressed only through the signing of Yannick Ngakoue, DeMarcus Walker, and Andrew Billings, has been unable to get consistent penetration, leaving the linebackers exposed. Who could have guessed that was going to be a problem?
On the offensive side of the ball, Poles’ decision not to chase left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. after the opening flurry of free agency because of perceived scheme fit issues was another whiff. Instead of adding a proven left tackle, Poles signed right guard Nate Davis, moved Teven Jenkins to left guard, brought in no competition for left tackle Braxton Jones, and passed on Jalen Carter for right tackle Darnell Wright.
Passing on Carter for Wright felt like the correct decision at the moment. I still like Wright and think he has an All-Pro ceiling. On the list of Bears’ early-season issues, he doesn’t crack the top 10. The Bears passing on Carter because he didn’t fit their culture was justifiable only if the same standard was applied to all acquisitions. Given the effort issues from some of Poles’ pro additions, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
We are only 20 games into Poles’ tenure. His rookie classes both received incomplete grades to this point. But his philosophy, especially in the pro personnel department, has helped put the Bears in this early hole.
Given the coaching and scheme issues going on, I think it’s virtually impossible to evaluate the players on the current roster.
I noted above the high amount of zone coverage and low pressure rate. Cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Tyrique Stevenson have the physical attributes and ability to play press-man coverage. But the Bears insist on playing zone and rushing with mainly four, only to get picked apart on the backend. Blitzing more and playing more man coverage should be on the table in Week 4. If the Bears continue their stubborn approach, the defense will continue to get torched.
Offensively, the Bears moved the pocket a little bit in Week 3. But where is the wide-zone scheme they relied heavily on last season? Per PFF, the Bears have only run 26 zone runs in three games. They have been, by and large, a straight shotgun dropback team out of 11 personnel. Where are the two tight-end sets? The wide zone runs? The under-center play-action? Comprehensive quarterback run game? Pocket rolling?
Evaluating the individual players is almost impossible until the staff starts tailoring to their strengths.
Overreaction? Yes … I think
I understand being wary of Poles’ ability to right the ship should the Bears have to move on from either Eberflus, Fields, or both.
But unless things really blow up (not impossible), I don’t think there’s any way he doesn’t get a swing at both. NFL general managers normally get to pick at least one quarterback and two head coaches.
Yes, things are bad right now. It is still only 20 games, and Poles is going to get time to try and figure it out. If the Bears wind up in the coaching market next offseason, expect Poles to go a different route than he did with Eberflus. He hasn’t drafted a quarterback yet, so we can’t judge his evaluation ability there.
But, hey, things could still turn around, right? Right?
Overreaction? Yes and no
I’d say there’s an almost zero percent chance Poles is fired. He will get time to build his vision and try to see it through. Teams don’t fire general managers after 20 games. Just not how it works.
I don’t think the Bears would make a coaching change in the middle of the season. I understand things have been bad, but you must be Nathaniel Hackett-level bad to get canned in the middle of the season.
George McCaskey has said he’ll be patient and let Poles and Eberflus build the team they want.
I do wonder if the three-and-a-half games of offensive explosion from Fields last season unreasonably tilted expectations inside the building. We know they did outside. I tried to temper expectations. I didn’t think the Bears would be this bad, but winning eight or nine games was always going to be a stretch.
Eberflus recently preached about the need for incremental improvement. Those are the words of a coach who understands where things are at and what’s realistic.
I don’t think he’s going anywhere in season. Is there potential for a scapegoat firing if things continue to spiral? Sure. But with Alan Williams already gone, that really only leaves Luke Getsy as the sacrificial lamb.
We’ve reached the Q&A portion of the mailbag.
I’m going to put a Good Shepherd sighting at 20 percent. I don’t think the Bears will bench Fields, but I have a hard time seeing him stay healthy for 17 games, especially if the Bears take the governor of the QB run game.
We can’t rule it out.
Let’s end here. I don’t think Caleb Williams is going to refuse to be the No. 1 pick. He could come out and tell the Bears he won’t play for them, ala Eli Manning, but the Bears could call his bluff. Either way, the Bears will know his intentions well beforehand and have ample time to either assuage his concerns or get a ransom for the pick.
Once again, I think that’s all bluster from Carl Williams. The NIL money at USC is good, but their goal has always been to be the No. 1 pick. I don’t think he’d turn down the chance to be the Bears’ savior.
Now, if he did have issues and the Bears were in the market for a new coach, Lincoln Riley could probably ease those concerns.
But we’re a long, long way from crossing that bridge …