October 19, 2021


Bear Down, Nerd Up: It’s still early, but current pace puts Bears’ pass game among NFL’s worst in 3 decades

Through 5 games, Bears have yet to total 200 net passing yards in a game

Somehow, the Bears are 3-2.

Among the NFL’s eight 3-2 teams, FiveThirthyEight’s prediction model has the Bears with the second-worst odds to make the playoffs. The Bears’ 27% odds are only slightly better than Carolina’s 26% odds. FiveThirtyEight projects both of those teams to finish 8-9.

Yes, Sunday’s win over the Raiders was big for the Bears, but let’s not sugarcoat it. The Bears still have some serious issues to figure out offensively. The positive vibes are good after a big win, however, this is not the time to become complacent.

The Bears (or maybe head coach Matt Nagy) took a long look in the mirror a couple weeks ago and determined the current iteration of their offense is the best path forward. Multiple tight ends, six – even seven! – linemen at certain times, run the ball well and don’t make mistakes. I’m not arguing that they’re wrong. Nobody wants to relive Week 3 in Cleveland again.

But the result is a passing attack that is reminiscent of the ‘90s or, arguably, even earlier.

Pick up the pace: The Bears’ passing attack is on pace to be NFL’s the worst in a long time. The bright side is the Bears have a lot of season left to pad these stats.

Through five games, more than a quarter of the season, the Bears are averaging 113.2 passing yards per game. That number will – Bears fans certainly hope – rise as the season goes on. It can’t possibly remain that low through a full season.

The last NFL team to average fewer passing yards per game for a full season was the 1992 Seattle Seahawks, who finished 2-14 while averaging 111.1 passing yards per game. For comparison’s sake, the worst passing attack in the NFL in 2020 – the Baltimore Ravens – averaged 171.2 passing yards per game. The 2021 Bears are currently last in the category by a wide margin. New Orleans ranks 31st with 169.4 passing yards per game.

It has been a decade since an NFL team averaged fewer than 140 passing yards per game throughout a full season. The 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars, who went 5-11, averaged 136.2 passing yards per game.

Averaging 113.2 passing yards per game seems unfathomable in today’s NFL. A whopping 25 NFL teams are averaging twice as many net passing yards as the Bears. Two 1-4 teams, the Giants and Colts, along with two winless teams, the Lions and Jaguars, are all averaging 100 more passing yards per game than the 3-2 Bears.

An inauspicious streak: Five games into the season, the Bears have yet to throw for 200 net passing yards as a team in any one single game. Justin Fields threw for 209 yards against Detroit in Week 4, but two sacks lost yards and the team finished with only 185 net passing yards. Sack yards go against the team’s passing yardage, but not the individual quarterback’s passing yardage.

The last time the Bears went five consecutive games without totaling 200 net passing yards in any one of those games was the final two games of the John Fox era in 2017 and the first three games of the Matt Nagy era in 2018. If we’re going to split the streak between seasons, it’s worth pointing out that the current streak is six games if we count last season’s playoff loss to New Orleans.

The last time the Bears had such a five-game stretch in one season dates back to 2009, according to stats at Pro Football Reference. Between Week 11 and Week 15 of 2009, with Jay Cutler starting all five games at quarterback, the Bears never totaled more than 195 net passing yards. That was 26-year-old Cutler’s first season in Chicago, and he threw eight interceptions during that five-game stretch. Not surprisingly, the team went 1-4 over those five games.

In his three starts, Fields has yet to attempt more than 20 passes, hitting exactly 20 attempts twice.

Lack of space: Among pass catchers with a minimum of 13 targets, Allen Robinson is tied with San Francisco’s Brandon Aiyuk for the lowest average separation from the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Teams are working as hard as possible to smother Robinson. He has an average separation of 1.7 yards.

For the season, Robinson has 17 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown. His lack of production says more about the Bears offense than it does about Robinson.

“Everything that may be best for me, may not be best, situationally,” Robinson said last week. “As a person in this league, that’s something you’ve got to understand. So again, for me, it’s being able to figure out how can I contribute and where can I contribute at?”

Robinson caught four passes Sunday for 32 yards. He had not caught more than three passes in any of the previous three games. His last such streak of three receptions or fewer was in 2016 with Jacksonville.

Snap adjustments: Linebacker Danny Trevathan played 10 snaps in his return. Trevathan was making his season debut after opening the year on injured reserve with a knee issue.

Other notable snap count totals included running back Khalil Herbert with 34 snaps, most among running backs. Damien Williams’ 31 snaps was just behind him.

Tight end Jesper Horsted – who will forever be remembered for catching Fields’ first career touchdown pass – played a grand total of two snaps. Talk about making the most of an opportunity.

Lineman Alex Bars played 17 snaps in the game. Bars was reporting in as an eligible receiver, giving the Bears six offensive linemen.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.