April 12, 2021

Hub Arkush: With improvement at QB unlikely, Bears best chance to compete are upgrades at tackle

Pretty much everyone that’s ever watched an NFL game knows about the Bears’ woes at quarterback and that it’s unlikely to get fixed this season.

There was never an answer available in free agency.

There is hope for the draft even though that marketplace got shaken up a bit Monday with the New York Jets trading Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, but that trade probably doesn’t impact the Bears having any chance at all at a Day 1 starter.

The problem is at picks Nos. 1, 2 and 3, the Jags, Jets and 49ers, respectively, are all taking quarterbacks, with the Jets now having traded Darnold. The price the 49ers paid to move from No. 12 to third overall only can be justified with a QB. Denver at No. 9, New England at No. 15 and Washington at No. 19 have just as great a need at the position as the Bears.

We can’t rule out the Falcons at fourth overall and the Eagles at No. 12 taking one, and it wouldn’t be at all stunning to see the Steelers trade up in front of the Bears if one of the five with first-round grades starts to drop.

Sure, the Bears could be the team to jump up and grab a QB, but if you believe general manager Ryan Pace’s and coach Matt Nagy’s jobs are on the line, how are they going to be better this year than last year with their first-round pick on the bench and the loss of several other valuable picks or key starters – or both – to get him?

Being stuck at quarterback, however, doesn’t eliminate Pace and Nagy’s claim they are close to contending, and based on the makeup of the current roster – and the cost of trying to fix the QB position – it isn’t even the Bears’ greatest need.

That has to be offensive tackle.

Based on their present talent and what does still appear doable in the draft and remnants of free agency, the path to management’s threat to contend is to make the defense great again, create one of the league’s best running games, play mistake-free football, and make Andy Dalton or Nick Foles a good enough game manager that they don’t cost you games.

Unless age and injuries take over, even with the loss of Kyle Fuller the talent is still there to field a great defense, and the coaching team of defensive coordinator Sean Desai and assistant Mike Pettine are intriguing if unproven.

What Nagy and offensive line coach Juan Castillo did the last six weeks of last season with running back David Montgomery and the shuffling of the offensive line on the inside, along with the return of guard James Daniels and the addition of running back Damien Williams, actually is kind of exciting for the run game.

The problem is that Charles Leno and Germain Ifedi, if they are to be the starters at tackle, very well could be the worst pair in the league.

It’s not that they’re terrible blockers. Both are somewhere between slightly below average to average, and Ifedi probably is a bit better than that blocking the run.

But average isn’t good enough for the way the Bears will have to play because of limitations under center. They become downright punitive when you realize that according to Pro Football Reference and the Football Database over the past four seasons Ifedi (44 penalties, 25 false starts and seven more declined) is the most penalized tackle in football, and Leno (38 penalties, 18 false starts, six more declined) is third.

When you combine the blocks they either miss or fail to execute and the plays that fail as a result, and the number of drives that are stalled or killed because of their penalties, it is just too great a handicap to overcome.

Yes, to execute what we’ll call Plan B, the Bears also still will need at least one more play-making wide receiver and a starting safety, but fortunately receiver and offensive line are the two strongest areas of this draft, and there still are at least significant upgrades for the Bears’ depth chart at both of those positions and safety in free agency.

Now, will Pace push the right buttons?

His misses at quarterback will look a lot less painful if he can notch a couple of extra-base hits at tackle.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media