Short answer: We have no clue yet.
If I traveled back in time to the first Sunday of the 2020 NFL season and told Chicago Bears fans that they would be 3-0 after week 3, I would probably see excitement, joy, and relief in those fans. They would likely assume that Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has solidified his role as the Bears starter after going undefeated after 3 weeks. Very few people under this assumption would have predicted that Trubisky would be benched for Nick Foles halfway through their third game, and that Foles would lead a tremendous comeback in the 4th quarter to narrowly salvage the Bears’ perfect record. The collective record of the Bears’ opponents so far is 1-8, and all three of their games have come down to the final 2 minutes of the game (2 of which were 4th quarter comebacks of 16+ points). There are several other teams in the “Undefeated Club”, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, and Green Bay Packers, and yet NFL fans find it a mockery that the Chicago Bears remain in the club with them.
Many of these fans believe the Bears are pretenders just waiting to crash and burn, proving that their great start to the season was nothing but a fluke. Others give the Bears the benefit of the doubt, saying that they’re just good at winning close games. With the change at Quarterback are the Bears destined to overcome their inconsistencies, ranking at 22nd in offensive EPA/play, or will they put themselves in a vulnerable position to lose games week after week? This will be the key in determining whether or not they are real playoff contenders in the coming weeks.
Yes, the Chicago Bears are 3-0, but they could just easily be 0-3. After three ridiculously close and fortunate outcomes against the Lions, Giants, and Falcons, Bears fans just want a comfortable win (one that doesn’t involve several 4th quarter heart attacks). It is clear that one of the major reasons why the Bears were in vulnerable positions in all three games was because of Mitchell Trubisky’s inconsistent play. Despite winning all three games, the Bears offense only put together about 4 total quarters of good offensive play. The Bears saw themselves trailing big in 2 games and nearly choking a 17 point halftime lead in the other. The offense, led by Head Coach Matt Nagy, would not put the team in these vulnerable positions if they would just put together a complete game. However, this week will be the first week in which Nick Foles starts at Quarterback instead of Trubisky. Foles was the Bears’ savior last week in the Falcons game, and fans look to him to be the savior for the rest of the season.
The Bears have fantastic skill players in Allen Robinson, David Montgomery, Cordarelle Patterson, and Anthony Miller, as well as a workable offensive line under their new coach Juan Castillo. When given these players in an exotic offense under Matt Nagy, the Quarterback must be able to deliver on his throws for all 4 quarters. They need a quarterback who won’t wait until the 4th quarter to throw all of his touchdown passes. Trubisky’s lack of confidence has been his greatest roadblock to aggressive play early in games, but Nick Foles can be the confident Quarterback for Chicago that can take an early lead and hold onto it because he has major experience. He doesn’t need to be Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson to earn this team wins. With the previously mentioned skill players, good coaching, and the defense led by Khalil Mack, Nick Foles just needs to assure Matt Nagy that he will do what he’s expected to do. Trubisky is a great athlete with a troubled arm. While Trubisky’s athleticism can come in handy when wanting to escape a collapsing pocket, there is no doubt that the Bears would still trade his throwing inconsistencies for Foles’s stability. If the Bears want to be contenders, Nick Foles needs to show that he’s the Super Bowl 52 MVP, not backup to Gardner Minshew.
So based on what we already know about Nick Foles on the Bears, can we determine whether or not they will be a good team in 2020? Not until we get good data on Foles. Foles played less than half a game, so there is not enough information to get a true sense of his offensive value until this Sunday vs Indianapolis. We do have some information on the rest of the team, though. The Bears’ EPA/play statistics vary drastically when comparing them in each quarter, and we can see that they particularly play well in the 4th quarter, especially on offense. For instance, in quarters 1-3 the Bears offense averages about -0.13 EPA/play, 0.2 below the league average. However, in the 4th quarter the Bears offense averages 0.42 EPA/play, 0.35 above the league average! The difference in these numbers is shocking, and they leave the Bears at a passing offense that is overall slightly below average in terms of EPA/play.
This tells us multiple things about the Bears offense:
1) They are wildly inconsistent. Their offensive efficiency fluctuates throughout their games, which can spell danger for them in future games when playing against good defenses or when having to play catch up. They won’t get to play the Lions, Giants, or Falcons every week, after all. This is a major reason why many believe the Bears are pretenders this year.
2) The Bears are very good at finishing games. For whatever reason, this team plays their best football in the quarter that is usually the most decisive (the 4th), which can be crucial when fighting for a playoff spot. This is due to a combination of great coaching by Matt Nagy and insistence on throwing down the field late. Their wins have by far been some of the ugliest out of any others this season, but a win is a win. The standings don’t care about how pretty your wins are, they just care about the left number in your league record.
The ultimate questions when looking at these offensive EPA/play numbers are big: Will the replacement of Mitchell Trubisky by Nick Foles give the Bears an opportunity to create more consistent offensive numbers? Can the Bears continue to be hot in the 4th quarter? Most importantly, are the Bears good? These are questions that Foles must answer in the next few games. Stay tuned for Chicago vs Indianapolis this Sunday at 4:25 ET, where Foles will start his first game as the Bears Quarterback against a defense that is ranked highest in EPA/play, a daunting task.