1st-and-10: Did the Bears miss on C.J. Stroud?

By Chicago 11 Min Read

It’s never too early to wonder if the Bears missed on C.J. Stroud. The Texans’ rookie quarterback has passed for 2,626 yards, with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his first nine games in the NFL. That’s more passing yards in his first nine games than any Bears quarterback has thrown in any nine-game stretch ever, if you’re scoring at home. 

But even if the Bears still would be better off with the bounty they received for the No. 1 overall pick — wide receiver DJ Moore, right tackle Darnell Wright, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, the Panthers’ first-round draft pick in 2024 and a second-round pick in 2025 — Stroud’s success as a rookie so far this season rekindles a frustrating lament for Bears fans: What are the Texans doing that the Bears are not? 

When the Bears missed on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, the disparity between Mahomes and Mitch Trubisky was indicting, but also exaggerated. Mahomes fell into a perfect scenario, with an offense that already was a well-oiled machine under coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. Mahomes inherited established weapons in wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs were a playoff team for three seasons before Mahomes took over. 

But Stroud is a different story. He joined a Texans team that was an even bigger mess than the Bears when he was drafted second overall last year out of Ohio State. The Texans were 3-13-1 last season and 11-38-1 over the previous three seasons — the worst record in the NFL in that span. 

Not only that, but Texans were starting over again after firing Lovie Smith last season. Stroud is playing for a first-time head coach in former 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, with a first-time offensive coordinator in former 49ers assistant Bobby Slowik. 

Stroud has a nondescript receiving corps, led by veteran wide receiver Robert Woods (three years past his last productive season in the NFL), former Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, unproven Nico Collins and rookie Tank Dell, a third-round draft pick. 

And the offensive line has been a mess, even with a solid anchor in three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Texans are on their fourth center and fourth left guard because of injuries. Tunsil has missed three games. The Texans haven’t started the same combination in more than three consecutive games. 

Yet, through nine games, Stroud leads the NFL with 291.8 passing yards per game. His 15-2 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is the best in the league. His 101.0 passer rating is sixth. Stroud’s 109.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter is second. He’s played every snap — knock on wood. And the Texans have won five of their last seven games to exceed their 2022 win total with seven games to go. 

Whether it’s fate, good scouting, or a confirmation that the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree is more productive than the Aaron Rodgers coaching tree, the Bears have some catching up to do. 

And therein lies the challenge for Luke Getsy, Justin Fields and the Bears offense — to take a giant leap in the final seven games, presuming Fields returns as expected Sunday against the Lions. 

If right guard Nate Davis is back after missing four games with a high ankle sprain, the Bears’ offensive line will be as strong as it’s been in Getsy’s two seasons. With Montez Sweat getting a full week of practice, the Bears’ pass rush is as strong as it’s been under Matt Eberflus. The Bears are fifth in rushing offense, second in rushing defense — usually a foundation for success.

Almost all the pieces are in place for Getsy, Fields & Co. to let general manager Ryan Poles know in the final seven games whether he needs to find his C.J. Stroud or his Bobby Slowik, Or neither. Or both. Because as it stands right now, Poles doesn’t have to look too far to know there’s a better way. 

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2. Let the record show that the Bears aren’t totally devoid of quarterback-development accomplishments. They’re 2-2 with undrafted free agent Tyson Bagent starting the past four weeks — pretty good for a team with the Bears’ ignominious history of drafting and developing quarterbacks. 

Then again, Joshua Dobbs is 2-0 with the Vikings — coming off the bench to beat the Falcons and beating the Saints on Sunday as a starter. With limited practice reps — literally none before beating the Falcons — Dobbs has a 101.4 passer rating, with three touchdowns and zero interceptions — without Justin Jefferson. 

3. The Bears don’t necessarily miss running back David Montgomery — they’re fifth in the NFL in rushing yards without him. But Montgomery’s production in the Lions’ offense compared to Getsy’s offense is notable — 106 carries for 501 yards and seven touchdowns in six games. 

Montgomery’s yards per game is up from 50.1 in Getsy’s offense to a league-leading 83.5 with the Lions. His yards per carry is up from 4.0 to 4.7. He’s had rushes of 75 and 42 yards with the Lions — his longest rush with the Bears last season was 28 yards (twice). He has two more touchdowns in six games with the Lions than he had in 16 with the Bears. 

4. Future Reference Dept.: Lions general manager Brad Holmes’ intuition about Dan Campbell looks like it was right when he passed on hot coordinators Robert Saleh, Brandon Staley, Eric Bienemy and Brian Daboll to hire the former Lions tight end and Saints tight ends coach in 2021, putting an emphasis on Campbell’s leadership skills.

After a 1-8 start last season, the Lions have won 15 of their last 19 games under Campbell. It’s the Lions’ best stretch of 17 or more games since 1952-54, when they went 30-6-1 — winning NFL titles in 1952 and 1953 and losing in the championship game in 1954.

5. Then again, Daboll won the NFL Coach of the Year Award last year and already is near the hot seat if not on it with the Giants 2-8 and last in total offense and scoring, so … 

6. As Matt Eberflus pointed out, the Bears had no sacks allowed, no giveaways and allowed no offensive touchdowns in their 16-13 victory over the Panthers last week — the first time the Bears have done that since 1998. 

That’s the good part. On the other hand, the 64 teams that have accomplished that feat since 1998 are 61-3 with an average margin of 25.9 points. The Bears beat a 1-7 Panthers team traveling on a short week with a rookie quarterback by three. 

The point of reference there is a little ominous. The last time the Bears had no sacks allowed, no giveaways and did not allow an offensive touchdown — in a 24-3 victory over the Ravens in 1998 at Soldier Field — was Dave Wannstedt’s last victory as Bears coach. And the opposing quarterback that day — wait for it — was Jim Harbaugh. 

7. At 3-7, without a victory over a team with a winning record, the Bears’ upcoming four-game stretch against playoff contenders — the Lions (7-2) and Vikings (6-4) on the road, the Lions at home and the Browns (6-3) on the road — gives the Bears a chance to change the negative narrative (and the tone of 1st-and-10!) and define the direction of the Bears under Eberflus more than the final three games against the Cardinals (2-8), Falcons (4-6) and Packers (3-6). Crunch time is here for Matt Eberflus.

8. Jim Harbaugh Watch: Harbaugh’s assistant coaches are now 4-0 in his absence after Sherrone Moore guided Harbaugh’s No. 3 Wolverines (10-0) to a 24-15 victory over No. 10 Penn State in Happy Valley. 

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Running back David Montgomery had 12 carries for 116 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run in the Lions’ 41-38 victory over the Chargers at SoFi Stadium. 

Special Mention: Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, starting for injured Jimmie Ward, intercepted Joe Burrow in the Texans’ 30-27 upset of the Bengals. 

10. Bear-ometer: 5-12 — at Lions (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Lions (L); at Browns (L); vs. Cardinals (W); vs. Falcons (W); at Packers (L).

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