When the Chicago Bears hired Bill Lazor to replace Mark Helfrich as the team’s offensive coordinator, it was easy to connect the dots to his prior relationships with Andy Dalton and Nick Foles as reasons why Chicago snagged him after a year away from football. Starting Monday, Lazor takes on more important responsibilities as the Bears’ new play-caller.
But let’s be clear about one thing: Lazor won’t re-invent the wheel here. Matt Nagy didn’t hand over play calling duties to install a new playbook over the course of the weekend. Instead, Lazor’s promotion to play-caller is rooted in the idea of making the most with what’s already available. Remember, Lazor was hired – in part – because of his familiarity with this very system and its concepts. That Lazor has a past as a coordinator suggests he could build upon what the Bears have with new perspectives.
Here Comes Tempo
For instance, we know some of the Bears’ offensive problems are rooted in the lack of a tempo. The Bears have struggled to get players lined up correctly and are too often fighting to get a play off before the play clock expires. That’s problematic on several levels. Not only does it cause for hurried decision-making, it also limits what the quarterback can do from a call-audible standpoint. Lazor should drive home the importance of decisiveness and urgency. Get to the line quickly, assess what the defense is presenting, and adapt.
And to that point, Lazor indicated that’s a priority based on a USA Today piece from 2014 when he was taking over the Dolphins’ OC gig.
“My voice is like this because I’m yelling, ‘Tempo!’ I’m trying to get them out of the huddle faster. They’re going as fast as they can go, and it’s my job to show them they can go faster. It’s my job to take them places maybe they didn’t think they could get to. Every time you do that with a player, his eyes widen and he’s like, ‘I can be better.’ That’s what we’re looking for.”
I’m not suggesting playing with pace solves all of the Bears’ problems. But doing so could open the offense to get back to some things that worked previously, such as shift and motion opportunities that allow for quarterbacks to pick up a read on the defense or get opponents out of position. It’s a small thing, I’ll admit it. But it could pay big dividends if properly utilized.
Rhythm and Reason in the Running Game
Rhythm is’t a word often associated with the Bears offense the last few years. And while it’s hard to establish something vaguely resembling rhythm when the offense isn’t prolonging drives, Lazor understands the importance of getting two key cogs in the offense going. And frankly, this should please Bears fans.
“In a very small amount of time today, I’ve thought about when the game starts, as a coordinator – and some games you have different plans – but two of the most important things you have to do is get the quarterback in rhythm and get the running back in rhythm,” Lazor said, via Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2017. “We’ve got a number of good running backs that we’re sharing that with right now, but I think as we have some time this evening and tomorrow to think about that and specifically the questions with Andy (Dalton), I think a lot of responsibility will be mine to make sure we get him going.”
I added the emphasis with good reason. The running game hasn’t been able to get going recently because the Bears haven’t committed to it early. And then, when they have fallen behind, Nick Foles finds himself throwing while playing catch-up. It’s not that I’m against throwing on early downs. But when it becomes predictable, it puts the offense in a tough predicament. It’s never good when a defense figures you out. Perhaps Lazor will throw a curveball here and there to keep opponents honest.
Marrying Air Coryell, West Coast, and Spread Concepts
“I don’t know that you can put a label on it. We want to be very multiple,”because when you look at the players we have, the numbers of tight ends and wide receivers and backs we think are good players, we have a system that easily uses them all…In today’s NFL you have to build a system that allows you to mix and match and move things around.”
I think back to why Lazor is here in the first place, so I’m glad I unearthed this quote from a Bengals.com profile from 2018. One of the biggest criticisms I have of Nagy’s offense and play-calling is that it doesn’t consistently fit the players on the roster. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to run what they’re running out in Kansas City. But the Bears don’t have those players, so adjustments are necessary. Nagy wasn’t making them, so here comes Lazor.
When Lazor says “we want to be very multiple” I imagine he wants to be able to infuse everything in his background into his offense. Incorporate Air Coryell’s aggressive vertical concepts with Darnell Mooney. Push through with spread concepts that use motion and misdirection to throw defenders off the scent. Toss in West Coast ideas that get the running back in a rhythm. Trying to do everything at once is a fool’s errand. But creating a scheme where one play builds on the next isn’t impossible.
To be clear, there’s no magic cure-all to the Bears’ offensive mess. But I’ve long believed putting new eyes on old problems can be a good start to get going in the right direction.