Should Chicago Bears fans be worried about Darnell Mooney?
By Evan Bruner
Darnell Mooney’s underwhelming week 1 has some concerned about whether he can be the No. 1 WR the Chicago Bears need
There are plenty of positives to take away from the Bears’ week 1 win against the San Francisco 49ers, but it was far from a flawless showing from the offense, especially the passing game. In the wet conditions, Justin Fields had trouble throwing the ball for a good part of the game, and other than a few splash-plays the Bears’ passing attack was almost nonexistent. While plays like Fields’ 51-yard touchdown to Dante Pettis are undoubtedly impressive, they aren’t exactly what we’d consider sustainable plays. Running around the field waiting for a busted coverage isn’t something that will always work.
The biggest reason for the Bears’ reliance on chunk plays in the passing game was likely Darnell Mooney’s performance. Despite being the team’s clear top receiver entering the season, Mooney recorded a meager one catch for eight yards. At first, it may be confusing to fans that the top pass catcher on an already paper-thin receiver room would be a non-factor, but Mooney’s disappearing act was far more a product of the 49ers’ gameplan than the Bears’. San Francisco’s approach to containing Mooney was simple yet effective: press coverage. At 5’11, 173 pounds, Mooney doesn’t have the physical attributes or play strength to win with physicality. This is why he was widely projected as a slot receiver going into the 2020 draft. The problem with the Bears’ current receiving core is that they don’t have many options to put on the outside.
Since Mooney is the only established weapon, he is the default “X” receiver, even if his physical profile is much closer to a “Z” or slot. Though Allen Robinson’s 2021 season was memorable for all the wrong reasons, opposing defenses, especially early on in the season, respected him. Robinson would often take on the defense’s top cover corner, which allowed Mooney to slip behind the defense. Now that Byron Pringle is the only other wide receiver on the roster to eclipse 500 yards in a season, defenses can key in on Mooney. On Sunday, Mooney struggled to beat the press and was a non-factor in the team’s win. Yes, the Bears finding a way to win a game against a quality opponent with their top receiver performing is a positive, but what if Mooney’s week one dud is a sign of things to come?
First of all, no one should be suggesting that single-digit yard totals will be the new norm for Mooney. The question has more to do with if he can be schemed out of games so easily going forward. The secondary is widely regarded as the 49ers’ biggest weakness, and they had no issue executing. What about teams with better cornerback play? They say the NFL is a copycat league, and it’s true. If Mooney struggles to win against press coverage, he will continue to face press coverage. If he can beat the press and use it to get open downfield, teams will stop.
Another huge factor in Mooney’s role has to do with the play calling. We have only seen Luke Getsy call one game in Chicago, so it’s hard to know what he wants the offense’s identity to be. With that said, it is largely up to him to scheme up Mooney targets. The league’s most well-rounded receivers, like Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and Stefon Diggs, can make defenses pay in a multitude of ways and are used as such. Mooney, on the other hand, is a bit more of a specialist. More than anything, he excels as a downfield receiver. He has both the speed and ball tracking to make defenses pay when running vertical concepts. In shorter passes, specifically those thrown to congested areas of the field, Mooney is not the same type of difference maker.
The inability to play to individual players’ strength became a staple of the Matt Nagy era. and was the driving factor in the offense’s regression following the 2018 season. It’s up to Eberflus and Getsy to change that. Mooney may not be the prototypical No.1 receiver on an NFL offense, but he’s the best they have. Week one served as a reminder of Mooney’s limitations. It’s up to the Bears to adjust their game plan, or they risk significantly diminishing the value of one of their top offensive weapons.