Matt Nagy's play-calling switch produces familiar results for struggling Bears offense
After resisting the notion for weeks, Matt Nagy handed play-calling duties to someone else, and the early returns weren’t exactly encouraging.
The Chicago Bears fell to the Minnesota Vikings, 19-13, on Monday night in a game that traditionalists might be happy with because of the top-notch defense played. But while the Vikings still proved to be a competent offense, gaining 385 total yards, the Bears simply were not.
The Chicago debut of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as play-caller produced just 149 yards of offense. Nick Foles completed 15 of 26 passes for a whopping 106 yards and threw one interception early in the first quarter, which led to Minnesota’s first touchdown of the night. Chicago’s leading rusher, Cordarrelle Patterson, more than tripled his rushing total (30) on his 104-yard kick-return touchdown. He nearly outgained the Bears’ offense with his single kick return, and also matched its six-point contribution with six of his own (plus the extra point).
“Just starting off big picture,” said Nagy, “obviously, we struggled mightily on offense in having the four three-and-outs in the second half. We had field position. We couldn’t convert on that in the red zone. It overshadows how well I thought our defense played and the different sudden changes they had, how well our special teams played. I was proud of those guys. So two out of the three parts right now are playing well. It’s been a constant theme for us.”
When Patterson scored, it was fair to wonder if that might be the last time Chicago found the end zone for the night. Realistically, all the Bears needed to do was keep playing stifling defense and avoid putting that unit in disadvantageous situations by way of turnovers.
For the most part, the Bears did that, holding the Vikings to two Dan Bailey field goals and at least keeping the game tied. But Kirk Cousins engineered a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that saw him connect with Adam Thielen for the receiver’s second score of the night, and even after a botched point-after attempt, that would be all the Vikings needed to end Cousins’ winless streak on Monday Night Football.
“It’s frustrating. We can’t hide that,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said after the loss. “But at the same time, it’s a team, it’s a team game, so we got to continue to rally together, depend on one another, hold each other accountable.”
After starting 5-1, the Bears are now 5-5 and aren’t showing any signs of impending improvement. Chicago’s defense is good enough to win a division and then some, but its offense belongs back in the time when they used to paint the entire field in a grid pattern (hence, gridiron). Instead of stuffing stat sheets, these Bears resemble a team repeatedly slamming it into a gaggle of defenders on a field that looks like a spreadsheet.
The Bears were 2-for-11 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down and their lone red-zone trip produced a field goal, not a touchdown. The Lazor-called offense didn’t exactly turn things around overnight, which was always going to be an unrealistic expectation, but at .500 and mired in a four-game losing streak entering the bye, the Bears need to reach the root of their issues and address it while there’s still time to regain control of this season.
It’s easy to pin the blame on Foles, who left late in the game with an injury after he was slammed to the Soldier Field turf, but it’s really a case of personnel deficiencies. As mentioned above, Chicago’s lead back is a wide receiver. Its receivers aren’t getting a ton of opportunities to make plays, and tight end Jimmy Graham — who was putting together the makings of a minor renaissance season earlier this year — was nonexistent, shut out on a grand total of two targets.
Those are things the Bears can’t fix in-season, and the responsibility for them falls squarely on the shoulders of general manager Ryan Pace, who already attempted to turn things around by acquiring Foles to compete with (and eventually replace) Mitchell Trubisky. The trade deadline has passed, and free agency and the draft don’t arrive until 2021.
That’s why this bye is suddenly important for the Bears, who might be fighting for their jobs in their final six games.
“When you get into these bye weeks,” said Nagy, “it’s very, very important to talk to your players as well and just find out, ‘OK, we have this final part of the season, and we want to turn things around,’ and get input from your players. What’s their impression, what’s their thoughts and then you take that and find out just what’s best for your team.”
If the Bears are going to turn things around, they better start as soon as Week 11 becomes 12. Their livelihoods might depend on it.
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