No matter how bleak things got for the Bears last season, it was still a stretch to say that coach Matt Nagy’s offense made people miss Marc Trestman.
A ridiculous exaggeration.
Hyperbole beyond reason.
Still a hard pass on Trestman, who last coached the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers, but the state of the offense has gotten so dismal that Bears fans would take just about anyone else over Nagy. He got this job as the next Picasso of play-calling and da Vinci of downfield passing attacks, but it all looks like scribbles that even the most loving parent wouldn’t put on the fridge.
We could do analogies all day, but here’s the raw truth: The Bears’ offense under Nagy is worse than it was under Trestman and negligibly improved from the John Fox years.
And if it’s bad enough to lose to the Lions on Sunday, the Bears might have to make an exception to their policy against firing coaches during the season. Nagy escaped with his job after an epic meltdown against the Lions last year, but it would be naïve to think he’ll get away with it twice.
He genuinely might not recognize what’s at stake and wouldn’t contribute to that storyline by acknowledging it if he did, but he has everything riding on this game.
“It also comes with the territory,” he said of the fury he correctly assumed has been directed at him. “You understand it. Do you like it? No, but the competitor in you accepts it. My job now is to be the greatest leader I can possibly be for these players. . . . If I let the other distractions take away from anything, then that’s taking away from them, and I won’t do that.
“It’s time to fight. And when you fight, you do it together, and you understand it, and then you do everything you can to be the best for the Bears. That’s it. You keep it real super-simple.”
That’s a good and earnest approach, but ignoring the pressure doesn’t make it disappear.
The exasperation with Nagy is not an overdramatic reaction to this moment when the Bears are coming off a net total of 47 yards against the Browns — their lowest output since 1981 — and have scored only four offensive touchdowns in three games. During his tenure, the Bears have scored the 10th-fewest points in the NFL at 21.8 per game. Trestman had them at 23.9, and Fox checked in at 18.3.
Only the Jets and Washington have averaged fewer yards per play than Nagy’s 4.97, which is well below Fox’s 5.41 and the glory days of Trestman’s 5.62. Both of them outdid Nagy’s 36.8% success rate on third downs, too.
The Bears also have averaged the sixth-fewest yards per carry (4.02) and posted the 12th-worst passer rating (87.2) — prompting a harsh but crucial question: What exactly have they been good at under Nagy?
The biggest difference between Nagy’s 29-22 record and the 13-19 that got Trestman fired after two seasons is that Nagy benefitted from one of the NFL’s best defenses while Trestman was saddled with one of the worst.
Think back to 2018, when Nagy was the newly crowned king of the city and the Bears were thinking Super Bowl after going 12-4 and winning the NFC North by a landslide. The defense made that team great. The Bears had 36 takeaways, a mark matched by only two teams in the last five seasons, and boosted the team’s scoring average from 22.4 to 26.3 with defensive touchdowns and turnovers that set their offense up with a short field.
The claim that Nagy turned Mitch Trubisky into a viable quarterback that season was just as flimsy. His signature performance was a six-touchdown bonanza against one of the NFL’s worst teams, and he had an 89 passer rating in his other 13 starts.
The quarterbacks keep changing, but the offense doesn’t. Nagy collaborated with general manager Ryan Pace to trade for Nick Foles, sign Andy Dalton and draft Justin Fields. But the Bears plunged to 17.5 points per game in 2019 (29th in the NFL) and 23.3 last season (22nd) after a late binge against terrible defenses.
NFL teams averaged a record 25 points last season. Counting the playoffs, Nagy’s Bears have scored fewer than that in 36 of his 53 games.
“When I first got here, I explained to everybody that this offense takes a few years to get going,” he said shortly before a 34-14 season-opening loss to the Rams in which his team attempted only two passes that traveled more than 10 yards through the air.
“We saw that in Kansas City because it took a few years — not just the players that were coming in, but them learning and understanding [the scheme]. After three or four years, it really started picking up and going. I feel like we’re at that spot right now.”
The on-field failures have eroded his greatest asset: his personality. Nagy has been a positive force inside Halas Hall, and he’s an easy guy for whom to root. But the high-octane enthusiasm has felt like it lacks substance lately, and every meandering, empty answer about Fields, Dalton and the offense chips away at whatever public confidence remains.
There’s plenty to criticize, but he always has conveyed steadiness — and the Bears surely needed it in the darkest depths of a four-game losing streak in 2019 and a staggering six-game slide last season.
But even that quality is in question after he gave up the play-calling to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor last season, then took it back in the offseason and now won’t say who’s calling the plays.
Amid the turmoil, all the Nagyisms roll into a droning buzz that just won’t stop. Things are going badly, and he says, “We know that.” He talks incessantly about the “plan” for Fields, but it’s never clear what that is. The team is 17-18 since 2018, but don’t worry. He understands “that’s not good enough.”
And he’s always looking for “the whys.” Like chipmunks digging up his yard, those pesky whys constantly elude him. It shouldn’t be too hard to find enough of them to beat the Lions. But if he can’t, he might suddenly find himself with a heap of free time to continue his search.