Matt Nagy is no idiot, but Bears’ offense looks idiotic — and unfixable
Nagy, who declared himself, “not an idiot” on Monday, is good at what he does. But his game plan was a disaster against the Saints, and there are no obvious solutions for the Bears’ broken offense.
As Matt Nagy encounters the first real turbulence of his head-coaching career, his frustration with the floundering offense — the exact thing he got hired to fix — has him grasping for the right words as he takes questions about a problem that doesn’t seem to have any solutions.
After the debacle against the Saints on Sunday, he took a question on the impotent run game and veered into a speech about blocking out negativity from the media, Twitter and the 60,000 fans booing the Bears seemingly every game at Soldier Field.
At another point, he spun himself into a line in which he promised change but didn’t know what it would be, and the media won’t know what it is, but maybe they will, and the bottom line is this isn’t a good team.
He’s especially flustered trying to explain the nearly nonexistent ground game. The Bears just set an NFL season-low mark with seven rushing attempts, believed to be the fewest ever for the franchise that practically invented running the football a century ago and references the T-formation in its fight song.
So a simple question Monday, on why he called 13 straight pass plays immediately after the Bears got their first big rushing gain of the game, prompted yet another unexpected response.
“There’s nobody out here that’s gonna — I know we need to run the ball more,” Nagy said. “I’m not an idiot.”
It’s usually trouble when a coach feels the need to declare that. And the Bears are six games in.
Nagy certainly isn’t an idiot, not with more than a decade of NFL experience and fresh off winning Coach of the Year. This is a smart man and a gifted play caller.
But his offense looks idiotic.
The need to run wasn’t some epiphany that just came to him in the middle of the night after running seven times for 17 yards against the Saints in a 36-25 loss. He knew it in training camp, he knew it last season, he knew it as an intern and he knew it as a third-grader.
Since 1960, only 10 teams have attempted to compete in an NFL game while rushing seven times or fewer. Every one of them lost. The entirety of football history says, without exception, that the strategy Nagy tried Sunday is guaranteed failure. Even in the pass-happy modern era, it’s not viable to pass on 56 of 63 plays.
Running often goes out the window once a team falls behind, but the Bears went into halftime down just 12-10 and at that point Nagy had called pass on 24 of 29 plays. It was like watching Arena Football, where running is used only as a gadget or as a short-yardage necessity.
And the worst, most imprudent part of that approach is that it’s what every defense in the NFL hopes the Bears do.
It’s an open secret — so open that Packers cornerback Tramon Williams stated it matter-of-factly last month and was surprised that anyone on earth considered it controversial — that opponents salivate at the thought of Mitch Trubisky dropping back all day long.
And Nagy made that dream come true for the Saints. They probably couldn’t believe it any more than you could.
Trubisky was 20 of 35 for 119 yards for a passer rating of 63.9 until the final three minutes when the Bears scrambled for a couple scores and he bumped his numbers to 34-for-54 passing, 251 yards and two touchdowns for an 86.3 rating.
Nagy said, accurately, that those late plays meant nothing. Do it when it counts.
“To me it is garbage time, and that’s not the mode we want to be in,” he said. “I could [not] care less about those stats at the end of the game.”
But getting back to what Trubisky did before that, what was so enticing about the passing game that compelled Nagy to cling to it? Factoring in the two sacks for a total loss of 16 yards, the Bears were averaging 2.78 yards per pass play.
Tarik Cohen caught nine passes for 19 yards. That sounds impossible.
If Nagy goes into the Chargers game Sunday with anything resembling the plan he used against the Saints, mark it down as a loss right now.
He keeps saying something must change, but it’s hard to pinpoint what. And he surely knows why it’s not working, but it’s not so clear he knows how to correct it.
“Right now we’re not having productive plays in the run game any way you look at it,” Nagy said. “So in the offseason... I’ll sit down with every one of you [reporters] and we’ll just sit down and talk through the why part. I can’t do it right now because we’ve gotta worry about the Chargers.”
Worry is the key word. Who wouldn’t be worried, even against a 2-5 opponent, about this offense?
Hardly anyone other than Allen Robinson on that side of the ball is doing his job. The offensive line isn’t playing up to its pay grade, Trubisky isn’t helping anything, Trey Burton has been a non-factor because of injury and high-potential running backs Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery don’t seem to be getting a chance.
It doesn’t matter whether Nagy is an idiot if the answer simply doesn’t exist.