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First-and-10: Matt Nagy is finding Mitch Trubisky’s comfort zone

Downshifting like he did vs. the Redskins might be the best way to get Bears’ offense in high gear

Chicago Bears v Washington Redskins
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky completed 25-of-31 passes for 231 yards, three touchdowns (all to Taylor Gabriel) and one interception for a 116.5 passer rating in a 31-15 victory over the Redskins on Monday night at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Has Matt Nagy finally found Mitch Trubisky’s comfort zone?

The Bears coach leaned heavily on Trubisky’s arm against the Packers in the opener — 45 pass attempts in a 10-3 loss. He went the other way in Week 2, with more rushes (29) than Trubisky passes (27) in a 16-14 victory over the Broncos. Trubisky struggled to get into a rhythm in both games, with passer ratings of 62.1 and 70.0.

But Nagy took a different tack against the Redskins on Monday night. He simplified the approach and the game plan, “scaling back in everything.” And Trubisky responded with an encouraging performance. He completed 25 of 31 passes for 231 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 116.5 passer rating in a 31-15 win at FedExField.

It could be that Trubisky merely took advantage of a porous Redskins defense that ranks 30th in points allowed and 32nd in opponent passer rating (122.2) after three weeks. Trubisky’s rating, in fact, is the lowest this season against the Redskins, behind the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (123.5) and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz (121.0).

But it’s also possible that after force-feeding Trubisky and the offense in his first season-plus with the Bears, Nagy has found that simpler might be better. It’s almost as if he has decided to coach Trubisky as the quarterback he is today instead of the quarterback he thinks he can be.

“We’re trying to find exactly what our identity is,” Nagy said Tuesday. “How do we help these guys out on offense? How do we help ourselves out as coaches? We did simplify it a little bit. You almost have to do that when you’re playing a little bit faster.

“I told the guys after the game: Offensively, there’s steady incremental improvement. We’re slowly getting better. Are we where we want to be? No. There are some plays in that game [against the Redskins] where you look back and say, ‘Dang, just if we would have.’ But there there’s some great plays and drives where you’re really happy with the way that the offense performed.”

For “gamesmanship” purposes, Nagy didn’t go into detail on the changes that were made.

“Just for these guys, however we can get them to play fast,” he said. “If that means tempo, great. If it doesn’t mean tempo and there’s another way to do that — whether it’s less formations, less personnel [groups], that sort of thing. It’s just kind of scaling back in everything.”

Nagy can’t wait for the Bears’ offense to catch up to the defense. But it’s that defense that affords him the opportunity to slow down, take the simpler approach and let Trubisky mature at his pace. At this point, it looks like his best chance to get him where he wants him to be.

2 — After going nine quarters without a touchdown pass this season, Trubisky threw three — all to Taylor Gabriel — in a span of 6:17 in the second quarter against Washington. But Trubisky wasn’t about to get carried away. He was 5-for-8 for 58 yards and an interception in the second half as the offense scored just three points.

“I think we’re growing and evolving as an offense,” Trubisky said. “I don’t know if I’d call it a breakthrough yet. We’ve got to keep getting better, keep growing. There’s room for improvement — definitely in the second half. If we just stick to the process and keep growing and learning and sticking together, we’re going to be all right.”

3 — Despite the need for patience with the offense, there’s a sense of urgency this week at home against the Vikings (2-1). After the Bears’ Week 1 loss to the Packers at Soldier Field, this one will have a must-win feel.

It probably isn’t must-win, but the strength of the NFC North is already apparent. The division is 7-0-1 against outside competition this season (the only blemish being the Lions’ tie with the Cardinals in the season opener in Glendale, Arizona). That’s the best record against outside competition in the NFL. The NFC West (8-3-1) is the only other division with a winning record against non-division opponents. The rest: AFC South (3-3); AFC East (3-3); NFC East (2-3); NFC South (4-6); AFC West (3-5) and AFC North (3-9).

4 — The Bears’ offensive line came into this season with a goal of being the best in the NFL but has yet to be even as good as it was last year. Guards Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair and center James Daniels were called for penalties against the Redskins. The O-line was called for 25 penalties total last year and already has nine penalties this season.

5 — Tackle Cornelius Lucas held his own as a last-minute replacement for Bobby Massie (vertigo). Lucas received a seal of approval from Olin Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl center with the Bears who’s now an expert analyst.

Kreutz tweeted Tuesday: “Most guys making League minimum play like it. Lucas didn’t. He held up well. Nice job big man.”

6 — Running back Tarik Cohen’s withering impact is another mystery of the Bears’ offense in Year 2 under Nagy. Cohen has eight carries for 16 yards this season, with a long gain of nine yards. After three games in 2017 in former coordinator Dowell Loggains’ offense, Cohen already had runs of 46, 36, 26 and 15 yards.

Cohen, in fact, had 10 plays of 30 yards or more in his first two seasons, including 70-yard receptions in 2017 and 2018. His longest play this season is the 24-yard reception he had against the Redskins.

7 — Wide receiver Anthony Miller — yet another facet of the offense who was expected to blossom this year but instead has regressed in the early going — showed a spark against the Redskins with a 15-yard gain to convert a third-and-two on the Bears’ first touchdown drive. But it was his only catch in three targets.

“I know what Anthony can do, and we know he’s definitely a weapon,” Nagy said. “I think we’re getting close.”

8 — Taylor Gabriel is the first Bears wide receiver with three touchdown catches in one game since Brandon Marshall did it against the 49ers in 2014. The only other Bears wide receivers in the Super Bowl era with three touchdown catches in a game are Marty Booker (2001 against the Buccaneers), Marcus Robinson (1999 against the Lions), Curtis Conway (1995 against the Jaguars) and Willie Gault (1983 against the Saints).

9 — Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had six receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-20 victory over the Cardinals.

Runner-up: Panthers defensive end Mario Addison had three sacks in that game.

10 — Bear-ometer: 9-7 — vs. Vikings (L); vs. Raiders in London (W); vs. Saints (W); vs. Chargers (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Lions (W); vs. Cowboys (W); at Packers (L); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (L).