Seemingly embarrassed by the Bears’ offensive ineptitude in a -24-10 loss to the Rams on the ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ stage Oct. 26 at SoFi Stadium — particularly his offense being outscored 7-3 by his own defense — a despondent Matt Nagy latched on to the one promising offensive moment of the night.
Rookie tight end Cole Kmet’s nifty 38-yard reception in traffic seemed to spark an epiphany.
“Cole Kmet is going to start playing more in this offense,” Nagy said resolutely after that game. “He’s deserved it. He earns it. He’s a guy that I think I’m really proud of the way he’s playing. For us, we have to be aware of that, understand that and start using him more.”
Since that game, Kmet has indeed played more snaps — 101 of 197 (51.3%) against the Saints (30 snaps), Titans (36) and Vikings (35). But it hasn’t translated to production. In those three games since Nagy’s edict, Kmet has been targeted four times, with two receptions for nine yards.
Therein lies yet another red flag for Nagy’s offense. No matter how hard the Bears try, they can’t get the ball to a player who is expected to be developing into a key weapon. And while Kmet still needs time to develop into the tight end the Bears envisioned when they drafted him in the second round in April, he’s at the point where he should be a big factor in a good offense.
And there’s the rub.
“Nothing wrong with Cole; it’s wrong with us,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said with refreshing candor last month when asked about Kmet’s production. “The problem is us.”
The question came up again after Kmet had one reception for seven yards on three targets against the Vikings — the lone catch coming when he cut in front of Allen Robinson to make the catch. When will Kmet be more productive in this offense?
“There’s nothing holding Cole back from doing that,” tight ends coach Clancy Barone said. “I’ve had guys in the past that are held back. . . . I’ve had basketball players that transitioned to the NFL — they just don’t know football, [and] that holds them back.
‘‘I’ve had guys that maybe weren’t bright, and it took them awhile to learn everything, and that held them back. That’s not the issue with Cole. There’s nothing holding Cole back.”
The only thing holding Kmet back, it seems, is the Bears’ offense, which is ranked 31st in the NFL in total yards, 32nd in rushing and 25th in passing. He’s ready whenever the offense is. Kmet has seven receptions for 86 yards (12.3 average) and one touchdown.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get a text or something from Cole at whatever time of night,” Barone said, “ ‘Hey, Clancy, I’m looking at play 23 in their game against so-and-so. How should I do this? What about if I do it this way?’ He’s constantly researching and trying to grow and trying to learn more. The guy’s a throwback. He’s a fantastic student of the game.”
It might only be a matter of time. For what it’s worth, Kmet (35) played more snaps than Jimmy Graham (29) for the first time this season in the Bears’ loss to the Vikings last week. Before that game, Graham had played 69% of the offensive snaps (423); Kmet had played 34.7% (213).
“That’s not something I -really worry about,” Kmet said last month. “I’m gonna let the coaches take care of that — whether I play five plays, 20 plays [or] 60 plays in a game. I’m just gonna control my end of things.
“So when I am out there, I’m gonna make sure if the ball does come my way, I’m making that play, and I’m executing on all of my blocking assignments. I’m just gonna make sure I’m doing my job for the plays that I’m in.”