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Grounded Bears offense looking for post-bye spark

Coach Matt Nagy is hoping a revived run game can help cure the Bears’ other offensive maladies — quarterback rating (27th), third-down efficiency (31st) and red-zone touchdown percentage (31st). 

The Bears had 149 total yards in a 19-13 loss to the Vikings on Monday Night Football on Nov. 16 and finished with Tyler Bray at quarterback in place of injured starter Nick Foles. It was the Bears’ lowest offensive total in Matt Nagy’s three seasons.
The Bears had 149 total yards in a 19-13 loss to the Vikings on Monday Night Football on Nov. 16 and finished with Tyler Bray at quarterback in place of injured starter Nick Foles. It was the Bears’ lowest offensive total in Matt Nagy’s three seasons.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t just self-scout during the bye week. He watched the Packers-Colts game with even more interest than a lot of Bears fans anticipating the game Sunday night against Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

“You saw a team [the Packers] that came out throwing a bunch of haymakers early in that first half,” Nagy said, referring to Green Bay scoring three consecutive touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 28-14 halftime lead. “And I thought Indianapolis did a really good job of weathering the storm, and they never panicked. They came out and did a very good job of limiting them in the third quarter, then got the ball and were effective scoring touchdowns. And then before you know it, it’s a tie game.”

The Colts’ second-half comeback for a 34-31 overtime victory at Lucas Oil Stadium was a double-tiered lesson for Nagy — not only how to attack the Packers’ defense, but how to parlay halftime adjustments into a big third quarter. The Bears not only have scored the fewest third-quarter points in the NFL (14), but have the biggest third-quarter scoring differential (minus-48).

Nagy surely noticed that despite being down by two touchdowns at halftime, Indianapolis ignited its rally with an effective running game. After being held to 3.3 yards per carry in the first half (13 carries, 43 yards), the Colts ran the ball the first eight plays of the second half — for 55 yards (6.9 average).

That led to a field goal but also seemed like a body blow that threw Green Bay for a loop. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had back-to-back three-and-outs to start the third quarter — only the third time the Packers have had consecutive three-and-outs this season. And they fumbled a kickoff that the Colts recovered. The Colts outscored Green Bay 20-3 in the second half and overtime.

So while the Bears have a quarterback issue to sort out with Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky recovering from injury and third-stringer Tyler Bray also a possibility, Nagy’s post-bye review centered on the Bears’ beleaguered 32nd-ranked running game.

“I feel like we have a good pulse on knowing that, big picture, the struggle to run the football is where a lot of stuff starts,” Nagy said. “Different reasons for that. Is that scheme? Is that execution? Is it a little of both?

“And then knowing, ‘OK, that has to get better.’ I don’t care who we’re playing, the run game has to get better. You just see teams across the league that are able to establish the run. It opens up other areas of the field.”

Nagy is hoping a revived running game can help cure the Bears’ other offensive maladies — quarterback efficiency (27th), third-down efficiency (31st) and red-zone percentage (31st).

With running back David Montgomery expected to return after missing the Vikings game with a concussion, an improved running game could give the Bears’ offense the boost it’s looking for. Four opponents after the bye are ranked near the bottom of the NFL in total defense: the Lions (27th), Texans (31st), Vikings (22nd) and Jaguars (30th).

“The biggest thing I think we took away [from the bye] is understanding schematically where we’re at,” Nagy said. “These weeks go by so fast that you get this four-day break and you’re able to pull back and look underneath all the layers of where you are across the league. Third down . . . red zone . . . the run game. You have to be able to come up with answers and solve that and be better the rest of the season.

“That’s where you rely on your coaching staff and your players. We’ve got to coach better, and they have to play better. That’s what it comes down to.”