The Bears are the worst third-quarter team in the NFL.
To try to figure out why, the coaching staff has examined every second of the team’s 12-minute halftimes. They’ve tried to streamline conversations among coaches — about unscouted looks they’ve seen and the plays they have yet to run — to less than five minutes. They talk quickly to players about their play-calling preferences and what they’ve seen so far in the first half.
They’ve tweaked their game plans, looking for a spark.
“I think when we talk about it, there’s probably some strategy things that we shouldn’t say [publicly],” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “But then again, they haven’t quite come to fruition. So I guess . . . if we’re holding our cards and they’re not very good cards, it’s not worth holding them.”
The Bears’ 18 drives in the third quarter this season have resulted in 11 punts, six interceptions, one turnover on downs and one touchdown against the Panthers in which three plays were needed to gain the final yard.
“It’s not been good,” Lazor said. “We thought when we scored that touchdown that that would, like, burst the bubble, and it [hasn’t] gone away.”
If anything, the Bears’ performance has gotten worse. And if history is any indication, their third quarter Sunday against the Titans will be brutal, too.
In the third quarter of their eight games this season, the Bears have:
• Averaged 0.9 points. No other team has averaged less than the Giants’ 2.4. Eleven teams average more than five points.
• Thrown a league-worst six interceptions. Only one other team has more than three.
• Turned the ball over on 5.8% of their plays, worst in the NFL.
• Converted a first down just 21.4% of the time. Only the winless Jets have a lower percentage.
• Punted seven times. Only the Jets have punted more.
• Scored just one touchdown. Only two other teams have that distinction.
“We’ve just got to continue to keep fighting and doing whatever we can,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But also focus on it.”
It starts with the first possession of the half — a problem the Bears experienced last year not in the third quarter but the first. Through the first eight games of 2019, they punted seven times and scored one touchdown on their first drive of the game, averaging 3.24 yards.
The assistants are different this year — a new coordinator, quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach and offensive line coach — but Nagy is the constant. And his problem has shifted to the first drive of the third quarter.
Throw out their initial second-half drives against the Lions and Panthers — a combined 56 yards on 11 plays, with two punts — and the Bears would be better off just punting on the first play of the third quarter. In the other six games, they ran 19 plays on the initial drive after the half, totaling just five yards and two interceptions.
That’s 9½ inches per play.
“The biggest thing is just going in at halftime and talking through things, and it’s making sure we’re ready to roll going into the third quarter,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “And that’s something we can work through and get right. But once again, it goes back to trusting one another to get it right.
“The third quarter has been a lull for us throughout the season.”
In Week 2, quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw an interception on the second play of the second half. When he did it on the third play of the second half the next week, he was benched for Foles.
Two weeks ago against the Rams, Ted Ginn Jr. — who has since been cut — let a punt drop and roll to the 1. The Bears ran the ball twice, committed a penalty that was declined and missed a deep shot to Darnell Mooney down the left sideline.
Last Sunday, they ran five plays and gained zero yards, thanks to two flags, before punting to the Saints on fourth-and-23.
“Penalties [have] really derailed many of our drives,” receiver Allen Robinson said. “We’re getting close to the 50-yard line, something like that, third-and-four, third-and-five, we get a delay-of-game or a false start or whatever penalty, and now it’s third-and-11. Things like that really take the momentum out of your drive.”
Nagy also pointed out the flags.
“When you have those, it hurts,” he said. “Because not only does it hurt your field position, but it just hurts your rhythm. If we can just stay away from penalties and stay ahead of the chains, it will really do us wonders.”
It runs deeper than just penalties, though.
“You can’t just throw [the problem] to the side,” Nagy said. “You’ve got to realize that we’re not good in the third quarter — so how do we get better?”