Matt Nagy, Bears getting exactly the season they should’ve expected
Everything has gone as expected for the 4-8 Bears. The formula of a castoff quarterback plus a shaky offensive line plus a coach who can’t get his own offense working plus an eroded defense with glaring holes in the secondary equals a bad team.
This has been another exasperating Bears season to heap onto the pile of them, and they’ve plunged so deep into the sewage that no one points out the stench anymore. They’ve gotten used to it.
But it’s neither surprising nor disappointing. This season has gone exactly as it was designed.
The formula of a castoff quarterback plus a shaky offensive line plus a coach who can’t get his own offense working plus an eroded defense with glaring holes in the secondary equals a 4-8 team.
When you swoop in to sign 34-year-old Andy Dalton after the Bengals spent nearly a decade unable to decide whether he was good and the Cowboys wanted him last season only as a backup, you get an extremely limited quarterback liable to throw four interceptions.
And if coach Matt Nagy had his way, he would have spent all season riding Dalton to mediocrity — he’s 27th in yards per pass — while rookie Justin Fields learned from the bench. It’s unclear which of them will start Sunday against the Packers, by the way, as Dalton deals with an injured left (non-throwing) hand and Fields continues to recover from cracked ribs.
Any guess on the last time Dalton flung four interceptions before his debacle Sunday against the Cardinals? Less than two years ago. It was recent enough that the Bears would have studied film of it going into free agency in the spring. It was the fifth time in his career he had thrown four picks, and only freewheeling Jameis Winston has more such games in the last nine seasons.
Funny how the quarterbacks keep changing but the results don’t. Nagy has shuffled through Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Nick Foles, Dalton and Fields — all guys he chose, even Trubisky by virtue of picking this job in 2018.
What was so magical about Dalton, who hasn’t posted a 90-plus passer rating since 2016, to make Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace think he would be the one to unlock this offense?
It’s looking more and more like the quarterback Nagy needs is Patrick Mahomes. Sorry, not available.
Nagy solidified the rest of the personnel with what he thought were ideal fits and is in his fourth season of installing an offense he swears is just about to click. To date, however, that offense has scored 20 points or fewer in almost half the games he has coached.
A little more than a month ago, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks called on everyone to ‘‘appreciate the offense for stepping up and putting up points’’ after the Bears scored 22 against the 49ers — the same total they managed in their loss Sunday to the Cardinals. There are 18 teams averaging that this season, but that qualifies as a good day for a team that sits 30th at 16.8 points per game.
It’s always ‘‘almost,’’ ‘‘sometimes’’ and ‘‘if only’’ with this offense. That’s normal in the first year, but it’s alarming in the fourth.
Nagy can point to drives but no points, yards but no scoring, sparks but no fire.
‘‘If we can just minimize those mistakes, I think we can be a lot better,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And I think it showed with some of our numbers [in the Cardinals game]. But against a really good football team, that’s trouble.’’
And now he faces another one in the Packers. ‘‘Almost’’ comes up a lot in this rivalry, too.
Allegedly, it was progress that the Bears were down by only a field goal in the fourth quarter two months ago, only to lose by 10. But wasn’t it supposed to be progress in the 2020 finale, when they were within five in the fourth quarter of an eventual 35-16 loss?
The time for progress has passed. Four seasons in, results are long overdue. And everyone, including Nagy, knows it.
Most of this season has followed the expected path, with the exception of the Bears’ victory at the Raiders in Week 5. Anytime they’ve faced a top-tier opponent, they’ve had no chance. The Cardinals didn’t even play that well and still won handily. Nagy went a combined 3-11 against playoff teams in 2019 and 2020 and is 1-6 against teams on track to make the postseason in 2021.
That’s why he doesn’t flinch when questions at his news conferences regularly are prefaced with the implication that he’s going to get fired. He has been addressing it matter-of-factly.
Nagy’s search for the ‘‘whys’’ has come up empty. They’ve escaped him for good. Now it’s on to the ‘‘whens,’’ as in when the Bears will finalize a foregone conclusion.
The inevitability of change but the delay in enacting it makes these last five games a waste of time. In a way, after chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips opted to keep everything the same after the Bears went 16-16 in the last two seasons, this entire season has been a needless delay.
Nagy will fight that to the end, understandably, and hinted Monday at the ludicrous notion of the Bears scrambling to a playoff berth.
‘‘There’s a lot of things that can happen in the next five games,’’ he said. ‘‘We control that.’’
The Bears can’t even control their own coach-to-quarterback radio transmitter. To say anything is in their control at this point is absurd. Sure, they face a bunch of bad teams down the stretch, but they’re a bad team, too. Every remaining opponent has a better point differential than the Bears, and none has a worse record.
And the undercurrent to that far-fetched conversation is that it wouldn’t mean anything if they pulled it off.
It shouldn’t have meant anything last season, either, when the Bears feasted on some of the NFL’s worst teams to reach 8-8 and get the last spot in the playoffs. That playoff berth didn’t stamp 2020 as a good season, and reality set in yet again when the Bears predictably got trounced by the Saints in the first round.
It was equally predictable that if they stayed with the same approach, they would end up sitting precisely where they are right now. This is where they were headed all along.