Matt Nagy: Fourth year the charm for Bears’ offense
With scant evidence of improvement in the preseason, the Bears’ coach pointed to the Chiefs’ offense that blossomed after a slow start in its early years under Andy Reid. ”I feel like we’re at that spot right now,” he said.
Coach Matt Nagy’s announcement that rookie quarterback Justin Fields will start the preseason finale Saturday against the Titans excited Bears fans eager to see Fields prove he’s worthy of starting sooner rather than later.
But it overshadowed a dubious reality — that Andy Dalton and the Bears’ starting offense will go into the regular season with little live-game preparation and virtually no accomplishment.
It’s one thing for an established offense to coast into the regular season — or even a formative one, as Nagy did in 2019 after a promising foundation year with Mitch Trubisky in 2018. But the Bears’ offense was 26th in the NFL in yards and 22nd in points last season and has a new quarterback and a reformulated offensive line.
And it hasn’t been very impressive with Dalton in the preseason — six points and 144 yards on 30 plays (4.8 yards per play) in eight possessions, 73 of those yards on one play.
Nagy said he plans to play the starting offensive line with Fields against the Titans, with left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Germain Ifedi playing for the first time in the preseason. But Dalton will not play at all, and starting skill-position players are not expected to play. So chemistry will have to come quickly against the Rams on Sept. 12 at SoFi Stadium.
Despite the lack of quantifiable success, Nagy remains confident the offense will improve this season.
“Probably just the way we’ve been practicing,” he said Wednesday. “The tempo, where we’ve been just talking through schematics or where we know we want to be.”
But Nagy also is counting on experience to pay dividends in 2021. This is the fourth season of his offense with the Bears. That’s when it starts to click, he said.
“When I first got here . . . I explained to everybody that this offense, it takes a few years to get going,” Nagy said. “We saw that in Kansas City because it took a few years, not just with the players that were coming in and were drafted, but the scheme — them learning it and understanding it.
“After three or four years, it really started picking up and going. I feel like we’re at that spot right now. We’ve got some guys that have been on this team for two, three, four years, and they know the offense as well as I do — where that wasn’t the case two or three years ago. When you have that and you have a guy like Andy and these quarterbacks that come in and understand it, that’s where it gives me confidence.”
The Chiefs’ offense made strides in its fourth year under Andy Reid but actually blossomed in its fifth year. The Chiefs were 21st, 25th, 27th and 20th in yards in the first four seasons under Reid — then fifth, first, sixth and first in the last four.
But quarterback Alex Smith grew up in that offense as the Chiefs added tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt. The Bears have Dalton in his first year with the team. In fact, only four starters have more than two seasons in Nagy’s offense.
And the Chiefs were ninth in the NFL in scoring in Reid’s third season. The Bears were 22nd in Nagy’s third season. Even if the Bears are on the right path, they appear to have a lot to prove.
“We’ve got to do that — we know that, of course,” Nagy said. “Knowing the offensive line, these tight ends, the wide receivers — there are a couple of new ones, but they’re doing well — and then Andy and the quarterbacks in general, the running backs. It’s a really good foundation now, in my opinion. That’s why I feel good about it.”