Matt Nagy again promises to fix Bears’ offense after 26-6 loss to Browns
It was the Bears’ 22nd time scoring fewer than 20 points in Nagy’s 53 games as coach. How much more of this can the organization tolerate?
CLEVELAND — It has come to this for the Bears: A visit to the Browns, historically the NFL’s biggest punch line, left coach Matt Nagy bitterly disappointed and borderline despondent.
Three weeks into the season, after a 26-6 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium, it’s already time to start asking whether Nagy has solutions or whether it’s going to be four more months of this slog.
Not that it hasn’t been asked repeatedly in the last three seasons, but confidence in Nagy plunged to a new depth Sunday. It’s funny how rock bottom never really is the bottom for the Bears.
‘‘You almost can’t even make it up,’’ Nagy said of the offense. ‘‘It’s that bad.’’
Same for his inexplicably impervious job security.
It’s baffling how much the Bears tolerate from an offensive guru whose offense is offensive and a quarterback whisperer whose quarterbacks frequently flounder. There’s nothing profound or new about Nagy saying: ‘‘I obviously did not do a good enough job of getting this offense ready to go . . . so it starts with me [and] ends with me, and it’s as simple as that.’’
There has been some version of that regularly since the glory days of 2018, but nothing changes.
When a coach says that, it’s usually to shield his players. And it’s unclear what Nagy intended by taking all the blame, but he certainly deserves the majority of it.
Rather than use all the advantages of rookie quarterback Justin Fields’ mobility and the Browns having minimal film on him, Nagy steered the offense into its worst performance of his tenure with the Bears.
The Bears produced 47 net yards — their fewest since 1981 — and managed two field goals on 10 possessions. Including the playoffs, it was the 22nd time they had scored fewer than 20 points in Nagy’s 53 games.
Didn’t he say Year 4 was when this offense typically clicks?
Like Nagy said, the performance was atrocious beyond imagination. It was another hit from the coach who brought you, ‘‘You’ve gotta soul-search,’’ after getting blown out by the Packers last season; ‘‘I don’t know,’’ after collapsing against the Lions; ‘‘I’m not an idiot,’’ after setting the franchise record for fewest running plays in a game; and, ‘‘We know this isn’t good enough,’’ after getting shut down by the Saints in the recent playoff game.
We’ve been here before with him. Many times.
Fields will endure inevitable rookie struggles, but he’s not the problem. The Bears wouldn’t have looked much, if any, better with Andy Dalton.
It’s reasonable, after five months of Nagy working with Fields, to suspect he doesn’t understand how to make the most of this prized asset.
The same concern exists with general manager Ryan Pace, who was savvy enough to swing big and trade for Fields but gave him an offensive line reminiscent of a Lego set with missing parts.
Who could have seen trouble coming when the Bears went into the season without anyone who had experience at left tackle and Germain Ifedi playing right tackle?
The idea of playing Ifedi at right tackle, where he wrecked one drive by committing a false start on third-and-one and another by giving up a sack with little resistance, isn’t innovative. The Seahawks tried it and were so disillusioned with a player they had taken in the first round that they ushered him into free agency, where he sat unsigned for weeks before Pace scooped him up.
The group in charge of keeping Fields safe let him get sacked nine times and take six other hits. That means on more than half his 29 dropbacks, the future of the franchise got clobbered. Good luck to him if that’s how the Bears protect him.
Nobody doubts Fields. Everybody doubts Nagy and Pace.
The most sensible thing Nagy could have done was roll Fields out to get some good looks downfield. There wasn’t much of that until almost halftime. He could’ve helped him with extra blockers, too. Every question about those aspects of his game plan was met with some form of him acknowledging they would’ve been good ideas.
‘‘We know what we wanted to do and what we were gonna try to do; [the Browns] did, too,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘You’ve gotta be able to adjust if they’re gonna try to take something away that they think he does well. . . . It’s my job to make sure that [problem] gets fixed.’’
He said that again: ‘‘I’m gonna make sure that this gets fixed.’’ That should’ve happened by now.
All of these frustrations and failings lead to the essential big-picture question: In a season that began with chairman George McCaskey saying vaguely that he wanted to see progress, what exactly is the standard here?
Is there one, or will the Bears keep shrugging helplessly every time they face a good team and hope they pile up enough victories against Lions-level opponents to keep their final record from being too lopsided?
There aren’t enough of those teams on the schedule; there never are. The Packers and Buccaneers loom next month, and more heavyweights will follow.
That part is irrelevant anyway. The Bears wouldn’t have beaten anybody with their offensive performance Sunday. And if they stick with Nagy, they are assured of more days like this.
If he didn’t lose their trust in the loss to the Eagles in 2019, in which the Bears’ longest play was a six-yard pass; when he frittered away a home game against the Lions by stubbornly continuing to throw in the final minutes despite leading; or with a phone-booth passing attack that never had a chance two weeks ago against the Rams, he certainly must’ve lost it Sunday.
Otherwise, the truth is what everyone fears: The Bears have no standards.