First-and-10: Is there more to Matt Nagy’s offense than the element of surprise?
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A work-in-progress? We’ll see about that.
It’s only Week 1, so Matt Nagy gets the benefit of the doubt that quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the Bears’ offense will learn from experience after an unimpressive opening performance in the 24-23 loss to the Packers on Sunday night.
But it looks like it’s going to take awhile with the rookie head coach and second-year quarterback. Even the brief glimpse of the effectiveness of Nagy’s offense was dubious — the Bears were too dependent on the element of surprise and the unknown. After cloaking the offense in secrecy in the preseason, the Bears gained 139 yards on 18 plays (7.7 yards per play) and scored 10 points on their first two drives.
Once that offense was on an iPad, the Packers adjusted and Trubisky and Nagy had virtually no response. The Bears gained 155 yards on 48 plays (3.2 avg.) and scored six points on their last eight drives.
It was reminiscent of Gary Crowton’s debut as the Bears’ offensive coordinator under Dick Jauron in 1999. With “Inspector Gadget” and his playbook of inventive formations and creative screen passes, the Bears’ offense was a revelation in the first half against the Chiefs in Jauron’s debut — 229 yards, 6.5 yards per play and 20 points. The second half was a different story — 159 yards, 3.9 per play and zero points in a 20-17 victory.
Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham harumphed that Crowton’s offense was merely “razzle dazzle football” — a gimmick that would be easily figured out by NFL defensive coordinators — and most of us thought Cunningham was a big crybaby. But as it turned out, he was right. The Bears were eighth in yards in 1999, but 25th in points and Crowton was gone before the end of the next season.
Nagy’s offense isn’t razzle-dazzle football. And I’m predicting right now that he will still be here by the end of next season. But it’s going to take more than unscouted looks to win in the NFL. With a big early lead against the Packers, Nagy had an ideal opportunity to show us at least a little of what he’s got — just how aggressive he’s going to be and keep an OK-looking defense on its heels. Instead, the offense shriveled, Trubisky floundered and as a play-caller Nagy caught himself zigging when he should have been zagging.
If it gets better from here, it’s all good. But we know around these parts that it’s no sure thing.
2. For what it’s worth, the Chiefs’ offense had a similar debut against the Jaguars in Andy Reid’s first season in 2013, when Nagy was the quarterbacks coach. With veteran quarterback Alex Smith in his first year in that offense, the Chiefs scored three touchdowns in their first six possessions in Week 1, followed by seven consecutive punts in a 28-2 victory. The Chiefs finished 21st in yards and 15th in offensive points that season.
3. When it comes to preparation, the master showed Nagy how it’s done. Reid had Pat Mahomes in mid-season form in his debut as the Chiefs’ No. 1 quarterback. Mahomes completed 15-of-27 passes for 256 yards (9.5 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns without an interception for a 127.5 passer rating in 38-28 road victory over the Chargers.
For those who were keeping score, Mahomes played 71 snaps in three preseason games and threw 43 passes. Trubisky played 40 snaps in two and threw 18 passes.
4. This is so Bears:
“I think the biggest difference for us is having an offense that’s going to score in the first half,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said in June — a frank and, in theory, accurate analysis.
Talk about the best laid plans. That wind-at-their-back scenario came to fruition in the very first game of the Nagy/Trubisky era — the Bears had a 20-0 lead with Hicks, Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, et al. as good as advertised — and Vic Fangio’s defense still collapsed under the pressure of Aaron Rodgers’ irrepressible will.
If it looked familar, it’s because it was. Rodgers’ 51-yard pass to Davante Adams and 75-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb marked the fifth and sixth times in the last three seasons that Fangio’s defense allowed a pass play of 50 or more yards in the fourth quarter (with Rodgers responsible for three of them). That’s tied with the Rams for the most in that span.
Rodgers was down by 17 points in the second half one time all of last year — against the Falcons in Week 2. On the second play, he was sacked by Vic Beasley and fumbled, with Desmond Trufant recovering and returning it for a touchdown for a 31-7 lead. Game over.
Down 17 against the Bears in the second half, Rodgers was 6-of-7 for 85 yards and a touchdown for a near-perfect 156.8 rating.
5. How does he do it? Rodgers’ 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison was a Hall of Fame quarterback making a great play. But the other two big plays in the fourth-quarter — the 51-yard pass to Adams and 75-yard touchdown to Cobb — exemplified Rodgers’ uncanny ability to make defenses play … not smart. One hundred of the 126 yards gained on those two plays came after the catch — a rarity in Rodgers’ history of late-game heroics.
6. Arrow Pointing Up Dept.: The Bears were the only team in the NFL that did not commit a defensive penalty in Week 1 — a shutout that hardly ever happens against Rodgers, especially at Lambeau Field. In fact, it’s the first time the Bears have not committed a defensive penalty in 21 games against Rodgers — including the one in 2013 when he only played seven snaps (Stephen Paea had a facemask penalty on the first play from scrimmage).
The Bears in general were as disciplined as they’ve been for a game at Lambeau in recent years. They had five penalties for 35 yards — the third fewest penalty yards in the league in Week 1. The Packers had eight penalties for 72 yards. That’s the first time since 2009 the Bears have had fewer penalty yards than the Packers at Lambeau (minus-37).
7. The Bears’ entire 2017 wide receiver corps combined for three catches for 27 yards in Week 1 — all by the Cowboys’ Deonte Thompson, who was cut by the Bears in Week 6 last year.
The other 2017 receivers played little if at all: the Bears’ Josh Bellamy (two snaps) and Kevin White (12); and the Falcons’ Markus Wheaton (two). The Saints’ Cam Meredith was inactive. Kendall Wright, Dontrell Inman and Tre McBride are out of the league.
8. Rookie center James Daniels, who turns 21 on Thursday, played five special-teams snaps on PATs and field goals against the Packers. He’s the seventh Bear to play in a game before turning 21.
Fullback Andy Livingston, who returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown against the Vikings at Wrigley Field seven weeks after turning 20 in 1964, is the youngest Bears player in history. Hall of Fame guard Danny Fortmann is the youngest to start (20 years, 169 days in 1936).
The other pre-21 players: Center Billy Autrey (1953), defensive end Alonzo Spellman (1992), running back Rashaan Salaam (1995) and defensive back Al Louis-Jean (2014).
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Panthers defensive end Mario Addison had a strip-sack of the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott that teammate Captain Munnerlyn recovered with 1:27 left in the fourth quarter to seal Carolina’s 16-8 victory.
Addison, who made the Bears as an undrafted free agent out of Troy (Ala.) in 2011 but played only two games before he was cut, has 20.5 sacks in his last 24 games for the Panthers, with at least a share of a sack in 19 of those games.
10. Bear-ometer: 8-8 — vs. Seahawks (W); at Cardinals (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Dolphins (L); vs. Patriots (L); vs. Jets (W); at Bills (W); vs. Lions (W); vs. Vikings (L); at Lions (L); at Giants (L); vs. Rams (L); vs. Packers (W); at 49ers (W); at Vikings (L).