For a work-in-progress offense, it’s a good problem to have: In two games under Matt Nagy, the Bears have driven 86 and 96 yards for touchdowns on their opening drives against the Packers and Seahawks, then have struggled to match that success the rest of the game.
The numbers more clearly illustrate the disparity: The Bears are averaging 9.1 yards per play on their first series and 3.5 yards per play after that.
Maybe the Bears should stick to the script. That’s when they seem to do their best work. It’s almost like the first drive is a multiple-choice test, and after that, it’s the dreaded essay.
“It’s where we’re at right now,” Nagy said. “When you have a first 15 [plays scripted], these guys have these plays the night before, so they’re able to really hammer through and study them and see where we’re at — and, to me, that’s exciting.
“The fact that they’re able to study this stuff and really understand what they’re supposed to do when it’s given to them — it’s kind of the answers before the test, and they’re producing. They’ve done it twice now.”
That is arguably the most tangible sign of an upgrade from the Bears’ offense under John Fox and coordinators Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains. In Fox’s three seasons, the Bears scored a touchdown on their opening drive five times in 48 games. Under Nagy, they’re already 2-for-2.
That has helped the Bears play with a lead for 49:58 against the Packers and 49:55 against the Seahawks. The Bears’ defense has played 106 of 123 snaps (86.2 percent) with the lead this season. In 2017, the Bears’ defense played 360 snaps with the lead all season (34.1 percent).
The offense has yet to take advantage of having the wind at its back.
The Bears have scored one touchdown on 17 drives with the lead in their first two games — an 11-play, 66-yard drive with no third-down plays, capped by Mitch Trubisky’s 10-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller on the second play of the fourth quarter against the Seahawks.
“Now the next step is they’ve got to be able to do it without given [plays],” Nagy said. “They need to understand the whole process, and that’s where we’re going to slowly get there.”
But when? Nagy is preaching patience and, even as a rookie coach, has earned some trust-me equity. The argument that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a year’s experience learning an offense that already was in high gear makes sense. But when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield — a rookie off the bench in his first NFL game — ignites a morbid offense when he wasn’t even expecting to play, the patience can easily give way to anxiety.
“What I’m trying to say is, we want this to happen as fast as we can,” Nagy said. “But this is not something that happens day by day or week by week. So we’ve got to figure out as coaches how to put them in the best possible scenario, and then when they have opportunities to make plays, they’ve got to make plays.’’
Sounds like a plan. But the sooner, the better. It’s still very early. But it gets late quickly around here this time of year.