Matt Nagy stated the obvious during his 24-minute postmortem Monday following the defeat to the New Orleans Saints — his offense is failing to grow according to plan — albeit with as much patience and detail as one can expect from a head coach in this setting.
Nagy was tougher than usual on his embattled QB Mitch Trubisky, who played one of his worst games as a pro in his return to the lineup from a left-shoulder injury sustained three weeks earlier. But suddenly under similarly intense scrutiny as Trubisky, Nagy was once again careful to point out that, QB-driven scheme or not, it takes more than one player to make the offense progress or, in the case of these Bears, go backward.
Our resident QB expert Mark Schofield went in-depth earlier Monday on Trubisky's Day of Reckoning, and our boss Hub Arkush will have another column later on the Mitch-Matt dynamic. So we thought we'd look at the few plays that Nagy chose to single out Monday, in order to highlight how the offensive failures aren't limited to the quarterback and play caller.
First up, naturally, was the first play of the game, a handoff to Tarik Cohen designed to go in between the left guard and left tackle. We're not O-line experts by any stretch, but usually a safe bet: the blocker on the ground didn't do his job. That'd be newly extended LG Cody Whitehair (No. 65), who gets manhandled and tossed by Saints DT Malcom Brown (No. 90).
Only three plays later, Saints DB J.T. Gray (No. 48), the "looper" on New Orleans' punt-block team, comes free through the middle untouched to reject Pat O'Donnell's punt. It appears that either DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 36), Joel Iyiegbuniwe (No. 45) or Ben Braunecker (No. 82) misses his assignment, and following O'Donnell's smart decision to illegally bat the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety, the Bears trail 2-0 less than two minutes into their first action in two weeks.
“It was just a miscommunication," O'Donnell said afterward. "It was basically just a 4-by-4 look. It was a looper, so he came free.”
Whether Iyiegbuniwe's return from a one-game absence with a hamstring injury played a part in the miscommunication isn't clear, but the Bears are immediately fighting an uphill battle.
The next play specifically mentioned by Nagy is the failed jet sweep to Anthony Miller two series later on second-and-6, with the Bears' issues to run the ball already evident after only three yards on their first three attempts. There are three blockers — Rashaad Coward, Bobby Massie and, eventually, David Montgomery — all occupying one Saints defender. The problem: that leaves Miller one-on-one with Saints S Vonn Bell, who comes up with the strip and recovery, setting them up deep in Bears territory to score the game's first touchdown and put the home team in a stunning 9-0 first-quarter deficit.
Before admitting that three Bears blockers on one Saints defender, leaving not only Bell but a linebacker free behind him, isn't proper execution — "Trust me, I'm with you," Nagy said — he points out the same play from last season's win in Buffalo as evidence that the play can and should work.
That nine-yard end-around to Miller on the game's first play indeed blocked up better, with the backside O-linemen (Whitehair and Massie, No. 70) even getting all the way out past the second level. Jordan Howard (No. 24) and a Bears player whose back is turned to the camera get hats on Buffalo's 'backers and Miller uses his speed to gain the edge.
Was Montgomery supposed to block Bell rather than creating a triple-team on the other Saints defender? We can't say for sure but that's the assumption here.
Finally, the Montgomery fumble, his first in the NFL, coming on the Bears' first play on offense to begin the second half, immediately following the Saints' three-minute, 75-yard TD drive that extended the lead to 19-0. The interior guys get movement. Charles Leno gets to the second level. Heck, even with Trey Burton struggling at the point vs. a much longer, more powerful Marcus Davenport, the Bears would gladly take this four-yard gain from their top pick.
But Montgomery, as he's wont to do, is fighting for every inch here, and after he's gang tackled with Davenport the first on the scene, the third arriving defender Marcus Williams dislodges the ball and, subsequently, disengage Nagy from his desire to run the football for good Sunday.
Although the Bears benefit from Wil Lutz missing a 52-yard field goal following the sudden change, Nagy, who regained possession with 10:17 remaining in the third quarter of a nine-point game, doesn't handoff again to a back (Cordarrelle Patterson gets the final carry, a two-yarder off left end following yet another three-and-out).
Frustrating, to be sure. But now you've seen a few examples of the plays that seemed to most frustrate Nagy Sunday and led to his pass-crazed game-plan (56 dropbacks against only seven rushes).