With his football team fresh off a bye week, Matt Nagy took a fresh approach.
The Bears’ pass-happy head coach opened Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field with ... wait for it ... a run play.
Tiny Tarik Cohen darted behind left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and was swallowed by the Saints after gaining 1 yard.
So much for an adrenaline rush.
Three of the Bears’ first six plays from scrimmage were runs. But Cohen’s second carry netted 0 yards and David Montgomery’s first rush mustered 2 yards, making Nagy fidgety.
When wide receiver Anthony Miller took a toss later in the opening quarter and fumbled the ball away at the Bears 26 after a 1-yard gain, Nagy all but officially pulled the plug on his nonelectric running game.
“It’s really simple math,” Nagy said. “As a playcaller, when it’s second-and-9, second-and-10, second-and-8, and you’re getting first downs throwing it ... (the) objective is to get first downs. I don’t care if I have to throw the ball 60 times a game.
“I want productive plays. It’s not hard.”
It’s been hard for the Bears to win football games lately because their run game continues to sputter as if trying to sprint in a swamp. The return of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from a left-shoulder injury couldn’t provide a spark either. A rusty Trubisky started slowly before padding his numbers late in the Bears’ 36-25 loss that dropped them to 3-3.
In his first start since getting wounded in the Bears’ home win against the Vikings three weeks ago, Trubisky finished 34-of-54 passing for 251 yards. He threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Allen Robinson (7 yards) and Javon Wims (6 yards) after the Saints had built a 36-10 lead.
“We just have no rhythm,” Trubisky said. “It’s not about pointing fingers. We’re struggling as an offense. As we’ve seen with a good offense in the past, when you have a good running game, you have a good passing game. You’re just balanced.”
Nagy acknowledged the Bears’ offensive struggles have affected his once impenetrable defense. Saints backup running back Latavius Murray, who started in place of the injured Alvin Kamara, rushed 27 times for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. In London two weeks ago, the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs burned the Bears for 123 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 26 carries.
While the Saints (and Raiders) committed to the run, the Bears did not. It’s criticism that’s nothing new since Nagy’s arrival last year.
By halftime, the home team had rushed five times for 11 yards.
“The run game early on, just not a lot there,” Nagy said. “So then you go to throwing the ball a little bit.”
Montgomery, the third-round draft pick whom the Bears traded up to acquire with the 73rd overall pick this year, got only one more carry the rest of the game (for 4 yards). He caught 2 passes (targeted twice, 13 yards).
Four total touches?
Nagy was scratching his head, even though he calls the plays.
“You guys seeing a theme here?” Nagy said. “I’m with you.”
For the game, the Bears rushed all of seven times for all of 17 yards. Cohen was the Bears’ leading rusher with 10 yards. Walter Payton’s bobblehead (given to fans when they entered the stadium) could have bounced off defenders and stretched on descent for more yards.
The Saints’ Murray, by the way, sped for 17 yards on one play alone. The 6-1 Saints rushed 35 times for 151 yards.
“The run game has to get going,” Nagy said. “It’s as simple as that. It just has to get going. You can’t run for 17 yards in the NFL and think you’re going to win a game. You should get 17 yards on one run play.”
The Saints did.
The Bears didn’t, and their offense remains stale.