Many thought it was last week’s hammering at the hands of fierce rivals the Green Bay Packers that would sound the death knell for Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace’s tenures as head coach and general manager, respectively, of the Chicago Bears. Instead, this weekend, ‘Da Bears’ plumbed new depths against the lowly Detroit Lions.
The arrival of Mitch Trubisky’s favourite whipping boys in the Windy City seemed to be the perfect tonic for getting Nagy’s team back on track after a defeat to Aaron Rodgers and co that Nagy described as an “embarrassment” last weekend.
After having their way with the Lions on the first half, the Bears took a 10-point lead all the way up to the last 4 minutes of the fourth quarter and somehow conspired to drop a game there seemed no way they could lose right up until Romeo Okwara’s strip sack of Trubisky at the Chicago 9-yard line.
Following this painful, and embarrassing, defeat to their NFC North rivals, who just sacked their own head coach-GM duo of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn after last week, the eventual departure of Nagy and Pace seems more a matter of when, not if.
Matt Nagy and the offense
That first season of Nagy’s stewardship, which ended with the ‘double doink’ against the Eagles, seems more and more of an aberration as the former Chiefs offensive coordinator’s tenure continues. The offense has been putrid for much of the season as well as much of last year’s campaign too.
It hasn’t mattered who is under center, Trubisky or free agent signing Nick Foles, the offense has failed to live up to the expectations many had when Nagy signed on to lead this team.
A key factor in that has been the failure to establish a semblance of balance on the offensive side of the ball. Partly that has been down to poor offensive line play. But partly it has also been Nagy’s lack of commitment to the run game.
In the first half against Detroit, the Bears seemed able to move the ball at will on the ground. The line seemed to be clicking allowing David Montgomery (17 carries, 72 yards, 2 TDs) and Cordarrelle Patterson (10 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD) were able to pick up chunk gains on a scale not seen all season.
Trubisky played a pretty solid game yesterday.
Does #10’s fumble that eventually caused the Lions to comeback and win, overshadow the rest of #10’s game? pic.twitter.com/LFcBAkFgEP
— Bears Nation (5-7) (@BearsNationCHI) December 7, 2020
Then the third quarter came and Nagy (and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor) just stopped running the ball. With the lead. Against a team who couldn’t stop the run.
That contributed to the continuation of the woeful statistic that the Bears offense has only scored only 7 points in all third quarters this season. That is a damning indictment of a coaching staff unable to make half time adjustments.
As the Bears moved toward making the passing game the focus of their second half offense, drives stalled with the unit only scoring 7 points in the fourth quarter on a Trubisky pass to rookie tight end Cole Kmet.
For a guy who was hired because of his offensive nous, the dreadful offensive output this season and last season has to be the biggest black mark on Nagy’s record.
The unit that has in fact been behind much of Nagy’s success with the Bears, has been the defense. It was this unit that helped take pressure off Trubisky and the offense in his first full year as a starter under Nagy, and it has been the defense that has helped prevent the franchise from being NFC North bottom feeders the past couple of seasons.
But it seems now that the weight of that responsibility is too much for this unit. In back to back weeks, against division rivals, the defense has been flat out awful.
Against Matthew Stafford and the Lions, the defense gave up chunk gains through the air, notably on Detroit’s last two scoring drives.
For the majority of the season, Chuck Pagano’s unit has continued to be the dominant force we expect from the Monsters of the Midway, though not quite reaching the levels of previous years. However, they’ve now put together two back to back clunkers of performances.
Is the unit fatigued from being on the field so much due to the offense’s inability to sustain long drives? Is it the scheme? Have the players quit on their defensive coordinator and/or head coach? Nagy and Pagano need to get to the bottom of this. It’s particularly heartbreaking that in a game where the offense actually looked potent, the defense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
This brings us to the man responsible for constructing the roster, general manager Ryan Pace.
Whilst the former Saints personnel man has helped rebuild the Bears from the ageing and underperforming team it was under former decision maker Phil Emery, he has some expensive failures blotting his record in the front office.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 6, 2020
Linked to the underperformance of the defense, the trade for Khalil Mack is looking more and more like an expensive mistake that has cost the Bears valuable first round draft picks. Pace gave up a sizeable haul for the ex-Raiders standout with the hope he would be the final piece that would push Chicago towards Super Bowl contention.
Whilst Mack did make an immediate impact in his first games as a Bear, his impact in the stats sheets has considerably lessened. He might be creating pressure and opportunities for other pass rushers, as Bilal Nichols found on Sunday, but he isn’t making the impact plays that the trade and his contract warrant. This also stands out as Pace mis-evaluating the talent on the Bears roster. Seeing Mack as the missing puzzle piece has led to the Bears lacking resources to direct at other weaknesses, most notably at quarterback and along the offensive line.
Whilst Pace rightly has a reputation for finding talent in the mid to late rounds of the draft (Eddie Jackson, Jordan Howard and Darnell Mooney to name a few), he has a terrible record in the draft’s marquee event: the first round.
Kevin White, Leonard Floyd and Trubisky headline the list of first round busts in Chicago over recent years, with the list shortened by the lack of a first round pick the last two years due to the Mack trade.
If anything though, it will be the failure to land an effective starting calibre signal caller that will spell the end of Pace’s time in Chicago.
After getting out from the onerous contract handed to Jay Cutler by the previous front office, Pace signed Mike Glennon from the Bucs, only for then head coach John Fox to ditch Glennon in favour of the rookie Trubisky. Three underwhelming seasons later, though punctuated with a promising first season under Nagy, Pace turned to Nick Foles to improve the quarterback position. That again, obviously hasn’t worked out.
These have all been expensive mistakes in terms of cap space or draft capital.
The question now becomes who will be tasked with the latest attempt to build a contender in Chicago.