Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Nagy needs to point thumb at offense

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Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Nagy needs to point at offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bears’ season is spiraling out of control as the losing streak has hit five games. With a quick turnaround to Thursday’s Thanksgiving game in Detroit, here are this week’s 10 Bears Things: 

1. Biggest problem remains the Bears' offense

Having lost five games in a row with a flight to Detroit looming on Wednesday, Bears head coach Matt Nagy was asked Monday how he plans on rallying his team on a short week. 

The answer was 370 words and officially two minutes and four seconds long. At no point did Nagy explain how he planned on rallying the team, but, finally, in the last sentence of his answer, he (kind of) addressed the question:

“Long answer to your question, but we have to keep fighting because we know where we’re at. That’s the way these guys are wired and that’s what I appreciate about them.”

It’s hard to have answers in the Bears’ current situation, but that’s not why I bring this exchange up. Most of his long-winded response was a recap of the last two losses, both of which involved the defense coughing up the lead in the final moments of the game. But almost none of the 370 words mentioned the team’s biggest problem: the offense. In fact, only four words even hinted at an offensive problem.

“No points at halftime,” Nagy said in passing.

No points until 8:12 remaining in the third quarter, to be exact. 

The Bears can lament blowing late leads in back-to-back games — and the way in which it happened Sunday was certainly a big problem — but with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson sidelined, it shouldn’t have been a one-score game in the fourth quarter. The Bears’ offense was facing one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL and managed only 13 measly points. 

So how should Nagy rally his team on a short week? You’re playing the winless Detroit Lions. Find a way to score more touchdowns. 

2. Bears look unprepared

The second-half timeout usage received plenty of deserved criticism after the game, but there were plenty of other issues throughout the game:

- The Bears were called for a false start on the first play of the third quarter, coming right out of halftime. Tight end Cole Kmet was flagged, but he was one of five Bears players who moved, including both wide receivers and both running backs. Justin Fields was clearly calling for the snap, but center Sam Mustipher didn’t snap the ball.

“That’s extremely frustrating and something that just can’t happen. It’s inexcusable,” Kmet said. “A little cadence issue. I think the line thought that we were going on a double count and the receivers and myself included, I think we all were under the assumption we were going on one. Gotta be better communication there between all of us. That just can’t happen.”

- On 4th-and-6 with 1:48 left in the game — the most crucial play of the game — future Hall of Fame left tackle jumped before the snap, creating a 4th-and-11. Fortunately, Andy Dalton hit Marquise Goodwin for the go-ahead 49-yard touchdown on the next snap.

- The Bears also had multiple substitution problems on defense. With 25 seconds left in the second quarter, the Ravens snapped the ball while two defensive backs were still running on the field for the Bears. Cornerback Kindle Vildor was running across the field at the snap and Tyler Huntley was able to make an easy throw to Rashod Bateman for a 15-yard gain. Later in the third quarter, the Bears were flagged for having too many men on the field when nose tackle Eddie Goldman couldn’t get off the field before the snap. 

All of these situations are a bad look for a sloppy football team.

3. Tough injury for Justin Fields

Nagy said he wasn’t sure if Fields’ ribs injury occurred on one specific play or was a cumulative effect of many hits, but the rookie quarterback’s six-yard scramble with 12:12 left in the third quarter was the final blow. Fields didn’t actually take a shot on the play, but landed hard on his back as he was twisted down by Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser. 

Worse, it was an unnecessary blow because Fields had an opportunity to dump the ball off to running back David Montgomery, who was open in the flat with one man to miss for a big gain. Instead, Fields delivered a pump fake, hoping to open up a big running lane in the middle of the field. 

“Well, (Montgomery) was open. And (Fields) could have (thrown him the ball),” Nagy said. “But at the same time, too, he could have pumped it and the kid, the linebacker, went running to 32 and then it works and it looks great and he runs for a first down. I think he was probably going off of instincts. If he would have thrown it to 32, great, but he didn’t and he almost broke the tackle.”

If Fields was already hurting, he might not have finished the game anyway, but as the rookie continues to take a beating in his first NFL season, he’d be smart to dump the ball off to his other weapons when they are open to save his body.

4. A game to forget

Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor had a rough game with two crucial pass interference calls, but he was also the apparent culprit of the busted coverage on 3rd-and-12 with 33 seconds left in the game, which led to the Ravens’ game-winning touchdown.

When asked if receiver Sammy Watkins was Vildor’s responsibility coming out of the Ravens’ bunch formation, Nagy said:

“I think most likely, but again, we have our own little rules and they have communication tools that they use within the bunch sets, so there’s a little bit of details that go into that. So it looks like it to all of us, yeah it’s on Kindle, but they have their own set of rules of communicating and who has what with the way they defend the bunch set.”

It should be noted that backup nickel back Marqui Christian was also involved in that communication and he was in there because Duke Shelley suffered a hamstring injury on punt coverage earlier in the game. Christian was the starting nickel back in Week 1 against the Rams, but was quickly benched after the secondary had multiple blown coverages in that first game.

So what needs to change in the secondary?

“We need to change. The defensive backs,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said Monday. “At the end of the day, we’ve just got to be better. Whatever it is, if it’s communication, if it’s execution, if it’s lack of focus, whatever it is in that moment, we have to lock in and make a conscious effort just to execute.”

Regardless of who shoulders the blame — and in this case, it appears Vildor was the main culprit — the Bears clearly have depth issues in their secondary and it’s a unit that needs to be upgraded in the offseason.

5. Defensive bright spots

Despite how thin the secondary is these days, two veterans on the Bears’ defense deserve a lot of credit for how they played Sunday. Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn were flying around the field from start to finish, doing everything they could in their power to win the game.

Smith finished with 17 tackles (13 solo) and two tackles for loss. Quinn had 3.5 sacks, 3 TFLs, 4 QB hits and a forced fumble. 

So it wasn’t surprising that Smith was visibly upset after the Ravens scored and Quinn was disgusted in his postgame interview.

“It’s sickening,” he said.

Even with Huntley playing for the Ravens, it’s not easy playing an NFL game without Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson. Smith and Quinn did everything they could to pick up the defense.

6. Good day for the Gipsons

It had been a long time since the defense came up with a timely takeaway, but that’s exactly what safety Tashaun Gipson did when he took the ball out of Ravens tight end Mark Andrews’ arms with 9:17 left in the game. The interception came right after the Bears’ botched 4th-and-1 Wildcat attempt. Unfortunately — getting back to Thing No. 1 in this column — the offense followed the interception with an immediate 3-and-out.

The Bears’ other Gipson — outside linebacker Trevis Gipson — also had a strong game, finishing with five tackles, a sack, two TFLs and QB hit. The second-year edge rusher out of Tulsa is showing signs of breaking out in his second season and that would be a welcomed development with Mack out for the year with a toe injury. 

7. A rare Santos miss

Kicker Cairo Santos’ franchise-record streak of 40 straight made field goals ended on the inexplicable decision to attempt a 65-yarder at the horn in Pittsburgh and it’s fair to wonder if that miss led to the 40-yard miss on the Bears’ opening drive against the Ravens.

To be clear: if it did, that’s mostly on the player because it’s always the kicker’s responsibility to make the next kick. 

That said, the carryover effect from the streak ending is fair to question, especially considering Santos was so locked in during a stretch that goes all the way back to Week 3 of the 2020 season. Sunday’s miss was a straight pull to the left, which we haven’t seen since the beginning of last season. 

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was never going to throw Nagy under the bus for the decision to try an impossible 65-yarder instead of a Hail Mary in Pittsburgh, but this quote last week was still noteworthy:

“I can promise you this — and I would never talk about our conversations on the sidelines — but as a coach, you never say, 'Um, I don't know, Coach, because we have a streak going.' We're always going to do whatever we can to try to win the game.”

That would be understandable if the kick was maybe 55 yards, which is Santo’s career-high. But the longest field goal ever made at Heinz Field is 56 yards. A 65-yarder in that stadium simply had no chance. Even Justin Tucker’s 66-yarder inside at Ford Field earlier this season hit the upright before bouncing in.

So why wouldn’t the streak come up in that situation? It should. Stuff like that matters to players and it was the one really positive thing the Bears had going for them in this miserable season. The Hail Mary was the better call even if there wasn’t a field goal streak on the line, but the streak should have made that decision even easier to make.

Is it possible Santos would have missed the 40-yarder against the Ravens anyway? Sure. But considering how locked in he was before the streak ended, I doubt it. 

And remember, the Bears lost by three points.

8. Short turnaround

With Fields getting further tests done on his ribs Monday, it stands to reason that he wasn’t very involved in team activities as the Bears quickly turned their focus to the Detroit Lions. On these short weeks, the film review from the last game gets greatly condensed, if not eliminated, and the focus of meetings turns towards the next opponent.

It’s a small advantage, but it did help that the Bears had a bye week before this quick stretch of two games in five days.

"I think (the bye week helped) because we talked about it going into the bye week, that we've gotta get right and understand we've got this quick turnaround,” Nagy said last week. “I think it's three games in 15 days that we're playing. We had three games in 12 a few years ago and we went 3-0 in that stretch. We need to understand that the other one is gonna creep up on us.”

At this point, any non-rookie is used to the Sunday to Thursday turnaround because every team goes through it every season, and perhaps that’s another reason to lean on Andy Dalton at quarterback this week. If Fields is healthy, he absolutely should be the starter, but one would have to assume he’d at least be playing in significant pain if he tried to go Thursday.

Considering all their problems, the Bears have a pretty decent quarterback situation right now. Dalton is a good backup to turn to in this situation, especially on a short week.

9. Opponent look-ahead: Detroit Lions

The Lions are still winless at 0-9-1, but four of their losses have been within one possession and they managed to tie the Steelers in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. At a minimum, they’ll be feisty on Thursday.

Starting quarterback Jared Goff’s health is in question, which means backup Tim Boyle could get his second straight start. You’d think that would be an advantage for the Bears, but they learned against the Ravens that the opponent’s quarterback situation doesn’t matter if they can’t score enough points themselves. 

10. Final word

We’ll let Jaylon Johnson have the final word this week:

“How many games have we lost in a row? Yeah, there's nothing to talk about. We aren't going to beat a dead horse. Like I said, we are all men. Coming in here and saying, ‘We have to figure out a way,’ to me, it's BS. Like we aren't going to keep talking. We have to find ways to win, we just have to get it done. Whatever it is. There's nothing to keep coming in here and talking about, and having all these rah-rah speeches. We've had five weeks of rah-rah speeches. I don't think that talking is anything we need to be doing."

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