Bears Keep Getting Caught Behind the Chains
Successful play calls seemed to come so naturally to Bears coach Matt Nagy last season.
It always seems this way when your team is executing.
Whether it's play calling, lack of execution, or just better defenses, the Bears offense has spun its wheels and the failure seems to breed more failure in several ways.
"It definitely affects you," Nagy said Monday.
The most damaging problem for the Bears has been failure on early downs, leading to third-and-long.
It happened at the outset Sunday, when David Montgomery gained 5 yards on first down, then the Bears had a 4-yard loss and faced third-and-9. They eventually punted.
"Yeah, just bad plays on first and second down," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky told reporters after the game. "Not being in third and manageable, hurting ourselves, not doing the simple things and credit going against a good defense.
"When you hurt yourself and you don't create positive plays, you put yourself in a tough position."
It caused a series of three-and-outs to begin Sunday's game, five of them to be exact.
"It just snow-balled yesterday in all the series and what it does is it affects the (Bears) defense," Nagy said. "They're on the field more.
"They have almost double the amount of plays, time of possession, etc. So it makes it hard."
The negative plays stacked up high against the Eagles very early.
"You're gonna have those negative plays at times," Nagy said. "What you can't do is have 'em repeatedly. And then you have a couple of guys get beat across their face, you have a holding penalty, you have a sack, you have a false start and then you have a drop.
"It's almost like it's contagious. And that's what has to stop."
The Bears script plays to start games like most teams do, but their troubles on first and second downs have been part of the reason they've also had trouble on their first possession of games.
They drove to a touchdown on their first possession once, in the 16-6 win over the Vikings when Chase Daniel replaced Trubisky due to injury. When they're constantly behind or tied, it becomes challenging.
On first possessions this year they've had four three-and-outs, a four-and-out and then seven-play and nine-play drives that ended with punts. Last year, it was quite different as they had five touchdown drives on their first possessions, and in nine games led first.
"We have not been effective to start the game with those drives," Nagy said. "That's been hard. We've had a couple games where we've gotten it going and then there's been the penalty to knock us back. We haven't had that one drive like Green Bay last year, the first game of the year where we just went (snapping his fingers) right down the field and scored a touchdown.
"We'd like to get to that. There's so many factors that go into that, with exactly the why part — and they've all been a little bit different; different people at different times, so that's been the challenging part."
The failure to score or even produce positive yardage, leads to punts, lack of possession time, and plays. That, in turn, puts more pressure on the play calling. It becomes the proverbial vicious circle.
"When you go three-and-out, you know, and you go three-and-out, and all of the sudden it's 'OK, man, I really wanted to get to this play,' " Nagy said. "But when you have three plays, one of them is on third down. And so you have a whole section on your call sheet for third down that's not a lot different. First and second down it's open, it's Pandora's Box, you can do whatever you want.
"Third down, depending on where you're at in the sticks they know you're throwing the ball. Now you take that to another level, now it's third-and-8, third-and-9, I think we had third-and-14 was our second one. Third-and-10. You're one-dimensional. So when you don't have those first downs, you don't get into a rhythm. You as a play caller you can't get into the whole play-action game, the movement, the screens, all that, because you're trying to get a first down and that was the struggle yesterday."
The failures of the running game have a good deal to do with these problems because it's there on first and second down where they're not consistently producing enough positive yardage.
"So for me, this whole year we've been talking about the identity of the run game, then the offense and we've had our struggles — obviously we've had our struggles," Nagy said. "And what you do as a coach is you end up trying to figure out, OK, when Week 6 comes what is our identity? Well, we're past Week 6. Right?
"We've done some different things, we've tried different things. And we feel like in some areas we've gotten better and others we haven't."
The three-and-outs and lack of plays in general can't be good for play calling in general.
"I don't feel like it's handicapped me at all, but I do feel like it's not where we were last year," Nagy said. "That's the part that bothers me.
"I want to make sure I do everything I can to do what I know we can do with these players."