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Matt Nagy’s Bears offense fails Justin Fields in his first NFL start

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 26: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears is sacked during the second quarter in the game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
By Kevin Fishbain Sep 26, 2021

CLEVELAND — Justin Fields’ starting debut was always going to tell us more about Matt Nagy than Fields.

The Bears scored six points. They had 1 net passing yard. One. They were 1-for-11 on third down and gained a grand total of 47 yards of offense.

Fields’ stat line: 6-of-20 passing for 68 yards.

What would the head coach’s offense look like with a quarterback like Fields? There’s your answer.

“There’s the anticipation of the way things go, and I obviously as a head coach did not do a good enough job of getting this offense ready to go, to be able to play and win a football game,” Nagy said. “So, it starts with me, ends with me and it’s as simple as that.”

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much if Nagy can’t fix it.

It’s one thing to point to a rookie quarterback starting his first game on the road against a playoff team. It’s another to have one of the worst displays of offense in the history of a franchise known all too well for quarterback ineptitude.

Was Fields woefully unprepared for the Browns defense, calling into question everything about the scouting process, what we’ve heard everyone say about Fields and what he accomplished at Ohio State?

It’s more likely that Fields was thrown into a broken offense, a system that hasn’t worked with multiple quarterbacks since Nagy arrived in Chicago.

Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky certainly thinks it’s on the head coach.

Move on from Nagy right now. This is embarrassing and it feels purposeful

We expected something other than the offense that hasn’t looked good with Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles or Andy Dalton. We thought the playbook would cater to a player who has a cannon of an arm to go along with his rare speed.

It’s no surprise that Fields seemed overwhelmed — not by the moment, but by the Browns defense. That’s what happens to most rookie quarterbacks in start No. 1. But all week we heard about finding a game plan that makes Fields comfortable, one that would put him in a position to succeed.

On Sunday, the coaching staff failed him in that regard.

Why wasn’t Fields on the move more? Why not cut the field in half, the way the Bears did for Trubisky during last year’s winning streak? Where was the moving pocket? The bootlegs? Baker Mayfield did it successfully for the Browns, so what were the Bears doing? Why not do more to help an offensive line that was overmatched and gave up nine sacks — including 4 1/2 to Myles Garrett? There were four tight ends active, and the Bears barely used them to help with pass protection.

What about the speedy receivers the staff spent all offseason propping up as guys who can unlock the downfield passing game, especially with a deep-ball thrower like Fields? Marquise Goodwin was barely on the field. Damiere Byrd, who was out there a lot, had zero targets.

What about the tight ends who were supposed to be used more? Cole Kmet had one catch on four targets. Jimmy Graham, who barely played, had zero catches on one target. He might have let his frustration show with a retweet of a statistic about the Bears.

For what it’s worth, I had Graham down for only 6 snaps today. He had one target. So, these numbers aren’t his fault!

Tight end Jesse James, who had a nice rapport with Fields in training camp, played one snap. J.P. Holtz, who could have aided the run blocking or pass protection, didn’t play on offense.

David Montgomery’s first run of the game went for 16 yards. His next nine carries went for 15 yards, and Fields — who should be one of the best running quarterbacks in the game — had three rushes for 12 yards.

Remember Fields’ Next Gen Stats passing chart from last week? We wondered if that was a consequence of entering a game that was dialed up for Andy Dalton. Surely, things would change given a full week to prepare.

Instead, this is Fields’ first passing chart as an NFL starter. He had no throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, and only one went for more than 15.


It was the same old offense, only — somehow — worse.

We saw a quarterback standing in the pocket over and over again and getting hit. We saw receivers covered. Yards after the catch weren’t a thing. The only running back screen came at the end of the game. The middle of the field was barely attacked. There was only one shot downfield — a desperation heave from Fields on third-and-19 that drew the gift of a pass-interference penalty.

This isn’t the Jets. This team isn’t in rebuilding mode. It’s not, “Oh, it’s OK, he’s a rookie.” The Bears are in salary-cap hell because of all the veterans they’re paying to get this franchise to the playoffs and finally win there. This team has expectations, maybe not outside the building but certainly in the facility in Lake Forest.

The Bears have been promoting an offense that has improved at the skill positions and along the offensive line. It’s a group that has watched Montgomery blossom into being one of the unit’s best players. Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney are skilled enough receivers who should flourish with Fields. You stick someone as gifted as Fields with this group, and it should score more than six points. It should gain more than 47 yards.

During the John Fox era, I got familiar with Pro Football Reference’s play index tool to find out the rarity of whatever strange and futile feat the offense accomplished.

The whole point of hiring someone like Nagy was that games like we saw under Fox — and several other head coaches in Chicago — wouldn’t happen again. However, Nagy’s offense has found itself in the “historically bad” category one too many times.

Here’s where Sunday stacked up statistically with Fields at quarterback — not Trubisky or Dalton or Foles or Chase Daniel or Jimmy Clausen or Jonathan Quinn or Cade McNown:

• Garrett’s 4 1/2 sacks were the second most ever against the Bears, trailing Aldon Smith’s five (2012).

• The Browns’ nine sacks were the most against the Bears since they allowed a franchise-high 10 to the Giants on Oct. 3, 2010.

• The 47 yards tied for the second fewest by a team in an NFL game since 1999. The only time since at least 1940 the Bears gained fewer yards was Nov. 22, 1981, when they had 24 yards in a loss to the Lions.

• The 68 passing yards were the fewest for the Bears since 2015, when Clausen threw for 48 in a loss to the Seahawks.

• Fields’ six completed passes tied for the fourth fewest in Bears history (minimum 20 attempts).

• Six other quarterbacks in NFL history have been sacked at least nine times while completing fewer than nine passes in a game — Bobby Douglass (1971), Greg Landry (1975), David Whitehurst (1978), Guido Merkens (1987), David Carr (2002) and Jay Cutler (2010). Only Carr and Douglass also attempted at least 20 passes.

• The Bears gained 1.1 yards per play, the worst in an NFL game since the Browns averaged 0.6 yards per play in a 2004 game.

George McCaskey trusted Ryan Pace and Nagy to fix the quarterback position (again). He trusted them to trade up for Fields and saw the type of excitement in Chicago about his team that hadn’t been seen in years.

Fields jerseys have been flying off the shelves. Fans have been chanting his name. Players have been singing his praises. He’s giving the franchise hope.

And in his first start, this was the offense.

“I think for all of us, what makes it hard and difficult is just such (a) lack of production in the numbers,” Nagy said. “That makes it hard. And when you have nine sacks, that’s frustrating and that’s difficult, but in the end, there’s a learning process for him. And what he’s gonna get from us as coaches and what he’s gonna get from his teammates, including the quarterbacks, is positivity to help him.

“Again, that starts with me. We’re gonna get back to it right away and figure out the whys and move forward.”

Nagy’s four-year search for the “whys” continues, and now it’s possibly being done to the detriment of the most talented quarterback to set foot in Halas Hall.

(Photo: Emilee Chinn / Getty Images)

Edited by soulman
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Matt Nagy can't fix it.  Not in four years under now his 5th QB can he fix his offense.  It's a broken offense.  It doesn't work period.

Olin Kruetz said it best on Kap's show.  If you want to know "why" Matt just hang a huge mirror in your office and stand in front of it.

It's YOU.

If you're fighting a war and the General of your infantry goes out and gets his troops slaughtered you don't send him out again to get even more soldiers killed.  You replace him right then and there.

Let's see if GMcC and Pace have the balls to do it.

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1 hour ago, soulman said:

Matt Nagy can't fix it.  Not in four years under now his 5th QB can he fix his offense.  It's a broken offense.  It doesn't work period.

Whichever offense he came from, he doesn’t know it and he was never responsible for its success.

I hope the Bears can learn from this situation. Head coaching hires are never foolproof, but I think rushing to hire the next McVay drove the franchise to hire more of an understudy than an innovator.

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We can debate the reasons why 'til another Moses comes along to part the Red Sea a second time but the facts are clear.  Matt Nagy is not an NFL caliber HC.  To be honest I wouldn't even hire him tomorrow as my QB coach or a WR coach and passing game coordinator.  He's that bad.

Now what's needed it to fire him today.  Turn the offense over to Bill Lazor.  Then find out if we have any NFL level assistants on that staff worth keeping at all.  Clearly this is the beginning of the end for all of them and not just Nagy and I'd like to find out now whether or not any of them can produce when they aren't always having to do things "Nagy's way".

Pace and GMcC need to show some balls and do what we all know has been needed even before yesterday.  Matt Nagy can't coach NFL football.

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I think the ship has sailed on this regime. That includes assistants. Many of them seem to be jumping ship already.

IMO you fire Nagy because it at least sends a message to the current players. You don't want your young QB exposed to a locker room where the coach is a joke, the GM is a joke, and the veterans are cashing checks with no consequences for poor play.

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