Emma's Tailgater: Bears' Struggles Start With Nagy

There's a disconnect becoming clear in the Bears' woeful offense.

Chris Emma
November 27, 2019 - 12:02 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- When quarterback Mitchell Trubisky leads the Bears offense to the line of scrimmage for its first possession each game, he does so working with coach Matt Nagy's best plans to attack that particular opponent.

Coaches like Nagy script the first series on offense with the hope of leading a drive into the end zone, but the Bears have rarely been successful in that regard in 2019. They've scored points on just one of their 11 opening drives this season, with nine ending in punts.

The Bears have scored 24 points in the first quarter of games. In a big contrast, they've scored 84 points in the third quarter.

"I don't have an answer," Nagy said of those figures.

It's clear that many questions loom for the Bears' perplexing offense, which is averaging 17.1 points, which ranks 28th in the NFL. 

Trubisky admitted after a win over the Giants on Sunday that operating the offense in tempo is "a strength" for his unit and a key benefit for him is "not thinking as much." His comments called into question whether Nagy's plans -- from the first series on -- are best suiting Trubisky, who has been more efficient outside of the structure provided by his coaches.

For his part, Trubisky also took ownership of the Bears' struggles operating Nagy's offense.

"We just have to run whatever our offense is," Trubisky said. "Whatever coach Nagy calls, whatever the plan is for the week. The coaches work really hard on the game plan every week, and they do a great job coming up with a scheme for us. It doesn’t really matter what the tempo is, what the play call is, if our 11 guys on offense are on the same page doing their job the play should work."

At Soldier Field on Sunday, the Bears utilized an offensive scheme that was more catered to the comforts of Trubisky. They provided increased protection, got Trubisky on the move with play-action and rollout looks and reduced his reads with fewer targets. The thought process was partially because of the Bears' limited options at tight end but also the sign of adjustments from Nagy to help salvage Trubisky's season.

The Bears scored only 19 points against a Giants defense that was surrendering 28.9 points per game before Sunday. What could've been a breakthrough day for Trubisky and the offense proved to be another lackluster showing, albeit in a win.

Five games remain in this regular season, and it seems those are all Trubisky has been promised as the Bears' quarterback. 

Will Nagy better cater his offense to the quarterback? Will Trubisky find better form operating in the system provided?

For now, the disconnect remains.

Open Field

Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor defended kicker Eddy Pineiro after he missed a 48-yard extra-point attempt wide left last Sunday.

Why?

"I'm not going to put that on Eddy," Tabor said. "In fact, that was past the line of the day, to be quite honest with you. So I don't put that one on him at all."

The "line of the day" comment was a reference to the distance limit that the Bears had established for Pineiro before the day. If the Bears don't trust their kicker to hit a 48-yard kick against a modest wind, then they have a problem at a position they hoped had been addressed.

Never mind the fact Nagy declined the chance at a two-point conversion from seven yards out after a penalty negated the initial two-point conversion. It's clear there's little faith remaining in Pineiro, who missed field-goal attempts from 48 and 47 yards in a loss in Los Angeles a week earlier. After that game, Nagy maintained the Bears wouldn't be exploring kicking alternatives.

Meanwhile, the Giants (2-9) brought in kickers to try out this week after 2018 Pro Bowler Aldrick Rosas missed two field-goal attempts at Soldier Field on Sunday -- and they're a team with no stakes ahead this regular season. 

When the Bears named Pineiro their kicker after the long offseason search, they touted his leg strength and confidence as two important traits. Both are now in question as the Bears maintain bleak playoff hopes and move forward with a kicker whom they don't trust.

4-down territory

1.) Last laughs

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has played at a Pro Bowl level during parts of his career, but his performance fell off in 2018. He joined the Bears in free agency with the intention of proving he's still a top-tier safety in this league.

His decision to sign a one-year deal should pay off this March. He has posted 58 tackles and two interceptions this season, showcasing his abilities both in coverage and in the box.

Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has come to appreciate what Clinton-Dix has brought to the secondary.

"Really good pro," Pagano said. "We knew coming in that he had experience and had played at a really high level. He's done a great job ever since he's walked into this building. He's a veteran guy. He takes his job very, very seriously. He's a great communicator, prepares really well. I think you see him going out and playing week in and week out and being productive and that's because of his preparation."

2.) Last call?

Off to the side of practice these last two weeks, tight end Adam Shaheen has been riding an exercise bicycle. Occasionally he accelerates and the sound increases through a corner of the Walter Payton Center.

Is this what's left for Shaheen in Chicago? A second-round pick in 2017, Shaheen was a healthy scratch against the Lions on Nov. 10 before being listed with a foot injury. The Bears have been mum on his status moving forward, whether that's with an injury or good health.

The Bears haven't shut Shaheen down on injured reserve just yet, but it's unclear if he would play if healthy. 

Shaheen's days with the Bears may be numbered after three disappointing seasons.

3.) Opportunity knocking

Just days after making his NFL debut Sunday, rookie tight end Jesper Horsted should expect to see a larger role against the Lions on Thursday.

With Ben Braunecker in the concussion protocol, the Bears will turn to the Princeton product Horsted as their "U" tight end. 

The undrafted Horsted was a receiver at Princeton, where he shattered records and caught the Bears' attention in the process. He was brought to Chicago as a tight end, developing on the practice squad before getting his opportunity last week.

"He definitely has talent," Nagy said. "It's going to take him some time to learn the position. We're going to be patient with that."

4.) High praise

The Bears have come to appreciate what Cordarrelle Patterson has brought to their special teams game, not just as a kickoff returner but also a coverage specialist.

"I haven't had a player like this since I coached Josh Cribbs, to be honest with you," Tabor said.

Quote to note:

"He's a freak. Left alone, one-on-one, he's probably going to win that matchup 99.9 percent of the time."

--Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, on star pass rusher Khalil Mack

Injury report

TE Ben Braunecker (concussion) -- It's unclear when Braunecker suffered his concussion Sunday, but he did take a hit toward the head before dropping a pass over the middle at one point. He later self-reported symptoms and entered the protocol.

WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion) -- Like Braunecker, Gabriel self-reported symptoms of concussions after the game Sunday. It would be "a stretch" for either Braunecker or Gabriel to play Thursday, Nagy said.

OT Bobby Massie (ankle) -- Massie is wearing a walking boot on his injured right ankle, which is believed to be a high ankle sprain. He's likely to miss several weeks of action.

DB Sherrick McManis (groin) -- McManis suffered his groin injury early in the first quarter Sunday and is likely out for an extended period, if not the remainder of the season.

TE Adam Shaheen (foot) -- The questions surrounding Shaheen's status will remain until the Bears make a decision on him. 

LB Danny Trevathan (elbow) -- Trevathan is in good spirits and making progress from a gruesome injury. He hasn't been shut down and still could return later this season.

Prediction (7-4): Bears 17, Lions 13

Last Thanksgiving in Detroit, the Bears proved they were a resilient team ready for the playoffs. This time around, they’ll prove to be just barely better than a bad team.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.