If there’s one thing I’ve learned about offensive football over the years, it’s that playcallers look like bad playcallers when their offensive line isn’t playing well.
Your best play isn’t going to work if it isn’t blocked correctly.
The Bears are 5-1 after beating the Panthers 23-16 in Charlotte Sunday, but their offensive struggles are far from resolved. And you don’t need to watch the coaches’ copy of the film to understand that the offensive line is the heart of the problem.
But why doesn’t Nagy commit to the run? Why does he get so damn cute with his playcalling?
Nagy actually called 15 first down run plays against the Panthers. They gained a total of 57 yards. That’s 3.8 yards per carry. And only six of those runs went for at least four yards, which would typically be considered a successful first down run play. More notably, just as many of those runs went for one yard or less, putting the Bears in 2nd-and-long situations.
You can call run plays, but at some point, your players need to gain the yards.
Trade for Le’Veon Bell! Where’s Lamar Miller?
I cannot express this enough: David Montgomery is not the problem. He just isn’t. Nagy’s famous quote from 2018 comes to mind here: “We could put Walter Payton back there and he's not getting any yards.”
Of course, this is where someone could very fairly point out that the running game woes go back to 2018 and wonder when the problems fall back on Nagy. I’d argue that he does take enough of the responsibility in his press conferences, but he’s watching the same tape as the rest of us and seeing way too many one-on-one breakdowns.
My biggest criticism of the Bears’ offseason was that they did too little to address their offensive line. Bringing in a new line coach and a former right tackle (Germain Ifedi) as their solution at right guard felt like using a band-aid when stitches were needed. If nothing else, it left the line dangerously thin in case of injury, and sure enough, the Bears lost left guard James Daniels in Week 5, leaving Rashaad Coward – who failed to retain his starting job on the right side – to play against the Panthers. Why Coward got the start over Alex Bars is a question that went unanswered Sunday, but focusing on that issue ignores the larger problem: the line as a whole is holding back the offense.
Nagy and the coaching staff are jumping through hoops trying not to throw their offensive line under the bus, because that’s what good coaches do, but the film doesn’t lie. When offensive line coach Juan Castillo defended right tackle Bobbie Massie for a sack fumble against the Buccaneers, he accurately pointed out that interior pressure forced quarterback Nick Foles into a deeper drop, making it harder on the tackle. In other words, there were multiple offensive line problems on the play.
Sunday, Foles took responsibility for his “dumb interception,” but admitted he “felt pressure from the left.” More accurately, he felt the flood gates open from the left.
The next time you wonder why Nagy doesn’t commit to the run more, watch the 2nd-and-6 at the Panthers’ 10-yard line in the second quarter. Coward was simply run over by rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown and Montgomery was dropped in the backfield. After picking up four yards with a nice run on first down, the Bears immediately lost three on second down.
Foles’ quarterback sneak at the goal line in the third quarter put the Bears up 20-6, but excuse Bears fans for feeling like they were watching the sequence from a dentist’s chair. The offensive line failed to get a push on first and second down and even the sneak barely worked even though the ball was just centimeters from the goal line when center Cody Whitehair snapped it.
On the Bears’ next drive, a 3rd-and-10 play busted out when the offensive line couldn’t keep a three-man rush from getting to Foles. Defensive end Brian Burns went right around left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and hit Foles as he unloaded the ball early.
And yes, it’s tough to defend Nagy throwing the ball on 3rd-and-2 with 1:44 left in the game, but the Panthers still had one timeout left and do you really think he’s confident his guys will pick up the first down on the ground?
“We had a play we liked, we already knew it,” Nagy said. “We said it: Really in that situation, if it’s a run-run-pass situation, you know on first down that on third down if you’ve already made the decision to go for it, you already know what the play is.”
That tells you a lot. Going into the game, he’s planning on throwing the ball in a key clock situation. And if anything, what he saw during the game should’ve only reinforced that plan. The problem is, opposing defenses are likely catching on to that tendency and the Panthers defended the pass to Allen Robinson well (just like last week against the Buccaneers).
But that underscores the situation Nagy is in. Damned if runs. Damned if he passes.
That’s what happens when you call plays with a struggling offensive line.
After the game, Nagy was asked if just needs to accept that this is what is offense is and he responded by saying:
“We had 23 rushes, I think, for 60-something yards, and that’s hard. You’re right. At some point we have to figure out what those answers are and the why part and that’s what we’ll do.”
The Panthers were allowing 5.4 yards per carry coming into Sunday’s game, which was second-worst in the NFL. The Bears averaged 2.5.
Of course, the Bears are still 5-1 in spite of their offensive line.
“Wouldn’t that be awesome to get this offense rolling as you’re going into the end of the year and into the playoffs and then it starts clicking? That’s what we’ve got to do,” Nagy said. “That’s why I refuse to be in that situation where we’re just being hard on all the guys all of the time. We’ve just got to be positive and just keep rolling.”
There’s reason to be positive with five wins in six games. There’s also reason to look at the schedule and see that with the Rams, Saints and Titans up next, more tangible change on the offensive line is necessary.
There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. The Bears aren’t winning anything this season if they don’t fix their most glaring problem up front.