For all of Matt Nagy’s stressing before Sunday that Bears run game would be better, it was at a near franchise-low against New Orleans – seven attempts, 17 net yards. If there is a puzzling side to all of that, it lies in what Nagy sees as how a run game needs to operate at before abandoning it.
Nagy has been credited with calling run plays at pretty close to the NFL run-pass ratio. But in the Bears’ three wins he called 24, 24 and 33 runs; in the three losses, 15, 17 and 7. Nagy’s “average” is closer to the situation of having one hand in the oven, the other in the freezer; on “average,” you’re comfortable.
What Nagy is comfortable with, though, is an open question.
He talked Sunday and Monday of wanting “productive plays,” which ostensibly sounds like a reasonable threshold for staying with a concept. But Nagy has a suspect patience fuse, coming from the Andy Reid scheme tree with its roots in high-percentage passing.
Nagy’s wafer-thin commitment to the run game is reminiscent of former coordinator Gary Crowton and coach Marc Trestman, who routinely gave up almost immediately on the run as soon as a series failed to have success on the ground.
But “the run game has to get going. It's as simple as that,” Nagy insisted post-Saints and reiterated on Monday. “And it just has to get going. You can't run for 17 yards in the NFL and think you're going to win a game. You should get 17 yards on one run play.”
Getting 17 yards on one run play certainly would be a lofty positive. Too lofty for the Nagy offense, however, and obviously not what Nagy or any other coach sets as a realistic literal requirement for sticking with a play. Besides, the Bears have just two runs longer than 17 yards, plus runs of 12 and 14 yards, through six games. None of those four 10-yard runs have come since the fourth quarter of the Week 3 Washington game.
But if Nagy is somehow using big plays as the criterion for staying committed to the run game, the run portion of the offense is a distant long shot.
“Early on, we were zero, one and two on our yards running the ball,” Nagy said by way of explanation for getting off the run so completely on Sunday. “It's really simple math. As a play caller, when it's 2nd and 9 and 2nd and 10 and 2nd and 8 and you're moving the ball throwing it, you're getting first downs throwing it, that's what the objective is to get first downs.
“I don't care if I have to throw the ball 60 times a game, if that's what's going to help us win a game, or if I have to run it 60 times, I don't care, I want productive plays. It's not that hard. That's probably why. That's probably where that went, and then you come out in the second half and you want to be more balanced. As bad as all that was and everything that's going on, we came in the locker room, it's 12-10. As bad as that was, 12-10. Think about that, right? So, now you come out in the third quarter, they go down, they score and then we fumble first play. That's hard. That's hard.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.