Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better. sets Bears' best and worst-case scenarios for 2020 season sets Bears' best and worst-case scenarios for 2020 season

It's incredible what an 8-8 season can do to a team's short-term outlook. The Chicago Bears are proof of this. It feels like an eternity ago that Matt Nagy's 2018 Bears went 12-4, won the NFC North, and had an ascending quarterback in Mitch Trubisky, who some analysts considered a darkhorse in the 2019 MVP race.

But then came that 8-8 record last year. Trubisky and the Bears offense failed Nagy's Level 202 course, and with that 'F' came questions about whether this team was more pretender than contender. It's become abundantly clear this offseason (and now into training camp) that the national opinion of this squad is predominantly in the pretender bucket.'s recent breakdown of the Bears' 2020 outlook, which included the ceiling and floor for their season, doesn't pick a side. You can check out the complete video here.

The best we can expect from the Bears this year, per 11 wins. The worst-case scenario? Four wins.

Essentially, the Bears will either be really, really good or really, really bad. 

This makes sense, doesn't it? We're entering Year 3 of the Nagy era after an undefined first two seasons on the job; 2018 was awesome. 2019 was forgettable. It feels like it will be boom or bust in 2020.

If we just focus on the NFC North, it's clear the Bears are a legitimate threat to win the division. The Packers are a mess, the Vikings are headed for regression and the Lions, despite massive under-the-radar improvement this offseason, are still the Lions.

Green Bay is in the midst of a cold war between Aaron Rodgers and the coaching staff. Minnesota lost their offensive coordinator and best deep-ball target, both of whom were critical to Kirk Cousins' career year. And as long as Matt Patricia is Detroit's head coach, they'll never be taken seriously.

So, here we are. The Bears will either be the division champs or the NFC North doormat. There'll be no in-between, and that's exactly how Bears fans should want it.

Let's be honest: if Chicago isn't going to have a year overflowing with wins and a potential division championship (which is the preferred outcome of course), it's best for the season to implode and give the organization a better chance at a reboot. That opportunity comes via the NFL Draft and a high first-round pick, where Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields profile as franchise-changing quarterback prospects.

Still, it's hard imagining a defense as loaded as Chicago's and an offense with a quarterback like Nick Foles (assuming he ends up being the team's starter at some point) winning fewer than 10 games. It'll be enough to get back to the playoffs and have the arrow pointing up for the franchise again.

More on the Bears:

Bears’ Danny Trevathan considered opting out, explains why he didn’t

Bears’ Danny Trevathan considered opting out, explains why he didn’t

The Bears lost an enormous piece of their defense when nose tackle Eddie Goldman opted out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns, but the defensive void could have been even bigger.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan, perhaps the biggest leader on Chuck Pagano’s defense, admitted Friday that he considered opting out.

“I definitely took some hard thought about the whole situation,” Trevathan said. “I had to see it first-hand, so I came in and I feel like they did a pretty good job handling the situation.”

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It’s too easy to forget that these athletes have lives off the field, and in Trevathan’s case, he had some important family matters to consider. Both his fiancé and kids have asthma.

“My fiancé? That’s like my backbone. So when corona happened, she has chronic asthma and allergies that are crazy. So I really thought about her and all the sacrifices she made,” Trevathan said. “I think she deserves all the credit in the world. And my kids? Um, that definitely comes first to me.”

Considering the damage COVID-19 can do to lungs, especially those with underlying health conditions, Trevathan’s decision could not have been easy. And no one would have blamed him if he chose to sat out.

Ultimately, Trevathan decided to come into Halas Hall to judge the safety of the building for himself. Essentially, he had five days at the facility before the opt-out deadline passed on Thursday. In the end, he committed to playing the season.

“This thing is so wild,” he said. “It’s the first year I’ve ever seen something like this, anybody’s seen something like this, so it definitely made me nervous a little bit. But I feel like I made the right decision.”

And he’s certainly not holding anything against Goldman for sitting out, even though as a linebacker who plays behind the big nose tackle, Trevathan might be impacted the most.

“I kind of chatted with him this offseason a little bit. So I kind of sensed it,” Trevathan said. “I definitely support his decision.”

In addition to losing Goldman, the Bears also saw reserve safety Jordan Lucas opt out of the season. But now that the deadline has passed, Trevathan is all-in, back to talking about Super Bowls again.

“I feel like we're so close right now and to do that would add to that legacy," he said.