Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and members of the Bears’ offense are confident a breakout performance is coming, even if the signs of it happening haven’t shown up in the first three games of the 2018 season.
The Bears, as an offense, rank in the bottom half of the NFL in most categories:
Yards/play: 4.45 (30th)
Passing yards/play: 4.73 (29th)
Rushing yards/play: 4.08 (15th)
Points/game: 21.0 (17th)
Red zone TD percentage: 40 (27th)
Third down conversion percentage: 39.5 (17th)
Average time of possession: 34:42 (2nd)
PFF offense grade: 64.2 (28th)
Offensive DVOA: -19.6 (27th)
Compare to that to where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense sits in those same categories:
Yards/play: 6.60 (29th)
Passing yards/play: 7.88 (29th)
Rushing yards/play: 3.59 (7th)
Points/game: 30.3 (29th)
Red zone TD percentage: 88.89 (30th)
Third down conversion percentage: 34.29 (12th)
Average time of opponent possession: 31:17 (21st)
PFF defense grade: 69.5 (16th)
Defensive DVOA: 21 (29th)
It’s early enough in the season where these are small sample sizes, but the point here is this: The Bears’ offense hasn’t been good, and the same goes for the Bucs’ defense. Something has to give.
But it’s too simple to say Trubisky will jump-start his season because he’s playing a defense that’s been porous against the pass this year. Take in to account who the Bucs have played: The New Orleans Saints (4th in offensive DVOA), the Philadelphia Eagles (18th) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (9th). Meanwhile, the Bears’ offensive has played defenses ranked 27th, 6th and 14th in defensive DVOA.
The Bucs’ defense, then, may be looking at the Bears’ offense as its big opportunity to make performance-based strides.
Is simplification the answer?
There’s a difference between having an optimal matchup and actually capitalizing on it for the Bears’ offense. So how does Nagy get to that latter point with Trubisky and his offense?
Perhaps there may be something to the notion of further simplifying things for his quarterback.
“We can’t put him in a situation where we’re trying to do too much and we take away from their talents — our players, all of them not, just the quarterback — and so if we’re doing too much making them think too much they’re going to play slow and they’re not going to be efficient,” Nagy said. “So that’s part of what we’re doing what we get paid to do as coaches is to know what that balance is and then we need feedback from the guys. And so if we know that the feedback is good and they’re ok, then we’ll continue doing what we’re doing.
“But it’s about production and you have to produce and you have to score points, and if you’re not producing and you’re not scoring points, you got to dig into the why part. And so we know right now offensively we’re not where we want to be, but we’re not in any type of panic mode because we understand that part of the process but we’re going to do everything we can to try to get better.”
There’s sort of a balancing act here for Nagy. On one hand, he’s been clear — to Trubisky, his players, the public — about the lengthy process it’ll take to get this offense to where it needs to be. On the other hand, the Bears have what looks like an elite, playoff-ready defense, so does scaling things back — whatever that looks like — make for a sensible path to the ultimate goal of winning games? And would simplifying things actually help accelerate his development by, potentially, aiding his production?
Trubisky is on board with whatever the plan is, and whatever it looks like.
“Whatever they decide to put on my plate I have to study, I have to do my job on the field, and if they feel like we have to pull back this week or next week or whatever it is and just simplify so we can play faster, they’re going to do what’s best for this offense and what they believe,” Trubisky said. “But my job is just come here work every day, and whatever they ask me to do just do it to the best of my ability and then they have to figure out what’s best for this offense and this team and they will.
“So we’re all working through that and what coach Nagy always says, first year in the offense, it’s his first year as a head coach so he’s got a lot on his plate as well, that he’s trying to figure out and I’m still trying to master this offense one day at a time and figure out and we’re gonna just keep going and grinding away and figure this out.”
Signs of life?
While the numbers may not show it, Nagy has seen some encouraging signs from his quarterback and this offense. Specifically, against Arizona, Nagy pointed to a 25-yard completion to tight end Trey Burton, a play on which Trubisky fired a perfect pass between two defenders to the right sideline.
That was in response to a question about Trubisky not having enough “special” moments, a notion to which Nagy bristled.
“I’d like to know what the special definition is because there’s special parts of the game that you see on TV where it’s a special throw or a special catch, somebody makes a one-handed catch,” Nagy said. “I know this, I know he made a special throw to Trey Burton on the deep cross the other day that not many quarterbacks in this league can make. And so I’ll take that as special.
“But he’s doing special things in our offense at this position right now. With where we’re at, or how long we’ve been together or how short we’ve been together, to me right now again all he needs to worry about is what my special is. And so I’m happy with where he’s at.”
Nagy cited that time of possession number as a positive, too, that his offense is doing a good job sustaining drives. But the Bears’ offense only has four plays of 25 or more yards this year, tied for 25th in the NFL and nearly one-third of the 11 25-plus-yard plays generated by the Buccaneers’ offense.
Dialing that back even further, the Bears only have 29 plays of 10 or more yards, the fifth-fewest in the NFL ahead of only Tennessee (28), Indianapolis (28), Buffalo (26) and Arizona (16).
But Nagy won’t stop searching for explosive plays, and even if things are simplified this weekend, that won’t mean the Bears’ offense will lessen its aggressiveness.
“I don’t think you stop,” Nagy said. “… Same thing in basketball. If Steph Curry is going to miss 12 three’s in a row, I guarantee you he’s going to shoot that 13th. And that’s just what they talk about and what we talk about. And so, we’re not going to stop being aggressive where we can and then for us, its teaching moments of how did we miss it. Was it the route? Was it the throw? Was it the release? Was it protection? There’s a lot of variables that go into a successful play.”
Tying it back to Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers have allowed 10 plays of 25 or more yards through three games, tied for the second-highest total in the NFL. The opportunity will be there for Trubisky to connect on a deep ball or two, which could unlock the rest of this offense.
But, as has been and will be the case all year: It’s more about what Trubisky can or cannot do than the opposing defense can or cannot do.
“We just need to continue to get better — execute, believe in the plan,” Trubisky said. “And continue to have those conversations about what plays we really feel comfortable about and what plays we like. Me and coach Nagy will go back and forth. And they’re going to dial up a great gameplan. They’ve done that each and every week. And it’s up to me and the rest of the guys to go out there and execute it.”