New Bears offense works for one half before folding in loss to Packers


As expected (and hoped for, by the Bears) since he was hired to succeed John Fox as Bears coach, Matt Nagy brought out an offense unlike any seen in Chicago and streaked to a 20-point lead early in the third quarter.

Not as expected, that offense stalled and virtually disappeared in a succession of failed possessions that allowed Aaron Rodgers to return from a first-half leg injury and lead the Packers in outscoring the Bears 24-3 in the second half, on the way to a 24-23 Green Bay victory.

What started as a potential statement game ended up as something else altogether.

“I don’t know if we made a statement,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, adding, “I know we’re close.”

Nagy, in charge of playcalling, said that the offense had become less aggressive once the lead had been built up. “No, not at all,” he said. “We were running the ball pretty well, getting some good yards. There’s some times it would’ve been nice to get that first down,” but in one critical third-and-one situation, Nagy took the offense away from running the football, resulting in a failed conversion.

It was, however, a tale of two distinctly different halves, arguably of two distinctly different Bears teams, too. Trubisky completed 11 of 14 passes for 109 yards and a rating of 99.1 in the first half. In the second, he was good on only 12 of 21 for just 62 yards, finishing with a 77.2 passer rating – almost exactly where he finished his rookie season (77.5). The hope had been for more progress with the addition of receiving firepower in the persons of wideouts Taylor Gabriel (five catches, 25 yards), Allen Robinson (four catches, 61 yards) and tight end Trey Burton (one catch, 15 yards).

Trubisky, in his first full game action under Nagy’s direction, showed his coach some positives. “I really, really was impressed with how he controlled the huddle,” Nagy said.

Vanishing innovation

In the first half the Bears brought out offensive formations, motions and concepts that Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich never showed at any points of the entire offseason. To wit:

Left tackle Charles Leno split out wide-right as part of a “trips” cluster with two receivers;

A loose sort of T formation behind Trubisky;

Trubisky flanked out and a direct snap to Tarik Cohen.

But once the Packers made a handful of adjustments defensively after the first half, the Bears appeared not to. After the Bears opening drives of the game, covering 86 yards for a touchdown on a two-yard run by Trubisky and 53 yards for a field goal, the engine all but shut down.

The Bears ran more than four plays on only two of their next seven possessions – exactly what Nagy said the Bears wanted to avoid.

Oddly perhaps, Nagy suggested that players had not gotten sufficient reps during a preseason in which Nagy said the team had run more than 2,000 practice plays, but this by way of explaining why he had not played his starters in the preseason game against Kansas City. “Our guys didn’t get a lot of reps in preseason,” Nagy said.

Playcalling was curious at times. For all of the early creative looks, the Bears failed to convert a third-and-one in the fourth quarter with a pass to tight end Dion Sims that failed to pick up the yard – instead of pounding a suspect Green Bay defense with 230-pound Jordan Howard, who finished with 82 yards on 15 carries.

“When you’re up 20-3, you’ve got to put these guys away,” former Bears running back Matt Forte said on “Football Aftershow” on NBC Sports Chicago. “You’ve got to step on their throat and put them away.”

His disclaimer notwithstanding, a concern was that Nagy had in fact gotten conservative, leading to the Bears squandering a 20-0 lead in the first game for Nagy since the Kansas City Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead over Tennessee in last season’s AFC wild-card game with Nagy in doing the playcalling.

The numbers weren’t staggering: 160 yards on 28 first-half plays. The Bears scored 20 points for just the third time in nine games against the Packers. But those 20 were scored through a point 6 minutes into the third quarter, at which point the Bears appeared to begin losing an aggressive edge on offense that had gone on scoring drives of 86 and 60 yards on its first two possessions.

Trubisky was the beneficiary of a defensive effort unlike any the Bears have put up this decade, literally. In Trubisky’s first Packers experience, Bears-Packers II last season, the Bears allowed 214 yards in the five possessions coming out of halftime, at home, in Soldier Field, on the way to losing to a Green Bay team forced to start Brett Hundley in place of an injured Aaron Rodgers.

This time the defense allowed Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Rodgers again, and the Green Bay offense just 71 yards, 4 first downs and zero points in the first two quarters. The Packers passed for 28 first-half yards; Mack nearly matched that with his 27 yards returning a Kizer interception.

But the offense failed to close the Packers out when the chances were there.

“We’re a young team,” Nagy said, “and we’re going to learn from this.”

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