The Bears offense was tough to watch in 2019. They flat out could not execute Matt Nagy’s offense. If there was only one area of concern, then blame would likely be on the players, but Nagy’s offense as a whole never found any rhythm in 2019. Pre-snap penalties, mistimed routes, and the inability to run the ball all indicate there is a schematic issue. This article will elaborate on how Nagy hasn’t adjusted his running scheme to play into his personnel’s strengths.
The first red flag was Nagy’s attempt to move Jordan Howard before the start of the 2018 season. Jordan Howard is a Pro Bowl running back and a top-three producer in the NFL since debuting in the league. He was still on his rookie contract and was slotted to make less than $700K in 2018. His salary was pennies compared to some of the players that produced at his level. I understand he wasn’t the ideal fit for Nagy’s offense, but great coordinators adjust their scheme to accommodate the talent they have.
The second red flag is the fact that Howard got traded to Philadelphia, a team that runs a very similar offense to the Chicago Bears. The difference between the Eagles’ rushing attack and the Bears’ is that the Eagles have no issue lining up in a more telling formation. In 2018, Howard was used as a scapegoat, and now that Nagy has handpicked his backfield, there are no more excuses.
Nagy’s offense has been called cute, gimmicky, and so on. He wanted to move Howard because he’s not a threat in the passing game. Nagy wants all his running backs to be natural receivers. In theory, it would open up running lanes because the defense has to honor their receiving threat. It would also give him the flexibility to audible into passing plays if there was an obvious mismatch in man coverage. Having versatile backs was supposed to make the offense unpredictable, but unfortunately, it’s been predictable.
When you look at the scheme itself, a previous “Baldy’s Breakdown” explains it best. After watching the breakdown, you realize that all the smoke and mirrors cause this play to backfire. Defensive coordinators ran six-man boxes all year, daring the Bears to run, and they still couldn’t find success. It’s frustrating considering the Bears’ history involves a long line of dominant rushing attacks. Nagy’s scheme doesn’t allow that, and he does not seem to be willing to adjust.
In 2019, the Bears sporadically ran out of off-set I and traditional I-formation packages. There were times they would start the game with a ten-yard run out of I-form, only to go right back to shotgun and Pistol runs. The Chargers game was the best example of this. They started the game with it, evaded it, couldn’t score, then eventually ran out of it for a majority of their scoring drive in the third quarter. When Nagy was asked about his willingness to abandon what is working, he answered by saying he wasn’t brought in to run the I-formation. While I understand where he is coming from and would like to see an all-out aerial assault in Chicago, he still needs to push aside some of his pride. The overall goal is to win games, and Chicago does not care how you get the job done.
Take a look at this clip from 2017. Nobody liked the Loggins/Fox combo, but if they did one thing right, it was pounding the rock.
You will see that the offensive line is essentially the same, except for Hroniss Grasu playing center. I even fell for “the offensive line is garbage” argument, but that isn’t the case. The example above is a simple stretch play. The offensive line is responsible for their zone, and every offensive lineman is moving downhill in the direction of the play. The hole develops naturally, and it gives Howard time to find his way through the hole with some speed. They are also using a fullback, not just putting random tight ends in the backfield. Nagy doesn’t seem willing to run a downhill rushing attack, which is why the offensive line has been struggling in the run game. His scheme works opposite to the offensive line’s strengths, which further demonstrates his unwillingness to adjust.
Mitchell Trubisky has his issues, and he is a problem, but he isn’t THE problem. Nagy wants to throw the ball. It’s evident by how quickly he evades the run. He wants Trubisky to distribute the ball around the field. Don’t get me wrong, Nagy can scheme a receiver open, but he is asking Mitch to do things he is unable to do at this point in his career. Sometimes Mitch doesn’t see the receiver, sometimes he sees the receiver and misses them, and sometimes he makes the play. Right now, the running game is so bad that defenses don’t honor it, so they have no problem dropping six guys into coverage right off the bat. How does that make it any easier for Trubisky to find the open receiver? The windows and reads are so tight, the Bears would need a special quarterback to make this offense successful. How many quarterbacks have you seen successfully throw the ball 54 times in a game when the offense runs the ball seven times for 17 yards? As an offensive guru, Nagy needs to adjust and help out his struggling quarterback. Hopefully Nagy’s new offensive staff will help him cater his scheme to his personnel’s strengths.
Nagy has shaken up the Bears offensive coaching staff this offseason. Many of his position coaches were overhauled, and he now has all of “his guys.” There are no more excuses; it’s time for the ‘offensive guru’ to start lighting up the scoreboard. It doesn’t matter how good you are at drawing up plays if your players cannot execute them and if the scheme doesn’t allow physicality.