The Bears left Music City on Sunday on a sour note.
Despite 17 points in garbage time, three quarters of scoreless football was too much for the Bears to come back from, and they lost their third-straight game with a 24-17 loss to the Titans.
From a lackluster offensive performance to poor play-calling on both sides of the ball, the Bears were their own worst enemy as they fell to 5-4, their momentum further depleting along with it.
Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s action.
Nick Foles may have had the most misleading 300-yard outing in recent NFL history this week.
A stat-line of 335 yards with a 69.2 completion percentage, two touchdowns and no interceptions sounds like a dream compared to the quarterback play the Bears have seen from both Foles and Mitchell Trubisky this year. Don’t be fooled by the production, though: Foles struggled mightily on Sunday.
Of his 36 completions, 17 of them were thrown just five yards beyond the line of scrimmage or fewer. He had as many completions beyond 10 yards as he did completions behind the line of scrimmage: six. Something along those lines is to expected from a West Coast-oriented offense, but the general lack of an intermediate passing game, let alone a vertical game, is concerning on Nagy’s end.
Here’s #Bears QB Nick Foles’ pass chart from today, courtesy of @NextGenStats.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) November 8, 2020
He put up a nice stat-line, but only six of his 36 completions went 10 yards beyond the LOS. 17 of them went five yards of fewer.
The definition of a dink-and-dunk offense. pic.twitter.com/hmbnt0SVax
Foles made his fair share of questionable decisions under center. Trubisky was blasted for his tendency to throw off of his back foot, but Foles has struggled with the exact same issue since he took over the starting job. He also had issues under pressure, taking three sacks and also causing an intentional grounding that cost the Bears more yards than a sack would have. His decision-making, mechanics, and accuracy all struggled when he was rushed, and that resulted in numerous throws into tight coverage: seven of Foles’ passes were broken up.
Considering how depleted the Bears’ offensive line was with injuries, it’s no surprise that they struggled up front. If anything, it’s remarkable they weren’t even worse than they already were. They struggled in pass protection and had even more issues in run blocking. Foles was hit nine times throughout the course of the game, and the Titans had four tackles for a loss.
David Montgomery ran for just 30 yards on 14 carries, giving him merely a 2.1 yards-per-carry average. He didn’t look great on his own terms, as his speed and explosiveness was lacking when he ran the ball, but the lack of consistent holes on the ground to exploit also played a role in his ugly stat-line.
To sum up the Bears’ performance on the ground on Sunday: Barkevious Mingo had the team’s longest run of the game on an 11-yard fake punt.
Through the air, the Bears saw solid production from a handful of receivers. Much of that stemmed from their throwing the ball 52 times, but a couple of players showed up in a big way for Chicago’s offense: particularly, Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. Robinson led the team with seven receptions and 81 yards, making several grabs in tight coverage and boxing out defensive backs to come down with multiple difficult catches. Mooney finished with 43 yards on five catches, creating solid separation in the process.
Jimmy Graham was a popular target for Foles, catching six passes for 55 yards and a touchdown, his fifth touchdown of the season. Though he didn’t show much juice on the several flat routes the Bears targeted him on, he was a reliable target who came down with the ball on every single one of his targets.
Among other notable Bears weapons, Anthony Miller had a solid five catches for 59 yards, but he fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter. Riley Ridley made his first appearance of the 2020 season, catching both of his targets for 23 yards.
Though they put up 17 points in garbage time in the fourth quarter, the Bears had a poor offensive showing from top to bottom. From the players themselves to the calls that Matt Nagy made, there were many people at fault for their lackluster performance.
The Bears actually played fairly well on defense for the most part, but considering their offense’s struggles for much of the game, it’s no surprise their defenders started getting worn out over time.
There were a handful of positives to be taken from how the Bears played defensively. Roquan Smith looked spectacular yet again on Sunday, tallying nine tackles and picking up his first sack of the year on an aggressive blitz call by Chuck Pagano. Smith’s athleticism has really been complemented extremely well by his improved processing ability, and his quick mental trigger has allowed him to make plays in run support and sniff out flats, screens and drags in the passing game.
Danny Trevathan also played well this week, putting up six tackles and an impressive pass deflection in man coverage against Tennessee wide receiver Corey Davis. Despite a slow start to the 2020 season, the nine-year veteran has kicked it up a notch in recent weeks and has not only looked quicker, but more importantly, has been making smarter decisions in pursuit. His resurgence has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears’ defense.
In coverage, Jaylon Johnson put together another solid outing. While the All-22 tape will do a better job of showcasing his performance in coverage, the rookie had two pass deflections and appeared to hold his own all game, especially when tasked with dropping back in man coverage.
The Bears’ interior defensive line also looked a lot better than it has for most of the season, too. While their ability to generate pressure on passing downs has been good, they have struggled with stopping the run, but they managed to do both on Sunday. Derrick Henry ran for just 68 yards on 21 carries, giving him only 3.2 yards per carry. Nose tackle Daniel McCullers make a big impact in his Chicago debut, notching four tackles and stuffing the middle of the field well. The Bears have struggled defending the run with a smaller Bilal Nichols at nose tackle, but McCullers proved to be much tougher to bully at the point of attack.
Nichols and Mario Edwards both got sacks, Brent Urban made his presence felt in the backfield, and Akiem Hicks finished off the game with six tackles, too.
It wasn’t a perfect game for the Bears’ defense, though. A.J. Brown torched them for 101 yards and a touchdown on four catches, and while he was covered fairly well during the game, his combination of power and athleticism saw him come away with some truly impressive catches. His big plays allowed the Titans to stretch the ball down the field easily, even though Ryan Tannehill only went 10-for-21 throwing the ball.
The middle of the field in particular was an area the Titans exploited. Pagano’s scheme saw the linebackers covering too close to the line of scrimmage, yet having the safeties too far back to make much of an impact on the intermediate game. Though the Bears’ safeties didn’t play incredibly well—Tashaun Gipson made some bad reads in coverage and Eddie Jackson struggled tackling—part of that blame has to fall on the play-caller.
Ultimately, allowing 17 points is far from a terrible performance for a defense. The Bears’ defensive unit wasn’t bad by any means, but they weren’t quite good enough to cancel out their offensive ineptitude. That’s a large burden to place on a defense, though, and while they still could have played a little better, their performance was far from the reason they lost.
Three and out
3. It’s clear at this point that Matt Nagy either needs to make some major adjustments in his philosophies, or he needs to hand over his play-calling duties to somebody who will.
Nagy has shown that he is hesitant to make adjustments on a week-to-week basis, let alone in the middle of a game. His play-calling is predictable, and the execution is often sloppy. Several miscues have resulted in the Bears wasting timeouts to try and prevent delay of game penalties due to poor communication and preparation.
Poor third-down execution—his designed screen to Montgomery on 3rd-and-13 that resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Tennessee, for example—has plagued Chicago’s offense. His insistence on either being too “cute” in his play-calling or calling passing plays that are designed to go short of the sticks have cost the Bears the opportunity to extend drives throughout the season.
Plus, as a coach that is praised for his abilities as a leader, it’s getting tougher to defend Nagy for how he has control over this team. The Bears are the most-penalized team in the NFL, and their lack of discipline on the field has been questionable, to say the least.
What Nagy created with that Bears team in 2018 was nothing short of incredible. However, it’s fair to say that, at this point, the organization has fallen apart and has little to no momentum, even if their record still isn’t all that bad.
The Bears have been winning games at a higher rate than either John Fox or Marc Trestman, but none of the rosters that were assembled under either of those two coaches were as good as the rosters that Nagy has had to work with. Many factors have played into their recent collapse, but there’s no denying that coaching has also played a major role in that.
2. It’s time to promote Lamar Miller to the active roster.
Montgomery was taken out of the game late with a possible concussion, but regardless of whether he actually plays next week against the Vikings, the Bears need some sort of spark out of the backfield. Part of their ground game struggles have obviously come because of their weak offensive line, but Cordarrelle Patterson is not inspiring much confidence as a backup running back, and neither Ryan Nall or Artavis Pierce have proven worthy of taking on a bigger role.
Miller probably won’t be the Pro Bowl-caliber back he was in Houston, but it’s worth taking a shot on him at this point. The Bears would be smart to try anything to attempt to generate a spark on offense.
1. After a 5-1 start to the regular season, stringing together three consecutive losses have put the Bears’ long-term playoff hopes in major jeopardy (topical reference unintended; Rest In Peace Alex Trebek).
Even with an extra team entering the playoffs in both conferences, the Bears face an uphill battle to make it into the postseason now. The Saints, Rams, and Cardinals are all currently ahead of them in the Wild Card race, with the 49ers looming one game behind Chicago. While the NFC West could end up eating itself alive when more divisional matchups take place, it’s hard to see the Bears picking up momentum with the way they’re playing right now.
The Bears have the 3-5 Vikings next Monday, and they will have a full two weeks to prepare for their matchup against the Packers in Week 12. After that, they have the Lions, Texans, Vikings, and Jaguars. That stretch could prove to be a catalyst for a turnaround, but it will be a difficult road ahead. If they plan on making it into the playoffs, they will need to catch fire during that stretch.