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Bears Mailbag: Matt Nagy’s status, Justin Fields’ development, and so much more

The Chicago Bears are (1-2) and coming off one of their worst offensive performances in recent memory. Should the focus change from wins to a regime change? What about Justin Fields’ development after being sacked nine times? We’ll cover all of that and more in Week 4’s mailbag.

NFL: AUG 14 Preseason - Dolphins at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Chicago Bears will head back home to face the Detroit Lions at (1-2) after an embarrassing 26-6 loss on the road to the Cleveland Browns. What started as an exciting day with rookie quarterback Justin Fields starting his first NFL game, ended in complete misery as the Bears offense mustered just 47 total offensive yards.

The good news and (maybe) bad news? There’s still 14 games left and not all of them can be nearly as bad as what we saw last Sunday, right? Before we turn the page on Week 3, we’ll take one last rewind to reach into the mailbag for some answers down the road.

I figured I’d start this week’s mailbag off with some fun (or maybe misery). To remember Mel Tucker, you’d have to rewind back to the 2013-2014 seasons. Like most, this little blip on the screen has been slowly blocked out of Bears fan’s minds over time.

For as bad as head coach Matt Nagy’s play calling and offense has been at times, Mel Tucker’s defense had some historically bad numbers in 2014. To be fair to him, he was also working with a skeleton crew defensive that consisted of aging vets and a bunch of castoffs. Even so, that defense was horrific and couldn’t stop the run to save their playoff lives.

So, for as much as I would like to live in the moment and say Tucker’s defense wins that one-on-one battle, we’ve seen Nagy do just enough to score points on really bad defenses and I don’t think this one would be much different.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The team’s tight end usage as a whole has been surprising in the early going so far. Most forget that Jesse James is actually a top-end blocker at the position. So far, James has played just (13.5%) of the offense’s overall snaps through three weeks. He’s played just 24 snaps overall on the young season. For a team that prides themselves on the roles of tight ends in their offense, it hasn’t show much so far in their overall usage of anybody but Cole Kmet.

We also know that Jimmy Graham simply can’t (or doesn’t want to) block. Kmet is supposed to be the “catch all” guy, but quite frankly I think a lot of us are still simply waiting for him to fully “catch on” as a reliable weapon.

In theory, you’d like to see them be able to use James as the blocking tight end more often. But as we’ve seen, Nagy’s ability to make the proper adjustments within a game plan have simply not been there. The only hope (right now) is that over time he will figure out how to use a guy like James to help out the offensive line a little more. Until then, we’ll all be stuck asking the same question you are.

I guess that all depends on what you would consider a “newer low” because at this point, the sky is the limit (and not in a good way). Especially with their upcoming schedule.

I’m not sure anything this year can top sending your rookie quarterback out to slaughter in Week 3 for his first NFL start. That was beyond frustrating and frankly, pretty damn disappointing. With that being said, they still have two games against the Green Bay Packers, a road bouts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks, plus the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals on the schedule as well. If the first three weeks are any indication, the Bears are bound to get roughed up by playoff contenders.

I’ll say this much — I know there are a lot of fans hoping one bad loss will bring changes in season, but I don’t think that’ll happen. If Marc Trestman can lose an entire locker room mid-season and live to the end of the year, Nagy’s job for the remainder of 2021 should be safe. As will general manager Ryan Pace.

Week 4 has started with plenty of Fields/Bears chatter around the league so far. For the most part, many had Fields as one of the “steals” in this past draft, so the coverage was somewhat to be expected. It also was somewhat painful to follow the team’s lack of quarterback competition through training camp and the preseason as every other first round rookie was seeing consistent first-team snaps.

Even so, I think we all have to realize the Bears’ offense was historically bad last Sunday. Does all of that fall on one person? Absolutely not. The issue is that instead of assigning proper blame on a play-by-play basis, many are jumping to bigger conclusions and lumping the blame on one individual.

Boomer was one of multiple people throughout this week who have maintained the “Fields is clearly not ready yet” narrative. Here’s what I’ll say to that — How could anybody know that based on one game (good or bad)?

Look around the league right now. The three other first round rookie starters right now have all struggled as well. Zach Wilson had a four interception game in Week 2 and is currently leading one of the league’s worst offenses. Trevor Lawrence has yet to win a game in Jacksonville and has thrown a bunch of interceptions. Even Mac Jones has had moments of good and not so good.

The Bears situation is obviously different, but the rush to any sort of judgement after the offensive performance we saw on Sunday is simply unwarranted. Fields was bad. Nagy was bad. The offensive line was even worse. All of these things can be true. Most importantly, that Browns defense that had a lot of expectations finally performed.

Barring health, I expect Fields to get the start again this weekend. Let’s see what he looks like against a (much) lesser defense in Detroit. It’s also worth noting that the game will be at Soldier Field, so the environment should be better for him.

If I had to rank (in order) what went wrong last Sunday it would be this:

  1. Offensive Line
  2. Matt Nagy’s play calling
  3. Justin Fields’ play
  4. Pass catcher’s lack of separation
  5. Lack of overall offensive talent

Again, I know it’s easy for folks to want to blame a single entity for this historically bad performance, but it was a group effort. The offensive line gave up nine sacks. Regardless of how you cut it, that’s inexcusable. We’ve covered Nagy’s play calling at nauseum, so I think we can move onto Fields’ play, which was not good either. The final two points are the ones I feel like are overlooked, though. None of the team’s pass catchers could consistently separate in the game, especially late. That led to a bunch of tight window throws. Finally, the lack of overall offensive talent showed up all over the place. The offensive line, their receivers, their tight ends, etc. Yes, the team added speed, but that speed came in the form of three nd of the roster receivers that have yet to really have much of an impact for this team.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Again, I’ll be the first to say that I would be absolutely SHOCKED if Nagy was fired mid-season. In the Bears’ long history of being a professional football team, they’ve never fired a head coach in-season.

With that being said, I think your question brings up a few interesting points. Hypothetically, if he was fired mid-season, I think somebody like offensive coordinator Bill Lazor would take over the play calling and operate from a similar playbook. So, in theory, no, I don’t think his development would be too hampered.

To zoom out on the bigger picture, I do believe this is Nagy’s last season in Chicago barring some magical offensive turnaround. Sunday’s massacre was only one game, but it also acted as the “cherry on top” to a lot of the same issues we’ve seen Nagy’s offense struggle with for three-plus years. At this point I would start mentally preparing for Fields to be learning a brand new system in 2022. Is it ideal? Absolutely not, but it’s also not a career death sentence either. Just look at how well Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has done in a brand new offense.

The bigger priority for the Bears moving forward should be simple. Put Fields in the best position to succeed. That doesn’t just go for the coaching staff, but the personnel within the offense he’s playing with too.

Maybe it’s just me but I can’t envision a scenario where Nagy is fired and Pace is not. Like you pointed out, this is Year 7 of the Pace regime. So far, he has had two head coaches, one winning season and two playoff appearances with no playoff wins.

The McCaskey family thinks highly of him, but there’s absolutely no way they can be happy with what he has accomplished since the 2018 season. Pace has had his good moments, but this current roster is a reflection of him post-rebuild. It’s easy to stack up talent with a lot of money and high picks. It’s much harder when those drafted players start leaving and you have a cap crunch.

All in all, I fully expect Nagy and Pace to both be out the door at season’s end. Especially if this year continues to trend in the direction it currently is. But I don’t think you can let Pace off the hook for another head coaching hire, regardless of how “tied together” he and Nagy are.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve always been a believer in hiring the best head coach candidate, whether that is an offensive, defensive or even special teams coordinator. You could even throw a college name or two into that mix as well.

At least as of right now, I do believe the Bears will make the same mistake they’ve always made. After Lovie, the Bears went offensive minded. That was because their offense couldn’t get over the hump with Jay Cutler and their defense was dominant. After two years of Trestman and a horrible defense, they went back to a defensive minded coach in John Fox. After three years of Fox’s bad offenses and a re-established defense, they went back to the offensive well with Nagy. Noticing a trend here?

So what’s the focus for an upcoming head coach search right now? Fix a really bad offense. Hence why I fully expect them to hire a well-regarded offensive mind. With that in mind, here are a few offensive minded names that I like:

  • Joe Brady (Carolina)
  • Brian Daboll (Buffalo)
  • Kellen Moore (Dallas)

Brady has done some fantastic things with Sam Darnold so far and has proven himself to be a very innovative offensive mind. He also played a big role in the ascension of Joe Burrow at LSU. Daboll has done wonders for Josh Allen’s development as well and remains the most popular name. Moore is another name that is very intriguing. He’s well regarded in the league and while he’s still young and pretty new to coaching, he could be a star in the making.

Another less likely name to keep an eye on? Matt Campbell (Iowa State) who has done wonders turning the Cyclones back into a respectable football program within the Big 12. I somewhat doubt he’ll leave Ames any time soon, but if he does the Bears should absolutely take a look.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

I might bite off my own knee caps if the Bears look anything like they did in Week 3. Especially against a lowly Detroit Lions team still searching for their first win.

In all seriousness, the Lions may lack overall talent, but new head coach Dan Campbell does have them playing hard and making each game a fist fight. While I fully expect the Bears to rebound from another bad loss (yet again), this is not a game they should be taking lightly. The Lions offense has shown they can score points better than the Bears and they seem to have more overall fight than Chicago in the early season.

The Bears have already taken a pair of black eyes in the early going, but a loss to Detroit could really send this season into an early tailspin.