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Bears

Arthur Arkush: Saints leave Bears, Matt Nagy searching for answers

Bears defensive back Kyle Fuller tries to punch the ball away from Saints receiver Michael Thomas after a catch Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears lost, 36-25.
Bears defensive back Kyle Fuller tries to punch the ball away from Saints receiver Michael Thomas after a catch Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears lost, 36-25.

CHICAGO – Mitch Trubisky’s left shoulder might be closer to fixed, but Matt Nagy’s Bears offense never has been further from it.

Welcoming back their starting quarterback and second-leading receiver from injuries after the bye week, the Bears were embarrassed by the New Orleans Saints, who won for the fifth consecutive time without NFL passing champion Drew Brees, 36-25, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as it sounds.

A comedy of errors for a now-3-3 Bears team that began its week off seething after a loss to the Raiders in London and returned expressing unwavering confidence it finally found answers for its anemic offense had 120 yards and again failed to find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter before some garbage-time padding.

Teddy Bridgewater’s Saints gained 419 yards – including 113 rushing by running back Latavius Murray, Alvin Kamara’s injury replacement, who became the second back in as many weeks to eclipse the century mark on a Bears defense that allowed only two backs to reach that mark in the previous 21 games.

The Bears’ MIA running game? It was so invisible and ineffective that Nagy called the number of receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Anthony Miller combined the same number of times as top draft pick David Montgomery’s. Miller fumbled his only opportunity, on a poorly executed jet sweep on the third possession, which was bad enough, but Montgomery also had his first career lost fumble on only his second touch – on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage after intermission, already trailing, 19-10.

Remember, Trubisky was returning after missing the loss to the Raiders and exiting the Week 4 win over the Vikings after only six snaps, and the Bears attempted only seven carries for 17 yards, while Trubisky dropped back 55 times. Another comparison: Murray’s long gain was 17 yards, and his 27 totes were more than a Bears back has had under Nagy.

“I would love to. I would,” said an at-a-loss Nagy when asked for an explanation why an offensive line with continuity and his handpicked backfield replacements haven’t gained traction. “I’m not – I wish – I would love to. You’re right. I don’t know what to tell you. We’ve just got to stay positive, and we’ve got to stay together. Our offensive line cares. Coach Harry Hiestand cares. None of this is because guys don’t care.”

Yet, asked about the run-pass imbalance, especially in the first half with Trubisky struggling and the Bears attempting only five runs, Nagy was more defiant.

“As a play caller, when it’s second-and-9 and second-and-10 and second-and-8, and you’re moving the ball throwing it, you’re getting first downs throwing it. That’s what the objective is, is to get first downs. So I don’t care if I have to throw the ball
60 times a game. If that’s what’s going to help us win a game, or if I have to run it 60 times, I don’t care. I want productive plays.”

However discombobulated one thinks the Bears’ offense is right now, it’s even worse. Yes, Nagy’s team is 3-3 – the same record it sported last season before finishing 12-4, in case one hasn’t heard that of late – but there’s simply no evidence out there right now to suggest Nagy can remedy his and his quarterback’s immense struggles.

And make no mistake: Nagy is mired in the worst kind of slump over the past two games, when he’s been badly out-schemed by Super Bowl-winning coaches in Jon Gruden and Sean Payton. At least they’re Super Bowl-winning coaches. But watching them overcome their personnel deficiencies and consistently move the ball against the Bears’ defense was stunning and magnifies Nagy’s inability to involve his healthy, handpicked offensive weapons not named Allen Robinson.

It might be low-hanging fruit, but any comparison of Sunday’s quarterbacks should really begin with Trubisky vs. Saints gadget specialist and special-teams ace Taysom Hill. Bridgewater did more than enough to beat the Bears’ vaunted defense; Trubisky’s final numbers – 86.3 rating, 63 completion percentage, 2:0 TD-interception ratio – don’t begin to illustrate his poor play.

And a Bears defense used to bailing out Nagy and Trubisky suddenly doesn’t have anyone to bail it out without Akiem Hicks. Studs Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Roquan Smith were nowhere to be found when they were needed most Sunday. New Orleans’ only two established producers on offense – wide receiver Michael Thomas and Murray – almost outgained the entire Bears offense. And forget any extra possessions coming from takeaways against Bridgewater.

“Right now, we have no identity,” Trubisky said in another stunning postgame moment of candor.

“We’re just searching. We don’t have any rhythm. We’re not the offense we were last year. And every year is different, every game is different. So we just got to find ways to look within ourselves, and we have to have guys step up. All I know how to do is look at myself first.”

Plenty of people are looking at Trubisky, but this starts with Nagy, however riddled he remains.

“Something will change,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. ... But something will change because it’s not good enough right now.”

• Arthur Arkush is managing editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at aarkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @ArthurArkush.

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