Football

David Haugh: Placing blame for Bears’ opening dud is less important than cleaning up the mess quickly

Football conditions players and coaches to be long on patience and short on memory.

If only the rest of us could forget the Bears' 10-3 season-opening defeat to the Packers that raised uncomfortable questions about quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy.

Who was more culpable for the offensive collapse?

Our civic debate over how to divvy up blame continues with no wrong answer. How Trubisky played was more deflating because of all of the hype surrounding his development. How Nagy coached was more disappointing based on expectations.

Everybody hoped for more out of Trubisky given this game began his third year as an NFL starter and second in Nagy's offense. We expected more out of Nagy given he is a more proven play-caller than Trubisky is a quarterback and is the reigning NFL coach of the year.

We can agree the narrative needs to change beginning Sunday in Denver or else this season risks getting away from the Bears quicker than an Aaron Rodgers release. In Vic Fangio, the Bears face a proud man who believes he should have been hired instead of Nagy and who has unique knowledge of what troubles Trubisky most. Nobody will care whose fault it was if Trubisky and Nagy prove they can learn from their mistakes immediately.

Trubisky bears slightly more responsibility because he left too many yards on the field by missing throws and reads that could have bailed out Nagy for his strategy. That's what real franchise quarterbacks do. Too often Trubisky resembled a rookie trying to adapt to the speed of NFL defenses rather than a guy starting his 28th game. His statistics lied. He played much worse than completing 26 of 45 passes for 228 yards with an interception and a 62.1 passer rating implied. The Packers dropped at least two more passes that could have been picks.

The gap between Trubisky and some of the young, playmaking quarterbacks of Week 1 widened. With the Bears defense clearly elite, all Trubisky needs to do is be among the NFL's middle-of-the-pack quarterbacks, but he fell well short of that standard.

When Hall of Famer Steve Young bluntly criticized Trubisky for a "high school staredown" on the interception by Packers safety Adrian Amos, it stung because the truth hurts. When Packers cornerback Tramon Williams revealed the game plan – "We knew if we could get Mitchell Trubisky to play quarterback, we could win," Williams told reporters – it provided an enlightening glimpse into the minds of NFL defensive coordinators. Expect more defenses to focus on setting the edge to keep Trubisky in the pocket and force him to rely on his head and arm more than his legs.

Perhaps the most alarming part of Trubisky's uneven performance was that it came as little surprise to those who paid attention to Bears practices throughout the preseason. That inconsistency and inaccuracy carried over into the game – underscoring why Trubisky needed preseason action more than anybody wanted to admit.

Trubisky repeating bad habits tied to his inability to locate secondary receivers also reminded everyone – perhaps even the Bears coaching staff – how much more evidence is required before the organization feels confident making a nine-figure commitment to an unproven player. At this point, it's premature to assume Trubisky will play well enough in 2019 to make a conversation about a contract extension one worth having.

As for Nagy, his growing reputation as an offensive mastermind has begun to outweigh the results. Nagy took the league by storm as the Bears averaged 29.8 points through the first nine games of his first season. But in the second half of his brief tenure – the nine games since Week 11 last Nov. 18 – the Bears have averaged just 18.8 points. That's a precipitous drop-off that suggests the league is adjusting.

Running the ball occasionally appears to bore Nagy, who regretted the play-calling within minutes of losing his second straight opener. No viable excuse works for Nagy calling 50 pass plays to 15 runs. Nagy wore a fedora to Soldier Field as a tribute to George Halas, then paid homage to Don "Air" Coryell by abandoning the run. Nagy citing the number of run-pass options called that turned into pass plays – essentially putting those choices on Trubisky – raised an eyebrow.

But not as much as hearing Nagy offer special teams coordinator Chris Tabor as a sacrificial lamb during his explanation of why he passed on a 51-yard field-goal attempt. According to Nagy, he followed Tabor's recommendation that the Bears weren't close enough for Eddy Pineiro to try a field goal on fourth-and-10 from the 33-yard line. If the Bears can't trust a kicker to attempt a 51-yarder under ideal conditions in a 7-3 game, they chose the wrong kicker. If the coach can't overrule a special teams coordinator on such a pivotal decision, it's fair to question the judgment of both.

Nothing but a lack of confidence in Pineiro explains Nagy's decision – or supports his logic. Since 2010, according to Pro Football Reference, NFL kickers have converted 68.7% of field goals from 51 yards (147 of 214). Analytics show the probability of making that field goal was much higher than moving the chains on fourth-and-long. Nagy won't go 12-4 again by coaching scared. The Bears won't get to the Super Bowl by playing tentatively.

The defense held up its end by holding Rodgers and the Packers to 10 points in a championship-level effort. The offense lacked execution from its quarterback and discretion from the coach. Both must do their jobs better. Raise your hand if that sounds familiar after 99 years of pro football in Chicago.

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