How Matt Nagy's play-calling, Bears' blocking problems set up Justin Fields to fail in starting debut

Written By Jacob Camenker
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(SN/Getty)

Bears coach Matt Nagy was reluctant to begin the Justin Fields era. His hand was forced in Week 3.

Andy Dalton was declared out for the contest with a knee injury. As a result, Nagy elected to let the No. 11 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft start for the first time against the Browns.

The results were disastrous.

“You almost can’t make it up," Nagy said of his offense's performance to reporters after the loss. "It's that bad."

Fields had an awful day for Chicago. He completed just 6 of 20 passes for 68 yards on the day while added 12 yards on three runs. He was sacked nine times, as the Bears allowed Myles Garrett to break Cleveland's single-game sack record by recording 4.5 sacks.

The Bears' offense fell completely flat in the 26-6 loss. That will do little to cool any hot seat chatter surrounding Nagy.

So, what went wrong for the Bears? It was a combination of several factors of which Nagy had control.

MORE: NFL rookie QB grades for Week 3

Matt Nagy didn't get Justin Fields on the move enough

Fields is an athletic quarterback. He has a cannon of an arm, but he is also mobile and was adept at throwing on the run at Ohio State. However, Bears fans didn't see that too often in Week 3 against the Bears.

Despite that, Nagy elected to have Fields largely operate within the pocket to start the game. He didn't seem to adjust his offense much from the unit that Dalton quarterbacked for the first game and a half of the season. And that was evident from early on in the contest.

“Without getting into too much scheme, we know what we wanted to do and what we were gonna try to do," Nagy said after the game. "There were things they weren't going to let [Fields] do."

Unfortunately, that plan didn't work well. The offensive line faltered frequently against Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney and since Fields was stationary in the pocket, he wasn't able to avoid the rush. He tried to escape the pressure further into the game, but he couldn't quite find the running room.

That falls on Nagy since he didn't try to move the pocket or even utilize a bootleg or two to aid Fields. The coach also didn't even build in many designed quarterback runs for the rookie. Fields had just three carries for 12 yards during the contest as a result.

MORE: Ben Roethlisberger blames himself for Steelers' struggles

The Bears abandoned the run

The run game was part of the problem for the Bears. They effectively rendered themselves one-dimensional by almost completely abandoning the running game after halftime.

David Montgomery had seven first-half carries. He had just three after halftime. Granted, Montgomery didn't have his best game, as he generated only 34 rushing yards on 10 carries during the contest. Still, he averaged as many 3.4 yards per carry during the game, which matched Fields' average of 3.4 yards per pass attempt. So, it wasn't necessarily a performance issue that kept Nagy from counting on Montgomery.

Nor was it the score. The Browns led for most of the second half, but their lead was never more than 10 until early in the fourth quarter. So, the Bears had the opportunity to run the ball more. They chose not to.

Instead, they put the ball in Fields' hands as he attempted to lead the Bears back into action. The pressure got to him. Literally.

MORE: Officials miss critical delay of game call in Lions vs. Ravens game

Bears offensive line struggles

As mentioned earlier, the Bears allowed nine sacks on the day. Some of them were Fields' responsibility, as he had moments where he failed to release the ball in a timely manner.

However, Chicago's offensive line deserves a portion of the blame as well. The unit simply hasn't blocked effectively all season long. The Bears ranked second-to-last league-wide in terms of run blocking before Week 3, per Pro Football Focus. Their struggles in that area continued on Sunday.

The Bears' pass blocking hasn't been great either. They were allowing sacks on 8.6 percent of their plays before Week 3. That was the sixth-worst mark in the NFL, and it only figures to get worse after they allowed nine sacks to the Browns. And they have allowed Fields to be sacked 11 times in six quarters of action this season.

Part of the issue is related to the team's personnel on the offensive line. The team is relying on 39-year-old Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi, who struggled immensely at tackle before finding success at guard last year, as their starting offensive tackles. Why? Because their two draft picks — Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom — landed on IR. That further thinned out the Bears' tackle room, which was already lacking depth.

That highlights a couple of important decisions that the Bears made during the offseason. They let their starting tackles from 2020 — Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie — go in free agency. Leno was cut after the team drafted Jenkins while Massie's option was declined before 2021 NFL free agency. The team surely could use the two veterans given the options they've resorted to on the offensive line.

Is that Nagy's fault? Not necessarily, but he and GM Ryan Pace should've had better contingency plans available at tackle. And cutting Leno to let Jenkins start right away is certainly a questionable move in retrospect.

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