After watching tape of the Bears' 20-17 win over the Bengals Sunday at Soldier Field, coach Matt Nagy discussed three things that stood out to him in the home opener:
(1) Nagy was pleased with how the defense rebounded from a disappointing performance in a season-opening loss to the Rams.
The unit generated takeaways on four straight possessions in the second half against the Bengals, intercepting three straight Joe Burrow passes and scoring a pivotal touchdown on Roquan Smith's 53-yard interception return as the Bears increased their lead from 7-3 to 20-3.
"I talked about the defense swarming," Nagy said. "We talked about it all week last week. They did that. You felt it. You saw the turnovers."
It was a group effort, with all three levels of the defense picking off passes on three consecutive drives. There were interceptions by a linebacker (Smith), cornerback (Jaylon Johnson) and defensive tackle (Angelo Blackson), with Blackson's coming on a pass that was deflected by blitzing linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Nagy lauded first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai for "handling the adversity of that first game." In the Bears' Week 1 loss to the Rams, the defense failed to generate any takeaways and committed costly mental mistakes that led to 67- and 56-yard touchdown passes.
"He never wavered, never panicked," Nagy said. "He was the same. That's the key, is when you're the same person when things are really good or things are really bad, how do you handle that when the storm hits? He still was calm. That's why we gave him the game ball yesterday."
(2) Nagy lamented the offense's inability to capitalize on the takeaways but feels the unit is close to scoring more touchdowns.
The Bears started three straight possessions in Bengals territory at the 39, 36 and 9 following turnovers. Unfortunately, they were unable to get into the end zone, with the drives resulting in two short Cairo Santos fields goals and a punt. The field goals came after the Bears had reached Cincinnati's 5 and 4.
"When you look at the field position with those turnovers, that's the part that jumps out at you," Nagy said. "It wasn't like we were getting turnovers and we were backed up. We were getting turnovers and we were there. To be able to really turn it over and turn it into something that's not three points, for us that's what we're going to emphasize to the offense, to us as coaches, myself included, is those opportunities that come, we want to be able to take advantage of. And yesterday we didn't do that. It got too close.
"Some of it is they did some good things on defense. Some of it for us, I know that we can do some things there, too. But we were just off on a few things."
One of the biggest missed opportunities came after Johnson's interception early in the fourth quarter. On second-and-9 from the Bengals' 35, Justin Fields lofted a pass deep down the left sideline to Allen Robinson II, who failed to haul in the well-thrown ball in the end zone while trying to fend off a defender. A touchdown there would have given the Bears a 24-3 lead. Instead, they were forced to punt two plays later.
"I thought it was a good throw," Nagy said. "It's never easy when you've got a corner on your back and he's putting his arms there and trying to swat at it. That's just a part of football and it's one of those plays that I know A-Rob, 99 times out of 100, he's going to make that play, so we'll go right back to it and give him another shot."
(3) Nagy blamed himself for the Bears targeting tight ends Cole Kmet (1) and Jimmy Graham (0) only once, and neither player catching a pass.
"Not enough targets yesterday and they need to be more involved," Nagy said. "I'm well aware of that. That's my fault for that. I don't want to say [it will] never happen again, but that's not enough."
Kmet caught a 13-yard pass from Fields on third-and-9 that would have given the Bears a first down early in the fourth quarter. But Kmet was penalized for offensive pass interference, nullifying the reception.
While Kmet played 72 percent of the offense's snaps (47 of 65), Graham was on the field for just 34 percent of the plays (22 of 65).
"Some of that is based off of what we think matchup-wise, where he plays more or less," Nagy said. "The other part of that, too, is he understands that we're growing and developing Cole. He gets that. Jimmy's been doing this thing for a long time, and he is actually prideful in knowing he's a big-time mentor to Cole. He knows that. We were very up front with him going into it. But some games he'll have more of a role, and others he might not have as much. It might be more '11' personnel (one running back and one tight end). The same thing with Jesse James, too. There's going to be different times that we feel like we want to use the tight ends more or less."