After watching tape of Monday night's 19-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field, Bears coach Matt Nagy on Tuesday discussed three things that stood out to him in the game:
(1) The offense continued to sputter, failing to score a touchdown and generating only 149 total yards and 10 first downs.
Nagy made the difficult decision to relinquish play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in advance of the game, but the offense remained stalled.
Although the 149 yards were the fewest in Nagy's three seasons as coach, the Bears moved the ball on their second possession of the game, marching 70 yards on 14 plays to the Vikings' 5. The offense picked up five first downs on the drive—half of its total for the game. But the Bears were forced to settle for a field goal after Nick Foles failed to see Darnell Mooney break open over the middle and instead threw an incomplete pass in traffic in the right corner of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 5.
"I thought there were some missed opportunities early in that game that we did not hit on that we could have," Nagy said.
The Bears struggled once again on third-down, converting just 2-of-11 opportunities (18 percent) after being limited to 2-of-15 on third down (13 percent) a week earlier in a loss to the Titans. The Vikings generated consistent pressure on Foles with third-down stunts and blitzes.
"On third down, some of the stuff with protections, they did a good job schematically against us and forced us into not being able to get completions," Nagy said. "Until we stop it, you're seeing teams that are doing a lot of different games on the front line. They're trying to get you to twist and turn and get your offensive linemen to get off course and off track so they can create an edge and some leverage and get some lanes to the quarterback. I felt like there was some times where that happened, where they got us, and other times where it's stepping up in the pocket, moving, sliding left [and] throwing right, sliding right [and] throwing left, that that happens as well.
"There were some times in there now where our offensive line was doing a good job and giving time for us to make plays. There was a couple times where they got us. And so we've just got to focus on that and make sure that we're picking and choosing at the right time. I think I said it last night, there were some times that we were in five-man protection where they got us, and that's what we've got to fix."
(2) Nagy was impressed with another strong performance by the Bears defense, especially inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
The defense held Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook to 96 yards on 30 carries, a 3.2-yard average that was his lowest of the season. Cook had just 39 yards on 19 attempts through the first three quarters before gaining 57 yards on 11 carries in the fourth period after defensive tackle Akiem Hicks had exited with a strained hamstring.
"No. 1 with the defense, the 3.2 yards per carry, holding Dalvin Cook to that, I thought that was a good job there," Nagy said. "Roquan Smith flying around, 14 tackles. That's been a consistent theme all year long with him. I'm proud of him."
Smith continues to play like the Bears envisioned when they selected him with the eighth pick in the 2018 draft out of Georgia. In addition to his team-high 14 tackles, he also recorded the Bears' only sack of Kirk Cousins as well as three tackles-for-loss. Smith now leads the NFL with 15 tackles-for-loss this season, leap-frogging Steelers teammates T.J. Watt and Vince Williams, both of whom have 14. Smith is also tied for the NFL lead in tackles with 96 with Giants linebacker Blake Martinez.
After failing to generate a takeaway in its two previous games, the defense produced two on the Vikings' first four drives. First, Danny Trevathan forced a fumble by tight end Kyle Rudolph that Tashaun Gipson Sr. recovered, and Khalil Mack later intercepted a Cousins pass that deflected off receiver Adam Thielen.
The Bears were only able to turn the takeaways into three points, however. Two plays after Gipson's fumble recovery, Foles' pass deflected off Anthony Miller's hands and was intercepted by Harrison Smith. After Mack's career-long 33-yard interception return to the Minnesota 45, Foles completed a 21-yard pass to Miller. But the Bears failed to gain any yards on their next three plays and settled for Cairo Santos' 42-yard field goal.
(3) Nagy was pleased with how the Bears performed on special teams, particularly Cordarrelle Patterson's 104-yard kickoff return touchdown.
Patterson, a three-time All-Pro selection, provided a huge jolt of energy, swinging the momentum in his team's direction by returning the second-half kickoff for a TD that gave the Bears a 13-7 lead.
"I love seeing the touchdown," Nagy said. "I've been challenging 'CP' in a good way all season long, and so to have him be able to return that and for the guys to fit their blocks the right way and for 'CP' to hit one, we needed that. That was a huge momentum deal. You felt really good there going up 13-7. You could just feel [the momentum] swinging. And the energy on the sideline was awesome."
Unfortunately, the mojo didn't last. Dwayne Harris muffed a punt that the Vikings recovered at the Bears' 20, and although the defense held, Minnesota regained the momentum with a 37-yard field goal that closed the gap to 13-10. The Bears offense followed with four straight three-and-outs, mustering just three yards on 12 plays, including on one drive that started at the Vikings' 46.
"Having that field position right after that and not being able to capitalize, that's the part that frustrates you," Nagy said. "We were in great position yesterday to take over that game and run with it and get that win, and we didn't do it."
Nagy also lauded Santos, who made his only two field-goal attempts from 23 and 42 yards and has now converted 17-of-19 field-goal tries (89.5 percent) this season, including his last 14 straight. "Cairo going 2-for-2 and hitting 14 in a row I think is a story that obviously is being covered up right now with some of the other struggles," Nagy said.