After watching tape of Monday night's 17-9 loss to the Vikings, Bears coach Matt Nagy on Tuesday discussed three things that stood out to him in the game:
(1) Nagy was impressed with how a depleted Bears defense performed against a potent Vikings offense that ranked third in the NFL in total yards.
With all four of their starting defensive backs on the reserve/COVID-19 list—cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Artie Burns and safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson Sr.—the Bears replaced them with unheralded cornerbacks Kindle Vildor and Thomas Graham Jr. and safeties Deon Bush and Teez Tabor.
Unfazed with the task at hand—on a national Monday Night Football stage to boot—the "no-name" secondary was part of a stellar defensive effort. The Bears held the Vikings to a season-low 193 total yards and 13 first downs and limited Kirk Cousins to 87 yards passing, his lowest total in 118 career NFL starts.
"Watching the tape on the game, No. 1, what stands out is the defense," Nagy said. "The swarming and the flying around … when you watch it on tape, you just feel it, from the very first play to the very last play. I really appreciated that."
Nagy singled out Graham, a rookie sixth-round pick who made his NFL debut a memorable one by recording seven tackles and three pass breakups.
"I thought guys had opportunities yesterday to step up," Nagy said. "I thought Thomas Graham had a great game. The rest of the guys on defense, I mean you look across the board, that's a good offense and for them to be able to come out like they did and give us an opportunity to win, nothing changes from what I felt on the sideline and from what I saw on tape. Matter of fact, it was better on tape."
(2) Nagy lamented the Bears' inability to score touchdowns in the red zone.
On their first four possessions inside Minnesota's 20-yard line, the Bears lost a fumble, settled for a field goal and turned the ball over on downs twice. They turned the ball over on downs a third time at the 21, just short of the red zone. So, the offense produced just three points on possessions that reached the Vikings 10, 16, 21, 9 and 14 before scoring their only touchdown on the final play of the game.
"Scoring three points the majority of the game will never win you a football game," Nagy said. "It just doesn't. It doesn't happen. So, we have to understand where that's at and accept it and do everything we can to fix it."
One issue Nagy identified was the Bears' lack of success on third down. They converted just 2-of-12 opportunities, including 0-of-6 in the second half.
They were often in third-and-long: they faced third-and-24 and third-and-25 after quarterback Justin Fields was sacked; and third-and-17, third-and-6 and third-and-20 after rookie tackle Teven Jenkins drew penalties for holding, a false start and unnecessary roughness. But the Bears also failed to convert third-down plays when they needed 2, 2, 9, 4 and 5 yards to pick up first downs.
"You look at it and you see offensively that we're moving the ball, we're getting yards, we're making plays at certain times of the game," Nagy said. "Our last third-down conversion was in the second quarter. That's where we knew going into this we had to be better. We weren't. Those are game-changing plays and moments."
(3) After an excellent special-teams performance a week earlier against the Packers, the third phase was a mixed bag versus the Vikings.
Backup running back Damien Williams, who made a key block on Jakeem Grant Sr.'s 97-yard punt return touchdown in Green Bay, produced another impact play Monday night. In the third quarter, the seventh-year pro deflected a Vikings punt that traveled just 17 yards to the Minnesota 30. Unfortunately, the Bears failed to pick up a first down, turning the ball over on downs when Fields was sacked for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the 21.
The Bears committed two costly mistakes on special teams. First, Cairo Santos' 49-yard field goal attempt that could have trimmed Minnesota's lead to 10-6 late in the first half was deflected by defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson.
And then early in the fourth quarter, Marqui Christian broke up a Cousins pass on third-and-9, forcing the Vikings to punt from their own 24. But Damiere Byrd, who was back to field the ball because Grant had exited with a concussion, muffed the punt and it was recovered by Minnesota at the Bears' 37.
"There is some stuff going on there [on special teams] that that we obviously have to get better at and get cleaned up because those are big parts of the game," Nagy said.