Bears Set Course On Creating Balanced Offensive Identity

"It's a matter of finally getting ready to go out and do it on game day," Matt Nagy says.
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(670 The Score) The disappointment of the Bears' 8-8 season in 2019 wore on coach Matt Nagy with each game that passed.

It wasn't just that the Bears were a .500 team that fell well short of expectations. Nagy's offense was also lost. The unit averaged just 4.7 yards per play last season, ranking 30th in the NFL. Brought to Chicago with the hopes of building a dynamic offense, Nagy was left to realize he needed to reboot his entire scheme.

Nagy recognized the Bears lacked an offensive identity.

"You look at the Super Bowl," Nagy said. "You have one team (the 49ers) that likes to run the ball a lot. You have another team (the Chiefs) that likes to throw the ball a lot. And they both worked. So, what is your identity as a team?"

That answer for the Bears could be right in between -- balance

The roots of Nagy's offense were set in Kansas City with the system of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose scheme looks to spread out several playmakers and find them in space for star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Then there's the offense that coach Kyle Shanahan brought to the 49ers, utilizing a versatile backfield and rushing behind a physical offensive line. It created play-action opportunities for quarterback Jimmy Garappolo.

For Nagy and the Bears, a new offensive identity could combine principles from Reid's scheme in Kansas City with the running identity that Shanahan has forged in San Francisco. That means establishing a rushing threat first and opening up the passing game from there.

"That’s exactly what we want, is a balanced offense," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "We don’t want the defense to know what’s coming. We don’t want them to tee off on the pass. We don’t want to allow that pass rush to go on. I think all those things really calm down when you establish the run game. We’ve seen from last year once we get David (Montgomery), Tarik (Cohen) and those guys going -- and (Cordarrelle Patterson) and all the guys we have in our backfield -- once we get them going, we really see the rest of our offense open up.

"It also takes a lot of pressure off that O-line, that they’re not having to pass-block all the time. They get to go out and attack people and move the line of scrimmage and create those holes for those running backs.

"Any great offense has balance."

The Bears attempted 580 passes and 395 rushes in 2019. By comparison, the 49ers threw 478 passes and ran the football 498 times. The low point for the Bears came on Oct. 20, when they threw 54 passes and ran just seven times in a loss to the Saints.

When Nagy began his evaluation of the Bears' offense this past offseason, it started with the running game. He was frustrated with the offensive line's play and how it hindered Montgomery from finding rushing lanes in his rookie season.

Nagy fired offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and hired Juan Castillo to replace him. While the veteran assistant Castillo wasn't formally named the running game coordinator, that task will be a key part of his job. Nagy believes Castillo can coach a more physical offensive line that's the heart of a newfound commitment to running the football.

The Bears have already noticed a different approach to the rushing game.

"We're starting to run the ball more," running back Ryan Nall said. "We're starting to have a little bit more physicality up front. With the backs, we're starting to run a little bit more confident, a little bit more physical.

"It's frustrating at times when you can't get the run game going. The difference between this year and last year is that we're not going to get away from it. We're going to continue to harp on it and pound and pound and pound."

If the Bears can set a foundation in the running game, they can then look to utilize one of Trubisky's greatest strengths with play-action concepts and a moving pocket. Though Trubisky has been inconsistent in three NFL seasons, he has proved to be capable with designs that move the pocket.

The Bears may operate less out of the shotgun formation than in past years, as having bigger threats at tight end in Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet can allow Nagy to be more creative with his quarterback working under center.

The Bears hope balance is what can maximize Trubisky in his fourth and final season under contract.

"With Trubisky being the starter, we've been getting better," receiver Anthony Miller said of the Bears' offense. "I've been seeing changes in him that I haven't seen before. I'm just eager to get into the season and face the Lions."

Nagy and the Bears' reshuffled coaching staff first began making plans for an altered offense last winter, before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered team facilities and changed this offseason format. The frustration from 2019 was still fresh as they implemented plans for a new scheme.

With a new opportunity ahead, the Bears hope to have an offensive identity that carries them to success this season.

"We like our plan," Nagy said. "We like where we're at. Now it's a matter of finally getting ready to go out and do it on game day."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.