The most surprising thing last Monday in Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s press conference the day after an embarrassing loss to the New Orleans Saints was that over the entire 24 minutes he was grilled, Nagy was not asked a single question about his defense which had just played its worst game in 364 days.Yes, the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky in particular were awful vs. the Saints and it was magnified by all the hoopla and excitement that surrounded its alleged pending improvement throughout the offseason and summer.
But even if Nagy can get his pet projects pointed in the right direction, neither is the reason the Bears were a popular pick to repeat as division champions and make some noise in the playoffs this year.
These Bears are built to win behind a defense that is supposed to be special.
Since leaving for London three weeks ago, it has been especially poor, and it feels like more than anything that is why many of us feel this year’s 3-3 is a lot different than last year’s.
Interestingly, though, the facts suggest there are more similarities between this year and last than differences.
The Bears got to 3-1 a year ago by doing more to lose the opener to the Packers than what Green Bay did to beat them and then putting together lackluster wins over Seattle and Arizona before exploding in what was the most dominant win of the season over the Bucs.
This year has been almost a carbon copy with a similar loss to the Packers, ugly wins at Denver and Washington and then one of their best performances in years thrashing the Vikings.
Last season, the bye came in Week 4 and they came out of it with their worst performance of the year, losing at Miami with the defense giving up 31 points and 541 yards of offense to a bad Dolphins team.
A week later, just like the visit from the Saints Sunday, the NFL’s best team, New England, came in and hung 38 points and another 381 yards on the defense.
I have no idea what’s next, but last year’s 3-3 and this year’s are eerily similar.
Last season’s two-game collapse was spurred in part by an injury to Khalil Mack in Miami; this year’s by the loss of Akiem Hicks in London.
How did the Bears get it turned? An inferior Jets team came to town and the defense stoned them, allowing just 207 yards, 57 on the ground on 24 carries and only 10 points.
Here is where we do see the first major difference, though. Though Mack would miss the Jets and the Bills a week later, he was back to being Mack after that.
Hicks is done for at least six more weeks, if he returns at all.
And there is more.
Nagy did confirm Wednesday that while Roquan Smith has been back on the field for the past two games, he has not been the player he was before his personal issues surfaced.
“No. He can definitely play better. And he knows that, Nagy said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
Equally concerning, I asked Nagy if he shared my observations that the defense has not been as physical or aggressive as the unit that was dominating the league before flying across the pond.
“Well, I would agree with that. There hasn’t been that physicality.
“They know that. Again, none of it is because of a lack of want. A lot of it just comes down to there are certain plays and certain parts of the game that it’s not getting done, and it was before.
“It all gets magnified when you lose, in every area. We know that. We accept that, and we want to make sure we do everything we can to prevent, whether it’s someone’s play or effort or execution.”
What turned the Bears from 3-3 last year were a well-managed offense, and the emergence of super stars like Mack, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson with tremendous support from Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Smith and others.
Those pieces are all still here.
Whether they can author a repeat performance is the question of the hour, and if they can, it must start Sunday against the Chargers.