For all the heat on QBs Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel and an underachieving offensive line, and for all the scrutiny the TE position, still-floundering run game and supposedly much-improved WR corps has received, it’s fair to wonder whether reigning Coach of the Year Matt Nagy is getting too big a pass with his Bears at 3-2 at the bye.When the only player in Year 2 of Nagy’s offense — whose identity remains a total mystery, we should add — is consummate vet WR Allen Robinson, the answer may be yes.
When Nagy’s offense basically fails to show up in the first 30 minutes in their two toughest games for which to prepare — the opener vs. the Packers following eight months of Super Bowl hype, and last week in London, if for no other reasons than the myriad logistical challenges — the answer also may be yes.
When Nagy makes it clear that he’s as hands-off as it gets with his veteran defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who has exceeded expectations thus far with a still-dynamite unit inherited from Vic Fangio, mind you, the answer again just may be yes.
And when Nagy’s locker room, lauded roundly for its culture and selflessness, has a few early hiccups, however minor Tarik Cohen making Kyle Long go viral in his birthday suit, or whatever it is that occurred behind the scenes with Roquan Smith, among a few others, the answer may be yes.
Now, we’re not suggesting for a moment that Nagy has lost his fastball, that his Coach of the Year award last season was anything but well-deserved, or that the Bears are suddenly not capable of achieving every goal they’ve set forth. The Bears are still a loss from last year’s 3-3 mark before that team finished 12-4 and earned a home game in wild-card weekend. And anyone who might think that Nagy is in jeopardy of losing his locker room clearly doesn’t spend much time around the team.
But with each still-green quarterback that gets thrown into the fire and finds instant success, from Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew to Carolina’s Kyle Allen to even Daniel Jones with the Giants, Nagy’s struggles to coax consistently capable quarterbacking, never mind last year’s QB-whispering results from Trubisky, are magnified.
And considering Daniel is Nagy’s hand-picked guy, and Pace hasn’t picked anyone yet with the exception of Trubisky and Mike Glennon, well, it’s difficult not to be critical when the highest-paid backup in the league can’t stack competent outings in back to back seasons relative to what we’re seeing in far more improbable situations around the league.
Indeed, while much of the local focus during the bye Sunday might be on the clash of the other first-round QBs Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead, perhaps more of it belongs on what’s going on in Jacksonville and Carolina with the sixth-round rookie Minshew and the undrafted first-year player Allen.
Their 105.6 and 107.4 ratings, respectively, are far better than the Bears’ collective 86.3 rating, which ranks 24th in the NFL, several spots ahead of their No. 30 ranks for offensive touchdowns (8) and yards per play (4.5 yards). All three of these stats are well below the pace of last year’s Bears offense, too.
It’s easy to forget all of the subtle changes led by Nagy this offseason that were made with a singular focus of helping the offense break out, like the trade-up for David Montgomery, signing of Cordarrelle Patterson, starting O-line flip-flop of Cody Whitehair and James Daniels and another position switch, Brad Sowell from swing OT to “Y” tight end.
The moves not only haven’t worked, they’ve backfired.
Grill GM Ryan Pace plenty for drafting Trubisky over either of the now-crystal-clear superior alternatives two years ago — Nagy wasn’t even here at the time — but this offseason’s changes on offense never happen without the coach’s approval, if not initiation.
Looking for teams that have managed to resuscitate their run games from flat line a year ago quicker than the Bears? Look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles, now led by Jordan Howard. After finishing last season No. 27 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA run-game metric, they’re currently 16th but climbing quickly. Howard’s 4.7-rushing yard clip is his highest since his rookie season, and he’s doing it without the same kind of volume.
Too obvious? Too big a disparity in O-line talent? What if we stay right in the division and look at the Minnesota Vikings?
Last season, the Vikings ranked 28th in FO’ metric (the Bears were 19th, for what it’s worth). With a new scheme and healthy feature back in Dalvin Cook, Minnesota is 6th in run DVOA and No. 2 in the NFL in rushing yards per game. And they replaced three interior starters, including kicking last year’s center to guard.
Though the Vikings changed their scheme altogether, Nagy’s best bud Doug Pederson has conformed his philosophy a bit to get Howard going recently. Has Nagy remained too rigid with his run game? His pass game? It’s tough to say because we still don’t know what he wants them to consistently look like.
What we do know: Anthony Miller in London finally earned more than 5 targets for the first time since Week 7 of his rookie season and parlayed them into his best game statistically since then. He also hurt the Bears with penalties, but the energy he infused into a lifeless offense, overcoming his own key third-down drop first, no longer can be ignored or underutilized.
We also know Cornelius Lucas and Rashaad Coward have held their own in tough spots over the past several weeks, unlike Charles Leno and Kyle Long. Even if they’re temporary decisions that double as sending strong messages, the bye week surely has to have been an opportunity for Nagy to at least consider O-line tinkering?
Nagy was the first to admit last Sunday that his self-scouting this week truly begins with looking at himself and every one of his players individually before stepping back for the collective evaluation. How will he react when he sees in the mirror a coach who also seems to have taken a step back from where he was during his marvelous maiden head-coaching voyage?