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Analyzing the Precarious Future of Bears Coach Matt Nagy


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The good, the bad and the questions: Analyzing the precarious future of Bears coach Matt Nagy

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 10:  Head coach Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears celebrates a win against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Bears defeated the Raiders 20-9. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
By Adam Jahns Nov 15, 2021 comment-icon@2x.png 101 save-icon@2x.png

The Bears are 3-6 and losers of four consecutive games, but you wouldn’t know it when coach Matt Nagy discusses rookie quarterback Justin Fields. You can see it in his smile and hear it in his voice. He’s happy with Fields’ progress, and there is plenty of room for improvement.

But could it be better? Should it be better? And can it get better next season?

If chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips are being honest with the evaluation of their team, those are questions they must continually ask themselves over the next eight games when considering what’s next for Nagy and their prized rookie quarterback. The full picture of Nagy has plenty of good, bad and lingering questions.

The quarterbacks

The good: It starts with Nagy’s place in the evaluation of Fields and his relationship with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. Their connection as former quarterbacks and college rivals at Delaware and New Hampshire, respectively, resulted in a friendship and then plenty of conversations about Fields before this year’s draft. Nagy coveted Fields. With Nagy at his side, general manager Ryan Pace stayed true to his aggressive approach to the draft and made the move up for Fields. The teams that passed on him appear to be paying for it, too. Fields’ recent success against the 49ers and Steelers also is a positive for Nagy and his coaching staff.

The bad: Nagy was hired in part because Pace and the Bears believed in his ability to develop quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It never happened. Trubisky didn’t turn his 2018 season, which included the third-best QBR that year and a Pro Bowl appearance as an alternate, into long-term success. Part of that is on Trubisky and what he couldn’t consistently do well on the field.

The other part of that is Nagy’s inability to put Trubisky into the best situation. Nagy’s frustrations grew into calls for change. Nagy and his staff presented veteran Nick Foles as a solution for the offense last year, but he played worse than Trubisky.

Last season became an indictment of Nagy and his system. Despite a 2-0 start, Nagy benched Trubisky in Week 3 against the Falcons in favor of Foles. Nagy created his own controversy at the most important position in sports. Foles struggled and was eventually injured. Nagy handed play calling to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, while Trubisky returned in Week 11 as the Bears’ starter. With Trubisky, the Bears went 3-3 in their final six games and snuck into the playoffs, taking advantage of the added seventh seed.

Then, there’s this season. Nagy’s stubbornness with his plan for Fields, which involved sitting him behind Andy Dalton for the duration of this season, has resulted in more growing pains for the rookie after that plan was scrapped in a matter of weeks. Dalton got the vast majority of the first-team snaps in training camp.

Will Matt Nagy’s connection with and coaching of rookie quarterback Justin Fields be enough to save his job? (Quinn Harris / USA Today)

The question: Is Fields the answer for what ails Nagy’s offense? In 2017, Alex Smith was a different quarterback with Nagy as his offensive coordinator with the Chiefs. Smith stretched the field more vertically. He set career highs with 26 touchdown passes, 7.65 adjusted net yards per attempt, 8.6 adjusted yards gained per pass attempt and 269.5 passing yards per game, according to Pro Football Reference. His 65.1 QBR also was his best mark with the Chiefs.

Trubisky’s inability to complete throws past 10 yards became a serious issue for Nagy. Fields can hit them. Fields already has 20 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season, tying Trubisky’s total from last season. Fields is averaging 10.1 intended air yards/per completion. Trubisky’s best average was 8.8 in 2018.

The offense

The good: The Bears have finally figured out their run game. Heading into Week 10, they ranked fifth, averaging 136.6 yards per game. It didn’t struggle when David Montgomery was injured, either. Rookie Khalil Herbert, a sixth-round pick, played well in Montgomery’s place. It also works well for the linemen, a group that includes 39-year-old Jason Peters and 22-year-old rookie Larry Borom at the tackle spots.

In 2018, the Bears had a top-10 scoring offense. Trubisky and company benefited from the takeaways Vic Fangio’s defense produced, but trick plays, from Santa’s Sleigh to Willy Wonka, also made what Nagy was installing exciting. His players loved it.

The bad: Nagy’s decision to fire himself twice as the Bears’ play caller shouldn’t be praised. It’s the best example of his shortcomings as the person in charge of running the entire offense. The numbers illustrate its ineffectiveness and awfulness.

In Nagy’s three full seasons, the Bears’ rushing offense has ranked 11th, 27th and 25th. The passing offense has ranked 21st, 25th and 22nd in yards. It’s ranked 32nd this season. The Bears’ scoring offense ranked eighth in 2018. The defense helped with that. Without the defensive takeaways, they were 29th and 22nd in scoring in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

The advanced metrics don’t like Nagy’s offense, either. According to nflfastR, the Bears have ranked 25th, 27th and 24th in expected points added/per play in the past three seasons. Heading into Week 10 this year, they were 29th.

Poorly timed timeouts, misalignments, penalties and other mistakes also have plagued Nagy’s offense. The issues are widespread, but team discipline always starts with the head coach.

The question: Are the Bears’ long-standing problems on offense the result of bad quarterback play, bad scheme, bad personnel up front or all of the above? The best answer is all of the above, which reflects poorly on Nagy. As coaches often say, it’s on them to put their players in the best positions to be successful.

Nagy’s impatience with his linemen resulted in the dismissal of line coach Harry Hiestand but also the departure of Kyle Long. But there are other personnel questions. Jordan Howard produced at a Pro Bowl-worthy rate for Fox but not for Nagy. Anthony Miller went from leading the team in touchdown catches as a rookie in 2018 to being on the Steelers practice squad last week during “Monday Night Football.” Allen Robinson’s 102 catches ranked fourth among receivers last season. After nine weeks this season, 60 players had more receptions than Robinson.

One more question: Will Fields be able to change everything about the offense? There are signs that Fields has that type of potential. He led all quarterbacks in Week 9 with six passes of 20 yards or more against the Steelers at Heinz Field. But the Bears offense still scored only 20 points in Pittsburgh, with seven coming from special teams. After nine weeks this season, which includes six starts by Fields, the Bears offense ranked 30th in scoring.

The team

The good: Nagy’s ability to reach the playoffs in two of his first three seasons as a head coach is important to the McCaskey family and Phillips. It’s also what distinguishes Nagy from John Fox, Marc Trestman and even Mike Ditka.

Lovie Smith achieved the same as Nagy, losing the Super Bowl in his third season. Ditka didn’t make the playoffs until his third season as Bears coach. He won the Super Bowl in his fifth.

Nagy’s teams have displayed fight and resolve in going 12-4, 8-8 and 8-8 in his first three seasons. Compared with Trestman and Fox, the internal conflicts — at least the ones that became public — have been minimal to this point in his tenure. The major blemishes have been Miller and Javon Wims throwing punches against the Saints.

The Bears endured a six-game losing streak last season, which included a QB controversy of Nagy’s own making, but still made the playoffs. Nagy’s teams have typically stuck together. The McCaskeys will see value in that.

The bad: Some of the Bears’ problems are the result of Nagy’s decision-making, whether it’s the pursuit of Foles last season or rehiring himself as the play caller for this season. His failure to find what consistently worked for Trubisky should still be questioned, as well as his decision to limit Fields’ first-team work before this season began.

Nagy’s coaching staff has lacked stability. After the 2019 season, he fired Hiestand, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride. Before this season, there was an exodus of coaches on both sides of the ball, highlighted by the retirement of defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. Changes happen often in the NFL, but coaches typically don’t leave sustainable situations.

As of Sunday, Football Outsiders had the Bears with a 1.9 percent chance of advancing to the postseason. FiveThirtyEight had them at 6 percent.

The questions: Are we experiencing the end of the Nagy era? Or is this just the beginning of his time with Fields? There are eight more games for Nagy to add to the good and the bad — and to answer some questions.

(Top photo: Chris Unger / Getty Images)

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Nagy is simply trash needing to be taken out. 

Botched the QB position every year

Never dis well supporting the running game

WRs have regressed under him the longer they have been under him

Our best OL is a 39 year old signed off the street because he plays musical chairs to ensure mediocrity


His win-loss record isn't indicative of his ability. He rode the defense for 3 years and now that they've regressed in talent the record is terrible. 


He offers less than John Fox and arguably Trestman at this point. 

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