Matt Nagy intimated that during the Bears’ off-week there wasn’t an overwhelming body of work by his team to self-scout. Four games. Not a lot.
But the first four weeks have offered a few insights into traits of the first-time head coach, and they are for the most part positive. They also point in a good direction for a team about to take on the first of two straight teams with winning records.
The “prep” trait
The first trait is a significant one, perhaps the most significant: While Nagy has never been a head coach other than a brief stint as a high school JV coach, the third-youngest NFL head coach has repeatedly exhibited the ability to prepare and to do so to a degree that produces wins at the NFL level. Marc Trestman was organized; this is different.
When Nagy, and his staff, have time to prepare, they have done damage. Given two weeks to prepare for Miami… .
Prep: In three of his first four games, Nagy’s offense has scored a touchdown on its opening possession. His team has held at least a touchdown lead at the end of every first quarter other than at Arizona. In that game, his quarterback incurred two third-down sacks, the first contributing to a missed field goal and the second resulting in a fumble and Cardinals TD a play later.
The “thumb” trait
Fingers are easy to point when adversity happens. Pointing the thumb, at oneself, is not so easy, or so common.
Nagy is self-aware and self-critical. Not every head coach is, one or the other, or both. More than a few are doctrinaire, who believe in their systems and concepts to the point of bull-headedness (See: McDaniel, Josh, Denver). For Bill Belichick to live according to a my-way-or-highway dictum is one thing; for a first-time young coach, something else entirely.
Nagy has taken responsibility for poor play-calls. And he has been the clear that his players are not the only ones doing the learning.
“What’s neat is that there are concepts that weren’t as good to us in Kansas City that are good here, that are working,” Nagy said. “I’m learning that and now those are the ones I’m going to start to go to because I see that.
“And vice versa, there’s some that we did well in Kansas City that might not be as efficient now. So I have to adjust to how I do that, and that’s OK.”
The “buy-in” trait
Players have a special place in their hearts for coaches whose operating philosophy is not about jamming them into that coaches’ scheme, but fully understanding a player’s abilities and truly working to make that player reach his own personal zenith. That produces buy-in by players, and when the game plans and specifics of coaching produce wins, the belief builds geometrically.
Vic Fangio had achieved that among his defensive players even before this year. Nagy has engendered that in his locker room in general (three straight wins will do that), and confidence in his coaching becomes confidence in those players’ following the plans.
“When coach Nagy calls a play and he feels good about it, it’s definitely going to work,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky. “So I’m still figuring out the plays that I still like and just going through the more reps I get at them the more comfortable we get with them. But coach Nagy has definitely put us in a bunch of great spots, and it’s my job and our job as an offense to go out there and execute and make it work in situations.”
For what it’s worth, regarding the only two current head coaches younger than he is, Nagy has matched Sean McVay’s mark (3-1) through the latter’s first four games coaching the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers opened 0-9 under him, so not a high bar to clear there.
“For me, I think the biggest thing right now is creating this identity as a team of who were are and learning through the process when you lose, how to respond with a win, and then when you win how to respond with a win. Now we’ll see how we’ll respond after a ‘bye.’”
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For the first time in the Super Bowl era, four teams directed by rookie quarterbacks – Josh Allen (Buffalo), Sam Darnold (NY Jets), Baker Mayfield (Cleveland), Josh Rosen (Arizona) – won last weekend. But the impact of fledgling NFL QB’s reaches deeper.
Fold in second-year No. 1’s Pat Mahomes (Kansas City) and Deshaun Watson (Houston) who also put up wins. Trubisky had an off week after delivering a career (so far) day in the Bears’ win over Tampa Bay.
Then add in Jared Goff (LA Rams) and Carson Wentz (Philadelphia) and the weekend becomes arguably one of the the most GM-vindicating game lineups in NFL annals; virtually every hoped-for young “franchise” quarterback made his franchise happy. And that doesn’t include Dallas, whose Dak Prescott was an overtime loser to Watson and the Texans, a game where both young guys obviously couldn’t be winners.
The last time a sea change of this magnitude swept over the top echelon of the NFL was with the ’83 draft class that included John Elway (Denver), Tony Eason (New England), Jim Kelly (Buffalo) and Dan Marino (Miami), although Kelly’s early impact play was in the USFL. All of their teams were in their respective postseasons within two years of drafting them.