Bears head coach Matt Nagy vowed to find solutions to his ailing offense this week. So he went to his players first.
Wednesday, Nagy referred to “amazing, healthy conversations between coaches and coaches, between coaches and players, players and players, players and coaches” and we know at least one big meeting involving the entire offense took place. In that meeting, the players were given a forum to address their frustrations and provide their own ideas to the coaching staff after the Bears managed just 47 yards last week against the Browns.
“Some guys talked up and spoke their minds and just told Coach what they think we needed to do or maybe change, and he listened to it and he said he’s gonna apply it,” rookie quarterback Justin Fields said. “I think that meeting was well needed and I think it brought us closer together as a team.”
Nagy has avoided specifics from that meeting, but vowed to use his players’ input in this week’s game against the Detroit Lions.
“You take what they give you and you use it,” Nagy said. “And that’s really what I’m gonna do. It’s what we’re gonna do. It’s what they’re gonna do.”
Fields said he didn’t provide any input in the meeting because he’s made just one NFL start, but added that Nick Foles was one player who had “really good things to say.” Foles is the only quarterback on the roster that suffered through last year’s offensive struggles.
Meanwhile, a few players have offered their thoughts on possible changes publicly this week, including tight end Cole Kmet, who stressed the importance of getting back to what the Bears did in their final six games last season when they ran the football well.
“I think just us getting back to that in terms of getting the ball downhill to (running back David Montgomery) and let him do his thing,” Kmet said. “And us coming off the rock and sucking up those linebackers and then being able to create play-action off of that. Just being able to create that natural separation in our routes that way … I think that's something that we were doing at the end of last year and hopefully we can get back to starting this weekend.”
Right tackle Germain Ifedi also offered up some analysis of the Browns game:
“Just speaking for the O-line, I think we could have adjusted quicker. Some of the stunts they were showing us. Some of the looks they were showing us. Some of the things they were even doing when we were able to run the ball. They were slanting a little bit there, for sure on my side and on Jason’s side, they were kind of slanting us. So just things we can adjust on.”
Those adjustments typically would come from offensive line coach Juan Castillo first, but Ifedi took ownership as a player.
“I have to adjust too. So just continue to adjust and continue to adapt when you see what they’re throwing at you. Because every defense has a game plan they’re going to throw at you. And once they hit you in the mouth, you can’t keep getting it in the mouth. You’ve got to eventually adjust, duck and move, and make your adjustment. Because that’s what we’re paid to do.”
How the Bears respond in Sunday’s game will be a better indicator of how productive these conversations between players and coaches have been this week, but it genuinely seems like the players appreciated having input after the offense averaged just 1.1 yards/play in Cleveland.
"The coaches want to be better for us and we want to be better for them. It’s a collaborative effort,” Ifedi said. “I’m not going to sit up here and blow smoke: It was not great. But we know we have the guys to right the ship. We know that that’s a fact.”
Nagy managed to hold the locker room together in 2019 after a four-game losing streak and again in 2020 after a six-game losing streak, but he seems to understand that these are important days at Halas Hall right now.
“I’d be sitting here lying to y’all if I said it’s been easy,” Nagy said this week. “Darn right it has not been easy. It’s been hard. But when I signed up for this job I knew there was going to be times that I go through this kind of stuff and now I’m getting tested to see where I’m at with this.”
Based on what we’ve heard this week, the Detroit Lions should be expecting some changes — Nagy is just not going to offer those changes publicly. He won’t say if he or offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will call the plays and his starting quarterback — between Fields and And Dalton — will be a game-time decision. The players, though, believe Nagy has heard their thoughts and will respond accordingly.
“I think that’s big of him to do that. A lot of coaches wouldn’t do that. A lot of coaches wouldn’t be able to put that on their back,” Ifedi said. “But he was able to look back at the situation and say, ‘What do my guys think?’ because he respects all the guys in the room. If he didn’t respect us, he wouldn’t have asked us that.”
If we’re being honest, it’s not a good sign that the Bears are already at this point in Week 4. But if it leads to positive change and improvements, then that’s all that matters.
“There’s a few things that you learn through having raw, honest conversations. It’s healthy. It’s good. It enables you to realize, you know, why things happen,” Nagy said. “And I think it’s also really good from a coaching perspective to have the talks and communication, open communication with the players”
The most important response will come on the field Sunday. Who calls the plays and who plays quarterback will be interesting, but regardless, the results must be better.