Bears

As the losses pile up, so do the criticisms of Matt Nagy's decision-making

As the losses pile up, so do the criticisms of Matt Nagy's decision-making

It was pretty clear that Matt Nagy knew what was coming when he walked onto the stage at Sunday’s postgame press conference. After a two-sentence opening statement, Nagy wasted no time defending his decision not to push for better field position on the Bears’ final drive of the game. With the ball at the Chargers’ 32-yard line, a stopped clock and one time out, the Bears elected to have Mitch Trubisky take a knee in favor of getting Pineiro a comfortable spot. 

“Yeah, I'm not even going to get into that,” he said, when asked why he had Trubisky take a knee. “I have zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. They know you're running the football, so you lose three, four yards, so that wasn't even in our process as coaches to think about that.” 

The decision was heavily criticized after the game, and many saw it as an indictment of Nagy’s faith in the offense. Nagy pointed out that the Bears were already in Pineiro’s range even before Trubisky’s 11-yard scramble got them to the 32, so he felt less of a pressure to keep pushing it. They certainly weren’t going to try throwing it.

“Throw the football right then and there, what happens if you take a sack or there's a fumble?,” he asked. 

“So no, there was zero thought of that. I'll just be brutally clear: Zero thought of throwing the football, zero thought of running the football. You understand me? That's exactly what it was. It's as simple as that.”

Nagy’s late-clock management was a point of (pretty heated!) contention during several points in the press conference. While the Bears struggled to play Red Zone offense all day, their last series of the first half was particularly dysfunctional. 

With the ball on the Chargers’ 4-yard line and 46 seconds left, the Bears would go on to run six plays before settling for a 19-yard field goal. Nagy used his final timeout with 33 seconds left, and Trubisky missed receivers on 1st and 2nd down (one was called back on a LAC PI). Then, on 2nd-and-1 from the 1, with 25 seconds left, the Bears failed to punch it in on a David Montgomery handoff. Picking everyone (including a lot of Chargers dead weight) up, getting set, and spiking the ball took 10-15 seconds, leaving the Bears scrambling to make sure the kicking unit could get on the field. 

“No, we were good there. I was fine with all that,” Nagy said. “What I didn't like is that we took it down to one second. That to me, that became almost bad. But we needed one second on the clock in order to have that opportunity. I was fine with that part. It was just the fact that we were real close to not getting it off.”

Having his play-calling second-guessed to his face is clearly (and understandably) wearing thin on Nagy. On more than one occasion, he was even – for his standards – openly angry. 

“It hurts everybody involved,” he said. “Everybody that likes Chicago Bears or everybody that plays for the Bears, it pulls at you. I just need to make sure that I lead them the right way.” 

 

Roquan Smith's 2019 had ups-and-downs, but it ends with more optimism than ever

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USA Today

Roquan Smith's 2019 had ups-and-downs, but it ends with more optimism than ever

Roquan Smith’s season is over. 

During his Monday morning press conference, Matt Nagy announced that Smith did in fact tear a pectoral muscle and will be placed on injured reserve. 

“[It’s] unfortunate for him,” Nagy added. “He’s really putting together a good year. But he’ll bounce back and that’s that.” 

Not only did Smith’s injury come at the worst possible time for the Bears – two of their last three games are against NFC North rivals on the road – but the injury ends what was the best extended run of play in the second-year linebacker’s career. He'll undergo surgery to fix the muscle, and the timeline for his return is still unclear. 

“I really thought you felt him – especially here in the last several games – really turning it on, really playing fast,” Nagy said. “He’s always had that – every play that he gets, every game that he plays, for the rest of his career, he’s only gonna get better and better in my opinion.”

Comparing his two seasons on paper would suggest that Smith regressed after a Pro Bowl-caliber rookie season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's remarkable that he may still finish the season as the team leader in tackles, not to mention the fact that he was on pace to eclipse last season's stats. He would have needed a few more big games, but going into Thursday night, Smith had logged double-digit tackles in four of his last five starts, including a career-high (16) in their Thanksgiving win just a week before. He finishes 2019 with 100 tackles, two sacks and one interception in 12 games played.

“One thing you can say about Roquan is he will run sideline to sideline,” Akiem Hicks added. “I mean, he just has a pair of wheels on him that just won't stop. That's one of the things that separates him is he can get anywhere you need him to be, whether it's coverage or chasing a running back in the flats. It's pretty impressive.”

Nagy and the Bears talked at length on Monday about the ‘ebb and flow’ of an NFL season, especially as it pertains to younger players. He was quick to dismiss the idea that the mysterious-now-bordering-on-infamous personal absence, which caused Smith to miss Week 4’s win over Minnesota, in any way negatively affected how the organization views Smith’s year-to-year progress. His toughness has never been questioned – Prince Amukamara admitted that he was pretty confident Smith tore the muscle several plays before he came out – and coaches have been pleased with how he stepped up as a leader, especially in Danny Trevathan’s absence. 

“Well last year, coming in missing training camp and then being a rookie with an experienced defense – that can be challenging and he did a good job,” Nagy said. “Then coming into this year, you could sense his personality – you could see it extend a little bit more. You could see the relationships he had with those guys. You could see Danny Trevathan really take him under his wing and that was very important. So he's a guy that's really been growing …” 

And now the Bears head into the three straight weeks of playoff games that aren’t playoff games with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis as their starting inside linebacker duo. It’s a far cry from what the envisioned in Bourbonnais, but Kwiatkoski has earned himself more money every week, and as his top-grade performance against the Cowboys showed, KPL is no slouch either. Pierre-Louis is in line to make only the second start of his six-year career when the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday. 

“Once again, it’s just going back to knowing your ‘Why,’” Pierre-Louis said. “Why you grind each week, why you do the drills, why you go through the reps in practice. It’s times like this when you lean on your brothers. Ro’s down right now, and he’s going to need us for moral support…

“We have the right pieces. I just have to make sure that I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.” 

WATCH: Matt Nagy mic'd up during Bears' win over Cowboys

WATCH: Matt Nagy mic'd up during Bears' win over Cowboys

Bears coach Matt Nagy has maintained a steady and calm demeanor throughout the 2019 season, one which has fallen short of expectations in Chicago and around the NFL. But his team's current three-game winning streak has kept postseason hopes alive, even if just barely. 

And while Nagy may fill postgame press conferences with a bunch of cliches and coach-speak, his on-field personality is a better reflection of the former quarterback he actually is. 

Nagy was mic'd up for the Bears' Week 14 win over the Cowboys and it's easy to see why he's been able to keep this team together despite such a trying season. Other locker rooms might have fractured under the pressure that comes along with failure. Not Chicago's. And it's in large part due to the culture Nagy's created.

Here's a sneak peek into what's led to Nagy's 19-10 record through nearly two seasons on the job:

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