Bears

Matt Nagy preaches patience with Mitch Trubisky, but comparison to Drew Brees falls short

Matt Nagy preaches patience with Mitch Trubisky, but comparison to Drew Brees falls short

Matt Nagy rattled off a handful of numbers during a press conference Saturday afternoon: One touchdown, nine interceptions, a 53.3 passer rating and a 60 percent completion rate for a quarterback who was four games into his second season with a specific offensive-minded head coach. And Nagy stressed this quarterback, without naming names, is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

Nagy’s point was to offer some optimistic context to Mitch Trubisky’s slow start to Year 2 running his offense. That’s because the quarterback he referenced is Drew Brees. 

“I understand everyone wants it now, now, now, now," Nagy said. "I get it. So I need to make sure that I pull back, I stay patient with our offense and who we are because there’s a lot of evidence out there of this stuff that goes on, where the story’s a really good ending in the end.” 

Brees was awful over the first four games of the 2007 season — Sean Payton’s second year as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints — putting up those aforementioned horrific numbers. While the Saints only managed a disappointing 7-9 season that year, Brees led the league in passing attempts and completions, and threw for 4,423 yards with 28 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a rating of 89.4. The next year, he began his streak of seven consecutive Pro Bowls, during which he led the Saints to a Super Bowl. 

But there are a couple of problems with Nagy’s analogy. First: Brees was an All-Pro in 2006, his first year with Patyon, and had an established track record of success with the San Diego Chargers before landing in New Orleans. 2007 was Brees’ sixth year in the league, too. He not only had experience, but he had prior production. 

Trubisky did have a 95.4 passer rating in 2018, though that’s not a good stat to compare quarterbacks from different eras (Trubisky’s 2018 passer rating would’ve been seventh in 2007; it was 16th last year). Overall, the prior production does not exist for Trubisky in the way it existed for Brees. 

So there’s not really a comparison there. But let’s unpack Nagy’s comments about instant gratification, especially in the face of what Patrick Mahomes is doing with the Chiefs and what Deshaun Watson is doing with the Texans. 

“It doesn’t shock me with Kansas City and what’s going on there with coach (Andy) Reid and Patrick and the rest of those coaching staff and players,” Nagy said. “There’s a lot of good things that are going on there. And then you talk about a guy like Deshaun Watson and what they’re doing down there with Houston. 

"But I remember specifically dealing with all three of those quarterbacks, them talking about wanting to be the best quarterback class ever. But that doesn’t happen in 2-3 years. That doesn’t happen in 2-3 years. They’re all going to have their highs and lows. We need to face that.”

The problem here is teams that draft a quarterback in the first round do need some level of instant gratification. Trubisky’s cap hit in 2019 is about $7.9 million, and rises to a little over $9.2 million in 2020. That’s incredibly cheap, and allows the Bears to make the sort of aggressive moves in free agency they have. 

But the Bears need to figure out if Trubisky can be a long-term “eraser,” the kind of quarterback who’s good enough to lift an entire roster when he’s taking up a significant chunk of cap space after earning a massive contract. Brees is one of those guys. So are Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and, when healthy, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton. Mahomes and Watson look capable of being that type of quarterback for years, too.  

But is Matthew Stafford, whose $29.5 million cap hit in 2019 is the largest in the NFL, that guy? Or Derek Carr? Or Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota? 

Every one of those players carries a cap hit of over $20 million in 2019. That’s the cost of doing business with quarterbacks no longer on their rookie contracts (or, in the case if Winston and Mariota, on their fifth-year options). Of Stafford/Carr/Winston/Mariota, can you imagine any of those players leading deep playoff runs? Probably not. 

One of the worst places an NFL team can be stuck is paying an okay-to-good quarterback a ton of money. The Bears are deeply tied to Trubisky, but need to figure out by the end of the 2020 season if he’s worthy of the kind of contract extensions signed by Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, and will be signed by Mahomes and Watson. 

The Bears can, right now, wait for Trubisky to realize the potential they collectively believe he has in him. It’s a lot easier to be patient when your quarterback is making under $10 million on his rookie contract. It’s much more difficult to be patient in that fifth-year option season or during a rich, long-term second contract. 

Two bad games aren’t enough to implode the Bears’ confidence in Trubisky. Four bad games, even at a 2007 Brees-like level, aren’t either. But the Bears will have to make a decision on Trubisky in the next 16 months, and at some point won’t be able to be patient anymore. 

“We know that what we’ve done in the last two games — that’s not what we want to be at all,” Nagy said. “But then there’s patience involved in that and there’s zero panic. So do we want to be better in Week 1 and Week 2? Yes. What are the reasons for that? That’s our job to figure out those solutions. That’s why we have 16 games, is to figure that out.”

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

Hub Arkush, Sam Panayotovich and Ben Pope join Kelly Crull on the panel.

0:00- Mitch Trubisky practices again and he got all of the first-team reps. So will his return help the Bears upset the Saints on Sunday?

8:30- KC Johnson joins Kelly to discuss Luol Deng retiring a Bull, Wendell Carter, Jr.'s thumb injury and to preview the Bulls' preseason finale.

14:00- Ben has the latest on the Blackhawks including Jeremy Colliton's goaltender plans for the week. He also tells us if we should be worried about Jonathan Toews' slow start to the season.

21:00- Will Perdue joins the panel to talk about the importance of a good start this season for the Bulls. Plus, he has his

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Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per SharpFootballStats.com, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better.