Bears

Matt Nagy 'productive plays' yardstick for staying with run game may be too much for his level of patience

Matt Nagy 'productive plays' yardstick for staying with run game may be too much for his level of patience

For all of Matt Nagy’s stressing before Sunday that Bears run game would be better, it was at a near franchise-low against New Orleans – seven attempts, 17 net yards. If there is a puzzling side to all of that, it lies in what Nagy sees as how a run game needs to operate at before abandoning it.

Nagy has been credited with calling run plays at pretty close to the NFL run-pass ratio. But in the Bears’ three wins he called 24, 24 and 33 runs; in the three losses, 15, 17 and 7. Nagy’s “average” is closer to the situation of having one hand in the oven, the other in the freezer; on “average,” you’re comfortable.

What Nagy is comfortable with, though, is an open question.

He talked Sunday and Monday of wanting “productive plays,” which ostensibly sounds like a reasonable threshold for staying with a concept. But Nagy has a suspect patience fuse, coming from the Andy Reid scheme tree with its roots in high-percentage passing.

Nagy’s wafer-thin commitment to the run game is reminiscent of former coordinator Gary Crowton and coach Marc Trestman, who routinely gave up almost immediately on the run as soon as a series failed to have success on the ground.

But “the run game has to get going. It's as simple as that,” Nagy insisted post-Saints and reiterated on Monday. “And it just has to get going. You can't run for 17 yards in the NFL and think you're going to win a game. You should get 17 yards on one run play.”

Getting 17 yards on one run play certainly would be a lofty positive. Too lofty for the Nagy offense, however, and obviously not what Nagy or any other coach sets as a realistic literal requirement for sticking with a play. Besides, the Bears have just two runs longer than 17 yards, plus runs of 12 and 14 yards, through six games. None of those four 10-yard runs have come since the fourth quarter of the Week 3 Washington game.

But if Nagy is somehow using big plays as the criterion for staying committed to the run game, the run portion of the offense is a distant long shot.

“Early on, we were zero, one and two on our yards running the ball,” Nagy said by way of explanation for getting off the run so completely on Sunday. “It's really simple math. As a play caller, when it's 2nd and 9 and 2nd and 10 and 2nd and 8 and you're moving the ball throwing it, you're getting first downs throwing it, that's what the objective is to get first downs.

“I don't care if I have to throw the ball 60 times a game, if that's what's going to help us win a game, or if I have to run it 60 times, I don't care, I want productive plays. It's not that hard. That's probably why. That's probably where that went, and then you come out in the second half and you want to be more balanced. As bad as all that was and everything that's going on, we came in the locker room, it's 12-10. As bad as that was, 12-10. Think about that, right? So, now you come out in the third quarter, they go down, they score and then we fumble first play. That's hard. That's hard.”

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The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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