Matt Nagy hasn’t been in Chicago all that long. But he has a sense of perspective, and maybe an awareness of Bears history, that his players (and fan base) sorely need in the aftermath of Sunday’s heady 48-10 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The perspective is this: Don’t trust the buzz.
Nagy’s Bears have won the three games since their demoralizing opening-weekend loss to the Green Bay Packers. The streak has landed them a 3-1 record and first place in the NFC North. In the course of those three games, Nagy learned how his young team responded to a loss. And then to a win.
But this one is different from those victories over Seattle and Arizona, because it was the complete football game, with dominance in all three phases. Because it all went so well against Tampa Bay, and because Nagy knows his team is capable of complacency even when Aaron Rodgers is involved, the pitfalls coming out of the Buccaneers game may be more challenging than any so far.
And Nagy knows it.
“You've got to keep the horse blinders on and you cannot let any of the noise affect who we are as a team,” Nagy said, reiterating what he told the team on Monday before releasing them for a week off. “I'd say the same thing if we were 1-3. ‘It's a long year. We need to understand that control what we can control and one-game-at-a-time mentality. Don't get too high.
“Do not think that you're a playoff team. Do not think that you're a team that can just go out in the field and win because you're 3-1 and you're the Chicago Bears. That's not true. We need to understand that every game we need to bring our best. That was a rare game yesterday to win by 38 points. There's too much parity in this league. And as a young team, we need to have the mentality of one game at a time.”
He has Bears history to underscore his points.
After annihilating the Green Bay Packers 61-7 late in the 1980 season, the Bears next lost (at home) 17-14 to the eventual 6-10 Cincinnati Bengals. They then capped off the season with a one-point escape against inept 5-10-1 Tampa Bay a year after Bucs coach John McKay had been asked about his offense’s execution and reportedly said, “I’m in favor of it.”
Vince Evans had picked apart that Tampa Bay defense with a passer rating (158.3) even better than Mitch Trubisky’s against this Tampa Bay defense (154.6).
The sense from Nagy is that he is solidly pleased with the combined performance. Which is reasonable: The 483 yards of offense did come against a defense with three top-15 No. 1’s on its defensive line (Gerald McCoy, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea) and Pro Bowl’ers at linebacker (Lavonte David) and cornerback (Brent Grimes).
But the highlight reel also was set against a defense resembling something between sparring partners and the Washington Generals; Sunday marked the 19th time in 36 games under Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith, including all four this season, that an offense has amassed more than 400 yards on the Buccaneers, the sixth with more than 450. It was the 13th time in those 36 games that Tampa Bay has allowed 30 or more points.
And a fact is that none of the Bears’ three conquests are above .500 and there was a faint air of urgency in Nagy’s voice as he said from the Halas Hall podium the message he had drilled into his team earlier Monday.
“We need to understand that every game we need to bring out best,” Nagy said. “That was a rare game yesterday to win by 38 points. There's too much parity in this league. And as a young team, we need to have the mentality of one game at a time.”
Changing of the guard?
The disparity in utilization of running backs Tarik Cohen (13 carries, eight targets) and Jordan Howard (11 carries, one target) vs. Tampa Bay did not appear to sit well with Howard, the presumed (certainly by Howard) featured back in the Chicago offense. But what was playing out in front of Cohen, Howard and Trubisky warrants its own analysis.
For the third time in four games the Bears rushed for at least 120 yards, with Trubisky accounting for 53 of the 139 total yards. It is a run (pun intended) of ground production a Chicago offense has not put up since the first three games in Dec. 2013. And it was accompanied this time with a combination of solid pass protection and a quarterback behaving on his dropbacks.
Trubisky, whose ginchiness in the pocket has contributed to sacks in the past, was sacked just once by Tampa Bay – only the fourth time in his 16 career games that he has been sacked fewer than two times. (He has never gone un-sacked; curiously, the Bears had lost all three of his previous one-sack games.)
“You stop the tape,” Nagy said, referring to his offensive line, “and you watch the [open] green grass we talk about all week long – if you have green grass as a quarterback… the quarterbacks in this league are too good to not strike. So when the offensive line protects the way they protected, it’s a beautiful thing.”
The line created open spaces for the backs and kept ill-tempered Buccaneers away from their quarterback. But the front five appears to be in at least a partially molten state.
James Daniels played 27 snaps against Tampa Bay, the first snaps on offense for the 2018 No. 2 draft choice. The former Iowa All-American center has been expected to unseat Eric Kush at left guard or step in at center and give coaches the option of moving Cody Whitehair to guard. Guard remains the more likely landing spot, and Nagy and line coach Harry Hiestand gave Daniels good marks for his play against Tampa Bay.
“[Daniels] has to identify fronts and make adjustments in practice,” Hiestand said. “Usually you don’t do things in games better than you do in practice, so once he got leveled off and was seeing things well in practice and his technique, that earned him a spot to play.”