Andy Reid

The Bears aren’t the Chiefs, no matter how much they would like to be

The Bears aren’t the Chiefs, no matter how much they would like to be

Maybe the least surprising thing about Sunday night at Soldier Field – besides the final score – was how much the two teams interacted before the game. In a general sense, there’s probably no better example of what the Bears are trying to be than the Chiefs. Matt Nagy brought over plenty of coaches from Kansas City when he took the Bears' head coaching job in 2018, and his offensive vision is modeled after Andy Reid’s Patrick Mahomes-led juggernaut, and not just in a complimentary, copy-cat league way. 

It’s not difficult to believe that at one point, a blueprint that cast Mitch Trubisky as Mahomes (and Tarik Cohen as Tyreek Hill and Adam Shaheen as Travis Kelce) felt a little store-brand, but achievable nonetheless. And whatever your personal take on the Nagy/Trubisky pairing is, Sunday night’s 26-3 loss only proved that it’s time for a new blueprint. 

“I just feel like we let each other down, we let the fans down,” Trubisky said. “That's not how we want to finish our last home game at Soldier Field. We just left a lot of plays out there and a lot of uncharacteristic things that you're embarrassed of.” 

It’d be silly to pick any one game to bury either Trubisky or Nagy, as tempting as that specific scenario might be on Monday morning. The two of them led the Bears’ offense in 12 wins, over some good teams, just a year ago. After the mess of this season, the time for relitigating whether they can win going forward will come in January, or February, or March, or April. What can be taken away from Sunday night is that continuing to consider a Mahomsian ceiling for Trubisky is not only unrealistic, but unhelpful. 

The most daunting aspect of how much better Mahomes looked than Trubisky is the fact that, comparatively, Sunday night wasn’t even a spectacular performance by the reigning NFL MVP. Mahomes finished 23-33 with 250 yards and two touchdowns. 

“He’s a special player,” Khalil Mack said. “The receivers that he has are special as well, so it was a hell of a challenge.” 

Even without his gaudiest stats, Mahomes flashed everything Trubisky’s critics have so long been waiting to see. It was Mahomes who pushed the ball downfield on third-and-long, hitting Tyreek Hill for 19 yards when they needed 18. Three quarters later, on fourth-and-23, Trubisky checked down to tight end Eric Saubert for 11. 

“Yeah, I probably should have took a shot,” Trubisky said. “Just when I was escaping the pocket, saw everyone really, really deep.”

"To call a play there to get guys that are going to be wide open is difficult," Nagy added. 

The second-year coach was equally out of his depth on Sunday night, and those same Trubisky critics are already feasting on the postgame quotes about the team coming out sloppy. The weird challenge, a mismanaged first half and continued pre-snap penalties are all things that fall in Nagy's lap, and perpetuate a somewhat-concerning trend of the 2018 Coach of the Year being outcoached in his biggest personal matchups. 

“I honestly felt like today, it felt like team versus team, not player versus player, not coach versus coach,” Nagy said.  

If you want to jump ship on the Nagy/Trubisky Bears, one line at the end of a column isn’t going to stop you. This era is coming to a fork in the road faster than anyone expected, but no one’s careers ended on a night when one team was already eliminated and the other had already clinched. What it did end – or should, at least – is the idea that these two teams have anything in common.

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Bear PAWS: Escaping the shadow of the past vs. the Chiefs

Bear PAWS: Escaping the shadow of the past vs. the Chiefs

I am personally connected to Peyton Manning. Yes, that Peyton Manning, future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. I met and talked with his dad, Archie Manning, and because of the “Six degrees of separation" theory — whereby any person on Earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries — I’m connected to the Manning clan.

Nice theory to help my shameless name-dropping, but in this era of shameless social media, those degrees of separation are probably smaller. Yet, somehow, the Bears and Chiefs might be forever defined by their eight degrees of draft separation. Chicago chose Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft; Kansas City, you guessed it, took Patrick Mahomes eight picks later in the No. 10 spot. Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics) we’ll discover how much No. 8 separates these two teams.

Mahomes is a transcendent talent. Last season, his first starting at quarterback in the NFL, he passed for over 5,000 yards and threw 50 touchdowns. He performed a feat only one other person (2013 Peyton Manning: 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns) has ever accomplished in the history of the game. Conversely, Trubisky — who is in his third season starting for the Bears — has only thrown 48 touchdowns in his career. Ouch!

Entering Saturday, Mahomes is eighth in passing yards (3,606) and his 8.5 yards per pass attempt is third in the league. Trubisky, on the other hand, is 23rd in passing (2,774 yards) and his 6.2 yards per pass attempt ranks 30th overall. There is a lot that separates these two players, but what probably widens the gap is the amount of explosive plays generated within the offenses.

Explosive, big-play passes are considered to be 25+ yards per attempt by NFL standards. The Chiefs’ 40 big-play passes rank second league-wide, with Mahomes accounting for 32 of those. On the other hand, the Bears are 24th in the league with 23 explosive pass plays (Trubisky taking part in 19). The fact that the three top rushing teams in the NFL all have more explosive passing plays than the Bears (Ravens - 25; 49ers - 33; Seahawks - 25) adds context to Chicago’s struggling offense this season. For these chunk plays to have success, the receivers targeted must be capable and productive, too.

Between the two teams, Bears wideout Allen Robinson is the most targeted receiver. His 130 targets are eight more than the Chiefs’ top receiver, tight end Travis Kelce (122). Robinson also has nine big-play receptions to his credit, one more than the eight chunk receptions by Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. Close behind Hill in explosive plays are his teammates, Kelce and fellow wideout Mecole Hardman, each with seven big plays to their name.

Both teams show a quick-strike ability to attack downfield, so having a defensive deterrent to limit each teams’ scoring punch is necessary. The Bears are eighth in the NFL in yards allowed, giving up 324 per game, and eighth in preventing third down conversions at a 34.9 percent rate. They're even better at home, where they allow only 31.6 percent of third downs to be converted.

On the season, the Bears have eight interceptions and have recovered eight fumbles. However, the Chiefs rank eighth in takeaway differential (+7) because they’ve forced 21 turnovers while only surrendering the ball 14 times.

Unfortunately for Chicago, they are eighth-worst in sack percentage at 5.7 percent and trail the Chiefs, who are sacking teams at a 7.2 percent rate. Kansas City has collected 39 sacks in the process, while Chicago is eight behind with only 31 sacks on the year. Believe it or not, the Bears have actually run eight more plays (908) than the Chiefs (900). The fact that the Chiefs are the fourth-highest scoring team (28.1 ppg) and the Bears are the seventh worst (18.3 ppg), makes efficiency with each offensive possession key to winning Sunday night.

The Bears are 7-5 against the Chiefs all-time. A victory Sunday will, ironically, be No. 8 for the Bears this season, as well as the overall lifetime series between the two franchises. Matt Nagy has the same record (19-11) as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had after his first 30 regular season NFL games coached. If Nagy is going to improve upon his +8 career victory total on Sunday, he’ll have to outduel his former mentor by creatively doing these few things:

● Score early and often in the first half. The Bears only average 8.4 points in the first half of home games. Conversely, the Chiefs average 18.1 points on the road in the first half.

● The Bears’ defense must continue to limit opponents’ passing touchdown percentage. They currently rank eighth at 51.7 percent

● Nagy and Trubisky must be their best “selves” and not get caught up in the comparisons to Reid’s and Mahomes’ successful careers to date.

Hopefully for the Bears, Nagy won’t suffer from separation anxiety as he faces off against his former boss. Plenty of years coaching together will forever connect him and Reid, but come kick off, Nagy will have his opportunity to separate from the shadow of his mentor.

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Matt Nagy says Andy Reid has been a 'calming presence' for him

Matt Nagy says Andy Reid has been a 'calming presence' for him

Plenty of assistants have come and gone during Andy Reid’s 20-year run as an NFL head coach. Reid tries to keep in touch with as many as he can, but when it comes to Matt Nagy, who’s worked under Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City, there’s something different. Just don’t ask him to explain it. 

“Nags and I talk quite a bit,” Reid told reporters on Wednesday. “I like talking to him. He's so passionate about it and he works hard, long hours, and we end up talking. I can't tell you why. I don't know why. That's just the way it seems to work.” 

Reid noted that he talks more often with Nagy than with any of his other former assistants, the list of which includes four current NFL head coaches (Doug Pederson, John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott and Pat Shurmur) and one recently-fired NFL head coach (Ron Rivera). Nagy truly appreciates his mentor's counsel, so much so that perhaps the quickest way to get a long answer out of the Bears' coach is to ask him what Reid has meant to his career. 

“Coach Reid just took me under his wing and we built trust with one another. I'm just very appreciative,” he said. “We're real with one another. One of the things I hope Coach appreciated from me was just that if I ever felt something or believed in something, I said it in a respectful way. And then I could handle it when he told me what he felt in a respectful way as well.” 

In addition to Reid, Nagy is also closely tied to Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. Nagy was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City when Mahomes was drafted in 2017, and the two worked side-by-side during the QB's “redshirt” season as Alex Smith’s backup. The QB room also included offensive quality control coach Mike Kafka, whom Nagy praised for focusing on Mahomes’ day-to-day progression while Nagy worked with Smith. As Smith led the Chiefs to a 10-6 season, Mahomes got to sit back and, according to Nagy, “ learn how to practice, learn how to draw plays up and the things that maybe he didn't do in college.” 

“That was a great room to grow up in,” Reid said. “Matt Nagy is your coach; Mike Kafka, who played, he was in there; and then Alex Smith. I mean, c’mon. That was like the University of Quarterbacks for you, right there. That’s a tremendous environment.” 

Nagy called Reid a “calming presence,” which has come in handy as the Bears have underachieved their way to a 7-7 record through 15 weeks of the season. Their frequent conversations haven’t been quite as joyful as they were last season, when Nagy was winning 12 games, the NFC North, and Coach of the Year awards, but Reid insists that Nagy – and his current quarterback – are still headed in the right direction. 

“I think he's great for the city of Chicago,” he said. “I was in Green Bay for all those years and then in the NFC for those years, so I know Chicago. Chicago is a tough place. It's a blue-collar place and that's what he is. He's a central PA guy and he's got that toughness. I just think it's a great fit.” 

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