Tony Dungy to Matt Nagy: 'Have some confidence in your run game'

Tony Dungy to Matt Nagy: 'Have some confidence in your run game'

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is probably sick and tired of hearing about his approach to the running game. He did his best to silence the chatter around his unbalanced playcalling by feeding running back David Montgomery 27 times in what was the team's best rushing output of the year in Week 8, but the debate rages on. This time, it's not about the calls he made. Instead, this week's criticism will focus on the one he didn't.

With the Bears trailing 17-16 and the ball on the Chargers' 21-yard line with 43 seconds left to play, Nagy, instead of giving Montgomery a 28th carry to get kicker Eddy Pineiro a yard or two closer for his game-winning attempt, chose to take a knee and run the clock down to three seconds.

"Yeah, I'm not even going to get into that," Nagy said after the game. "I had 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. We were in field goal range before the scramble, and then we got the scramble, so that didn't even cross my mind."

Pineiro's 41-yard kick sailed wide left. The Bears lost their third straight. And now, when confidence in the locker room and in the coaching staff is the most important element needed to get out of this funk, Nagy's decision to take a knee looks an awful lot like he was lacking in that department.

Former Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy suggested as much at halftime of Sunday night's Packers-Chiefs game.

"Matt Nagy, have some confidence in your run game," Dungy said. "You might not score, but you’ll get closer. Don’t rely on your field goal kicker.”

The Bears should know better than any team in the league that relying on your field goal kicker doesn't always work out. And while Pineiro has already proven this season that he has the moxie to connect on a game-winner (he split the uprights with time expiring against the Broncos in Week 2), the decision to not make his kick a little easier is one that Nagy will eventually regret.

"If there’s a fumble in that play, that’s the biggest risk," Nagy said. "We’re wasting our time right now talking about that."

Nagy doesn't like living in a world of what-ifs. But seven games into one of the most disappointing starts in recent franchise history, the foundation of this team is flooding with them. What if Ryan Pace selected Patrick Mahomes or DeShaun Watson over Mitch Trubisky. What if Nagy committed to the run game earlier this season in games that were winnable had a different strategy been deployed. And what if Pineiro was two yards closer on Sunday.

One thing seems certain: The Bears wouldn't be 3-4.

Studs and Duds from Bears' Week 8 loss to Chargers

Studs and Duds from Bears' Week 8 loss to Chargers

The Bears' season is officially on life support after Week 8's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, dropping their record to an NFC North worst 3-4 while raising more questions about Mitch Trubisky and the playcalling of Matt Nagy.

Nagy stuck to his word and ran the ball -- David Montgomery had 27 carries -- but his change in offensive philosophy did little to prevent criticism about his decision-making. Nagy was a big contributor to the Bears' loss, but he wasn't alone.

Here are the studs and duds from Sunday's season-threatening defeat.

Stud: RB David Montgomery

Montgomery was everything the Bears thought he'd be when they drafted him in the third round of April's draft during Sunday's loss to the Chargers. He finished the game with 27 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown, but his impact extended beyond the stats. It was the way he ran that was so exciting to watch. He was patient, ran with great pad level, flashed quick feet and an explosive burst, not to mention his trademark contact balance. The loss is hard to stomach, but Montgomery is a clear bright spot for an offense that feels like it's increasingly closer to a change at quarterback. A talented running back like Montgomery can help that process along, if and when it happens.

Dud: QB Mitchell Trubisky

Trubisky flashed a handful of good throws against the Chargers, but his performance was another in a growing list of games that support the position that he just isn't good enough to be considered a starting quarterback in the NFL. He completed 23-of-35 passes for 253 yards and an interception, numbers consistent with what would be expected from a journeyman backup like Chase Daniel. And maybe that's the type of player Trubisky is destined to become. There were a few obvious bad moments from Trubisky that most fans and media will point to -- like the head-scratching interception thrown toward Trey Burton and the fourth-quarter fumble that the Chargers ultimately converted into the game-winning touchdown -- but the concerns with Trubisky run even deeper than that. Week after week, Trubisky is creating doubt about whether he can connect on basic NFL throws. He's missing open receivers every single game, including Sunday when he sailed a would-be touchdown several yards beyond a wide-open Taylor Gabriel. Trubisky targets covered receivers, routinely throws off his back foot and his passes often wobble like Nerf balls on a windy day. It doesn't feel like this is going to get better any time soon.

Stud: RG Rashaad Coward

The offensive line was roasted when the running game was struggling, so it's only fair to give them their due after Montgomery's breakout day. Coward, who was making the second start of his career, was a big reason why Montgomery found some running lanes inside. The more reps Coward receives, the better he's going to be for this team in 2019 and beyond. It's only one game, but the Bears may have found their right guard of the future.

Dud: RT Bobby Massie

Unlike Coward, Massie was downright brutal on Sunday. Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa treated Massie like a subway turnstile; there was little resistance in Bosa's path to Trubisky. Massie couldn't match Bosa's hand-play, and even when he got a good jump out of his stance, Bosa's ridiculous bend around the corner was just too much for Massie to handle. It was a great display of an above-average offensive tackle going against an elite pass-rusher. Massie's been very solid in 2019, but Sunday was by far the worst game he's played in a long time.

Dud: Matt Nagy

What a difference seven regular-season games can make in the narrative surrounding a head coach. Nagy, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, began the season as the key that would unlock Trubisky's potential and unleash a more dangerous version of a Bears offense that was good enough to help Chicago win a division title in 2018. Instead, the Bears offense has regressed mightily, and even with a rejuvenated rushing attack in Week 8, Chicago still struggled to string together drives that made sense or a passing game that had any rhythm. Nagy isn't developing Trubisky, the Bears' most important asset. And instead of helping his rookie kicker by trying to get his game-winning attempt a few yards closer, Nagy decided it was a better strategy to take a knee and avoid a potential fumble or loss of yards. It backfired, much like everything else he's called in 2019.

Where do the Bears go from here? The NFL trade deadline is a few days away, and if GM Ryan Pace thinks this team is still capable of making a run at the playoffs, a deal for a quarterback has to be considered. If he decides a trade isn't feasible, then Nagy has to at least open a quarterback competition between Trubisky and Daniel over the remaining nine games. No, Daniel isn't the answer for this team. But it doesn't appear like Trubisky is, either. So at this point, it comes down to who gives the Bears the best chance to win the rest of the way. It's not an easy answer, which is an extremely troubling reality for the former second overall pick.

With season on the brink, Bears stay resolute: 'We're better than 3-4'

With season on the brink, Bears stay resolute: 'We're better than 3-4'

The Bears’ season is teetering on a metaphorical cliff, with one more loss very well tipping this thing over the edge and into the last-place-in-the-NFC-North abyss. 

The Super Bowl aspirations that were supposed to define the franchise’s 100th season are gone. This team just needs to figure out how to win again at this point. 

And what if the losses keep piling up? 

“I’m not thinking about if they keep coming,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I’m thinking about the next game coming away with a dub, that’s my mindset. The next game is one that we need and that’s all that’s to it. Come out here, execute and let’s come away with a dub.”

But the doors to Club Dub haven’t been opened in a month. The disco ball is collecting dust and "Swag Surfin" has been replaced by silence. The Bears’ biggest challenge, now, will be to not fracture as a team defined by a good defense and suboptimal offense. 

Players said coach Matt Nagy’s message to the team after Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was to not point fingers. While the Bears built this roster with an eye on a “no turds” culture, this is a team that collectively has not experienced losing with expectations. Even the best cultures can grow sour if the losses keep piling up.

“As long as we just go back to the drawing board and not point any fingers and just go back to work smiling and ready to get to work and get a dub, man, that’s all we need,” wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “I feel like a W, it’ll heal all these wounds.”

While players aren’t entertaining the thought, what if the Bears lose to a Philadelphia Eagles team that seemed to get its mojo back in an 18-point win against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday? The prospect of this season being over before Thanksgiving — if not sooner — will loom over Halas Hall, even if those inside the building try not to think about it.

“We’re better than 3-4,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “Looking at some of the games that we’ve lost over the past few weeks, they’ve been some tough losses and we’ve had chances to win the game, two out of the three, late in the game in them we had the ball in our possession to be able to win. I think that’s the toughest thing. What makes it more tough, it comes down to us. We had a chance to be able to change the outcome of the game and we haven’t been able to do that.”

But at some point, you are what your record says you are. This Bears team is better than it was in 2017 when it, too, was 3-4. But the longer this season goes on and the losses — and/or uninspiring wins — pile up, reality will overtake hope.

“We know our team is way better than our record shows,” Trevathan said. “It’s all about the next game getting better, coming back in the lab and getting back to work. We know that our schedule is going to be tough, this (nine)-game stretch, we’re looking forward to it. We’re taking on that pressure. Either pressure bust pipes or makes diamonds.”

This is a Bears team that is not resigned to losing right now. But this is also a team that found more ways to lose than it has to win in the month of October. Time is running out to fix things and re-discover the mojo that defined 2018’s NFC North title-winning team.

Otherwise: Remember when Sports Illustrated predicted the Bears would finish last in the NFC North?

They’re already there now. And this team might have a tough time climbing out of the abyss.

“It’s a new year, new season,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “It’s something we can look forward to, man. There’s a lot of football to be played. I’m just looking forward to the next one already.” 

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