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Dannehy: The Curious Case of Matt Nagy

| September 29th, 2021

After three weeks of the season, two things are unquestionably true:

  • Matt Nagy installed an unforgivable game plan against Cleveland and was not able to fix it.
  • Matt Nagy was right in that Andy Dalton should be the starting quarterback.

Sunday’s game was among the worst we’ve seen. The backlash against Nagy has been every bit as bad. And that’s fair. There is no excuse for managing just 47 yards and one net passing yard in a league where every single rule change is engineered for more passing, more yards, more points. It’s hard to figure out Sunday is even possible. But is it possible. It happened. And the blame has to be tossed on Nagy’s lap.

But does this season warrant a second look?

The Bears offense is close to the bottom of the league pretty much across the board, but it didn’t start that way. While few are willing to accept that Justin Fields really just may not have been ready, it’s hard to find another legitimate explanation. When Dalton quarterbacked the team, the offense was nothing short of competent. In the 11 drives Dalton served as the primary quarterback, the Bears averaged 43.1 yards, that mark would be good enough for fourth best in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

Yes, you read that right.

The common rebuttal to that is that the team didn’t score enough. And that’s true, their 1.91 points per drive would be just 24th in the league – almost equal with Tennessee.

The 14 points against the Rams weren’t enough. Nagy was trying to keep up with a team his defense couldn’t stop. Three times the Bears were in field goal range, but the coach went for it on fourth down, realizing he needed touchdowns if he wanted to win. (He didn’t get those first downs which, of course, is another criticism that can be lobbed at Nagy.)

If Nagy had taken the easy out on a fourth-and-15 down two scores, the Bears would be at 2.18 points per drive, just behind Buffalo – with Brian Daboll, the coach many fans think the Bears should hire to replace Nagy. (Should we talk about how bad Daboll’s offenses were before Josh Allen became a superstar? Nah, we’ll save it.)

Though, isn’t it fair to disqualify two of the drives after Dalton was injured against Cincinnati? The drive he got hurt on was a 61-yard drive that ended very possibly because he was injured. He came back and managed just six yards on the next drive before being taken out of the game for good.

Take out those two drives and the Bears are still fourth in yards per drive, but 13th in points per drive, tied with Dallas. There were no signs that the Bengals were going to stop Dalton’s offense, though we’ve followed this team long enough to know that a few good drives don’t always lead to 40-burgers.

But the offense with Fields has been an utter disaster.

Since the rookie took over for Dalton late in the second quarter against the Bengals, the Bears have averaged just nine — yes NINE — yards and 0.67 points per drive.  Yikes.

The only change was the quarterback. With Dalton the Bears had an average – or better -offense, with Fields they’re the worst in the league by a very wide margin. So either Dalton was carrying Nagy or it may not be Nagy’s incompetence that is the problem. Add in the struggles of rookie quarterbacks across the league and the answer seems pretty clear.

Unfortunately, we only have small sample sizes. It’s possible that the Bears would’ve been shut out the rest of the game against the Bengals. Dalton could’ve ruined a drive with a fumble or interception, or Nagy could’ve called a play that led to disaster.  (We have three previous years with Nagy for which to refer.)

Perhaps what we’re finding out is that Nagy is the kind of coach who only gets what his talent offers – no more and no less. If that’s the case, a search for an upgrade would certainly be warranted.

With all that, Dalton wouldn’t take another snap in an ideal world. Nagy’s primary job is to get the offense going and if it’s with Fields under center then he has to find a way to make it work. There is no more time for excuses, Nagy has to fix it and if they another embarrassment like last Sunday, it should be his last game.

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