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Bump: George McCaskey Should Fire Matt Nagy.

| November 22nd, 2021

UPDATE 11/21/21. There is no reason to recap Sunday’s train wreck loss to the undermanned Baltimore Ravens. This is over for Matt Nagy. Time to make it official. Waiting no longer makes sense.

This piece originally ran after the Tampa game.


Nate Tice, son of the the legendary Mike Tice and one of the better young NFL analysts got me through Monday with a Twitter thread.

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Not having any desire to sit through Sunday’s debacle again, it was nice to see Tice confirm what I had believed in real time: that Justin Fields had zero chance to succeed in Tampa. This was Cleveland redux and the entirety of the blame falls onto the shoulders of the head coach. The game plan made no sense. The offense, now in fourth season, makes no sense. And we are now at that moment in the development of this young quarterback where the most important question has been answered. Matt Nagy is not now, and will never be, the right man to maximize the ability of Fields.

A source close to ownership texted me Monday morning that Halas Hall was “fed up” with the head coach. They should be. But being fed up is not enough. George McCaskey should fire Matt Nagy. Today, next week, on the bye, whenever. But Nagy shouldn’t make it to the end of the season. If only for the symbolism alone, a message to the fans that this simply isn’t good enough.

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What the Next Six Days Will Tell Us About the 2021 Chicago Bears Moving Forward

| November 19th, 2021


There are three possible outcomes for the Chicago Bears over the next six days. (I’m ruling out ties, which I may come to regret by the end of next week.) Each outcome brings with it a very specific emotional trajectory for the remainder of the 2021 season.

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Outcome #1 – The Sweep

Emotional Outcome: JUICE!

If the Bears win their next two games, they move to 5-6 and put a significant amount of juice into the remainder of the regular season. The six seed in the NFC is a 5-4, quarterback-less Saints team. The seven seed just made Cam Newton their starter.

The juice would start at Soldier Field, on December 5th, against the Arizona Cardinals. Justin vs. Kyler. A fired up building on the lakefront. Christmas only 20 days away!

It is highly unlikely Matt Nagy can still earn his way back onto the sideline for 2022, but the only way that conversation can start is by winning these next two, while Justin Fields progresses.

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Outcome #2 – The Shutout

Emotional Outcome: MAKE IT STOP.

The McCaskey family is opposed to firing coaches in-season, with Marc Trestman pushing them as close to the line as they’d ever come. That year, what prevented them from making the move was their desire to clean house – removing Trestman and GM Phil Emery – and they thought it best to make both moves once the season ended.

But if the Bears fall to 3-8, including a loss on Thanksgiving to an awful and untalented Lions team, the outcry may be too great to ignore. Nagy will have lost the fans, and the locker room. With a new, two-week, regular season interview period open for head coaches, ownership may see no reason to leave Nagy in the job for a meaningless month.

And that’s all the remainder of the schedule would be: meaningless. The results would not matter, not even artificially. All that would matter is a few highlights from Fields and the development of young talent like Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Larry Borom and – hopefully – Teven Jenkins. December and early January become de facto preseason games.

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Outcome #3 – The Split

Emotional Outcome: EH.

Isn’t this what every fan expects? Be relevant, or be terrible. The problem with the Bears under Nagy – since the end of the 2018 season – is they’ve been neither.

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The Midseason Progress Report: QB, HC, GM

| November 15th, 2021


Quarterback

Pre-Bye Grade: B-

A few sentences: A quarterback’s rookie season is difficult to evaluate but the Justin Fields trajectory is that of a player who is going to be around a long time. He flashed big plays, even when struggling, and has translated those flashes into two dynamic performances against two solid opponents. B- is a fantastic grade for a rookie at this stage.

% Chance of Returning: 100

Thoughts on Return: Fields is the most dynamic player at quarterback in Bears history. All focus now shifts to building a roster to support him. (That means protection. Fields will make the skill guys better.)


Head Coach

Pre-Bye Grade: D-

A few sentences:  The Bears lose to every good team they play. They never have a sideline advantage. They commit too many penalties. They make too many mistakes. Details are constantly ignored. The only thing keeping this grade from the basement is the development of Fields, for which Matt Nagy must be given at least some credit.

% Chance of Returning: 7.8

Thoughts on Return: The only way Nagy can plausibly return as head coach is if Fields dominates the second half and the Bears find themselves either (a) in the postseason or (b) seriously contending for a postseason spot, the final week of the season, with a winning record. Neither of those things is going to happen.

Based on some conversations with folks close to ownership, the team is ready to find the next coach.


General Manager

Pre-Bye Grade: A+

A few sentences: Many are going to see that grade and think, “What the hell drugs is he on?” But Ryan Pace drafted – in this year’s draft – what looks like a franchise quarterback. That’s all that matters in this league. I don’t care what the old quarterbacks and tight ends cost. I don’t care what he’s doing with the cap. If he got the QB correct, and it looks like he did, everything will become easier for Bears in the years to come.

(This is not Pace’s grade for his tenure. Just his grade for this season, pre-bye.)

% Chance of Returning: 56.5

Thoughts on Return: It is close. But it’s looking slightly more likely that Pace will be allowed to choose another coach. He had a good draft in 2020 and a potentially transformative draft in 2021, including the selection of a franchise quarterback. Ownership could see these two years as a young GM making progress, lay the failures of the last few years at the feet of Matt and Mitch, and keep stability in their front office.

Bears ownership chose to keep Pace after 2020. He drafted Fields in 2021. Why would they fire him now?

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Bye Week Thoughts: Fields Buying Nagy 2021, Kmet Progression, Bye Weeks Songs & More!

| November 11th, 2021


Nagy Should Get Rest of Season

Many had targeted this week, the bye week, as the optimal time for the Bears to move on from Matt Nagy as head coach. But Justin Fields’ performances against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers – two good defenses, two teams playing for everything – will likely guarantee that Nagy sees out the remainder of this campaign.

And that’s the right decision.

This season needed to be entirely about Justin Fields and his development. (It hasn’t been, of course.) Over the last two weeks, the club is actually seeing tangible evidence of that development. Why would they do anything to stunt that progress in-season? The wins and losses don’t matter. The defense doesn’t matter. The weird personnel usages and return men bringing the ball out from five yards deep and penalties all over the place, they don’t matter. All that matters is Fields and Fields is currently an overwhelming positive. The Bears can’t disrupt that.

Nagy should (and likely will) be fired the second the 2021 season concludes. And if Fields continues on his current path, the head coaching candidates will be circling this vacancy like one of those dirty crows that circles your golf cart when you’ve got an open protein bar on the seat. An argument could be made that the new two-week window to interview coaches at the end of the regular season should expedite the process, and that argument is valid, but this is going to be THE destination coaching spot of the off-season. It comes with a quarterback. And these jobs rarely do.


Cole Kmet Continues to Rise

Kmet’s last four games: 4/49, 5/43, 3/24, 6/87.

His 17-game projection: 53/546.

But more important than the numbers is the rapport now developed between the tight end and the quarterback. Fields has found his security blanket and Kmet is cementing his role as a pivotal part of The Justin Fields Project in 2022, joining David Montgomery and Darnell Mooney as charter members.

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Nagy and Pace Have Only Themselves to Blame

| November 3rd, 2021


After some Monday morning conversations with several people – both inside Halas Hall and around the league – I came away, for the first time in 2021, believing there was little chance of either Matt Nagy or Ryan Pace returning to the Chicago Bears in 2022. The program, the entire program, seems to have reached its conclusion. And it begs a simple question: why are we here?

When Nagy and Pace selected Justin Fields, they should have had the built-in cushion of this season. After receiving the vote of confidence from George and Ted at the end of the 2020 campaign, and then being allowed to choose the quarterback of the future, they could have sold the whole of Bears world on Fields’ long-term development being more important than any short-term results. Like it or not, they could have wiped the last several seasons off the ledger and started fresh.

Instead, they mangled the whole thing.

They didn’t have a contending roster on their hands but they naively, confusedly, acted like they did. They refused to give the rookie quarterback even so much as the opportunity to win the starting job this summer for that very reason. Then, when forced into action due to injury, they’ve seen their young quarterback struggle to find rhythm with any of the starting skills guys because of a complete lack of reps with them all summer long.

And because they pretended like they had a contending roster, they needed to contend! And there was simply no way that was going to happen. Nagy and Pace installed pressure on themselves to achieve the unachievable in 2021. Listen, the reason the franchise is not a contender this year is entirely their fault, but that almost doesn’t matter. They were given a second life. First, from ownership. Then, with Fields. They could have totally changed the conversation to a future with Justin Fields and built an entirely new program around him.

But instead, they tried to shoehorn Fields into the old program; a failed program. George McCaskey was looking for every possible reason to keep these men in their jobs, to not go through another exhausting search, but they have almost left him with no choice.

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Bears Need to Embrace Reality of Moment, Capitalize on this Trade Deadline

| November 1st, 2021

 


For all the talk of parity in the NFL, the NFC is not complying in 2021. Six of the seven seeds in January’s postseason tournament are all but spoken for, with Arizona, Los Angeles, Green Bay, Dallas, Tampa and New Orleans creating a sizable gap between themselves and the rest of the field. There will now be a scrum, a scramble, a scrape for the seventh seed, and the honor of getting absolutely thrashed on the road come Wildcard Weekend. (Personal note: I’ll be celebrating my 40th birthday in Atlantic City that weekend and gambling heavily against this seventh seed.)

The Bears are not going to be that team. First, they are not very good on either side of the ball.

Defensively, they survived the first stretch of the season with exemplary pass rush from Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. When that rush evaporated, due to a combination of injury, Covid and Trent Williams, the secondary has been revealed as what it is: Jaylon Johnson, DHC and a collection of practice squad guys.

Offensively, they just don’t have enough talent. Their wide receivers are mediocre. Their offensive line can’t pass protect. Their running backs can’t stay on the field. Sunday was the most inspiring loss in Bears history, with Justin Fields looking every bit the part of star quarterback, but it was also plainly obvious how much help he needs.

Second, this team’s schedule doesn’t get easier. They will be significant underdogs at Pittsburgh, home to Baltimore, home to Arizona and at Green Bay. Their best case record scenario when they arrive at games against Minnesota and Seattle, teams also fighting for the seventh seed, is 5-8, assuming they win in Detroit on Thanksgiving. That record would require this team to RUN THE TABLE to get into the tournament.

So, let it go. It’s over. There will be no playoff football for the 2021 Chicago Bears. And you know what? That doesn’t matter! They’ve got the horse that matters; they’ve got the quarterback. Now they need to try and unload any player not part of the long-term Justin Fields Project. The Bears should have a sign on their lawn in Lake Forest that reads “(Just About) Everything Must Go”.

I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the NFL salary cap. I do understand that trading big contracts is exceedingly difficult, and thus happens rarely in-season. But the Bears need to unload whatever they can, and they should be willing to take financial hits in 2022 to do so. This team will be better next season because the quarterback will improve and the coach should be different, but they still won’t be contenders yet. They need more draft picks to replenish this secondary and wide receiving corps. And they need them next spring.

Who can they deal?

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Justin Fields Has His Breakout Game (But Bears Just Aren’t Good Enough Elsewhere)

| November 1st, 2021


Pregame

Without Matt Nagy,

Bears try to save their season.

On number one’s back.


Quarter One

Deebo cannot catch.

Slye, one for two from distance.

Snoozer tied at three!

Additional points:

  • Soldier Field turf is an absolute embarrassment. I hate the Arlington Heights move but if the city can’t maintain grass, what’s the point?
  • Robert Quinn remains the team MVP.
  • Two big drive-killing penalties from James Daniels can’t happen. He’s supposed to be the team’s best offensive lineman.
  • Justin Fields looks far more comfortable running the offense when he’s not being harassed on every snap. (He looked a bit “happy feet” early but that’s settling down.)

Quarter Two

Fields rolls to his left,

His eyes see him, “The Outlaw”

Touchdown. Touchdown, Bears.

Additional points:

  • Ryan Pace has done a nice job building a rotation on the inside of the defensive line. Both Tonga and Blackson are players. But the team’s pass rush can’t hold up when there is an elite left tackle on Quinn and no Khalil Mack.
  • The drops have been a serious issue for the Niners all season. They have three critical ones in the first half of this game already.
  • Two ineligible men downfield in a half? I’m not sure I’ve seen that before.
  • Khalil Herbert is 100% a starting running back in this league. (And he’s going to keep the Bears from paying Montgomery.)
  • Third down and short and Lazor dials up a designed swing screen. Don’t take the ball out of the quarterback’s hands in spots like that. His legs are a serious weapon.
  • The Bears only have one corner and no pass rush, sans Mack. The bomb to Deebo to end the half isn’t surprising. What will be surprising is if the Niners don’t try a ton more of it in the second half.
  • It has become very apparent the Bears don’t have a top wide receiver. They have a pair of second options but they don’t have anyone capable of being the centerpiece of an offense. They need that if they want to play modern football.

Bears 13, Niners 9

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