If They Make 2021 About Andy Dalton, the Chicago Bears – Collectively – Have Lost Their Minds

| April 1st, 2021

Andy Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

Ryan Pace knows Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

Matt Nagy knows Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

George McCaskey and Ted Phillips know Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

And that is why none of these men can possibly believe Dalton is a pathway out of the mediocrity of the last two seasons. None of these men can possibly think Dalton – even replacing the ineptitude of “the former guy” – is the missing piece in a Super Bowl puzzle. And in the cases of Pace, Nagy and perhaps even Phillips, they can’t possibly imagine Dalton is worth risking their tenures within the organization.

To believe any of that nonsense would show that everyone in a position of authority at Halas Hall has lost their collective minds. And if that’s case, what hope do any of us have?

So we must believe Pace, Nagy, Phillips and McCaskey have not lost their minds. We must believe they understand the Bears must still solve the most important position in team sports. We must believe they know there are only two ways to inspire this fanbase for the coming season: Russell Wilson or a first-round (or very early second-round) quarterback.

Bears fans have grown impatient, and with every right. But until we know if either Wilson or a top prospect are achieved, there is no reason to be decisive about this Bears off-season. That time, however, is rapidly approaching.

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Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy Will Return in 2021.

| January 13th, 2021

Both men will meet the media at 10:00 AM CT Wednesday (my birthday). Stay tuned to this space for a response to that press conference.

A few notes:

  • George McCaskey made clear what many of us have known: this ownership group loves Ryan Pace and trusts him to right the ship. (Do they love Nagy? I’m not sure but they trust Ryan on him.)
  • No contract extensions for either doesn’t automatically mean next season is “win or gone” but it will increase the pressure.
  • George: “We need better production from the quarterback position to be successful.” Bingo.
  • George suggested he’s more confident in Pace selecting the next franchise QB because Nagy will be involved in that process. It is very obvious ownership wants this group to succeed and is going to give them every chance to do that.
  • Weird moment when Ted wouldn’t answer how long the Nagy/Pace contracts are. Not sure I get why that would be privileged information but it does suggest these guys might not be expiring after 2021.
  • Pace made it very clear that this entire offseason is about the quarterback position.
  • Prodded about the 2017 draft by Dan Wiederer, Pace would not take the bait and kill Trubisky. Nagy was pressed as well, and passed. There’s no reason to do it.

One thing is very clear from today: Mitch Trubisky will not be on the Chicago Bears next season.

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I Was Wrong: Tectonic Shift Proves Pace, Nagy and Trubisky Should All Return in 2021

| December 21st, 2020

The Bears scored 30 points again.

The Bears gained 400 yards again.

The quarterback, with the exception of a couple throws, pitched another stellar rating and looked a different player.

There has been a tectonic shift at the crust of the Chicago Bears organization. Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor and Mitch Trubisky have figured it out. Don’t ask me how, but they have. Suddenly the offensive line is a cohesive, powerful unit. David Montgomery is one of the best running backs in the league. Allen Robinson is a bona fide number one. Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney are two of the more exciting rookie skill guys in the sport. This scattered collection of puzzle pieces has been put together and the picture is a thing of beauty.

Perhaps most importantly, the Bears are playing an exciting, entertaining brand of football. They are a threat to score every single time they get possession. They are a joy to watch.

And guess what? I was wrong.

Yep, someone in sports “media” is saying it.

I was wrong.

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Bears at Vikings Game Preview Volume II: The Stakehouse.

| December 18th, 2020

Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and after a few weeks in the darkness of Quitsville, I’m back!

The Stakes

The Bears are 6-7. And this might be the most important game ever played by a 6-7 team.

If the Bears win Sunday, they’ll be 7-7, with Jacksonville on deck. (8-7) That’ll bring the Packers to town, with Tim Boyle likely starting, and a playoff spot likely on the line. If the Bears win Sunday they will be playing meaningful football for 17 weeks at a minimum. That’s how the late Giants owner Wellington Mara defined a successful season. And knew a bit about football.

But winning, especially with another superior offensive effort, would also continue to change the narrative around the head coach. Nobody is firing a head coach who is eight games over (minimum) in his first three years. And if the quarterback pitches another triple-digit quarterback rating? How could the narrative around him not alter slightly as well? Wouldn’t the Bears have to start considering a 2021 prove it deal?

Now if the Bears lose Sunday, their season ends. If they lose Sunday and deliver another lackluster offensive effort against the Vikings, Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky go back under the bright interrogative lamps of media and fans. (Hard to imagine Ted Phillips and Ryan Pace won’t be there regardless of these final games.) A loss flips the fourteen-day hourglass and the sand shuffles through on January 4th. That’s when we’ll find out who among the leadership is coming back in 2021.

It’s all at stake Sunday.

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What if Matt Nagy is Becoming a Really Good Head Coach?

| December 15th, 2020

Two weeks ago the Chicago Bears quit, in primetime, against their oldest rivals.

A week ago the Chicago Bears collapsed against the Detroit Lions, squandering a double-digit lead in the final minutes.

These were two of the worst weeks for a Bears head coach since Aaron Kromer turned rat against Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman pathetically refused to fire him. They were two weeks that felt like the end of Matt Nagy’s tenure with the team. The offense was showing signs of life but the defense seemed in freefall. How could the locker room hold up? How on earth would Nagy survive?

And now Houston was coming to town, bringing with them the star quarterback the Bears ignored in the lead-up to the 2017 NFL Draft.  And while revisionist historians now want to paint the Texans as the Washington Generals, take a step back. The Texans were 4-4 under Romeo Crennel. In the last month they had beaten Belichick, crushed Detroit on a short week and fumbled away victory over the Colts on the one. This wasn’t some pushover. The Texans were FAVORED to win Sunday at Soldier Field.

And instead, Matt Nagy’s Bears delivered their most inspired, complete performance of the 2020 season. They buried Houston. For many fans, this is too little, too late. They’ve seen enough and they want Ted Phillips, Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy, the janitorial staff, the lady who runs Bears Care and two curators at the Field Museum fired.

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Putting the Three-Game Offensive “Surge” in Context

| December 14th, 2020

[Note: The following is an analysis of the last three games played by the Chicago Bears offense. Yes, it is understood that much of the offensive production in Green Bay occurred in “garbage time” but when it comes to this offense, we can’t really leave that production out of the discussion.]

Against the Packers: 363 yards, 25 points, 242 yards passing, 121 yards rushing.

Against the Lions: 407 yards, 30 points, 267 yards passing, 140 yards rushing.

Against the Texans: 436 yards, 36 points, 267 yards passing, 169 yards rushing.

So the averages over this three-game period are 402 yards, 30.3 points, 258.7 yards passing, 143.3 yards rushing.

  • Only one team in the league – Kansas City – averages more than 400 yards per game.
  • One four teams – KC, Green Bay, Seattle, Tennessee – average more than 30 points per game.
  • 258 yards passing per game would land the Bears 13th in the NFL for that category. Many of us argued that if the Bears could be in the top half of the league throwing the football they would be a surefire playoff team.
  • 143.3 yards rushing per game would land the Bears 7th in the NFL for that category, and three of the teams they would trail (Baltimore, Arizona, New England) feature a running quarterback as a primary weapon.

Is this production a mirage? Or has Matt Nagy finally pushed the right buttons?



As Bears Sit in No Man’s Land, Three Possible Roads for George McCaskey

| December 9th, 2020

Welcome to No Man’s Land.

That’s where the Chicago Bears organization resides on December 9, 2020. They’re not a talented, aging team with a closing championship window. They’re not a young, rebuilding side with their eyes on the future. They’re nowhere. They don’t exist.

Two years ago that was not the case. Coming out of the 2018 campaign the defense was stacked. The head coach was a breath of fresh air. The quarterback had shown enough promise under the new regime to make fans believe he could be “they guy”. Now the defense is fading before our very eyes. The head coach has relinquished play-calling duties and any sense of job security. The quarterback will be looking for a job come March.

And there are only three possible roads forward. (For the sake of argument, let’s assume Ted Phillips is re-assigned away from football operations. It’ll likely happen as a symbolic gesture, if nothing else.)

Road One. Do That To Me One More Time.

Ryan Pace would be entering the final year of his contract. Matt Nagy would be entering the penultimate year of his contract; a de facto final year as coaches rarely work on a “final” year for some reason no one has ever clearly explained to me. The factors that could lead to George McCaskey bringing both back:

  • The defensive contracts. Kyle Fuller has voidable 2022-23 seasons. Akiem Hicks is off the books after next season. Per Sportrac, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn have “outs” after next season. The guys on this defense in 2020 are likely to be the guys on this defense in 2021. But the unit could look ENTIRELY different in 2022.
  • As Andrew pointed out yesterday, Nagy could argue two things: (a) the offense is improving and (b) he needs better players, including a quarterback. (Where that quarterback would be coming from is a different matter entirely.) He could also make a needed change at defensive coordinator to reinvigorate that side of the ball.
  • The post-Covid salary cap. The new GM’s role this off-season would be a complete tear down because there’s not going to be any money to enhance the current roster. Do the Bears really want to try and send Fuller, Mack and company out of town this spring and commit to a 2-3 win 2021? Can the organization afford to have an apathetic fan base in September? (They would.)

Road Two. Go Your Own Way.

Would the Bears fire one and not the other? It’s possible.

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ATM: Could Offensive Improvement & Lack of Talent Save Nagy’s Job?

| December 8th, 2020

While fans are calling for a complete house cleaning, there are a number of factors that could lead to Matt Nagy’s job being safe this offseason.

The most important thing we’ve seen from the Chicago Bears the last two weeks has been offensive improvement around the quarterback. No team could win with Mitch Trubisky being a turnover machine, but we’ve seen the Bears manage to produce the last two weeks. What Nagy has been able to prove is that when the talent is nearly equal, and the quarterback is competent, his offense can work.

There’s no arguing that it took Nagy too long to fix the offense, but the fix still would’ve come in time for the team to make the playoffs if the defense hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth. If the Bears finish the last month as productive as they have been the last two weeks, Nagy can enter the offseason telling ownership that he can get the job done, he just needs better players and a new defensive coordinator.

And it’s a valid argument.

As bad as the Bears have been under Nagy, they still average almost two more points per game than the 49ers have when Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had Jimmy G. If the Bears fire Nagy after the 2020 season, they’ll be left wondering if he could’ve succeeded with a better roster, and especially a better quarterback. What if they could pair him with an Eliot Wolf-led front office or poach Mike Borgonzi from Kansas City? Is it that much of a stretch to think that Nagy, with adequate offensive talent, could get the job done? He checks every other box as a coach.

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ATM: Final Six Games Will Determine Nagy’s Fate

| November 23rd, 2020

There’s no evidence that Matt Nagy can fix the Chicago Bears offense. But if he’s going to keep his job, he has no choice.

The Bears have six games against mostly bad defenses. (The Vikings are actually the best defense left on their schedule and they’re not very good.) Six games in which they have to score points. Six games in which Nagy has to show that he can do something, ANYTHING, schematically that will put the team in a position to win.

All of the arguments about a lack of talent are correct, but an offensive head coach can’t be this bad. Just can’t be. His job is to get the most out of the talent he has. That isn’t happening. The idea of hiring one of his buddies – namely Louis Riddick – to take over for Ryan Pace loses steam with every stinker Nagy’s unit puts up. Why would the Bears keep a coach who struggles so much just to get first downs, let alone actual points?

As I wrote last week, every coach needs at least some talent to succeed, but every good coach finds a way to at least do something well. Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers didn’t light the scoreboard up prior to the 2019 season, but they ran the ball and threatened defenses even with pathetic quarterback play. While yardage is generally useless when it comes to determining which teams are good, it does give you insight about which coaches are good. Shanahan has had one year in the bottom 10, Andy Reid 3 and Sean McVay zero. Nagy’s best finish was 21st.

The most important project of the 2021 offseason is going to be finding a quarterback and having a young signal caller with a lame duck head coach is nothing more than a waste of time.

The first step is immediately firing Bill Lazor from play-calling. It didn’t work and it’s pretty telling that the worst game of the Nagy era came with someone else calling the shots. If Nagy is going to get out of this season with his job, he has to be the one doing the heavy lifting.

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I Write Plays. So Does Matt Nagy. Here’s What I’ve Learned.

| November 12th, 2020

Me, London, 2019. (Back when I could go to London.)

The Rodgers Award-winning musical Rosa Parks, which I wrote with my collaborator and friend Scott Ethier, has been presented by non-profit theatres all over the country. Different spaces. Different directors. Different casts. Different everything. It’s taught me some of of my greatest lessons in the theatre. And I think some of them are relevant to what’s currently happening to Matt Nagy and the Chicago Bears.

The Will Harper Experience

Years ago, when the show was first written, we held auditions in NYC.

Will Harper – who has become a star on The Good Place – walked in with his script rolled up in his hand and “sang” Oscar Brown Jr.’s Signifying Monkey into those pages like they were a microphone. He was magnetic. There was no chance we weren’t putting him in this show in some capacity but he really couldn’t sing and Scott’s music is particularly difficult on non-singers.

I turned to the composer, affectionately known as “Half Pint” for his propensity to nurse half pints of Guinness once he feels he’s had too much to drink. “Let’s hear him read. No music.” Scott agreed. I had the casting director grab Will in the hallway and hand him a Martin Luther King Jr. side. (Sides are a brief passage of dialogue from the show used in the audition process.)

The side was a King sermon. But not a real sermon. King’s actual words are heavily protected by the family and they are a litigious bunch. I mapped out one of his sermons syllabically and wrote a knock off so good you could sell it on Canal Street.

He read it. He was brilliant. We had intended to write two songs for King. We scrapped that plan. We had our guy. We played to our strength. To this date, the show is better for those decisions. The songs were never written and they never needed to be.

TheaterWorks Palo Alto

We took the show to Palo Alto the next year and the company generously offered to pay for us to bring five performers. Having a show with 16 African American musical theatre roles is a lot of fun but it’s near-impossible to cast in most markets around the country. If you’re an African American musical theatre actor, you don’t stay in Palo Alto. You move to LA or Chicago or New York. 

We didn’t ask Will. King, since it’s basically a non-singing role, felt easier to cast and teaching speeches is far less time-consuming than teaching songs when you have a limited rehearsal schedule. We weren’t there to cast so we didn’t meet our King until we arrived.

Guess what? Fucker couldn’t act. Like…he couldn’t act, at all. He was a straight-up singer. (I’m leaving his name out of this because I don’t want him to Google himself and find this criticism. He doesn’t know this story, and doesn’t need to know it.)

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