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ATM: Offensive Ceiling is ‘Adequate’. Who Takes the Heat?

| November 11th, 2020

Whether Matt Nagy should be fired following the 2020 season is being hammered to death by fans on Twitter. The question does not come with an easy answer.

Down six offensive linemen against Tennessee, and with a quarterback requiring protection, one could argue Nagy did an adequate job on Sunday. This coming after the Saints game in which it now seems inarguable that the offense was somewhat adequate. The 2020 Chicago Bears offense is not going to be good and that is not Nagy’s sole fault. The coach just doesn’t have the horses to put a high-octane offense on the field. Adequate is the ceiling.

The Bears are 20th in the league in amount of salary cap space spent on offense. They entered last week 27th in DVOA. That’s a slight underachievement. But when you consider their most explosive player went down for the season in Week Three and their best offensive lineman was gone two weeks later, it’s more of a shoulder shrug than cause for alarm.

But it’s also evidence that Nagy certainly isn’t doing the job. The great offensive coaches elevate the talent on the roster. Does anyone on the Bears offense outplay their talent level?

A coach not putting up points without talent to work with shouldn’t be a surprise. Kyle Shanahan couldn’t do anything against Green Bay’s bad defense last Thursday night, as he was forced to shuffle his lineup. If Shanahan were in Chicago, you can bet people would be calling for his job, especially considering he is just 27-30 as a head coach. His 49ers were 27th in DVOA in 2018 and 19th in 2017. They jumped up to seventh last year.

What changed? Well, they’ve spent four top-70 picks on wide receivers and a top-10 pick at right tackle. They’ve invested a ton in the running back position and, perhaps most importantly, the offense has just been different when Jimmy Garoppolo — as average as he may be — is on the field.

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This Offense Isn’t “Ugly”, It’s Embarrassing.

| November 2nd, 2020


A few weeks ago, Nick Foles suggested the Bears win “ugly”. Let me clear something up for him.

Ugly isn’t throwing off your back foot while under no pressure and forcing passes to the wrong receivers. The last quarterback did that. And he doesn’t play anymore because of it.

Ugly isn’t failing to build a significant package of plays for your second-round tight end. Every single week.

Ugly isn’t designing a run-heavy game plan against one of the league’s best run defenses, and stubbornly refusing to deviate from that plan. (The two runs after the interference call in the end zone should have forced Ryan Pace to personally take the play sheet away from Matt Nagy.)

Ugly isn’t inexcusably being called for a delay of game weekly, often coming out of timeouts.

Ugly isn’t failing to get a first down or two and at least forcing the opponent to start their possessions in their own territory.

Ugly isn’t sucker punching a defensive back, costing your team a vital possession, and celebrating the punch like you achieved something.

Ugly isn’t dropping two passes, in overtime, on the potentially game-winning drive. If Anthony Miller and Jimmy Graham catch those balls, do the Bears win? Who knows? But it would have made it far more difficult for them to lose. And that’s the difference between being in first place and being outside the playoff picture.

No, what the Bears do on offense isn’t ugly. Ugly is too cute a word for it. What the Bears do on offense is embarrassing. And with the season now at the halfway point, it’s time to acknowledge this is unlikely to change during the 2020 campaign.

This is who the Bears are on offense. A sloppy, undisciplined, poorly-coached unit. David Montgomery runs hard. Allen Robinson leaves it on the field. Darnell Mooney gives hope for the future. The rest? Thoroughly uninspiring. Nagy changed his coaching staff. Nagy changed his quarterback. Nagy changed his tight end room. And somehow, they’re worse.

They’re 5-3. Hope is not lost for playing in January because there isn’t a game left on their schedule the defense won’t keep them in. But unless that group returns to 2018 form and starts scoring, the battle will be consistently uphill.

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Week 8 Game Preview: Oh When the Saints, Come Marching In!

| October 29th, 2020


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…defense.


Definitive Week for Matt Nagy, Caller of Plays

A friend of mine works for the New Orleans Saints in their scouting department. When discussing this week’s game, and the prospect of Matt Nagy relinquishing the role of play caller, he noted, “If they can’t move the ball vs our secondary next week…then it’s really time.”

Last week, Mike Davis had 7 carries for 12 yards against the Saints front. Let me just repeat that. Mike Davis, the starting running back for the Carolina Panthers, had 7 carries. For 12 yards. (New Orleans is the fourth-ranked rush defense in the league.) One would think that such a porous running game would have made it impossible for Teddy Bridgewater to execute the passing attack. But the opposite was true. Bridgewater – who pitched to a quarterback rating of about 50 against the Bears – was nearly perfect against the Saints. 23-28. 254 yards. 2 touchdowns. QB rating of 128.3.

You don’t need a running game to move the ball and score points on these Saints. And that’s good. Because the Bears don’t have one. If Nagy can’t draw up production from the passing game this week, it would be very difficult to see him calling the plays against the Tennessee Titans next week.


Nine Favorite Films of 1979, the Year of Drew’s Birth

(9) Monty Python’s Life of Brian

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(8) The Jerk

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(7) …And Justice For All

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Are There Potential OL Upgrades Available for the Bears?

| October 21st, 2020

Nick Foles, in his inspirational postgame press conference on Sunday, said, “without belief nothing is possible”. There’s truth to that. But with all due respect to Foles, belief alone isn’t going to get the Chicago Bears offense anywhere.

Foles was excited after the Bears defeated the Carolina Panthers to move to 5-1. And he should be, as another win buys the Bears more time to figure out what is hurting their offense. Foles believes they will, and he has his reasons, but six games into the season — and 38 into the Matt Nagy era — there’s little reason for anyone on the outside to believe the Bears are going to get where they need to be offensively.

There’s no reason to believe Foles’ belief is anything but blind optimism. In the same press conference he also said, “There have been teams that have been bad offensively for a very long time, we’re not one of those teams.”

But, hey, he’s new here. We’ll cut him some slack on that one.



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A Single Question for the Bears Offense: Why?

| October 20th, 2020

(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

[Editor’s Note: The following column is written from a place of jubilance. The Bears are 5-1. They are playing some of the best defense in the National Football League. But if our expectations are going to venture beyond just making it to January, they need to improve.]


3rd down and 2.

1:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Bears are nursing what feels like a tenuous seven-point lead.

Two yards ends the game. Two yards and the Bears are coasting to 5-1, allowing their defense to relax on the sideline and celebrate a job well done.

This is when you call your best play.

Your two-point conversion play.

Your “Chicago Special”.

This is when you roll out that thing you’ve been practicing every week because these moments don’t often present themselves over the course of a game. How many times are you actually in the position to say, “Get a couple yards and get a W.” The Bears faced one Sunday.

And then they ran…something. I don’t have the foggiest idea what it was. Foles took the snap and threw a dud of a pass to Allen Robinson on a well-covered shallow cross. No creativity. No imagination. I’ve drawn up better plays during street games in Kearny, New Jersey. (“Run to the Buick bumper and turn” always worked.) In the notebook I’ve been keeping during these games I wrote a single word.

Why?

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Matt Nagy’s Offense Was Not Good Enough Sunday. Will It Ever Be?

| October 6th, 2020


Matt Nagy, an offensive head coach, has had far too many postgame press conferences like Sunday, wherein he proclaimed the offense “wasn’t good enough”. No, his offense wasn’t good enough Sunday. They weren’t good enough in year one. They weren’t good enough in year two. And through four games of year three, they’re still not good enough.

The sign of a good head coach is one who has success on the side of the ball from which he came.

  • Bill Belichick always has top 10 defenses.
  • Andy Reid has only ranked outside the top 20 in scoring twice — his first and last years in Philadelphia.
  • Kyle Shanahan has had a bunch of injuries this year, but his team in 11th in yardage and 13th in points. (Shanahan’s 49ers have never ranked outside the top half of the league in yardage or in the bottom 10 in scoring.)

But after Sunday’s woeful performance, the Bears are 25th in scoring and 24th in yardage. They’re 31st in third down conversions, 25th in the red zone.

The passing game is averaging an anemic 6.4 yards per attempt while still being intercepted 3.2 percent of the time. They’re sixth in passing attempts — partially due to the fact that they fall behind every week — yet 21st in yardage. It isn’t a stretch to say they have the worst passing offense in the league.

And, hey, it’s not just that they can’t pass the ball, they’re 20th in rushing and are the only team in the league without a rushing touchdown this year.

This comes after they changed out the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, quarterback coach and, of course, the quarterback himself.

Nagy is running out of people to blame.

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On Cordarrelle Patterson at Running Back, and Being “Fun Again”

| August 18th, 2020


The 2018 Chicago Bears were fun. They were so much fun that Noah Brier (dot com), the technology-minded former DJ responsible for this little website’s existence, reemerged in the underground dwelling known as Josie Woods, now with a young daughter reciting those famous words, “Bear down, Chicago Bears”. They were so much fun that I sat awake in a tiny Parisian hotel room, in the middle of the night, putting back 1664 tall boys and enthusiastically (but silently) cheering a primetime victory over the Vikings. (The experience all-but ruined the next day’s travel.) They were so much fun that Noah and I never even considered not going to Chicago for their home playoff game against the Eagles, cost be damned.

The 2018 Bears had defensive linemen in the backfield. A kid quarterback showing promise. Tarik Cohen looking borderline uncoverable by linebackers, safeties, anyone. Fake photoshoots in the end zone. Dance parties in the locker room. The team that had just suffered through the Greek tragedy of Marc Trestman and monotonously slow blood draining of John Fox’s tenure were giving joy to a fan base that had begun to view watching Bears games as a predictably joyless experience.

Then 2019 came. And the joylessness returned.

That’s why as the news began to surface the Bears planned to use Cordarrelle Pattersson in the back field, it was a breath of fresh air. Matt Nagy: “We want to be able to get the most of out of him…when you have weapons like that, you want to find ways to get them the ball.” This is a strikingly 2018 mentality. In 2018, Nagy knew what he didn’t have (yet, he thought) at the quarterback position and compensated with creativity. Folks considered these gimmicks but they clever devices designed to ask less of Mitch Trubisky. In 2019, he thought he had more at the position, thought Trubisky could effectively run his offense, and was caught flat-footed as a play caller because of that season-defining error.

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ATM: Signs Point to Nagy Returning to Kansas City Roots

| July 21st, 2020

In a recent interview on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy, Louis Riddick, pal of Matt Nagy, indicated the team will be returning to the approach Nagy (and Andy Reid) had taken in Kansas City. That doesn’t mean what most fans think. While Nagy was hired in Chicago under the guise of being a quarterback whisperer who would finally modernize the team’s offense, the truth is somewhere in between. Yes, Nagy runs a modern offense with a modern passing game, but he got this gig by running the ball. That is exactly what he is going to try to return to.

Riddick worked with Nagy in Philadelphia and the ESPN analyst has maintained a close relationship with the Bears head coach. Riddick rarely indicates that what he’s saying comes from conversations with Nagy, but when he speaks confidently about the Bears approach, it’s a good bet that it comes with inside knowledge. He shared a number of nuggets in that radio spot last week, none more noteworthy then when he spoke about the Bears newfound commitment to running the ball.

“There’s going to be a marked difference in how that team is going to come off the ball running the football,” he said. Later in the interview, Riddick was more specific saying the Bears are going to be a “more physical running football team.”

That fits with what Nagy did with the Chiefs. In the five years Nagy was with Kansas City, they never ranked in the top half of the league in passing attempts. When Nagy took over play calling duties from Andy Reid in 2017, one of the big changes was feeding the ball to Kareem Hunt — the league’s leading rusher that year. After Nagy gave Hunt just nine carries in his first start – it should be noted they still scored 31 points as Alex Smith threw for four touchdowns — Hunt had 78 carries in the next three games before sitting out most of their Week 17 game.

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Nick Foles Will Be the Starting Quarterback

| June 1st, 2020


For the Bears, there is no more important issue looming than which man will be under center receive the shotgun snap when the Bears take the field against Detroit in Week One. Today I want to dig into the stats to see what we can learn about Foles vs. Trubisky, as well as what to expect from whoever wins that derby compared to other QBs around the NFL.

The table below shows basic efficiency statistics for Trubisky and Foles in the Reid offense (so Trubisky in 2018-19 in Chicago and Foles in 2016 in KC and 17-18 in Philadelphia), plus the other three notable recent Reid QBs (Smith 13-17, Mahomes 18-19, Wentz 16-19). I’ll note I included playoff stats for everybody because otherwise Foles’ sample size is just so small (less than 350 with just regular season, just over 500 with playoffs included). I also included the NFL average for 2018-19 as a frame of reference for what’s roughly normal around the league. I split up the data into short and long passes (targeted more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) using Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

That’s a lot of information to digest, so let’s look at short and deep passes separately.


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New Coach, New Players, New Mentality for the Bears Rushing Attack

| May 27th, 2020

Juan Castillo.

The question was finally asked.

During Matt Nagy’s presser two weeks ago, Brad Biggs asked it bluntly.

“What makes Juan Castillo better than Harry Hiestand?”

As delicately as the head coach tried to answer, the truth was just as blunt.

“Juan’s biggest strength is his ability to teach and reach his players,” Nagy said. “There’s going to be times when he chews their tails out and there’s going to be other times when he’s giving them nothing but love.”

Castillo has a long history of developing late-round picks in need of polish. Hiestand, while having a long history of taking four/five-star recruits and making them into terrific NFL prospects, never successfully developed a player once they were in the NFL. That lack of developmental prowess stood out particularly with James Daniels in 2019, a high second-round pick who could’ve been a first rounder if the draft weren’t stacked at the position in 2018. He’s long, athletic and, by all accounts, smart. Yet, hasn’t been improving.

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