Why Matt Nagy’s Plotted Course Could Be Fraught with Danger

Image by Zachary Rosenbaum – https://www.instagram.com/zacharyrosenbaumdesign/

Despite warnings of rough seas ahead and the threat of a potential mutiny, Matt Nagy has taken aim with his telescope and commenced his voyage, steering S.S. Chicago on the route that he feels is the most effective one to take him to the promised land.

The old maritime tradition says that “every good captain goes down with his ship”. The belief being that it is the Captain’s ultimate responsibility for both the ship and everyone aboard.

With Mitch Trubisky having already walked the plank, and despite popular opinion, Nagy has entrusted Andy Dalton as his Vice Admiral and Justin Fields to the rank of Rear Admiral.

S.S. Chicago however, is in a degree of trouble. Any suggestion that she is already sinking would be hyperbolic, yet she is taking water…and fast.

2018 was a year that had just about everything for the Chicago Bears. Club Dub, Santa’s Sleigh, the Bears’ first winning season since 2012, playoffs for the first time since 2010 and…..well, yes that damn double-doink.

With Matt Nagy at the helm in 2018 in his first season at Chicago, it gave rise for Bears fans to buy into the “offensive guru’s” vision, a belief for the future and perhaps even dreams of a legitimate run at a Super Bowl.

Such was Nagy’s impact and influence that it saw him take home Coach of the Year honors for 2018.

Nagy had the offense, and the highly-touted Mitch Trubisky firing in his debut year at Chicago. Trubisky had the most impactful season of his career to date, throwing for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns (passer rating of 95.4), and earning his first (and only) selection for the Pro Bowl.

The Bears finished the regular season atop of the NFC North for 12 wins – 4 losses (.750). A missed opportunity at the playoffs against defending Super Bowl Champions the Philadelphia Eagles with MVP Nick Foles, was hugely disappointing. Nevertheless, it was expected by many as the springboard to bigger and better things for 2019 and beyond.

It must be noted however, that Nagy has taken the team to the play-offs in an impressive two out of three seasons (2018 and 2020), which does deserve some recognition.

Those judging Nagy’s record a little more harshly might suggest that an asterix should be applied to the Bears 2020 season, owing to the extra wild-card team addition to the NFC and AFC for the playoffs.

Nagy’s post-season record of 0-2 is a statistic that many of his detractors will point to as a coach unable to deliver when it matters most.

Despite how Nagy’s playoff record is viewed, most would agree that things in Chicago have never really taken off since 2018. Some might even suggest that the team has gone backwards since 2018, with a regular season record of 8-8 in consecutive years in 2019 and 2020.

The offense in particular has also been cause for serious concern. Last year, the Bears ranked 22nd for points per game (23.3) and 26th for total yards 5,302 (331.4 per game). 

These are hardly the numbers that you would expect from a team with a highly-touted, offensively-minded, play-calling coach..

Mounting pressure in 2020 saw Matt Nagy reluctantly cave in and give up his “prized-possession” – the play-calling, over to Bill Lazor in Week 10 against the Vikings. Many believed that this was the right call for a coach under fire to make when he should seemingly be focused on the “bigger picture” issues confronting the team.

It didn’t take long however, for Nagy to take back the reins, announcing in April this year that he would resume play-calling in 2021.

It is decisions such as these, Nagy’s roster management and vision for the future that has fans really questioning whether he is the one that can finally take the Bears to the promised land after more than 35 years.

During the off-season, we heard a lot about the all important “collaboration” between coach and General Manager. The decision to bring Andy Dalton in on a one year $10 million deal had both the media and fans both scratching their heads, and the drafting of Teven Jenkins questioning whether or not the proper due diligence had been taken. The decision to draft Jenkins of course does not rest exclusively on the shoulders of Matt Nagy. However, he cannot be devoid of all responsibility.

The severity of Jenkins’ back injury is unknown at this point, nor is his expected return date. Until then, we can only speculate as to whether Pace has found a gem that fell down the draft, or whether the other NFL teams knew something that he didn’t.

It would be far too premature and perhaps unreasonable to judge Nagy (and Pace for that matter) on the decision to draft Teven Jenkins, however it does raise some concerns, particularly for the majority of fans that feel that Fields should be the Week 1 starter against the Rams.

As fans, we are all deeply disappointed for Jenkins right now and hope that he can make a full recovery and a speedy return to the Bears’ roster.

Which brings us now to the impending 2021 season, and of course as we turn our attention to Week 1, it would be remiss not to address the ongoing “Andy Dalton QB1” saga.

The vision that Nagy has continued to sell the media and fans, much like a loud late night TV infomercial, is his “Kansas City blueprint” that will see Justin Fields serve as understudy to veteran Andy Dalton. Much like Patrick Mahomes did with Alex Smith in 2017, Fields will serve his time “developing” under Dalton until such time that Nagy deems him ready to take his first snap for the Bears.

The problem for Matt Nagy is that he’s not in Kansas anymore. Dalton is not Smith. Much like Fields is not Mahomes. What also is not like Kansas City, is the Bears’ ageing defense.

Speaking with Peter King from NBC Sports in August, Nagy laid out the reasons for committing to his blueprint:

“If we play Justin early to satisfy our needs, and not to do what’s best for Justin and the Chicago Bears, we’re going to ruin Justin and hurt the Bears.”

Nagy continued:

 “(What) we need to do is what’s best for the Chicago Bears, not only right now but we want this to be something that lasts 15 years. Not two years. See what I’m saying? What happens is, people get stuck in the moment, and they do it to satisfy themselves.”

If not stubborn, then Nagy has shown that he has only tunnel vision for the “development” of Fields (and to his “promise” to Dalton), and he will not deviate from his plan.

After an outstanding pre-season, the fans and media alike are of the firm belief (and rightfully so) that Fields is a ready-made quarterback, with the poise, talent and confidence to step into the role of QB1. Such is the belief, that many have speculated that by Nagy keeping Fields neatly packed in bubble wrap, that his own timeclock in Chicago will not begin to tick.

Even Nagy himself acknowledged the public’s sentiment on this in the same interview with NBC:

“I’m gonna do what’s best for Justin Fields. Not for Matt Nagy. People can say the save-your-job deal. Let me tell you how much I care about that part, okay? I don’t. When you start doing things to do things for yourself, you’re wrong. You’re dead wrong. You’re dead wrong. I’m not letting that happen. We are going to develop Justin right, and we’re sticking to it.”

It cannot be denied that the fan’s trust in Nagy has almost completely eroded over the past two years. Nagy’s hesitance (and perceived arrogance) with the play-calling and his backflips with Trubisky and Nick Foles has done nothing for the fan’s confidence in him.

In a straw poll taken on Twitter this week, Bears fans were asked what their trust levels are in Matt Nagy right now. Not surprisingly, the results were heavily weighted towards a lack of confidence in Nagy’s regime. Of the 208 votes received, 50% however, seem willing to give Nagy the 2021 season to demonstrate that he has the team back on track and headed in the right direction. One last roll of the dice perhaps.

The notion that Nagy (and Ryan Pace) are not under any pressure to keep their jobs this year is not as crazy as it sounds. The “Kansas City blueprint”, and delay in rolling out Justin Fields is one glaring indication of this. Nagy might have the support from the Bears front office, however, it is perhaps the fans (and media) that could be the catalyst for change if 2021 proves to be a failed season.

Earlier this year, Bears fans were livid following Ted Phillips’ and George McCaskey’s ill-fated press-conference in January. The response that ensued clearly showed that the fans and the media would no longer accept the soul-crushing status quo, nor would they tolerate mediocrity and poor decision making.

It is of no coincidence that Ryan Pace had a rather impressive draft performance and that the subsequent outrage by the media and the fans forced Ted Phillips’ and George McCaskey’s hand to ensure that vast improvements and positive change were made at Halas Hall.

The measuring stick for Nagy’s success may not be defined by wins and losses or a third run at the post-season. It is reasonable to expect, however, that Nagy can clearly demonstrate his ability to improve this offense and show some semblance that it has the foundation to be a successful unit moving forward. Nagy needs to get back to that creativity and unpredictability of 2018, and devise a scheme that most football-minded experts have predicted that Justin Fields can flourish under.

Should Chicago’s offensive woes continue in 2021, or day I say it, the Bears were to finish the season 8-8 (or worse), make no mistake about it, the media will be screaming at Ted Phillips and George McCaskey for change.

Trubisky left Chicago the scapegoat. Seemingly, the kid just didn’t get it. Whether Trubisky was indeed the problem, we will soon find out. Nagy has the team that he wants, his so-called “blueprint”, and his franchise quarterback. There are no more excuses now and it is time for Nagy to deliver, for the fan’s patience is fast running out and quite possibly, so could Matt Nagy’s time at Chicago.

It is all up to Matt Nagy now. Of course any benefit of the doubt must be afforded to Nagy as he presents Andy Dalton as his starting quarterback for Week 1, resumes play-calling duties and allows Justin Fields the time he needs to “develop” under his system. Come season’s end however, it will inevitably be history that will judge Nagy’s performance and ultimately determine his future at Chicago.

Until such time, we as the fans just have to accept that it is Nagy’s ship. He is the Captain behind the wheel, and we are all just the passengers on board for the journey.

If Nagy’s stubbornness and commitment to staying the course has shown us anything, it is that if necessary, he will absolutely be the last one to go down with his ship should his journey take him into the eye of the storm.

We wish Captain Nagy and his crew a safe and successful voyage and hope that the route he has taken can in fact steer S.S Chicago towards the promised land in his quest to stake his claim for the prized silverware.

It all begins September 12 under the bright lights of Sunday night football. For Nagy’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t lose any on board.

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