With the pressure unmistakably on, Matt Nagy faces his biggest game as Bears’ coach
He merely is tasked with beating the hot Saints, proving he can make positive adjustments, getting his team to 4-2 (not 3-3) and calming a beyond-restless fan base.
Yeah, that Bears playoff game last season? The one in which Matt Nagy was making his postseason head-coaching debut? The one with all the hype and hope? The one with pressure levels well above the recommended daily allowance?
Introduction to the alphabet.
That game looks mellow compared with the anxiety-filled situation Nagy will encounter Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears are trending in a southerly direction after a very bad loss to the Raiders, and Nagy merely has been given the task of beating the hot Saints, proving he can make positive adjustments, getting his team to 4-2 (instead of 3-3) and calming a beyond-restless fan base.
That he has had a bye week to try to fix what’s wrong with the Bears only adds to the magnitude of the game for him. If he’s a problem solver, it’s time to see it. Time to see what the coach, with a pencil behind his ear and a what-if look on his face, did with two weeks of preparation to solve his offense’s troubles.
No one wants to remember the 55-14 thrashing the Packers put on the Bears after a bye week in 2014, but I guess you’re remembering it now. This team is in no way capable of that kind of meltdown, not with a Khalil Mack-led defense, and Nagy isn’t out of his element the way Marc Trestman was. But how a team performs after a bye week, especially coming off a loss, is a reflection of a coach’s ability to make adjustments and get the best out of his players.
The hope is that Nagy has figured out a way to kick-start a running game that can’t, for the life of it, run. This would mean he has figured out a way to get his offensive line to block. It would be nice to know whether rookie David Montgomery is the running back the team says he is or just another player the Bears’ hype machine has elevated to star status prematurely.
A loss to the Saints might not end the honeymoon between the fans and Nagy, but it might cut the number of loving gazes by as much as 50 percent. This is a season that came with Super Bowl aspirations. As candid and open as Nagy is most of the time, victories are what count most. Losses in a much-hyped season start to make you wish for zipper-lipped Bill Belichick. And as someone who works in an industry reliant on the loquaciousness of coaches and athletes, I can’t believe I just wrote that.
It’s impossible to know what Nagy has planned to shake the offense out of its stupor, but just know it has involved a lot of work. The NFL is the most over-coached league in the world. If you didn’t know that, you certainly did after Nagy mentioned Wednesday that the Bears scout each week’s officiating crew for tendencies. Let’s hope they scouted the Saints enough to do something about their carnivorous pass rush.
Nagy also said he wouldn’t tell quarterback Mitch Trubisky, if he plays Sunday, to avoid running with the ball. In general, that’s wise thinking. Running is what Trubisky does best, and it’s an approach many of us have been pushing for weeks. But exposing his still-healing left shoulder to a big hit against the Saints might be too risky.
You have to wonder, though: Would the Saints prefer to knock Trubisky out of the game and face backup Chase Daniel, or would they rather take their chances on Trubisky, who has struggled for most of the season?
This is where we are, questioning everything.
Last season was easy for Nagy. It was a joyride. Very little went wrong — OK, aside from Cody Parkey — and almost everything he touched turned to gold. He was the king of the trick play. The Bears went 12-4, won their division and lost a tough playoff game. Yet as painful as that defeat was for Nagy, there was a strong belief that 2019 might be special.
The NFL is all about adapting, and the league appears to have adapted to Nagy. Tarik Cohen doesn’t look a thing like the incendiary device he was last season. Trubisky has regressed. Nagy hasn’t figured out how to install the batteries in the ‘‘toys’’ general manager Ryan Pace gave him in the offseason.
That’s why Sunday is so important. It’s why we need to see improvement and a victory. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. The offense needs to show signs of life, and the team needs to win.
Pressure for the coach? Way more than there should be for a Week 7 game. But that’s where the Bears and Nagy are.