Whenever Bears coach Matt Nagy wears a visor on the sidelines, I half-expect to see lightning skipping across his exposed dome, the brain activity so intense that it produces its own energy.
Nagy is a creative offensive play-caller, and his trick plays have been known to turn otherwise-sober adults into toddlers who can’t stop laughing at joyful puppies.
But he can’t be the Bears’ best offensive weapon this season if they have any hope of winning a Super Bowl. Cannot. He might have been that last season, when he mixed and matched and gimmicked the offense to a division title. That’s how the legend grew that he was good enough to win a game on his own.
There’s only one coach, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, who can do that, and it’s important to point out he has Tom Brady, who might be the best quarterback ever. But Belichick’s defensive game plans are heartless things that take away opponents’ best weapons and dare them to win with the rest of their arsenal.
Rams coach Sean McVay, a brilliant play-caller, is known for his total recall of any game in which he has taken part. He can tell you what happened on second-and-five in the second quarter of a Week 2 game against the Saints in 2011, which is why no one stands near him at parties. But not even McVay’s inventive game plans could save the Rams when quarterback Jared Goff struggled in the playoffs last season, especially in the Super Bowl.
So don’t look for Nagy to be able to hide the Bears’ weaknesses all the time this season. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the offense will be great if his play-calling is great.
This will come down to athletes, the way sports usually do. Whatever Nagy is doing to push his players to new heights or to mask their deficiencies eventually will give way to whether an offensive lineman can block the very large man across from him and whether the quarterback chooses the right option on a pass play.
That quarterback would be Mitch Trubisky, whom you might have heard of, even if you haven’t seen much of him lately. Nagy can protect him with his game plans, but only to a point. No matter how good the Bears’ defense is (and it’s very good), the time will come when Trubisky will have to win a game by himself. He hasn’t done that yet in two seasons as a starter.
Please don’t tell me that, if it weren’t for Cody Parkey’s double-doink in the playoff loss to the Eagles last season, Trubisky would have had his signature victory. His fourth-quarter touchdown drive was necessary only because he had been so poor in the first three quarters. No, we’re talking about greatness here, an excellence that shows up regularly in victories, not just on a few series.
No amount of packaging by a bright coach can overcome a lack of talent. It might work once in a while in the NFL, but it can’t be sustained. That’s why somebody — almost surely Trubisky — has to be the Bears’ best offensive weapon. They’re hoping he’s that when they open their season next Thursday against the Packers at Soldier Field.
But maybe it will be running back Tarik Cohen, a Mighty Mouse whom Nagy loves for all the trouble he can cause opponents in the open field. Or maybe it’ll be receiver Allen Robinson, who is hoping for a big year now that he has a healthy season under his belt.
But all of it involves Trubisky. Everything the Bears want to be depends on his taking a big step this season. There’s no avoiding that, which is why Nagy decided to keep him on the sidelines during preseason games. He can’t take a big step in the real games if he’s limping from a hit he took in the fake games. But if the Bears had thrown us a bone and had Trubisky throw a few passes in the preseason, I wouldn’t have complained.
There hasn’t been this much anticipation for a quarterback’s season in years around here. The city thought it knew what it had when Jay Cutler made his Bears debut in 2009. It thought it had excellence; it didn’t. But few people can say with certainty what Trubisky will do this season. That’s why the game against the Packers is so intriguing. Nobody knows.
Fret not, trick-play lovers. There is no way Nagy will disappoint you in 2019. You couldn’t have kept Elvis out of spangled jumpsuits, and you can’t keep Nagy out of his bag of tricks.
But those trick plays can’t be the star for this team. If they are, you’ll know something’s wrong.