Bears coach Matt Nagy downplayed the game against the Rams on Monday night as a measuring stick.
“We’ve already played some pretty good teams,” he said.
This is true. The Buccaneers (5-2) are in the top 10 in most power rankings — despite losing to the Bears. And the Colts (4-2) look like a playoff team with a top-five defense and Philip Rivers at quarterback.
But in the context of the Bears’ rebuild, any game against the Rams is a measuring stick until further notice. The Bears, whether by design or not, followed the Rams’ template in their rebuild. Both teams hired young, progressive offensive coordinators to replace defensive-minded coaches — 31-year-old Sean McVay replaced Jeff Fisher with the Rams; the 39-year-old Nagy replaced John Fox with the Bears. And both drafted quarterbacks with a top-two pick in the draft — the Rams took Jared Goff with the first overall pick in 2016; the Bears traded up one spot to take Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in 2017.
“I got an opportunity in my role as head coach because of guys like Sean,” Nagy said. “I have a lot of respect for him, and I think he’s a hell of a coach.”
Two-plus seasons into it, the Bears and Nagy still are playing catch-up. The Rams made the playoffs in McVay’s first season in 2017, lost to the Falcons at home in the wild-card game, then reached the Super Bowl in 2018.
The Bears followed the Rams’ template almost too closely at first. They made the playoffs in Nagy’s first season and, like the Rams, lost at home in disappointing fashion — a 16-15 loss to Nick Foles and the Eagles at Soldier Field.
But where the Rams and McVay took the next step and reached the Super Bowl, the Bears and Nagy instead regressed in 2019, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Where Goff seems to have recovered from a year of regression — he was 11th in the NFL in passer rating (101.4) through six games —Trubisky was benched in Week 3 against the Falcons and replaced by Foles.
Heading into the game at SoFi Stadium, McVay’s Rams (4-2) and Nagy’s Bears (5-1) are as close as they’ve been — the Rams are 10th and the Bears are 11th in ESPN’s latest power rankings. It looks like a third consecutive taffy pull in prime time — the Bears won 15-6 at Soldier Field in 2018; the Rams won 17-7 last year at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But it’s another huge game for Nagy, who has been a master at developing culture but has not been McVay’s equal as a play-caller or game-planner.
“I have a lot of respect for Sean — the way he’s worked in the league, moving the whole way up to head coach at such a young age,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘He’s obviously done it the right way. Super-bright mind — not only on offense, but you get a sense of what type of leader he is with that team and the success he’s had. To go to the Super Bowl early like that, it’s just a reflection of who he is and how hard he works.”
Though Nagy isn’t putting any more importance on any particular game in the upcoming stretch against the Rams, Saints (4-2) and Titans (5-1), he still has a lot to prove, despite a 25-13 record as the Bears’ coach. Winning ugly won’t necessarily be a statement. But Nagy’s offense solving the Rams’ fourth-ranked defense will.