Matt Nagy: ‘Zero concern’ he threw his defense under the bus

All Nagy has left at this point is his cherished culture. And it’s that culture that allows him to say what he said Monday without worry that it will fracture the bond he has built at Halas Hall.

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Bears coach Matt Nagy greets his defense Monday.

Bears coach Matt Nagy congratulates his defense after a first-half stop against the Rams on Oct. 26 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The defense scored the Bears’ only touchdown — safety Eddie Jackson’s eight-yard fumble return — in a 24-10 loss.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Two days after coach Matt Nagy criticized his defense for a shoddy performance in a 41-25 loss to the Packers, no defensive players were available to the media Wednesday for the first time this season.

Was it a sign of discontent? A boycott in response to Nagy throwing them under the bus after they’ve propped up Nagy’s sagging offense for three seasons? Are they mad? Are they insulted? Is the culture finally breaking down? Stop the presses!

None of the above, actually. Nagy’s criticism didn’t come off well, but nothing really does when a team has lost five consecutive games. He could have handled the critique a little more artfully — maybe taken his offense to task first before admonishing the defense. And for the record, he did acknowledge that the defensive breakdown was uncharacteristic: “They’ve done a hell of a job all year long.”

But poor Nagy has reached the point where he can’t do anything right. All the criticism of him is absolutely fair. His offense is a mess. His quarterbacks can’t do anything about it. He has changed play-callers. He has changed quarterbacks again. He’s playing Cole Kmet more. And the offense keeps going nowhere. There are five games remaining and nothing left to say. He’s out of answers. But he still has to provide them.

All Nagy has left at this point is his cherished culture to keep this thing afloat and hope an easier schedule allows his once 5-1 team to regain some traction. And it’s that culture that allows him to say what he said Monday without worry that it will fracture the bond he built at Halas Hall. If he offended his defense, he didn’t hear any blowback from his players.

“No. Not at all,” Nagy said Wednesday after practice. “The relationship I have with these guys on defense — I’m extremely close with every single one of those guys. As a matter of fact, a lot of my discussion with [the media Monday], that’s really coming from them, too. They’re frustrated. They were angry and they know they can play better and they understand that. So it’s kind of all of us talking when I say that.”

As much as he has struggled to do what he was hired to do — build an offense — Nagy has several impressive qualities as a head coach. His rapport with the other side of the ball is near the top of that list — particularly impressive for guys who grew up tethered to Vic Fangio.

Defensive players respect Nagy and follow his lead. They want to play for him. When the 7-8 Bears had nothing to play for in Week 17 last season, cornerback Prince Amukamara said playing for Nagy was his motivation.

“Selfishly, I want to help Nagy not have a season where he was under .500,” Amukamara said. “I saw a stat where [the Steelers’] Mike Tomlin had like 13 seasons [without a losing record]. We love Nagy and I would want that for him. So I’m trying to go all out.”

We didn’t get a chance to find out what the players thought of Nagy’s critique because of the Wednesday shutout. And on the record, you still might now know what they’re really thinking. But in the social-media age, you usually get a hint of discontent — a cryptic tweet, a rolling-eyes emoji, etc. — and there hasn’t been any of that, for what it’s worth. It’s unlikely this is the potentially divisive element it seemed to be.

“I know that can come off that way to outsiders or people that aren’t in the building,” Nagy said. “But I’ll just say there was zero concerns of any of us [that] there’s divisiveness or anything with me versus [the players]. There is none of that.

“We’re all in this together. We’re in a great spot for that part of it. And we just talked through, ‘OK, why did that happen?’ And I think our defensive guys, they’ve got a lot of pride. They’re angry at how that went down. I think they respect and understand where I’m coming frombecause they believe the same thing. That’s what we talked about. That’s where it’s at. And they’re motivated to get back out there.”

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