When the Bears and Falcons meet Sunday in Atlanta, it’ll be a clash between two head coaches striving to finally fix a problem that’s supposed to be their specialty.
Both teams thought they had the perfect fit. With a very good defense already in place, the Bears hired Matt Nagy in 2018 for his expertise on offense and reputation for developing quarterbacks.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have had a perennially top-10 offense with former MVP Matt Ryan and have been waiting on Dan Quinn to complete the equation by delivering a dominant defense.
Neither Nagy nor Quinn made much headway in their field last season or early in this one, putting themselves in a spot where they’re coaching for their jobs.
“When you roll into any team and you know that you have a great defense, as an offensive coach, that always helps,” Nagy said, thinking back to when he joined the Bears. “But at the same time, you know that you want to be able to use your ideas on offense — that’s your strength. I feel that it’s a real good match here right now.”
It’s a good match in the sense that the Bears’ magnificent defense keeps buying time for Nagy to figure out the offense and turn Mitch Trubisky into a viable quarterback. Nagy’s 22-12 record has been built primarily on a turnover-crazed, unbending defense.
That’s how the Bears have stacked so many victories despite ranking 20th in the NFL in points and 18th in passer rating under Nagy. He has won eight times when his team scored 20 or fewer points.
The reverse is true in Atlanta, where Quinn produced a top-10 scoring defense just once in his first five seasons, and his team allowed the most points and second-most yards in the NFL over the first two weeks of this one.
His team infamously blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Quinn is over .500 at 43-39 because Ryan has continued putting together a Hall of Fame-worthy career and the Falcons’ offense has been fourth in points and second in yards during his time as coach.
Quinn’s postgame press conference after a 40-39 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday was dominated by questions about potential staff firings, devastating lapses against the run and pass and what impact he thought a game like that would have on his future with the Falcons.
“I think this is going to be a very good team,” Quinn said. “We’re not there today.”
The Bears hope they won’t be there by Sunday, either, because any team capable of scoring more than 20 points should concern them. And any defense that has 11 able-bodied men on the field should also concern them, as evidenced by their struggles against the Lions and Giants the last two weeks.
The Bears don’t know if their offense can keep up if an opponent scores 30, and the Falcons learned last week that it’s possible 39 points won’t get the job done.
Quinn and Nagy have both seen the sky-high potential when they get their side of the ball straightened out. When the Bears were ninth in scoring in 2018, they went 12-4 and won the NFC North. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl without a good defense in 2016, but Quinn had them top-10 the next season and they went 10-6.
Much like Quinn doesn’t worry about his offense, Nagy trusts his defense without hesitation. He devotes nearly all of his attention to solving the offense, giving defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano the closest thing possible to autonomy.
That side of the ball is rarely the problem for the Bears, and Nagy knows the flipside of that compliment is that his offense is what’s holding them back. And that will cost him his job if it doesn’t change.