Chicago has lived with Matt Nagy for 2 1/2 years now — and we are well past the honeymoon phase.
After an initial splash in 2018, Nagy’s star has dimmed as the Bears’ offense stagnated and then regressed with quarterback Mitch Trubisky — the pet project Nagy was hired to develop. Trubisky has become neither as prolific as Patrick Mahomes nor as efficient as Alex Smith, but as problematic as Blake Bortles. Not an encouraging trend.
After the decision to start Trubisky over Nick Foles, the focus now turns to Nagy. With a revamped offensive coaching staff, an upgraded tight end corps and a more “focused, calloused” Trubisky, it’s Nagy’s responsibility to give the Bears a productive offense while the defense is in its prime. The clock is ticking.
And that starts with managing the quarterback situation. How long will Trubisky’s leash be? Though Nagy refused to address the issue publicly Monday, he surely has a plan if Trubisky struggles early. It’s not us he has to worry about. His players know there’s a second option now in Foles. And they’ll believe in Trubisky until they don’t. Nagy doesn’t figure to be stubborn, with Foles available. But this could be a test of his ability to read his own room.
And here’s another hypothetical to consider: What if the Bears are winning, but Trubisky is mediocre or poor or Good Mitch/Bad Mitch? That quandary has perplexed many a head coach, but with Foles’ history of coming off the bench and winning in the postseason, Nagy is more likely to make that change than most.
So with Trubisky in Year 3 in the offense, with Foles as a solid Plan B and with the offensive roster fortified, all the pieces are in place for Nagy to succeed in 2020. Despite all the focus on Trubisky, it’s Nagy with the most to prove.
2. The very first series of the season opener against the Lions on Sunday will be an early indicator for Nagy.
When Nagy was new to the league in 2018, his scripted opening series was a big success — three touchdowns and no punts in the first four games. In the following 28 games, the Bears have scored four touchdowns, two field goals and punted or lost possession 20 times. In fact, the Bears were last in the NFL in opening-drive scoring in 2019 (17 points in 16 games).
That ledger seems to be an indication that — like offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s “razzle-dazzle” offense of 1999 — the league caught on to Nagy pretty quickly. In a domed stadium with no crowd to impair the offense’s ability to communicate at the line of scrimmage, Nagy and the Bears have an immediate opportunity to show how much better they might be in 2020.
3. It’s unlikely to happen, but the Bears’ opening schedule against the Lions at Ford Field and the Giants at Soldier Field gives Nagy an opportunity for an unorthodox gambit — giving Trubisky and Foles each one regular-season game against real opponents at game speed to determine the winner of the quarterback competition.
Considering the circumstances — the virtual offseason program, abbreviated training camp and no preseason games — it’s not the worst idea. In Seattle, Pete Carroll is contemplating a rotation at certain positions in Week 1 in part to complete the evaluation process. Not at quarterback, of course, with Russell Wilson. But in the Bears’ situation, seeing Trubisky and Foles in live games offers a greater reward for the risk.
4. And, yes, that has happened before. In 1971, Cowboys coach Tom Landry had a Super Bowl contending team but couldn’t decide on a starting quarterback. So he used a shuttle system against the Bears at Soldier Field — with Roger Staubach and Craig Morton alternating plays on the same drive for much of the game.
The Cowboys had 481 offensive yards, but they had seven turnovers (including three interceptions by Morton) and the Bears won 23-19. Landry settled on Staubach the next week, and the Cowboys never lost again, winning Super Bowl VI against the -Dolphins. So . . .
5. Is general manager Ryan Pace on the hot seat? Though Trubisky is clearly tethered to Pace’s draft ledger, Pace just needs a quarterback to succeed in Nagy’s offense. “Honestly, I just wanted what was best for our team,” Pace said when asked if he was relieved that Trubisky won the job.
That said, Pace dodged a question about whether the quarterback performance will be a referendum on his tenure as GM. It’s hard to tell what they’re thinking at Halas Hall, but Trubisky/Foles would be a make-or-break situation for a lot of GMs in Pace’s situation.
“I know the quarterback gets a lot of the focus, and understandably so. It’s probably the most important position in sports,” Pace said. “I’m proud of our entire roster beyond quarterback.
“I think we’ll see . . . but I like our quarterback room right now. I love that Nick Foles is here. Obviously, we’re high on Mitch. But we’re fortunate to have both of those guys.”
6. 2020 MVBs — The players the Bears can least afford to lose: 1. WR Allen Robinson; 2. DE Akiem Hicks; 3. OLB Khalil Mack; 4. CB Kyle Fuller; 5. LB Roquan Smith; 6. S Eddie Jackson; 7. LT Charles Leno; 8. RB David Montgomery; 9. OLB Robert Quinn; 10. RT Bobby Massie; 11. LB Danny Trevathan; 12. Nick Foles; 13. CB Jaylon Johnson; 14. C Cody Whitehair; 15. ST Sherrick McManis. Special mention: Infection Control Officer Andre Tucker.
7. Trubisky (+250) is the third betting choice to be the first NFL quarterback to be benched this season, according to SportsBetting.ag — behind Washington’s Dwayne Haskins (+150) and Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick (+225).
Other Trubisky/Foles-related props: Will Trubisky be benched during the regular season? (yes -140; no +100); How many starts will Foles make? (total of 1.5).
8a. Picks to click (2020 season): 1. LB Smith; 2. CB Johnson; 3. TE Cole Kmet; 4. LG James Daniels; 5. NT Bilal Nichols.
8b. X-factors (boom-or-bust): 1. QB Trubisky; 2. OLB Quinn; 3. TE Jimmy Graham; 4. WR Anthony Miller; 5. WR Ted Ginn.
8c. Players of Intrigue: 1. WR Darnell Mooney; 2. CB Kindle Vildor; 3. OLB Trevis Gipson; 4. RB Tarik Cohen; 5. WR Riley Ridley.
8d. Bench Mob: 1. S McManis; 2. LB Barkevious Mingo; 3. S Deon Bush; 4. S DeAndre Houston-Carson; 5. DT Brent Urban.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who signed a three-year, $21 million ($13.75 million guaranteed) contract with the Raiders in free agency, was named a defensive captain before he had even played a game with the team.
Special mention: At 41, Josh McCown was signed to the Eagles’ practice squad as an emergency quarterback. He’ll stay at home in Texas — making $12,000 a week as a practice-squad player — and stay in touch via virtual meetings. He was with the Eagles last season, so he is familiar with Doug Pederson’s offense.
10. Bear-ometer: 9-7 — at Lions (W); vs. Giants (W); at Falcons (L); vs. Colts (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Panthers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (L); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).