Has Matt Nagy lost the locker room? It doesn’t matter.
As the Bears’ season swirls down the drain, reports are trickling in that Nagy’s players have given up on him. Some say it’s because he stuck with Andy Dalton instead of rookie Justin Fields. There’s a faction that believes just the opposite — that Nagy lost the locker room when he pulled the rug out from under Dalton after Dalton’s knee injury. Another theory is that players tired of the “rah-rah” act.
But whether or not Nagy’s players support him or reject him, his fate as the Bears’ coach is tied to one factor — his offense can’t score. Nagy’s seemingly imminent demise is based on one reality — he hasn’t done the job he was hired to do. The Bears hired Nagy to develop a quarterback and invigorate their offense. And 10 games into his fourth season, the Bears are 31st in total offense, 29th in scoring, 32nd in passing offense, first in sacks allowed per pass play, 29th in third-down conversions and fifth in interceptions per pass play.
You can’t blame all that on Justin Fields having only eight NFL starts. Even in Fields’ best games, the Bears’ offense has scored 24 points against a Lions defense allowing 27.3 per game; 22 points against a 49ers defense allowing 22.2; and 20 points against a Steelers defense allowing 22.6. Watching Nagy’s offense develop is like watching water boil on low flame.
Following Fields’ best performance of the season against the Steelers (291 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to take the lead with 1:46 to play), the Bears had an extra week to prepare for a Ravens offense that ranked 24th in yards and 22nd in points. Yet Fields was noticeably out of sync, the Bears were shut out in the first half and even after Andy Dalton rallied the offense following Fields’ injury, the Bears still scored only 13 points.
Nagy’s offense has more red flags than yellow flags. The Bears — who ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing in 2019 and 25th last season — finally have a running game. They are sixth in the NFL in rushing and ninth in yards per carry. Yet the offense has dropped from 26th in total offense last season to 31st, and from 22nd to 29th in scoring.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Jimmy Graham were supposed to be safety-valve offensive weapons that would help make things easier for quarterback Justin Fields, but they instead have diminished alarmingly in Fields’ rookie season.
Robinson, who averaged 78.1 receiving yards per game last season, is averaging less than half that this season (37.7.) Graham, who had 50 receptions and eight touchdowns last season, has four catches and zero touchdowns this season.
Dalton’s success in relief of Fields against the Ravens — two touchdowns and a 107.3 passer rating — marked the third time a veteran with no first-team reps has come in cold off the bench and outplayed a young quarterback who spent all week preparing for that defense. Chase Daniel did it in relief of Mitch Trubisky against the Vikings in 2019. Nick Foles did it in memorable fashion (three touchdown passes in the second half) in place of Trubisky against the Falcons last season.
Daniel and Foles both were worse when they spent the week preparing as the No. 1 quarterback. It’s like the more familiar you are with Nagy’s offense the worse you get.
When it comes to Nagy’s hold on the locker room, the players probably are somewhere in the middle — not rejecting Nagy, but no longer embracing him.
“You have to respect him as a person,” Robinson said. “The term, ‘playing for your coach’s job’ — it’s just respecting your coach and respecting what he has going on and for guys to continue to be pros. I think those are the kind of guys we have.”
But are the Bears playing to save Nagy’s job? It didn’t sound like it. It’s like they respect him, but no longer believe in him. What’s done is done.
“Right now at this moment, we’re playing to win,” Robinson said. “As players, you want to get better. Coaches want to get better. Everything else that’s going on is out of our control and not really our concern.”