1st-and-10: Early firing period not a factor for Bears
As much as the Bears have struggled to find the right coach under normal search circumstances, what are the odds they’ll find their guy in a two-hour Zoom call?
The Bears did not fire Matt Nagy on Monday to take advantage of a new NFL rule that allows teams with coaching vacancies to interview candidates from other teams during the final two weeks of the regular season.
No big deal for the Bears. The “early-firing period” is overrated — with teams limited to two-hour virtual interviews. That’s a tough way to find a coach, especially for the Bears. They do the cloak-and-dagger, due-diligence searches for their big hires and come up with Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy. What are the odds they’ll find the right guy in a two-hour Zoom call?
The Bears need bigger changes than hiring a new coach. At the least, they need to push general manager Ryan Pace into a John Paxson role behind their Arturas Karnisovas, if they can find him. Pace has certifiable personnel chops, but has swung and missed too often on big moves. The Bears need a home run hitter in the clean-up spot.
So while the focus has been on Nagy’s status this week, it’s at the GM/President of Football Operations level where the Bears needed to make their early move, to get someone in place to get the lay of the land and find a new coach.
For what it’s worth, that’s how the Packers changed their fortunes in 1991, when they fired GM Tom Braatz and hired Ron Wolf with four weeks to go in the regular season. Wolf’s first game as GM was against the Falcons, where a pre-game chat with Falcons personnel chief Ken Herock alerted Wolf that rookie back-up quarterback Brett Favre was available.
Wolf, who had been enamored with Favre since he scouted him as the Jets’ director of player personnel, made the deal for Favre — and the rest is history. The Bears, who at the time were dominating the Packers, have been chasing their rival for the last 30 years.
Getting Favre was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but if the Bears are going to think big, the sooner the better. The problem, of course, is that at Halas Hall, they never think quite as big as they need to.
Not under McCaskey leadership, anyhow. When George Halas knew change was necessary, the Bears hired former Vikings GM Jim Finks early in the 1974 season and put him in charge of the entire operation. Finks hired Jack Pardee and drafted Walter Payton the following January, and the rest is history.
But therein lies the difference between the Halases and the McCaskeys. When George Halas went outside of the family for leadership, George “Mugs” Halas Jr. hired Finks, a proven GM who had built the Vikings into a Super Bowl team from the ground up. When the McCaskeys went outside the family for leadership, they promoted Ted Phillips, an accountant and contract negotiator.
So it’s the same old story with the Bears, who have won four playoff games in 29 seasons since Michael McCaskey fired Mike Ditka and put the franchise totally in McCaskey family hands: It starts at the top.
2. Red Flag Dept.: Nick Foles’ winning performance against the Seahawks on Sunday — after not even knowing he was starting until Friday — continued an odd trend in Matt Nagy’s offense: Veteran quarterbacks who come in cold or with limited-to-no practice time are 5-1 with a 98.8 passer rating (nine touchdowns, one interception) in Nagy’s four seasons.
Previously, Chase Daniel in 2018 (106.8 vs. the Lions) and 2019 (101.4 vs. the Vikings), Foles in 2020 (three touchdowns vs. the Falcons) and Andy Dalton this season (317 passing yards vs. the Lions) were short-notice winners.
3. Nagy’s gamble to go for the win against the Seahawks with a two-point conversion with 1:01 left in regulation was only the second time the Bears have disdained a tying PAT to go for the win in the final minutes.
The only other time also was in a what-have-we-got-to-lose situation: In 1997, Dave Wannstedt’s Bears were 0-6 but had a chance to end a seven-game losing streak to the Packers after a touchdown with 1:54 left closed the deficit to 24-23 at Soldier Field. But Erik Kramer’s swing pass to Raymont Harris was high and wide for an incompletion.
4. With the 25-24 victory over the Seahawks, the Bears are 4-21 (.160) when allowing 24 or more points in four seasons under Nagy. The only teams with a worse winning percentage in that span when allowing 24 or more points are Washington (2-29, .065) and the Jaguars (1-38, .026).
5. The Bears sacked Russell Wilson twice, but they had no takeaways for the fifth time in the last eight games.
The Bears lead the NFL in sacks per pass play but have just 11 takeaways this season. Over the previous 10 seasons, the league leader in sacks has averaged 26.7 takeaways, with none lower than 20 (the 2018 Vikings).
6. Maybe Justin Fields should just sit out the final two games and wait for a new offense he figures to be playing in next season. This offense doesn’t seem very rookie friendly. And while most rookie quarterbacks struggle in the NFL, Fields has struggled more than most.
Of the 19 rookie quarterbacks since 2017 to start eight or more games, Fields’ 73.2 passer rating ranks 14th. His 58.9% completions ranks 13th. His 155.8 yards per game ranks 19th. Even third-round pick Davis Mills seems to be making steadier progress, with ratings of 93.2, 92.2 and 130.6 in his last three starts.
7. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman played just 18 snaps against the Seahawks and was shut out on the stat sheet. And while statistics generally don’t quantify Goldman’s impact, by the eye test he’s having a tough comeback season after opting out of last season. Even line coach Chris Rumph acknowledged that.
“It’s been a slow year. It hasn’t been his year,” Rumph said. “It’s almost like a rookie year or second year for him trying to get back in the groove of things.”
Rumph said he is confident Goldman — a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 — can get back to where he was. But it’s going to take some work.
“No doubt,” Rumph said. “It’s going to be a very important offseason for him to get his body right, his mind right and be the dominant guy he’s capable of being.”
8. Robert Quinn needs just one sack in the final two games to eclipse Richard Dent’s franchise record of 17.5 sacks in a season. And Quinn did not play against the Buccaneers while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so he will play a maximum of 16 games.
Quinn has had at least a share of a sack in 12 of his 14 games — at least one in the last seven games — with no cheapies.
But 37 years later, it’s hard to explain what a revelation and force of nature Dent was in 1984, his second NFL season after being an eighth-round draft pick. Dent started the 1984 season as a backup behind Tyrone Keys — with one sack in six games.
He became a starter in Week 7 and had 16.5 sacks in the final 10 games. Then he had three more sacks in an upset of the Redskins in the playoffs — and three more in the Pro Bowl. So he had 22.5 sacks in his final 12 games that season. And he was just getting started.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Jets kicker Eddy Pineiro kicked field goals of 42 and 20 yards in a 26-21 victory over the Jaguars. Pineiro is 6-for-6 on field goals in three games with the Jets.
10. Bear-ometer: 6-11 — vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (L).