Coach Matt Nagy wasn’t subtle about it.
When explaining Kyler Murray’s growth this week, he detailed how the Cardinals quarterback grew more comfortable with the speed of the NFL and learned to develop a passing attack as dynamic as his scrambling ability.
That development, Nagy said, was in part because of his relationship with coach Kliff Kingsbury, the play-caller and college quarterback guru the Cardinals hired months before drafting the Oklahoma star in 2019.
“That comes with more repetitions and him and coach Kingsbury being able to work together and grow,” Nagy said. “That’s paramount. That’s important.”
His implication was obvious: Look at what happens when you let a coach and quarterback grow together.
“They’ve found an identity, and they’ve put pieces around [Murray],” Nagy said. “And they’ve given him time to be able to grow in the last couple of years.”
In doing so, though, Nagy was inadvertently detailing perhaps the most important trait of the Bears’ next coach. Whomever the team hires next — Nagy figures to be fired this offseason, barring an unforeseen rally — needs to build the team’s offense around rookie quarterback Justin Fields’ unique athleticism and deep-ball ability.
There can’t be half-measures like earlier this season, when the Bears were running an offense better suited for veteran Andy Dalton. Dalton will make his fourth start Sunday. Two have been in place of an injured Fields, who hurt his ribs against the Ravens.
The Cardinals look unlike anyone else in football for a reason — their quarterback. Just barely taller than 5-10, Murray can see the defense more clearly out of the shotgun. An elusive scrambler, Murray — who will be a game-time decision Sunday after missing three games with a sprained left ankle — can take advantage of a spread-out field.
Three years ago, the Cardinals built their offense to magnify Murray’s skills. In May 2019, as Kingsbury was installing a similar scheme to the one he ran at Texas Tech, center A.Q. Shipley said the Cardinals could be in the shotgun 99% of the time. The NFL world laughed — the sheer volume of shotgun plays belonged more in college.
Kingsbury didn’t get to 99%, but it was close. In Murray’s rookie season, the Cardinals went in the shotgun 87% of the time, according to Sharp Football Stats. Last year, they went in the shotgun on 92% of their plays. Both years, the Ravens — who use a pistol formation — were the only team under center less than the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have used four receivers and one running back more than anyone else in football, too. In 2019, the Cardinals used the personnel grouping 31% of the time — no other team eclipsed 8%. Last year, they used it on 20% of their snaps — only one other team topped 5%. This year, they use four receivers 19% of the time — and only one other team uses it more than 7%.
“This is not the type of offense where it’s just [Murray] running all the time,” Nagy said. “That’s not what this is. He’s a quarterback. He’s very successful at it.’’
Whoever coaches the Bears next doesn’t need to run the “Air Raid.” They don’t have to spread the field or put Fields in shotgun on every snap. But they need to make the offense unapologetically focused on the skills of the most unique quarterback in franchise history — even if that makes the Bears’ offense look dramatically different than anyone in the NFL.
To borrow from Nagy: Fields needs to “be” him. His next coach needs to help him get there.