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Bears coach Matt Nagy has much to prove as play-caller after long fall from 2018 success

It got bad enough last season that Nagy ceded play-calling to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Now he’s taking it back.

Nagy gave up play calling leading up to the Bears’ Week 10 game against the Vikings last season.
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Matt Nagy is asking you to trust him. That’s a hefty request from a coach who wobbled to a 16-16 record over the last two seasons while the Bears scored the seventh-fewest points in the NFL and neither passed nor ran with any proficiency.

While that’s not entirely Nagy’s fault, most of it is. All the Bears’ biggest problems fall under his purview. He’s calling the plays — and it got so bleak last season that he admitted he might not be the right man for that job, handing authority to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. It has been a precipitous plunge from 2018, when Nagy was the darling of the city.

Now, after an offseason of introspection — and surviving his seat getting dangerously hot late last season — he’s eager for a comeback. He’ll call plays again starting with the season opener Sunday against the Rams.

But in typical Nagy vagueness, he can’t — or won’t — explain why.

“I don’t know if I have an exact answer for that,” he said.

You’ll just have to trust him, which is pretty much what chairman George McCaskey said when he rebuffed public pressure to fire Nagy in January.

It was the Rams game, incidentally, when the alarms really went off last year. The Bears had opened the season 5-1 before a thudding 24-10 defeat at SoFi Stadium in which they didn’t score an offensive touchdown.

In the final minutes, broadcaster Brian Griese mentioned that Bears quarterback Nick Foles told him some of Nagy’s plays were doomed from the start. Griese quoted Foles as saying, “Sometimes play calls come in, and I know that I don’t have time to execute [them]. I’m the one out here getting hit. Sometimes the guy calling the plays, Matt Nagy, he doesn’t know how much time there is back here.”

Foles downplayed that comment and said it didn’t reflect what he meant, but he confirmed the conversation with Griese nonetheless.

Even Nagy seemed to concede there was some truth to what Foles had said. Two weeks later, when the Bears were 5-4 and averaging the third-fewest points in the NFL at 19.8 per game, he stepped aside. Under Lazor, the Bears’ scoring average jumped to 27.7.

That’s not a fair comparison, considering five of the Bears’ final seven opponents had defenses that were among the NFL’s worst. But elements of the improvement under Lazor would have translated against tougher teams. Lazor managed the offensive line more effectively and used quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s mobility. The Bears also averaged 4.7 yards per rush, up from 3.7 over the first nine games.

It appeared Nagy’s move paid off. Now he believes he has regrouped.

“It was a gut decision,” he said. “I go back and I reflect on it, and you learn in those situations. . . . I know, going into this year, I feel really good with where I’m at as a play-caller.”

Again, you’ll have to take his word for it.

It is possible, though, that his scheme will improve with more competent players.

While everyone fixates on rookie quarterback Justin Fields, the fact remains that Andy Dalton is a definitive upgrade over Trubisky and Foles. The Bears have filtered out other unreliable players, such as wide receiver Anthony Miller, and have seen strides from young talent such as tight end Cole Kmet, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and running back David Montgomery.

“You get these players that understand what you’re looking for,” Nagy said. “As a play-caller, there’s a trust for me to call a play [and] know that that guy knows it like I know it. . . . You get guys that are able to really understand the nuances of the offense. . . . That’s probably why it feels better.”

It feels better in practice, he meant. There wasn’t enough evidence in the preseason to make any kind of judgment about whether Nagy’s renewed confidence will translate to a viable offense during the regular season.

The real test comes Sunday.