When explaining why he chose Sean Desai over eight other defensive-coordinator candidates in January, coach Matt Nagy will often rattle off the qualities he likes about the first-year play-caller.
“You can see the energy and the swag that he has on the sideline,” Nagy said last month. “The juice. The fire. The guys see that. They feel that.”
That’s what made the Bears’ 34-14 loss to the Rams on Sunday night that much more damning. Not only did the Bears struggle, but they were flat.
“We didn’t have the outcome that we wanted to have,” inside linebacker Alec Ogletree said this week. “We missed a couple of opportunities that we thought we could’ve capitalized on. But for the most part, I thought our thing was we just didn’t play with enough energy.”
Not enough energy? In prime time? On national TV? Against one of the three favorites to win the NFC? At SoFi Stadium, the site of the Super Bowl? In front of a full crowd for the first time since 2019? What?
“I played in a lot of games . . . so I could kinda tell how the energy is,” said Ogletree, who has made 95 career starts. “When you’re feeling good, you can see it on film, and everybody can feel it.”
It took only three Rams plays to feel the opposite way. Matthew Stafford’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Van Jefferson — aided by veteran safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson forgetting to touch him when he was down — put the Bears in a hole from which they never climbed out.
“Everybody was hyped up and ready to go,” defensive lineman Bilal Nichols said. “I just think that guys just . . . first game. Just messed up on technique.”
That’s not supposed to happen to a veteran, expensive defense.
“They had some explosives, and that can take away from your energy,” Nagy said Thursday. “But you’ve gotta find it then. You’ve gotta get it back by making big plays. And then we can help it, too, on offense by making big plays to where you kind of feel the juice on the sideline and there is that energy.
“I felt like in that game, we were just kind of playing catch-up the whole game.”
Nagy likes Desai’s composure — he doesn’t panic on game day — but Sunday against the Bengals will be the first time he sees exactly how his coordinator adjusts his game plan from week to week.
“We’ve got to make it happen,” Nagy said. “We can’t just say, ‘We’ve got to be better.’ But where you do that is in practice. You see why. You practice it.”
Now the players have to do it.
During training camp, the Bears had Udonis Haslem, a three-time NBA champion with the Heat, address the team. His lesson, Nagy said, was how impactful it is when players — not coaches — lead from within.
“We have guys that have done that,” Nagy said. “And now when you get to a game like that — not just as a defense but as an offense, too, all of us — we’ve got to be able to everybody pull together.”
That’s the challenge against Cincinnati. Having a full Soldier Field will help — although if the Bears could be flat last week, they could do it every week.
“I just think this week for us is about bringing the energy and executing on our plays and just being us,” Ogletree said. “Having fun and playing well.”