Plan of attack: A look at Bears coach Matt Nagy’s aggressive offensive approach
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Bears coach Matt Nagy concluded his hourlong breakfast with reporters at the NFL’s annual meetings Tuesday with a mission statement.
“Overall, we’re going to be much more aggressive than we are conservative,” Nagy said.
That said, here’s what Nagy hopes to install and what he hopes to accomplish.
Install aggressive mindset
In terms of philosophy, Nagy is the opposite of John Fox, whose conservative edicts not only frustrated fans but members of his own coaching staff.
Nagy wants to attack. It’s in his makeup; it’s his personality. And he believes the free-agent additions of tight end Trey Burton and receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel will help.
“It’s going to mean the pace of play,” Nagy said. “It’s going to mean downfield throws. We’re going to always attack you downfield.”
To Nagy, being aggressive doesn’t mean being reckless. He said it’s important that he and his players are “calculated” with their aggressiveness.
And being aggressive is a mindset that Nagy wants for defense and special teams, too.
“If you have that mentality going into games, you’ll never leave with any regrets because you’re aggressive,” Nagy said. “But it’s got to be smart.”
More important, it’s a philosophy that Nagy shares with general manager Ryan Pace, who came from the offensive-minded Saints and has been bold with certain personnel decisions.
“The fact that he’s aggressive by nature is a very attractive trait,” Pace said. “We want that style of play — hey, [you] can’t be afraid to take chances.
“Occasionally, there’s risk involved. But if you want to be great in anything you do, that’s part of your decision-making process. It just fit with what we were looking for.”
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Always be flexible
Having a flexible offense requires having a flexible mindset. Nagy might be installing a new offense that even some of his assistants have to learn, but he’s also open to suggestions.
“Bring ’em,” Nagy said. “Absolutely.”
It’s why he targeted Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. Helfrich’s background from Oregon, primarily run-pass options, was attractive. It’s also considerably different than Nagy’s upbringing under Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
In a sense, Nagy’s goal is to be cutting-edge. He and Helfrich already have spent time drawing up new plays.
“Trust me, what we’ve done and what I am used to is people being open and listening to ideas and suggestions,” Nagy said. “To me, that’s the only way to do it.
“To have an idea that Mark brings in and says, ‘Hey, this looks like something that could work.’ I’d be crazy to be stubborn enough or to have too big of an ego to say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ That’s not even a question.
“We’ll take everybody’s suggestions — quality-control coaches, any position coach. That’s how we go.”
Understand Trey’s importance
Nagy’s first conversation with Pace regarding new personnel revolved around adding a tight end who could fill what’s called the “U” position in Nagy’s offense. It’s a receiver/tight end hybrid role that Travis Kelce handles at a Pro Bowl level with the Chiefs.
Enter Trey Burton, who received a four-year, $32 million contract despite limited production with the Eagles. Simply put, Nagy needed him.
“It’s an important role,” Nagy said. “It’s easy to create some plays for. And when you have a guy that has the size that Trey has and the speed that he has, it’s about mismatches.”
Burton’s size can beat smaller nickel backs, while his speed can be a problem for larger players, i.e. linebackers.
“That’s one of the things that I learned through coach Reid is getting mismatches throughout, and that’s what Trey does,” Nagy said.
Don’t overlook Adam Shaheen, either. Nagy described him as “a really good fit” because he’s able to be a traditional in-line tight end (the “Y”) as well as the hybrid “U.”
“This is no longer a deal where you’re just playing a split-out tight-end position,” Nagy said.
Help Gabriel stretch defenses
Robinson’s arrival gives the Bears’ a true No. 1 receiver — “He’s a guy that presents a lot of problems to defensive backs,” Nagy said — but Gabriel’s abilities will change the offense in Nagy’s “Zebra” role.
“[The ‘Zebra’ is] that third receiver who can go inside and run different,” Nagy said. “We’ll move you around. Sometimes we’ll get you on the ball, off the ball. We’ll put you in motion. But that third guy normally plays in the slot.”
In this case, Gabriel’s speed — ESPN rated him as the ninth-fastest player in the NFL in 2017 — can lead to mismatches. It opens up the field.
“When you have a guy that can take the top off the defense with the safeties, again stretching the field vertically, you need that,” Nagy said. “We have that.”
And don’t rule out running back Tarik Cohen as an option in the slot. Asked about it, Nagy played coy, smiling and saying “sure” twice.
“Offensively, to have a bunch of different guys that can do different things is important,” Nagy said.
Exploit Mitch’s mobility
Nagy’s offense requires athletic offensive linemen because everything revolves around the all-important athlete behind them.
Asked what stood out about quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s rookie season, Nagy almost immediately began discussing the use of run-pass options. He then mentioned the improvements Trubisky made with his decision-making and accuracy.
Nagy knows that deploying Trubisky as a runner — or, at the very least, the threat of being a runner — will open more up for the offense.
“In Kansas City, that was one of Alex Smith’s strengths: being able to use his legs,” Nagy said. “He has that. Mitch has the ability to make guys miss.”
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