Bears coach Matt Nagy has much to prove as play caller after long fall from 2018 successJason Lieseron September 10, 2021 at 11:49 pm

Matt Nagy is asking you to trust him.
That’s a hefty request from the coach who wobbled to a 16-16 record over the last two seasons, when 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 as he handed authority to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. It’s been a precipitous plunge from 2018 when he 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 at 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 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 season. The Bears opened 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 quarterback Nick Foles told him some of Nagy’s plays were doomed from the start.
Griese quoted Foles 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 to convey, but confirmed the conversation with Griese nonetheless.
And it did seem that even Nagy conceded there was some truth to it. Two weeks later, when the Bears were 5-4 and had scored the third fewest points in the NFL at 19.8 per game, he stepped aside. Under Lazor, their scoring average jumped to 27.7.
That’s not a fair comparison considering five of the final seven opponents had some of the NFL’s absolute worst defenses, but elements of that performance would’ve translated against tougher teams. Lazor managed the offensive line more effectively and utilized 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. And now he believes he has regrouped.
“It was a gut decision,” Nagy 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 personnel.
While everyone fixates on Justin Fields, the fact remains that Andy Dalton is a definitive upgrade over Trubisky and Foles. The Bears have filtered out other unreliable players, like wide receiver Anthony Miller, and have seen strides from young talent like 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 on whether his renewed confidence will translate to a viable offense. The real test of that comes Sunday.

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