Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Matt Nagy getting comfortable as head coach

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Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Nagy getting comfortable as head coach originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Two years ago in London, the Chicago Bears suffered a devastating loss against the Raiders that sent their season in the wrong direction. This time, it felt like the exact opposite as the Bears fought their way to a convincing 20-9 victory in Las Vegas. There’s a lot to sort through, so let’s dive right into this week’s 10 Bears Things:

1. Matt Nagy is settling into his new role as head coach.

Yeah, that’s a weird thing to write when Nagy is in his fourth season as head coach, but Sunday’s game was only his 10th in which he wasn’t also calling offensive plays. Giving up play calling duties again was not easy for him, but it was the best move for the team. 

In a way, that move upgraded two coaching staff positions because it made both the offensive coordinator and head coach better. Bill Lazor has done a nice job calling plays in the last two games and Nagy has been a better in-game head coach the last two weeks. 

“I just think when you go through everything that we’re going through, when you’re able to step back and figure out, OK, what’s best for this team, last week was my first time going through it and I told you how good that felt after the game,” Nagy said. 

The interesting dynamic with Nagy over the last few seasons is that while his offense sputtered, he never lost the locker room. He has always shown the ability to be a good NFL head coach, but in order to maximize that potential, it was becoming obvious that he had to stop being the offensive coordinator at the same time. The results the last two weeks have been promising. 

“I’m able to really interact with those guys on defense and special teams. Sometimes I’m running down to find out what the play call is on that first play of the drive because I’m still celebrating with the defense or talking to them. It feels good. I like that,” Nagy said. “I think as a result you’re seeing what we’re doing offensively, defensively, everything, and if I can be the best head coach by doing that, I’m going to do it.”

It’s not hard to argue that it took too long to get to this point, but that’s why it was crucial for Nagy to give up play calling when he did. The 47 yards of offense in Cleveland will be something that lives on forever, but it was only Week 3 when it happened. Two weeks later, the arrow is pointing up on all three phases and Nagy appears to be embracing his role as a more traditional head coach (although it should be noted that he’s still heavily involved in the offensive game plan every week). 

As a result, it’s not surprising that Sunday’s win over the Raiders was one of the more complete games we’ve seen under Nagy. All three phases were in sync throughout the game.

“This was one of my favorite team wins because it was so complementary,” Nagy said. 

Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come, even as the schedule toughens up. 

2. That felt like a rare AFC-NFC rivalry game.

In the past, the Bears would only see the Raiders every four years. It’s hard to build AFC-NFC rivalries that way when the rosters look drastically different over a four-year period. But with the 17th game on the schedule this year, the Bears suddenly had a new game to circle on their calendar.

I wasn’t sure how much the London game from 2019 would drive the Bears last week, but it was very obvious Sunday that it did. That game against the Raiders in London was one of the more painful losses for the Bears given the Super Bowl aspirations they had that year. And you can argue they never really recovered.

“It didn’t feel like this in London. It felt the opposite,” Nagy said. "And, you know, when you’ve got to fly the whole way home from London with that feeling in your stomach, you remember that. I don’t care what anybody says, you remember that.”

There was definitely some extra motivation in the tank Sunday and it all came out after the game with the Bears’ raucous Club Dub celebration. 

“This was special, especially (after what happened) two years ago,” safety Eddie Jackson said. "It was a lot of things said from Gruden so it was just fuel to the fire.”

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden took a not so subtle shot at the Bears’ Club Dub celebrations after beating them in 2019, so it’s no surprise the speakers were cranked way up inside the Raiders’ own stadium Sunday.

“We still remember that,” Jackson said. 

It will be another two years before the two teams see each other again — at Soldier Field in 2023 — but if Gruden and Nagy are still the coaches, you can bet it will be another physical fistfight with similar storylines. 

3. What if the Bears are good?

It’s a question I posed on The Hoge & Jahns Podcast (with my own skepticism thrown in, of course) after the Bears beat the Bengals in Week 2. 

They followed that conversation up with 47 yards of offense in Cleveland. 

But things tend to change from week-to-week in the NFL, and the root of the question was really this: If the Bears have a good defense AND Justin Fields turns out to be a legitimately good NFL quarterback even as a rookie, doesn’t that make the Bears a pretty competitive team?

It’s not like the Bears’ offense was explosive in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, but it was efficient enough to complement a good defense and beat a good football team in Las Vegas. The X-factor in all this is Fields. How good can he be? And how quickly? We have to remember he’s a rookie so he’s probably not going to be able to put the offense on his back in 2020, but he certainly proved Sunday that he can make winning throws in the fourth quarter on the road. It’s more than possible that the Bears see steady improvement at the quarterback position throughout the season, and that’s something they rarely ever get. 

It’s a long season and teams can look drastically different in December than they do in September. If we’re being honest, a 3-2 start was probably the best case scenario for this team. If the defense continues to play at a high level and the young quarterback continues to show improvement, it’s intriguing to think about where the team might be in December. At a minimum, they should be in the playoff hunt. 

4. Jesper Horsted continues to be a developmental player to watch.

Horsted secured a spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster after putting on a dazzling performance in the third preseason game in Tennessee, and now he has the only touchdown caught by a Bears tight end this season.

The team values Horsted and didn’t want to lose him by trying to get him back on the practice squad, so they essentially had him sit as a healthy scratch the first four weeks of the season. But with Jesse James (personal) and J.P. Holtz (quad) out this week, Horsted got on the field and made quite an impression with a tough touchdown catch in traffic. 

“I think that you learn to become patient in this league,” Horsted said. “And three weeks or four weeks is nothing compared to like two seasons. I knew it would come eventually and you just got to be ready for when it comes.”

This is Horsted’s third season with the Bears and you might remember that he caught a big touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky on Thanksgiving in Detroit two years ago. He has shown a knack for pass catching and it will be interesting to see if he gets more opportunities going forward. 

5. Danny Trevathan didn’t get his starting spot back… at least not yet.

Fully activated off of injured reserve before the game, I was interested to see what Trevathan’s role would look like Sunday. He ended up playing just 10 snaps. 

After dealing with a knee issue in the preseason, the Bears put Trevathan on injured reserve to start the season and it’s possible they are still using caution to make sure they have him later in the season. Alec Ogletree has been a very good replacement so the Bears have somewhat of a luxury situation at inside linebacker right now. 

But I also thought Trevathan looked good when he played against the Titans in the preseason. He played fast and snagged an interception. It will be interesting to see if his snap counts increase over the next few games. As well as Ogletree is playing, Trevathan is still heavily respected as one of the energetic leaders on the defense. If he’s healthy, defensive coordinator Sean Desai will find a way to use him. 

6. Stadium review: Allegiant Stadium

With the Bears in the market for a new stadium, it’s especially interesting to visit places like Sofi Stadium and Allegiant Stadium this season. Allegiant Stadium wasn’t nearly as impressive as Sofi, but it’s still a good addition for the NFL. 

With a seating capacity of 65,000 and a price of $1.9 billion, it feels more in line with what the Bears can realistically pull off in Arlington Heights. That said, I would look more towards U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, which I personally like more than Allegiant Stadium. It seats 66,200 and only cost $1.1 billion (although that was a few years ago). 

Architecturally, I would expect a new Bears stadium to look much different on the outside than what the Raiders and Vikings built, but inside, both stadiums are very loud with good sight lines. One thing I appreciate about Sofi Stadium, Allegiant Stadium, and U.S. Bank Stadium is that all three are bright during during day games because natural daylight gets through the roof and sides of the stadium. If the Bears end up with a roof on their stadium, that should be a must. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re stuck inside a dark dome during a day game.

Of course, the roof will most likely be the biggest feature debated with a new Bears stadium. A retractable roof would be ideal, but the costs are extravagant. One of the advantages of having a roof is the noise with a home field crowd. If you ever get a chance to visit U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, you’ll know what I’m talking about. That place is deafening when the crowd gets going. That’s much more of a home field advantage than the “Bear weather” myth. 

Anyway, the NFL is killing it in the stadium game these days and there’s no reason why the Bears shouldn’t have a fancy new home in the future. 

7. Sean Desai is looking like a great hire as DC.

It didn’t look great when the defense struggled with busted coverages against the Rams in Week 1, but the Bears’ defense has been outstanding ever since and continues to lead the league in sacks. 

There’s no doubt the pass rush is helping the coverage, but the secondary is playing at a pretty high level. Jaylon Johnson having success at cornerback is no surprise, but Kindle Vildor has quietly been very good on the opposite side, while nickel back Duke Shelley has been one the team’s more reliable tacklers. Desai deserves a lot of credit for how he mixing single-high and split-safety coverages and showing different fronts/stunts at the line of scrimmage. As an offensive coach, it must be a handful to prepare for. 

8. It’s your week, Mike Pettine.

With the Packers on deck, we must discuss Mike Pettine’s role on the coaching staff. Pettine was the Packers’ defensive coordinator the last three seasons with Green Bay when 1-5 against Matt Nagy’s offense. Pettine is now a senior defensive assistant for the Bears and you know his experience with the Packers was a big reason why Nagy brought him to Lake Forest. 

“The experience he has at the NFL level, forget the team that he came from, he’s got a lot of valid points and ideas, so that part’s been great with him,” Nagy said Monday. “Now you sprinkle in the fact that this is the former defensive coordinator that we’ve gone against since I’ve been here the last three years. You’re going to use things that he has.”

One of the things Pettine has is a lot of experience practicing against Aaron Rodgers, so you have to imagine Desai will be leaning on Pettine even more this week. 

9. Opponent look ahead: Green Bay Packers

The Packers have won four straight games since getting blown out by the Saints in Week 1, but they still look somewhat vulnerable. They were very fortunate to get out of Cincinnati with a win Sunday. The Bears very easily could be tied with Green Bay at the top of the NFC North with a  3-2 record right now.

Of particular concern for the Packers is their secondary. Jaire Alexander is on injured reserve and the Bengals had no problem getting explosive plays on Sunday. It’s possible this matchup sets up Justin Fields for more downfield throws like he had against the Lions.

On the other hand, the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers. And Davante Adams. And Aaron Jones. You know the drill. Until the Bears prove they can beat the Packers, you have to expect they’ll lose to Rodgers.

10. Final word

That said, you also have to wonder if this is the time the Bears get a different result against the Packers. The way they played complementary football in Las Vegas seems significant. And, as previously pointed out, Justin Fields can be the x-factor any week. If you are the Packers, would you rather have one more year with Aaron Rodgers (and Jordan Love waiting in the wings) or the Bears’ promising situation with Justin Fields? 

Of course, that question hardly matters this week. Can the Bears find a way to flip the script on Green Bay? It’s a big game for Matt Nagy, but if his team fights the way they did against the Raiders, they’ll have a chance.

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