The Chicago Bears emerged from the first half of their schedule in first place by the thinnest of margins. Starting with the hire of first-year head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears have so far, made 2018 arguably their best year since they went to the Super Bowl and lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts back in 2007. After three years of ineptitude, general manager Ryan Pace has found a coach, and together they have suddenly righted the ship. The Bears enter the second half making all the right moves as they prepare to face the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings in the next two weeks.
Recent moves by coach Nagy could prove to be as important as their play on the field. As Chicago looks to end an eight-season playoff drought and take command of the NFC North. The Bears next game is hosting the Lions at Soldier Field at noon CST.
No Mack Attack
The Bears come off a stellar defensive performance having routed the Buffalo Bills 41-9 to up their record to 5-3. Granted they were facing the laughably bad interception machine Nathan Peterman. It was still a confidence booster for a unit that struggled to put away struggling rookie Sam Darnold and the Jets a week before. The Bears managed to win both games without the help of an injured rush linebacker Khalil Mack, and number one wide receiver Allen Robinson.
Mack was an MVP like terror in the opening four games of the season. He then suffered an ankle injury early against Miami, which the Bears lost in overtime. Then the Bears defense suffered a confidence-shattering gut-punch against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots blowing a double-digit lead in a 38-31 loss. Mack tried to tough it out against New England having taken pride in his streak of never having missed a game. But Nagy made the call to rest Mack against the Jets and Bills. Nagy was rewarded by the rest of the defense that produced two crucial victories and allowed Mack much needed time to recuperate and is now 100 percent healthy. That’s bad news for Detroit.
A couple of weeks ago the Lions traded away their most tradable asset in wide receiver Golden Tate. At the time Detroit was 3-4 just coming off a 28-14 loss to Seattle at home. What was curious about this seemingly “white flag” move was that it came a week after trading for defensive tackle Damon Harrison. The Harrison acquisition seemed to mark an “all-in” type of move, after winning two in a row to get to 3-3. What happened in the Seattle loss that made new head coach, former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and general manager Bob Quinn, also from the Patriots personnel stable, pull the trigger on Tate? A third-round pick is a good get for an aging receiver but seems to have cost the Lions in terms of team morale and cohesion.
Since the start of Detroit’s training camp, there have been a lot of articles published by local beat writers about the grumblings of some players and the management style of Patricia, maybe being too much like Belichick. Reading the tea leaves and knowing that former Patriots coaches biggest weaknesses are empathy and communication, one can definitely assume some sort of disconnect going on with the players. Trading the most veteran and popular player on the offense has sapped some enthusiasm for the rest of the team.
Right now Patricia is evaluating his roster and seeing who is responding to his moves. For a team like Detroit that seemingly has its franchise quarterback in place, a young stud running back in Kerryon Johnson, and some big-time defensive talent, this is the right way to go. Detroit’s rebuild on the fly makes them the perfect test for a Bears team on the edge of the playoffs.
This Is a Test
After an embarrassing performance against Minnesota, where Detroit’s offensive line gave up 10 sacks, the Bears defense will face a better effort from a team that has made the playoffs in two of the last four seasons. Getting Mack back couldn’t come at a better time. It’s almost like Nagy planned, or at least hoped, it would work out this way. If Mack can return to the disrupting force he was in the first four games, the Bears stand a good chance to remain in first place when they face Minnesota the following week. Getting Robinson back at receiver is a shot in the arm for the offense as well.
The rapport that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is developing with his receivers is growing week by week this season, no more so than with Robinson. In the first month of the season Robinson was the Bears most consistent pass catcher. His recent groin injury is hopefully behind him as the Bears head into the second half, attempting to claim the division crown. Nagy knows how important Robinson is as the Bears best receiver, and won’t let him take the field until he is absolutely ready.
As Nagy feeds Trubisky more variations of the plays they have been running all year, the Bears passing game is getting more confident at going deeper against whoever they play. This has been opening up running lanes for Trubisky to scramble and pick up large chunks of yardage while converting first downs. He has reminded of Hall of Famer Steve Young at times, with his running ability and competitive nature to stay in bounds for yards and touchdowns.
It’s only a matter of time before Trubisky improves his deep accuracy enough to start exploiting play-action and get the Bears run game going in time for Bear weather. If the Bears are going to make the playoffs and have playoff legitimacy to their offensive game, they must get Jordan Howard going along with Tarik Cohen. As difficult as it will be to play the rest of the season without injured guard Kyle Long. The Bears must focus on getting their running game up to speed if they are going to beat, and stay on top of Minnesota in the standings.
With rookie guard James Daniels, and Long’s backup Eric Kush‘s strength’s more on run blocking, Nagy needs to get serious and devote more play calling to even out the Bears offensive attack. The Bears will need more play-action come playoff time in bad weather against the best defenses in the league. The Bears better be able to line up and pick up three yards when they need it on the ground. Otherwise, their stay on the playoff dance floor will be short… if they make it at all.
While the Vikings defense has been terrorizing other NFC offenses the last couple years, Jordan Howard was able to have some of the biggest games of his young career against the Vikings in 2016. During the 2016 season and the first game of the 2017 season, Howard carried for 135, 156 and 76 yards.
Howard gets more productive with the more carries he gets. Hopefully, the Howard game is coming soon for the Bears this season. It will be very tough to make the playoffs without getting him untracked.
The Black and Blue Move
Over-ruling his star defensive player and sitting him out for a couple games against teams Nagy thought they could handle was a great and necessary move. So has been holding out Allen Robinson who has proven to be the number one receiver the Bears need. They will need him to be 100 percent in pivotal games down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Now Nagy must focus on the division title and beat his NFC North rivals the way it has always been done: at Soldier Field, with an opportunistic defense running wild, a physical running game and an attitude that smacks “we are tougher than you are!”
With the Mack attack back, the playoffs just might happen with a few more moves.
View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: Matt Nagy Making All the Right Moves for the Chicago Bears