Nagy’s culture put to test after coach calls out defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
In the wake of yet another embarrassing loss, Matt Nagy publicly challenged his players Monday in a way he never has over his three years in Chicago.
And in a fascinating turn of events, a lot of his ire was directed at his team’s defense. It was directed at a defense that propelled a playoff run in 2018 and propped up an eight-win season in 2019 as Nagy’s offense went from mediocre to bad to unwatchable.
“I think that the thing that I start off with is what started on the beginning of the game for them to go on this 14-play drive, 75 yards, for them to go down and score, it just, that’s not who we are as a defense,” Nagy said to open his Monday morning Zoom call with reporters. “And so when you look at this thing big picture (Green Bay) had basically three drives and around 36 plays and 22 out of those 36 plays were five-plus yards. That can’t happen. And our defensive guys know that.
“You have to be able to shut them down and not allow 16 first downs in 36 plays, five of six on third downs and three touchdown drives. That’s not who our defense is. And our guys, they need to understand where we’re coming from with that and how we feed off of them as a defense. They’ve done a hell of a job all year long but yesterday was not where we need to be.”
The Bears’ defense, assuredly, deserved to be called out after looking powerless and at times disinterested against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Sunday night’s nationally-televised 41-25 laugher.
But it was curious to hear Nagy be so blunt and pointed with a defense that, so many times, has covered for atrocious showings by his own offense.
The Bears’ offense has scored fewer than 21 points in 14 of Nagy’s 25 wins as head coach. Alternatively: The Bears have lost seven games since the start of 2018 in which the opposing offense has scored fewer than 21 points, including Nagy’s lone playoff game.
Nagy lamented the lack of plays the Bears were able to run on Sunday night; while, yes, Green Bay was able to control the ball for most of the game, the Bears’ offense didn’t punch back when their defense needed help. They instead dropped passes, threw interceptions and made poor decisions with those limited number of plays.
“I’m excited to see how our defense responds to this,” Nagy said. “I think that I know they care. And I’m excited to see really our team and just understanding where we’re at and having that personal pride.”
How Nagy’s message will be received this week at Halas Hall will be telling of his grip on the Bears’ locker room and the culture he’s worked so hard to instill over the last few years. The optics of an offensive-oriented coach, whose offense is among the worst in the NFL, calling out the first truly bad game his top-10 defense has played all year do not seem good.
Especially when that defense was under-manned and playing without the guy who’s proven to be their most important defensive player over the last few years in Akiem Hicks.
Optics, though, matter less than reception. If the Bears’ defense truly is embarrassed by how bad it played Sunday night, what Nagy said is just echoing what Danny Trevathan, Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and the leaders of that group were already saying to each other.
“You gotta understand the love of the game,” Mack said Sunday night when asked if and why he still trusts Nagy. “The love of the game. The love of the players. The love of what we do night in and night out, every day of our lives we dedicate our lives to this game. … (Coaches) sacrifice as well so it’s a sacrifice from everybody in this thing together.”
Nagy better hope Mack remains on board with his messaging.
Nagy, indeed, has built a good culture inside Halas Hall. It’s probably the first thing he would point to if Ted Phillips or George McCaskey bluntly asked him why he should keep his job.
But five-game losing streaks can break the best, warmest, strongest culture. Because culture doesn’t matter if it doesn’t result in wins.
“Our defense knows when we talk through this stuff, we talk as a team, how important they are to how we’re built and what they mean to us and how they get stuff started,” Nagy said. “When we go out there on the field, we expect a three-and-out. If not a three-and-out, we expect a punt. That’s just who we are. When that doesn’t happen, it digs us in a hole.”
But that’s the problem with the Bears, and is why this team and organization is so broken. The offense isn’t good enough to pick up for the defense, leaving the defense to consistently pick up for a bad offense. That’s now how you win in today’s NFL, when the league is more invested in clipping touchdown celebrations for TikTok than it is in sensibly enforcing roughing the passer penalties.
And when the Bears defense doesn’t get the job done? Sure. They deserve to be called out.
We’ll see, though, if these players feel like they should be called out by the architect of the offense they’ve bailed out so many times in the last three years.