Football

In The What I Learned Category, It’s Probably The Coach: This has been the big debate about the Bears all season, and will be this offseason and even into next season. It won’t be helped by Patrick Mahomes swaggering on in here next week either, but that ship has sailed. The fact is the Bears can win with Mitch Trubisky at the helm, whether or not it’s as fun to watch as Mahomes would have been.

To me, the ship on Mitch being great has sailed too, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be good. And good, with what this defense can be in the next year or two, is enough. Maybe more than enough. But as we’ve gone week to week here I’ve started to lean from “Mitch doesn’t have it” to “It’s Nagy.” And maybe a little of the offensive line mixed in.

There have been a few things that could have caused Matt Nagy to go off the deep end. The throwing up all over himself as KC offensive coordinator in the playoffs is only two years ago. Repeating that feat with the Bears last year, and then trying to blame the kicker for all of it is still fresh in the mind as well. And maybe Nagy is trying to overcompensate for losing his marbles (mental and the ones down there) in the playoffs this year by being fully creative all the time.

Again, we know what Mitch does well. Rollouts, actually running the ball, play-action. Pick and stick. This should have been the whole game plan from Week 2 on when Week 1 didn’t go so well. It hasn’t been until lately, and then it basically went away again in Green Bay to the point that even Mitch was bitching about it in the post game presser.

The Green Bay defense is certainly better than what had come before, and going to show you a lot of looks. But at some point you’ve got to do what you do well and figure out the rest. Nagy has outthought himself pretty much the entire season, and a better-than-it-feels season from the defense is now going completely to waste.

That doesn’t mean this is unsalvageable, because it’s far from it. All it takes is Nagy seeing what is in front of him, and maybe a tight end and one or two changes on the line. And then presto, it could be 12 wins again. But sometimes admitting things about yourself is the hardest thing to do. Is anyone going to tell him?

I Love Akiem Hicks But Don’t Want To Watch Him Play Again This Season: As fun as Khalil Mack was to watch last year, Akiem Hicks might have been just as much. Regularly putting two linemen on their ass and destroying entire offensive gameplans by himself, and looking like he was having a blast doing it, the joy seeped through your TV. So like most Bears fans I was delighted when it was announced he’d be back, because he’s the difference between this defense being really good and something from a distant moon in a another galaxy.

And then we had to watch him clearly in a world of pain, gut through it, and for what? I can’t imagine what state that elbow is actually in, but two or three times you saw him drag that thing to the sideline and try and comprehend the pain he was in. And football players don’t like to show much. In the 4th quarter when he was just lying on the Lambeau turf for a minute, it was just a metaphor for life. You can suck it up and gut it out and think you’ve got it measured by the world always has another jolt for you to leave you in even more pain that you thought possible.

Nagy is saying he still might play in the last two games. I don’t know what the point would be other than risking literally tearing his arm off below the elbow. That’s enough.

Packers-Bears Games With Something On The Line Are The Best And Worst: They rarely happen, which is maybe why they’re both. The past two seasons they’ve met in the opening week, which hasn’t gone well, but it’s hard to know what the stakes are. Most of this decade, one team has sucked and the other has been good (and you know what that alignment has been most of the time). Last year, by the time the second meeting came around the Packers season was over. These kinds of things rarely mean something to both teams in the long run. Of course, they all did in 2010…and look how that ended. Maybe it’s better if they don’t.

But there was something about the fading winter sunlight, the cold, and both teams having urgency and desperation that carried over into the fans and the whole experience. I don’t think I’d live through another playoff game between the two, but at the same time wouldn’t it be nice to get one over on those assholes when it really meant something? Just once?

One day.

Football

Our Coach/QB Axis Of Confusion – This probably should be one. And it’s basically all we’ve talked about for the whole season, but where else do you start?

I don’t know that Sean McVay is any more of a genius or idiot than Matt Nagy. Something tells me they’re of the same cloth, and the Rams season is likely to spin out of control after this anyway. And I’m fairly sure Jared Goff sucks too. But I guess that means they’re both working with the same thing.

Which made last night’s developments all the more infuriating. Because it looked like McVay had an actual plan, even if it was conservative as all fuck. They were going to run the ball, run it some more, and keep running it, if only to keep it out of Goff’s hands as much as possible. And McVay probably knew that the Bears would shift to that 6+1 front to stymie the run, which they did. And yet he remained patient.

He could do that because Nagy’s offense never got away from the Rams or forced him to have to chase the game, but McVay also knew that when the game was on the line, he could take all that had come before and react off of that to get the one touchdown he would need to win the game. So with the Bears in that same front, the Rams finally went to play-action and suddenly Goff has some pretty simple open and easy throws to make. And it didn’t even matter that his best was called back to an illegal formation. How open was that? And then they went down the field anyway.

When has Matt Nagy ever had a consistent plan like that? When has he ever just said, “We’re gonna do this until they make an adjustment, and then we’ll counter that?” Or has it all been “We’re gonna do everything on every drive?” You know the answer. So do I.

We see the Bears do something that tends to work–I-formation, no-huddle, rolling Mitch out–but it never lasts more than a drive or two. The Bears don’t wait around for the move to stop it. They just assume it’s coming and try to change before it does. But they always end up changing back to something that doesn’t work (hi there, option play on 3rd-and-1 with a possibly injured QB!).

It’s a metaphor I go back to far too much, but watching Matt Nagy I’m reminded of how Chuck Klosterman described how Axl Rose writes songs:

But Rose is the complete opposite. He takes the path of most resistance. Sometimes it seems like Axl believes every single Guns N’ Roses song needs to employ every single thing that Guns N’ Roses has the capacity to do—there needs to be a soft part, a hard part, a falsetto stretch, some piano plinking, some R&B; bullshit, a little Judas Priest, subhuman sound effects, a few Robert Plant yowls, dolphin squeaks, wind, overt sentimentality, and a caustic modernization of the blues.

Matt Nagy’s offense has to do everything, even when it clearly has neither the QB or the offensive line to do so. The Bears need simple. One thing, then a counter. They need basically Tim Duncan’s early career post-game. McVay was content to do that last night. Nagy never has been. And this is what you get.

The other thing is McVay revamped his offensive line that had been leaky all year. I don’t know if that’s available to the Bears given the talent level, and they sort of tried that with flipping Daniels and Whitehair back between guard and center. But it’s definitely not a plus in Nagy’s category either.

It’s Ok Mitch, A Lot Of Careers Come To An End In LA – I have to imagine 75% of being a quarterback sucks, unless you’re one of like the five good ones in the world. You’re the only player, in any sport that I can think of actually, that has to have your own press conference after every game and during the week. You know your whole team is looking at you from the moment you show up. No matter how good your focus is, you have to be somewhat aware that an entire fanbase/city is basically judging your entire self-worth on how you play, even if things within your own team are working against you.

I don’t think Mitch got a lot of help last night. The receivers had a few killer drops. His o-line still sucks, though they held up mostly ok last night even with that Mad Titan Aaron Donald around. His coach won’t accentuate the things we think he does well. He may be hurt. The overarching issues aren’t his fault either. He didn’t trade up to draft himself. He didn’t choose to be taken ahead of Mahomes or Watson, something he can do nothing about and that he’ll never live down. His skills are his skills. His coach’s and GM’s inability to read those correctly aren’t really his fault either.

But what I can’t get past, and really haven’t been able to all season, is the big plays he misses. That’s what keeps everyone from living with the mistakes. The miss to Anthony Miller is a touchdown. Miller would still be running. That would have put the Bears up 7-0 and really erased the worries over the kicker. He missed Braunecker on another that would have gone for 30-40 yards. There were two others where Robinson and Cohen had their men beat but he was going for back shoulder throws that were a good 5-10 yards behind them. The INT was just an awful throw.

You make those throws, or even most of them, and the Bears win. You can’t miss the big plays when they’re there, because they don’t come around that often, especially with this line. Fuck, two of them and the Bears probably win.

Maybe it’s confidence. Maybe a Mitch feeling himself hits those. Maybe. I don’t know that we’ve ever consistently seen it. And you can go back and find more. Gabriel in the Chargers game stands out. And maybe it’s harsh to say just three more throws and the Bears are 6-4 right now with at least a chance of something.

And maybe that’s how thin the line is that takes you from being a good QB to a bad one. But in a league built this much on parity, maybe all the lines are that thin. But at this point, it’s clear which side Mitch is on.

I Blame The Defense Because I’m Lashing Out – It’s hard to get past the Bears defense giving up a game-winning drive in pretty much every loss this year late. The only one that wasn’t was the Packers. They got bailed out in Denver.

But y’know, 17 points surrendered is enough to win. It should be. The defense is still good, and if those drives that lost the game came in the second or third quarter, we probably wouldn’t notice as much. And if you had an offense, those drives in the 4th would be in vain anyway.

Pagano even changed his plans last night. He went to that special front to thwart the running game that had been killing them earlier. Was he slow on the uptake on the final drive with the play-action? Maybe, and he had to know that was coming. But there’s only so much you can do.

Still, he hasn’t found a way to get Khalil Mack loose. Chris Collinsworth mentioned night how Wade Phillips was bringing extra heat if only to get Aaron Donald one-on-one. When has Pagano done that? Khalil Mack can’t go through a whole game without being noticed. And eventually, the excuses of being doubled or chipped, or having the running game go away from him, or being schemed outside more and more are tired. Make a play, or more to the point find a way so that he can put himself in position to do so. Just one sack last night would have made a huge difference somewhere in there.

But again, we do this because we’re simply tired of bitching about the offense and coach. They got the turnovers last night. They got the three-and-outs. An average NFL offense wins that game going away. It’s been that way all season.