It’s been an interesting few weeks in Chicago when it comes to the blame game.
A Week 1 collapse in Green Bay put Matt Nagy’s conservative second half play calling within the critics’ crosshairs. Weeks 2 and 3 saw a lot of that blame shift towards Mitch Trubisky due to a number of ugly turnovers and missed reads/throws.
Chicago’s Week 4 blowout of the Buccaneers was a call for celebration instead of criticism, but their upset loss on Sunday against the Dolphins has caused the critics to raise their rifles of criticism once more.
Their target? The first-year head coach.
Of course, every single player and coach played a part in the loss on Sunday. Nagy didn’t miss 19 tackles or turn the ball over twice in the red zone or miss a game-winning kick in overtime, but his conservative play calling in crunch time has been a prominent feature in both of Chicago’s losses this season.
The numbers definitely back this up. Through five games, the Bears are getting outscored by over five points a game in the fourth quarter. That number looks a lot worse considering how Nagy’s teams are doing by quarter up until crunch time.
- 1st: +7
- 2nd: +34
- 3rd: +22
- 4th: -27
While Nagy was brought in as an offensive savior, what has been lost in the shuffle is that he’s a rookie himself. Every player and coach lives for the big moment, but the only way to truly get experience and learn how to play/coach in crunch time is to actually experience it.
Even when Nagy was calling plays last season, he was only in charge of managing an offense, not an entire team. Even with a defensive coordinator like Vic Fangio, Nagy is going through all of this for the first time in his very young career.
Even the coach who Nagy is often compared to struggled in the fourth quarter despite a successful season as Sean McVay’s Rams suffered three of their five regular-season losses in the final frame.
Also take Nagy’s mentor into perspective, Andy Reid. While often a near infallible regular season coach, Reid has developed a penchant for blowing postseason games in the fourth quarter.
That isn’t to say Nagy’s ultimate narrative is tied to either McVay or Reid, but it goes to show that play calling in the fourth quarter isn’t developed overnight.
In fact, think of how many great NFL coaches held the tag of choker throughout the vast majority of their career: Reid, Tony Dungy, Marty Schottenheimer, Don Coryell and Wade Phillips all come to mind.
Those coaches have a combined regular season record of 723-468-3 (nearly 61 percent) while only having a 29-47 (38 percent) record in the playoffs. Even most telling is that there is only one Lombardi trophy between those five as head coaches.
This leans more towards big games than just the fourth quarter, but the point remains, winning in the clutch isn’t easy. Even with decades of experience, many of these coaches couldn’t win in the clutch.
So is there really a reason to panic about Nagy’s fourth-quarter struggles after only five games as a head coach?
Absolutely not! Especially considering how Nagy has already grown and improved within this season.
Nagy clearly took steps forward as a play caller following the Bears’ Week 1 collapse in Green Bay, he’s clearly adjusted to what his quarterback is comfortable with over the last few weeks (with tremendous results), and it’s more than fair to expect that he will continue to learn, develop and improve following Sunday’s loss to Miami.
Chicago’s two losses so far this season sting because both contests were winnable. However, sometimes bruises have to be earned for lessons to be learned.
In fact, the idea of becoming a calloused football team is something that Nagy has been preaching since the Bears reported in Bourbonnais. Forming a new identity doesn’t happen overnight, and great football teams/coaches are molded by adversity, not fractured by it.
Though last weeks performance undoubtedly registers as a disappointment, it’s just another opportunity for Nagy to grow as a coach. If he is to become the next great coach, he needs to constantly be growing, learning, and improving just like his young team.