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Matt Nagy and Hoping for Success

After completing part one of the book “Collision Low Crossers,” I pulled quotes that stand out in contrast to the Bears’ Matt Nagy situation.

Matt Nagy Bears
Photo: Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend, I have had a lot of time to reflect on Matt Nagy, the Chicago Bears, and football coaching in general as I was traveling across the country. In my travels, I spent a large portion of time reading the book “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff.

“Collision Low Crossers” details the entire season the author spent with the 2011 Jets. Expounding upon everyday football life, the book provides an intriguing look at the lives of coaches, players, and others in their goal to win the Super Bowl. After completing part one of the book today (roughly half of the book itself), I chose to pull some quotes that stand out to me in contrast to the Bears’ current Matt Nagy situation. Halfway through the book, I would highly recommend any NFL fan to pick up a copy for themselves.

Matt Nagy’s Scheme vs. Roster Talent

Matt Nagy Scheme
Via blogs.usafootball.com

“(Rex) Ryan’s approach to defensive play was the strategic manifestation of his intense personal interest in his players… The joy of the game for Ryan was creating calls and strategic situations that made capital of as many of those (players) strengths as possible – he wanted to find everyone a role.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Rex Ryan’s defense was all about knowing the players he had, and knowing what they could and could not do. This is something that we have failed to see with Matt Nagy time and time again on the offensive side of the ball. It is not about whether or not the players fit the system. It is about how the system CAN fit the players.

“The coaches felt that they were in competition with them [the players], and were determined that the scheme should be up to the players standards.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Just to hammer this point home a little bit more, the system should strive to be up to the standard of the players. The Baltimore Ravens’ defenses under Rex Ryan had to live up to the standard of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed. Why should this concept be any different for Allen Robinson, Justin Fields, and David Montgomery when it comes to the Bears?

Coaching Staff Built By Matt Nagy

Sean Desai Bears
Photo: Chicago Bears

“He [Rex Ryan] won’t sit still for long or read binders full of statistical studies, but his game plan for beating Tom Brady is second to none. He is a football savant.”

– Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum

“To many, Pettine was a man of inscrutable, complicated passions, the dark order complementing [Rex] Ryan’s joyful chaos.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

When a head coach is more of an artist than a technician, I believe that there is a need for reason and order to match that creativity and enthusiasm — somebody to temper what is within the realm of reason and logic. Nagy is more of a mad scientist than a compulsive perfectionist, which is completely okay. As long as the mad scientist is a football “savant”, or has an uncanny feel for the game. Neither of which Nagy has shown to be or have.

“Each fresh idea seemed to him [Ryan] miraculous, and he’d come bursting in on Pettine, waving a scrap of notepaper, crying, “It’s perfect!” Pettine would remain motionless… And then back and forth the two would go, Pettine probing, methodically pointing out flaws, Ryan reluctant to accept that there could be any flaws.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Now, we have all heard about the Bears’ offensive whiteboard trials where there are no bad ideas. While I like the idea of an inclusive environment for brainstorming, I wish they had more clear contrarians in the room — somebody whose sole job was to push back on every idea. Maybe they already have that guy in the building in Pettine, who was a QB himself in high school. I think the lack of pushback on creative ideas is holding this offense back, to some degree.

“An effective head coach was a person skilled at getting talented people to do things for him. In Baltimore, Ryan became a football architect, and Mike Pettine his football engineer. Pettine had a naturally analytical mind, and on film, football glowed hyper-limpid and comprehensible to him.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Maybe Bill Lazor plays this role to Matt Nagy’s Rex Ryan. Considering John DeFilippo’s past stints as offensive coordinator, I am not sure that he would fit the same mold here. I think that Matt Nagy needs to at least find his Mike Pettine for the offensive meeting room. This brings us to our next point.

Trusting the Other Coaches

Matt Nagy Bill Lazor Bears
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

“In New York… Pettine had run the defensive meetings and done the majority of the defensive game-plan building, and Ryan had asked him to call some of the games from the coaching box high above the field… This generosity to a subordinate spoke to another aspect of Ryan’s grand ambitions… His coaching staff would go into the football world and become coordinators and head coaches themselves.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Rex Ryan exhibited a great deal of support and confidence in the coaches he hired around him. On the offensive side of the football, Nagy has yet to exhibit the same levels of confidence in his staff. Not only does this make it more difficult to add quality assistants, but it also prevents new ideas from flowing as freely. That Jets coaching staff included future head coaches Mike Pettine and Anthony Lynn, as well as future coordinators Brian Schottenheimer and Matt Cavanaugh.

“What Ryan had in common with with all the best football coaches was his comfort with who he was… Ryan was self-confident enough to make sure others knew how much he depended upon his subordinates.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Does this sound like Matt Nagy? Sure, when it comes to the defensive side of the football. However, on the offensive side of the football, it feels like Nagy versus the world far too often.

“That was really half of NFL coaching – thinking of ones players as characters, each with a set of skills to model in the endless sequence of narrative experiments that sixteen times a regular season became a game plan.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

The best NFL coaches scheme to their talent. Others find talent direct to their scheme.

A Game of Repetition

“A game plan is their creative work. Coaches say that even on the best professional teams, only ten percent of the time do all eleven players perform their roles as scripted. But you always aim for better.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

This quote really stands out to me, mainly because I am not sure that the Bears even hit close to this 10 percent threshold. It feels as though the offense lacks knowledge of their play calls, and lacks in practice executing their assignments.

“It personifies grinding. It’s all minutiae and it all matters.”

– Bill Callahan on OL Play

It is all in the grind. Winning with details and the little things. That does not sound like Chicago Bears football lately. It sounds like a personal philosophy for Juan Castillo, but I question how much weight it carries for the Bears offense as a whole.

“In football, everything has to do with everything else.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Hitting the nail on the head here, the route concepts do not matter if you cannot keep the QB clean. Does the blocking really matter if nobody can get open? All of these things work together in unison, and the Bears offense has looked out of sync far too often for far too long now.

“Football required more study than any other major sport; every week, new calls were added, old ones reconfigured. In football, where everything was a matter of a degree, the leeway for error was so narrow that only by driving your team to improve with relentless, harping critique could you hope for success.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

The last portion of this quote might be a little much, but the essence of it is good. These guys need to be as close to perfect as they can possibly be in order to execute. Maybe the Bears have too many plays. They don’t have a go-to play, and have not had one since Nagy arrived. I wonder if they create a new set of plays every game, tossing the old ones and changing 180 degrees when the opponent calls for it. Which leaves players in the dark as far as their ability to build on concepts from week to week.

“In the NFL, a players game film is referred to as his resume, and since what he puts on tape in practice is archived by his team, there was tangible truth to the idea that every snap mattered.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

This stood out to me, because if they are filming and reviewing every practice, you would think the Bears would have a better idea of what their players excel at — which concepts are natural to the players, and which are not game-ready. Everything about Nagy’s offense has felt forced for three years now. Are they missing something in the practice tape?

Matt Nagy’s Play Design

“[Plays] he’d designed “should” have been touchdowns, would have gone for six had this one player just done what he was supposed to do… That was the truth of nearly every play for offense and defense alike.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

I do not doubt that Nagy’s play designs can be beautiful. In fact, I am sure that they are wonderful. However, the execution is often awful, and without execution, play design is not worth very much. Put it on the players, the coaching, or whoever you want. However you choose to slice up the blame, the execution is not there.

“Sometimes, we get too cute, too much whiteboard coaching instead of just letting our guys play.”

– Mike Pettine

Continuing on the same concept, keep it likable and keep it learnable. The greatest play ever designed is trash if nobody on the team understands it.

Matt Nagy’s Strategical Dilemma

“…Perhaps the central NFL strategic dilemma. You could polish a few calls to perfection, as Vince Lombardi’s champion Green Bay Packers had done in the 1960s… Or you could seek to create a more extensive catalog of looks tailored to counter the particular playing style of every opponent. That type of opponent-specific game plan, however, risked that the players wouldn’t know the new material well enough… Part of the joy of coaching was mastering each opponent and customizing game plans accordingly, and they talked about how hard it was for them to limit the volume of fresh calls, to locate a fine balance.”


– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

This is where I believe we find Matt Nagy’s Achilles heel: showing an utter inability to find this balance between fresh material and reliable staples. There is not enough perfection going on up at Halas Hall coupled with too much shifting of game plans from week to week. Do not aim to reinvent the wheel week after week, but rather aim to create an attack that can be executed consistently and modified to the opponents’ weaknesses.

“Gruden was laying into them for over complicating their scheme… having so many play calls… so much verbiage was required just to say them. The protracted calls, said Gruden, absorbed valuable pre-snap seconds, sapped drive momentum, allowed time for defensive adjustments, and confused your own players, leading to penalties and blown assignments. ‘Justify it,’ Gruden kept saying.

“Gruden moved from the snap count to the Jets’ ragged offensive red-zone performance, which Gruden blamed on the team practicing it only on Fridays. The traditional NFL players drinking night was Thursday.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff detailing a special meeting the offensive staff had with Jon Gruden

Under Matt Nagy, the Bears have consistently been one of the slowest teams to the line of scrimmage on offense. We know that the play calls are vast and long-winded. It appears that the Bears’ offense is very different from the philosophy laid out by Gruden here.

“Moore said he agreed with those coaches who were leery of trying to give a team too many options to draw from. But he pointed out that complexity was relative. He pointed out that Ryan’s defensive system had an array of packages, yes, but, he said, ‘It’s all simple to him and he can make it simple to his players, so they can still play fast. You get to the airport faster if you know exactly how to get there.'”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff detailing a special meeting the offensive staff had with Tom Moore (IND OC with P. Manning)

How simple is the offensive scheme to Nagy? Is it simple to his offensive assistants? Are they all on the same page as coaches? If they are not, how can they expect the players to be on the same page? It rarely appears like many on the Bears offense have conviction in their actions.

“People like to talk about coaching instincts, those who have a feel for the game, and that was fine… the greatest boon of instinct was foreknowledge: the understanding of self considered in relation to the understanding of others. Brilliant calls came from deep study.”

– Excerpt from “Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Dawidoff

Ultimately, this was the quote that stood out to me the most. Matt Nagy has shown an ability to make great play calls and play designs. The primary issue is with how consistently his calls match a situation or opponent. I am very sure that the entire coaching staff works extremely hard at their jobs. However, hard work does not always equal good work.

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I like spreadsheets and football. I aim to take an analytical approach to my football research while also realizing the physical nature of football and how that impacts the numbers. While my main focus is Chicago Bears, I also write about the NFL as a whole.

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