ATM: Offensive Ceiling is ‘Adequate’. Who Takes the Heat?

| November 11th, 2020

Whether Matt Nagy should be fired following the 2020 season is being hammered to death by fans on Twitter. The question does not come with an easy answer.

Down six offensive linemen against Tennessee, and with a quarterback requiring protection, one could argue Nagy did an adequate job on Sunday. This coming after the Saints game in which it now seems inarguable that the offense was somewhat adequate. The 2020 Chicago Bears offense is not going to be good and that is not Nagy’s sole fault. The coach just doesn’t have the horses to put a high-octane offense on the field. Adequate is the ceiling.

The Bears are 20th in the league in amount of salary cap space spent on offense. They entered last week 27th in DVOA. That’s a slight underachievement. But when you consider their most explosive player went down for the season in Week Three and their best offensive lineman was gone two weeks later, it’s more of a shoulder shrug than cause for alarm.

But it’s also evidence that Nagy certainly isn’t doing the job. The great offensive coaches elevate the talent on the roster. Does anyone on the Bears offense outplay their talent level?

A coach not putting up points without talent to work with shouldn’t be a surprise. Kyle Shanahan couldn’t do anything against Green Bay’s bad defense last Thursday night, as he was forced to shuffle his lineup. If Shanahan were in Chicago, you can bet people would be calling for his job, especially considering he is just 27-30 as a head coach. His 49ers were 27th in DVOA in 2018 and 19th in 2017. They jumped up to seventh last year.

What changed? Well, they’ve spent four top-70 picks on wide receivers and a top-10 pick at right tackle. They’ve invested a ton in the running back position and, perhaps most importantly, the offense has just been different when Jimmy Garoppolo — as average as he may be — is on the field.

Matt LaFleur was 23rd in DVOA with Marcus Mariota and then jumped into the top 10 when he started coaching Aaron Rodgers. Andy Reid’s Chiefs averaged being 12th in DVOA before drafting Patrick Mahomes. They moved into the top five in 2017 — thanks to Nagy — and have been in the top three with Mahomes as their QB.

There is more than enough evidence to prove that even the best coaches need at least mediocre talent at quarterback and the offensive line to succeed. Nagy hasn’t had that with the Bears.

There has been some positive momentum for the Bears passing game as of late. Despite the constant pressure, Nick Foles has two straight games in which he’s had passer ratings in the 90s, throwing for four touchdowns to one interception. Perhaps there was one garbage time touchdown against Tennessee, but the Bears were moving the ball and getting chunk plays before that – typically a sign of good coaching. It’ll be interesting to see if Ryan Nall or Artavis Pierce can inject life into the running game this week.

But the offensive line will always be a problem in 2020 because they will never be able to sustain drives with the group they have. The fact that Rashaad Coward is their top backup means they screwed up somewhere along the way. (Wouldn’t Jon Runyan Jr. be more valuable than Trevis Gipson?) The biggest difference between the Bears and Packers over the last 30 years has been quarterback play; the second biggest difference has been each team’s ability to find offensive linemen late in the draft.

The fix is simple enough, but will have to wait until the offseason. If they get just two new starting offensive linemen this year and add some depth, it’ll go a long way. Whether or not they have the scouting staff to accomplish that is another topic for another time, but considering the position they’re in now, the answer seems pretty clear.

The troubling part with Nagy is that almost every other successful offensive coach has found a way to score points within their first three years. At the very least, a sure sign of a good offensive coach is that his teams find a way to move the ball even if they can’t get into the end zone. That hasn’t been the case with Nagy.

And if the Bears are going to target a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft — which they absolutely should — does that give Nagy more time and another excuse for it not working in 2021? Perhaps this is the strongest argument to start fresh — though that wouldn’t likely mean success in 2021, either.

It would be tough for the Bears to fire a coach who has won more than 60 percent of his games — assuming that’s where Nagy finishes 2020 — but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least consider it.

What we need to see in the final seven games is improvement. Fans need to understand that won’t mean 30 points per game, but has to be consistently 20 or more with none of their final seven opponents being in the top 15 in defensive DVOA. If Nagy can’t achieve that, we’ll have the information we need.

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