Emma's Tailgater: Matt Nagy, Bears Being Tested

The Bears are 3-1 for a second straight year, but they've faced adversity.

Chris Emma
October 03, 2019 - 6:43 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- From the day he arrived at Halas Hall,  coach Matt Nagy was set on building the Bears a winning culture. The buy-in came quickly, and the results were nearly instantaneous.

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In Nagy's first season, the Bears won the NFC North at 12-4 and earned a playoff berth. For his part, Nagy was named AP Coach of the Year. 

"I learned nothing from last year because last year went pretty well," Nagy said this week. "It went smooth, and that’s just how it goes sometimes. We were fortunate with injuries, we were fortunate with building trust, we were fortunate with building the culture, relationships. We won some games, got on some streaks and we didn’t have a lot of this stuff that’s going on. We didn’t."

While the Bears are 3-1 for a second straight season, there has been more adversity.

The Bears had a unique and often trying task kicking search all offseason. They dropped the season opener to the Packers in discouraging fashion. The team listed 10 players on its injury report Thursday, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (left shoulder), who's likely out when the Bears face the Raiders in London on Sunday.

As the Bears prepared to travel overseas, Nagy has been focused on a number of issues -- including protecting the status of linebacker Roquan Smith, who was inactive last Sunday due to "personal reasons." The Bears earned a 16-6 victory against the Vikings thanks in part to backup quarterback Chase Daniel and several other reserves stepping up.

Nagy has leaned on those in his circle for advice in pulling his team together through challenges. Beyond that, he has counted on the Bears' culture too.

"I can’t tell you how many people have said to me over the past couple days about how much that win we just had with what we went through, how much that meant to them personally," Nagy said. "Because I know what it meant to me personally. Those are the ones when you say next year, ‘Do you remember that game? Yeah, I remember that game. That pulled us together. That made us solid for a lot of reasons.'"

That leads Nagy and the Bears on a trip to London, a challenge in its own right. His team must take a trans-Atlantic flight and manage an unusual weekend of events leading into kickoff at Tottenham Stadium. Fatigue could become a real factor as players handle jetlag. Their focus will be tested in a new country.

With the Bears' bye week looming afterward, Nagy wants to make sure they don't let their guard down.

"It's not for a vacation," Nagy said. "It's there to win the game."

Open field

Imagine trading Khalil Mack.

That became a necessity for coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders, who couldn't pay Mack the record contract that he desired and instead sought to restock the roster with talent. But they let a future Hall of Fame talent get away.

Sept. 1, 2018 will forever be remembered around Halas Hall as the day the Bears acquired Mack. Chicago traded its 2019 and 2020 first-round picks as part of the package to Oakland, then signed Mack to a six-year, $141-million contract that included $90 million guaranteed -- a record deal for a defensive player.

It's safe to say there's no buyer's remorse, as Nagy pointed out when asked how the trade has worked out.

"I'd say pretty good," Nagy said this week. "That's keeping it rather light."

"Absolutely beyond being special. The guy, he's a game-wrecker. He's a multiplier. He's everything that we look for in a playmaker. He makes us a much better team."

In 18 regular-season games with the Bears, Mack has posted 17 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, 10 forced fumbles and a pick-six. Beyond that, he has helped elevate Chicago's defense to a place among the league's best. 

The Bears led the NFL in scoring defense and takeaways in 2018. Through one-quarter of this season, they rank second and third in those respective categories.

Years down the road, this Bears defense could be considered a historically dominant group. Acquiring Mack has helped make that happen.

4-down territory

1.) No rest for the weary

While most players will break during the Bears' bye next week, Trubisky will be hard at work.

Trubisky will be spending the time rehabbing his left shoulder injury. The Bears remain hopeful that Trubisky can return when they host the Saints on Oct. 20.

"Just rehabbing," Nagy said of Trubisky's task on the bye week. "He’ll just be rehabbing. Every day right now for him, he’s attacking it, along with Andre Tucker, our trainer. They’re taking every minute to use it to get back as fast as possible."

While the Bears haven't officially ruled Trubisky out this Sunday, Nagy confirmed it's unlikely he would play. Daniel, who turns 33 next week, will be making his fifth career start in 11 NFL seasons. 

2.) Tarik's test

What's Bears running Tarik Cohen looking forward to in London? It's not just the hope of the open field against the Raiders.

Cohen is making his first trip to London, and Nagy told him about his past experience of seeing the famed Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace. 

"I’m fascinated by that kind of stuff," Nagy said. "I don’t know how a human being can sit there and do that like they do. To me, that’s crazy. But it’s pretty cool. So, I just sat there like a little kid, just staring. These people don’t even blink, right? I was telling Tarik that yesterday, and I said, 'You realize that these guys, they’re pretty impressive.' And he goes ‘Ah nah.' He goes, ‘I’ll get ‘em to move.'

"He goes, 'Coach, I'm funny.' That's who he is."

That led to Cohen stating a new goal.

"I think I can break them," he said. "Something I'm pretty good at. Make him like his job a little more."

3.) No revenge for Eddy

Mack isn't the only player traded from the Bears to the Raiders. Chicago acquired kicker Eddy Pineiro from Oakland this past May.

Like with Mack, there will be no thoughts of revenge for Pineiro, who feels nothing but gratitude toward the Raiders.

"I'm very grateful for their opportunity," Pineiro said. "They were the team that believed in me at that time. I didn't get drafted. At that time, they were a team that believed in me. They gave me a shot. They put me on IR using it as a redshirt, they told me, to get better and develop.

"I'm always going to be grateful. They were the first team to give me a shot in the NFL."

4.) Coward making a difference

Bears offensive tackle Rashaad Coward is doing wonderful work in the community and was recognized as the NFLPA Community MVP for Week 2 of the season. 

Coward partnered  with Athletes for Charity to launch a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and literacy program at Lincoln Elementary School in Indiana. Earlier this week, he tweeted an offer of autographed photos, mini helmets and footballs for donations of $25, $50 and $100 to his cause.

"I'm just trying to give back to kids and people that don't have what I have," Coward said. "I'm just trying to give back what I didn't have, honestly."

To donate on behalf of Coward's cause and Athletes for Charity, visit here.

Quote to note

"I want to see what the end zones are like at Tottenham Stadium." -- Bears guard Kyle Long on what London landmarks he hopes to visit

Bears injury report

LB Roquan Smith (personal) -- Though Smith declared that he'll play, Nagy wouldn't confirm the Bears' intention for his return. We'll see Sunday.

QB Mitchell Trubisky (left shoulder) -- The Bears will be starting Daniel at quarterback, barring an unexpected twist.

WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion) -- Gabriel remains in the concussion protocol and won't make the trip.

DL Akiem Hicks (knee) -- Nagy indicated Thursday that Hicks would be a game-time decision Sunday. That was said to be the case when Hicks sat out last Sunday too.

G Kyle Long (hip) -- After missing the game last Sunday, Long returned to the practice field in a limited fashion this week. He's gearing up to play.

DL Bilal Nichols (hand fracture) -- Nichols is no longer wearing a cast on his broken right hand and is getting closer to a return. That could potentially come after the bye week.

K Eddy Pineiro (right knee) -- The bye week will allow Pineiro to get his ailing knee where it needs to be, but he's practicing in full.

TE Trey Burton (groin) -- Burton is back from this injury and has practiced in full form over the last two weeks. He has just eight receptions this season.

G Ted Larsen (knee) -- Larsen isn't traveling to London. The Bears hope Long can play, otherwise Coward could make his first career start at right guard.

LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe (hamstring) -- "Iggy" was riding the stationary bike during practice Thursday, but the Bears could be down a key special-teams player.

Prediction (3-1): Bears 24, Vikings 6

Mack doesn't want revenge on the Raiders. He just wants a Bears win. They shouldn't have much problem doing it against an Oakland roster lacking in comparable talent.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.