Joniak: Nagy, Bears Still Have Plenty To Learn

Matt Nagy feels he's still finding out what his players like in a game plan.

December 06, 2018 - 6:00 pm

LAKE FOREST (WBBM Newsradio) -- The Bears (8-4) will host the Rams (11-1) on Sunday night at Soldier Field. As they continued their preparations Thursday, here are the observations and notes of the day.

First impression

Even though it's Week 14, Bears coach Matt Nagy and his offensive staff are still learning a lot about their players. In today's NFL, it can take a lot of time to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t for skill position players.

"We’re at that point right now where we are figuring out the identity individually who our guys are," Nagy said. "Now you can start creating some game plans specifically for those players. You stay away from certain concepts or plays or routes.

Players will tell Nagy what they like or don't like. It might be a concept they don’t really understand, and they want to know the "why."

"It’s the same thing for me calling plays," Nagy said. "I’m learning too. I’m not where I was football relationship-wise with Mitch (Trubisky) right now (that I was) in year five with Alex (Smith). That takes time. When you get to that point, that’s when the well-oiled machine starts rolling. And that’s what our ultimate goal is to get there, but there is some choppiness on the way."

Find appropriate workloads and plays for the skill players is a constant evolution.

"All those skill guys, you are trying to find that sweet spot to make them play as a high a level as possible all the time," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said.

Second thought

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is looking good so far this week in practice after missing the past two games with a right shoulder injury. Trubisky plans to use his legs to make plays Sunday but admits he must be prudent about his journey with the ball in his hands. He pointed to sliding properly when he goes down.

"You have to balance the natural competitiveness and urges, common sense and being smart," Helfrich said, admitting there's some luck involved too. "That guy is going to battle for every inch, and we love that, but we also want to fight every battle down the road. That’s the delicate balance unfortunately across the league."

Third degree

Sharp route running leads to increased accuracy and explosive catch-and-run plays in any offense. Attention to the slightest detail and sharp focus is critical. 

Bears receiver Taylor Gabriel takes pride in that. His 544 receiving yards are third on the team, and he has a career-high 54 catches. "Turbo," as some call him, has the speed to make plays deep, but on routes traveling more than 20 yards this season, the connections to him have been infrequent, with no deep-ball touchdowns.   

"We see those three or four plays, we’re like, 'OK, wow ... that’s what we want every single time," Heflrich said. "When it’s not there, we feel like we’re letting him down if we don’t fix that. Him being committed to doing that and us putting him in the right position is a constant developmental deal."

Gabriel has been good at getting open between the numbers. He has already matched his career-high on catches resulting in first downs with 26 and is at a career-high at 45.3 receiving yards per game.

The Bears rank in the top 10 in downfield completion percentage on throws of 2 -yards or more at 36 percent, according to NFL Matchup on ESPN. It's a good sign for an offense that's still evolving and growing, and Gabriel is a big part of the future.


I probably asked a dozen different players on both sides of the ball this week the same question: "What does this game Sunday against the Rams mean to this Bears team right now?"  The players responded similarly: It's about one game, the next game. The Bears claim this game carries no more importance than any other game. These are top-down answers to obvious questions, but the discipline Nagy has instilled in this team to keep the blinders and earplugs on is another example of how much he has connected with his players.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.​​​