The discovery of an identity by the Bears in their win over the Raiders on Sunday pertained not just to the players.
Sure, the running game and the strong defense never became more apparent, and Justin Fields' ability to get done what needs to be done while still learning the pro passing game all occurred to form a 20-9 victory.
The other discovery came from coach Matt Nagy. He figured out what to do with himself now that he has turned the play calls back to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
"I just think when you go through everything that we're going through, when you're able to step back and figure out, OK, what's best for this team, last week was my first time going through it and I told (reporters) how good that felt after the game. And then the same thing with (Sunday)," Nagy said, although it was somewhat disturbing he called it his first time coaching without making play calls—he did it last year for the final seven regular-season games.
"I'm able to really interact with those guys on defense and special teams," Nagy said. "Sometimes I'm running down to find out what the play call is on that first play of the drive because I'm still celebrating with the defense or talking to them. It feels good. I like that.
"I think as a result you're seeing what we're doing offensively, defensively, everything, and if I can be the best head coach by doing that, I'm going to do it."
Nagy has learned to coach an entire team, it seems, and not just the offense.
Here are the grades resulting from his discovery and that of the team in a huge road victory.
Running Game: A
No David Montgomery for the next month but with the way Khalil Herbert tore through the line and Damien Williams spun away from people, the Bears could be just fine. They kept running effectively even after losing right tackle Germain Ifedi to a knee injury and inserting backup Elijah Wilkinson. Jason Peters, Cody Whitehair and James Daniels had so many holes torn in the Raiders' defensive front that it sometimes became difficult for the backs to decide which wide open space to take while running.
Passing Game: C+
Only sheer yardage totals kept this from being higher. They couldn't hit the one big strike but Justin Fields and, for one play, Andy Dalton, connected on the passes that needed to be made. The Bears still have trouble finding Jimmy Graham or getting deeper routes to develop, but Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson were clutch with their receptions the same way Fields was with his accuracy. No one wins in the NFL at 4.7 yards per pass play unless their receptions are converting third downs, and the Bears did this at a solid 46.2% clip. The pass blocking held up despite a tackle injury and the noise playing in a dome on the road, although it seemed the Bears fans owned at least half the stadium. The best way to describe the passing game was they were efficient.
Run Defense: A
Without Akiem Hicks and facing a Raiders team that had beaten up their front seven in London two years prior, the Bears still dominated against the run, holding the Raiders to 3.2 yards a carry and only 71 yards. With poor pass blocking already a team issue, the only way Vegas was going to mount an offense was out of the running game and play-action passing. They couldn't do it against Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Khyiris Tonga and Roquan Smith. As long as they can keep Mario Edwards Jr. from committing foolish penalties going forward, they'll be fine.
Pass Defense: A
DeAndre Houston-Carson put the capper on this one with an interception and the pass rush ruled again with consistent pressure. Somehow they gave Khalil Mack only one sack for this game—he probably should have had 1 1/2 at least—but one other sack didn't count in stats didn't count because it was a two-point conversion. That was a huge play because it meant the Raiders still needed a TD. Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley rarely were entirely out of position to break up a throw, as they seemed to have made real strides. Holding Darren Waller to only four catches for 45 yards was the product of good zone coverage in the secondary as well as at linebacker as Smith had one big pass defense and made a few other catches difficult or turned them into drops.
Special Teams: A
A few scary moments from new punt returner Jakeem Grant when he made unusual choices to bring it back could be excused by the fact he averaged 19 yards on his two returns. His 32-yard kick return was a rare example of a kick returner making a play on his own because the Raiders had it covered well so he broke it outside to the opposite end. Cairo Santos is money. Two 46-yard field goals on a day when other kickers in the league were struggling again made it apparent how fortunate the Bears are to have someone capable at this task. He's at 34 straight now, longest streak in the NFL.
Along with enlightenment for Nagy about coaching the entire team came patience. He could have interceded when the plan was working on the ground and dialed up more passes but let Lazor do his job. Lazor did that job methodically and thoroughly. The backs just kept hammering away and were allowed to do it. It was also quite apparent Sean Desai made excellent use of film from the approach used by former Bears assistant Brandon Staley against the Raiders on the previous Monday night because the Chargers used the exact same system. Desai followed a blueprint perfectly. Also, Desai and staff made excellent use of all players as they got Trevis Gipson involved for another sack, a pick from reserve DHC and removed linebacker Danny Trevathan in the second half to insert a better pass coverage linebacker in Alec Ogletree with the Raiders far more likely to pass. Every move worked. In the end it was Jon Gruden being haunted by the past—his brash approach in the London win two years ago that the Bears remembered very well, and his controversial obscure comment from a decade ago on Twitter.
The last road victory the Bears had was a laugher over a poor Jacksonville team. In fact, a good case could be made for this being their most complete road victory since beating Carolina last year because the critical win over Minnesota in their playoff push was a nail biter that came down to a final Hail Mary defense.