Matt Nagy's Running Game Epiphany Might Be Too Late

Matt Nagy's reputation as an Andy Reid protege is he doesn't like to run but it's apparent after a second four-game losing streaks in successive years and early season success with a balanced offense that he now appreciates the ground game
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Matt Nagy finally seems to grasp the importance of running the football.

The Bears coach has insisted since his arrival how he really did want to run the ball, but because he comes from a team, a mentor, a line of thinking totally focused on passing, it always seemed difficult to take him at face value.

After going through four straight losses for the second straight year, it's apparent he really does want to run and it might be leading him right to Mitchell Trubisky as quarterback. 

They won't say this until Wednesday, or until the traditional Tuesday leaking of the starting quarterback's identity to a league mouthpiece like NFL.com.

"I just feel like we have a good pulse on knowing that big picture, the struggle to run the football is where a lot of this stuff starts," Nagy said Monday, while discussing what his bye week self-scout accomplished.

Various fans, analysts, players and coaches have all noted how much better the Bears running game looked in games Mitchell Trubisky started as opposed to since then. Nagy's self-scout brought this point home, although it's fairly certain he had to realize this in real time.

"I don't care who we're playing, the run game has to get better," Nagy said. "You just see teams across the league that are able to establish the run. It helps open up other areas of the field."

They achieved offensive success only in spasms so far. 

The running game came in a rush at first. The passing game then appeared in the fourth quarter against the Lions and Falcons, then early against the Giants and also against the Panthers and Buccaneers.  

In between, only zeroes went up on the board, especially in third quarters

"I would say that, really, you've gotta look at it in different points of the season, and I say that meaning, for us, you look at the first couple games, really the first three games, we were able to get that run game established," Nagy said. "And that helps out when you're able to get that going And I thought our protection was pretty well, they did a pretty good job of protection, too. Again, a lot of that was before some of the (offensive line) injuries that have happened and/or the COVID.

"And then we made the move at the quarterback position and we ended up struggling to run the ball against the Colts and Tampa Bay and for, again, different reasons. I just felt like looking back at it, that we were never able to just establish that identity, per se. We were just kinda: 'Hey, well we've gotta get the run game going' Well, we get that going, and then we weren't able to pass the ball, our protection would break down or whatever it was. Or next week we'd get great protection and then we'd struggle for different reasons to run the ball."

It was here where Nagy appeared ready to appoint Trubisky his starting quarterback, but stopped just short. Stay tuned for Wednesday or more likely Tuesday when the NFL.com reporter of the day gets hand-fed the information.

"Also, at the quarterback position and at the wide receiver position, we just weren't gelling as an offense in general," Nagy said. "I think you (media) felt the penalties and the mistakes there and what was going on. Us as coaches (were) trying to figure out schematically."

They tried to run, wanted to run all offseason and made changes and it worked at first, Nagy said. 

This should count for something when job evaluation time comes up for coaches.

"You saw kind of the transformation that we did, I think it's pretty evident, the transformation we made in the summer schematically," Nagy said. "We made some big-time changes schematically from last year to this year."

The changes involved running more plays from under center, and a wider variety of blocking schemes aimed at running better.

It's been pointed out on this website numerous times how the threat of Trubisky under center and with the ability to bootleg, run on a zone-read or simply roll out made the running game work better by occupying the attention of potential run stuffers.

It did for the running game what play-action does for the passing game. It froze them. With Foles in the lineup, they went to more shotgun, less movement of the quarterback, a more predictable situation and ultimately when the line health dissolved then so did the entire attack. Foles became a target and wound up on a cart.

"We were a little bit searching with the identity of what we wanted to be," Nagy said. "And also, some of that goes with the quarterback position. So we just for different reasons never ended up clicking and it took us to the point where we have a good game or a decent game, but it just wasn't enough to win and it's way worse and it feels worse.

"Then all of a sudden you have two bad games with the Rams and our last game against the Vikings and they're just really bad. So when you're losing and you have that happen, the bye week comes now at a time now where it gives us a chance to figure out, ‘OK, what are we doing? How are we doing it? And how are we going to get it fixed?' And that's just kind of where we're at."

Getting back David Montgomery can help.  They didn't run well last week against a vulnerable Vikings defense because they didn't have a running back. You can't beat even mediocre NFL teams giving the ball to a wide receiver in running back clothing.

"No. 1, I just feel like (Montgomery is) a leader in that huddle and he does it a quiet manner," Nagy said. "This guy, now, he's a fighter, and I know it just killed him to miss that game. But I think being able to have him get back, just that level of confidence and that toughness that he brings to the huddle and every time he touches the football, I know that he's a complete team player. "

So now maybe the running game, the offense will work as originally intended on this post-bye reboot.  

It's more likely against the Packers they'll find one other thing Nagy didn't really mention and that's the opponent. Good defenses who focus on stopping the run prevail the way the Colts and Rams did against the Bears. And then the pressure is back on the passing game.

If Nagy has come to a running game epiphany, it could be he's a day late and a few rushing first downs short.

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