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Why There's Nothing Wrong with Matt Nagy's Play Calling

Bears coach Matt Nagy gets criticized for not running enough last year but the truth is he probably ran it too much considering how unsuccessful they actually were at doing it

One of the great questions about the Bears heading into the 2020 season won't be solved at training camp or in preseason.

It involves play calling, and no one cares about play calling in practices or games which don't count in the standings.

Matt Nagy's inability to blend the running game with the passing game in his play calling drew plenty of criticism in 2019. It's often perceived he needs to run more this season.

"I learned a lot last year in so many different ways, on and off the field, as a head coach," Nagy said this past offseason. "I learned a lot as a play caller, with players how they they work, with scheme, with coaches."

GM Ryan Pace saw no problem with Nagy's play calls.

"Extreme confidence in him as our head coach, extreme confidence in him as our play caller and extreme confidence in him righting the ship and getting us back on the track we want to be on," Pace said, backing Nagy.

Of course Pace will say that, but did Nagy actually deserve to be criticized for not using the running game enough?

There is no doubt they didn't give David Montgomery the ball enough in the season-opening loss to Green Bay. It was hard to think otherwise when Montgomery had only six carries.

It was a game when neither team could run on the other's defense and Nagy adjusted his play calling to try to throw more in order to overcome an early deficit. Green Bay did the same thing. 

It went much like the playoff game with the Eagles after the 2018 season when they couldn't run it effectively and neither could the Eagles.

Nagy still ran too few times against the Packers but it was not the reason they lost. In the end, they lost because Mitchell Trubisky threw one of the four red zone interceptions he had last year, the most in the NFL.

It Doesn't Take an Einstein

A popular stat after the season ended was how the Bears won six out of seven times when they gave the ball to David Montgomery for at least 16 carries.

So the logic is they should have simply handed him the ball 16 times more often and they would have kept winning.

It's false logic.

While he could have had more carries in a few cases, Nagy gave Montgomery plenty of opportunities to run and he used the running game extensively in play calling. 

In fact, he used the running game more than he should have considering the results.

Yes, the Bears were 6-1 and should have been 7-0 in the games when Montgomery carried 16 times or more, but the truth is they gave him the ball more in those games because the running game was actually working.

Montgomery averaged 4.1 yards per carry in the games when he got the ball 16 times or more. In the nine games when Montgomery had less than 16 carries, he averaged 2.9 yards a carry.

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A team can't run the ball when it's averaging 2.9 yards a carry.

The Albert Einstein definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Giving the ball over and over to Montgomery when the running attack was averaging 2.9 yards a carry would have been insanity.

The Bears were 20th in rushing attempts last year. Finishing 20th isn't great, but it was much better than where they finished at being effective as a running team.

They were 29th in yards per rushing attempt at 3.7. They were 27th in yards gained at 1,458.

This doesn't justify being 20th in rushing attempts. They probably should have run less.

Seven of the top 10 teams in rushing made the playoffs. Eight of the top 10 teams in rushing attempts made the playoffs.  

Those eight teams aren't finishing in the top 10 in rushing attempts if they fail to achieve success. They would run less then.

Run It Better, Then Run It More

Want an example of what happens when you continue to run even though it isn't working?

The Bears ran it 27 times against the Packers in the second game, which was 12 more times than the first game when everyone got all over Nagy about his play calling. The Packers even ran it fewer times than the Bears in the second game. 

Instead of losing by seven the Bears lost by eight.

So there's your more rushing attempts with few yards in action. 

What the Bears really need to do this season isn't necessarily run it more, but run it more effectively. 

Then they really can afford to run more.

Hiring Juan Castillo as line coach is their big move toward running more effectively, and he has a simple plan.

"We're going to be physical," Castillo said. "We're going to get after people."

If they get after people and it works, they can run it more.

Nagy knew all of this last year, and by bringing in Castillo and trying to get the running game going it's apparent he still knows. 

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven