New Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s decision not to play starters in Preseason Week 3 might be controversial, but this forward thinking is exactly why the Bears hired him in the first place.
It’s funny to see how people who claim they want change, strong leadership, and visions of the future react when they’re finally faced with those things in reality. From that standpoint, the Chicago Bears and their fan base are proving to be a very interesting character study.
Take new Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s approach to the team’s third preseason game, which is typically regarded as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season opener Sunday, September 11 against the Green Bay Packers.
For those of us who watch every game of this absurdly long preseason just because we enjoy rotting our brains with meaningless entertainment, this game is the highlight of training camp. After all, we get to see the starters run their team’s “game plan” for two-and-a-half quarters instead of a few series before giving way, as usual, to random guys still trying to make the team.
For many teams, this is the last chance the starters are given to run around against fully live contact until the season opener and the last chance for fans and media pundits to make unnecessary conclusions about their squad’s “readiness” for the season.
Well, Coach Nagy decided he didn’t need to see all that.
After an apparently solid week of practice, Nagy told the majority of his starters, such as Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, and Co., that they will not play in Saturday’s dress rehearsal against Kansas City.
After their best week of practices so far in 2018, Matt Nagy met with the team today to inform them most starters, including Mitchell Trubisky, will not play in #KCvsCHI. Coach Nagy and his staff had planned for this all week, giving starters on both sides of the ball extra reps.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 25, 2018
“What?!” screamed Bears fans and old-school media types. “Outrageous!”
“What about the fans who bought tickets expecting to see the starters after halftime?”
“They need those reps! If they’re bad in Week 1, this will be why!”
Honestly, there’s so much to unpack here that I’m not sure I want to beat the conversation to death. Bottom line: I have no problem with Nagy’s decision for a number of reasons.
1. If the offense is bad Week 1, it won’t be because the Bears didn’t run 30 more plays of whatever vanilla scheme they had drawn up for Saturday.
If they’re bad, they’re bad. But it won’t be because they haven’t gotten enough reps or practiced enough. Don’t forget: they’ve been in practice longer than any other NFL team aside from the Baltimore Ravens. They’ve gotten plenty of reps with their real schemes.
2. Yes, you can get hurt at any time playing football. That’s true. But losing important players in a game that doesn’t count, like the Bears experience with Cameron Meredith last year, when you’re not even running your real schemes is definitely worse than an injury suffered in a game that matters.
The Bears are already dealing with nicks, bruises, hamstrings, and sprains and don’t have a fully healthy squad. And even players they have gotten back in game action, like Kyle Long and Allen Robinson, are still working their way back from significant injuries themselves.
Playing “scared”? I call it playing “smart”.
What do I think of Matt Nagy's shutting the Bears starters down until the regular season? I remember Cam Meredith's 3rd preseason game last year. I'm good with the choice. pic.twitter.com/IJ5k7zF0XZ
— Ken Mitchell (@WCGBearsDenDude) August 25, 2018
3. If you’re a fan that bought a ticket for today, you already knew you weren’t going to see a real football game. You knew the starters weren’t playing the whole game, and you knew they weren’t going to run real plays.
At least, you should have known those things.
So, if you’re mad about your team’s coach making a prudent decision for the future of the team just because you wanted to keep the illusion that this game mattered, I’m truthfully not sure what to tell you.
The main point in all this, though, is that this, this right here, is what Chicago Bears fans wanted: change. Direction. Leadership. Things they claimed that the past two coaches, Marc Trestman and John Fox, didn’t show.
Only now, when Nagy decides to display them in a forward-thinking, decisive way, people want to fall back on what they know and all their preconceived notions of what things ought to be.
“Bill Belichick wouldn’t do that!”
Sure, Belichick is arguably the greatest head coach of all time. But I wouldn’t emulate every one of his decisions, including the crazy number of times he has left Tom Brady in to play meaningless fourth quarters in blowout games.
Besides, we shouldn’t be asking for Nagy to be Belichick. We should be asking him to be him: to use the brain, evaluating eye, and vision that got him hired to change the direction of this franchise to…change the direction of the franchise.
Face it, guys: these aren’t your dad’s Chicago Bears anymore.
Nagy, with Ryan Pace’s blessing, is taking this team into the new NFL world. That means he’s going to do things occasionally that we haven’t seen around here and that he’s going to think about things differently than you’re used to. In my view, that should be cause for optimism (though not without reasonable skepticism), not ridicule.
He’s trying to get his team in the best shape it can be to play, and beat, Green Bay in Week 1 of the regular season, not follow a tired script that everyone follows. Speaking of Green Bay, want to know what their philosophy was heading into Preseason Week 3?
Here are the Packers not playing tonight:
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) August 25, 2018
And no, the fact that Aaron Rodgers is an all-time great quarterback with years of experience isn’t the point. The point is that other teams see the value of focusing on the games that actually matter, too.
If Nagy believes he has seen what he needs to see in preseason games and practices, that will have to do for fans. I know that’s not going to satisfy everyone since games are easy ways for us to evaluate things — most of us don’t get to see Bears practices — but those are the facts.
He holds all the keys, and he knows how he wants this team to look when the dance gets hot.
This is what the Chicago Bears and their fans should want from their head coach. And though it might be unconventional, decisions like this only raise my personal confidence that Nagy is the right guy to make the Bears championship contenders again.
Follow Khari Thompson on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated