Like Patricia, Nagy struggling with his specialty in Chicago
Allen Park — Matt Patricia and Matt Nagy were hired last year as gurus on their respective sides of the ball: Patricia was going to make the Lions a formative defense, while Nagy would add offensive juice to a Bears franchise already stout on D.
With six wins between them at midseason of Year 2, both coaches are digging in with belief in their systems and their players going forward.
Nagy and the Bears (3-5) will host Patrica and the Lions (3-4-1) on Sunday with last place in the NFC North at stake.
Things appear to be at a tipping point for both teams coming after a Mitchell Meltdown last week against Philadelphia for Chicago, and Derek Carr's carving of the Lions’ D for Oakland that same day.
Both coaches open the second half of the season Sunday: One will keep a faint glimmer of playoff hopes alive; the other will continue downhill toward an offseason full of questions about exactly how expert they actually are in their areas of alleged expertise.
Which Matt — the first of their first names to become NFL head coaches — will have a brief respite off the mat?
Chicago hopes hinge around quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, already much-ridiculed nationally after three shaky years at the wheel.
Sunday’s 22-14 loss represented a low point, as the Bears’ offense did not gain a first down in six first-half drives, totaling 9 yards of offense — a team-low in the last 40 years. It was the second time in the last three seasons an NFL team was held to under 10 yards in the first half, the first coming in 2017 when Kansas City gained 6 against Pittsburgh with Nagy also at the controls as offensive coordinator.
The Bears have scored on the first possession of the game in just one of Trubisky’s seven starts this season — the one where he left the game with an injury short of midfield in Week 7.
Still, Nagy is standing by his man Mitch, who the Bears traded up to No. 2 in the 2017 draft to select over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
“Well, the thing is when you get into these situations, that’s always the No. 1 person that gets attacked, so we understand that,” Nagy said. “We’re in the walls, and we know the whys behind a lot of stuff, and are we taking him off the hook? Without a doubt. Are we taking myself off the hook? No. Are we taking everybody off the hook? No. We’re in this thing together.”
Trubisky said this week that he wanted the televisions turned off at Halas Hall to avoid outside distractions.
Nagy later said he thought Trubisky was joking. But if they were kept on, all could hear calls for Chase Daniel to unseat Trubisky as the starter, as another year of dominant defense could be lost by an offense that’s off too often.
It’s a quarterback carousel very familiar to Bears super fans, who other than seven-plus years of Jay Cutler at the helm, have seen plenty of signal callers come and go.
Since Jim McMahon’s last Chicago season in 1988, the Bears had 15 different leading passers over the next 22 seasons.
While older Lions fans can relate, it’s a problem Patricia’s teams have not faced in the NFL: In his 16 seasons with two franchises, only five different quarterbacks have started games, with brief cameos by New England’s Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in relief of Tom Brady inflating that already low number somewhat artificially.
Then, there’s Matthew Stafford.
Despite all the impressive numbers in Year 11, maybe the finest yet of his career, Detroit’s defense has failed a strong offense.
The Lions are 31st in a 32-team league in total defense at 424.1 yards per game, allowing an NFL-worst 24.5 first downs.
At least Nagy has a 12-4 mark last year to hang his hat on, winning Coach of the Year in his rookie season.
But it’s a much different set of circumstances in Year 2.
“You win and everyone loves you, and I’m talking not just coaches, but players, too,” Nagy said. “That part is easy. To me, the challenge when you really get tested is when you end up getting into a little bit of a valley — your character gets tested, your building, everything that you do is under a microscope.
“There are a lot of people that fold under that and they don’t do well in those situations, and we’re just not built that way. We have good, high-character people that work hard and play hard.”
This Chicago season initially mirrored the last, starting off 3-1 and then losing two. But unlike last season, when Chicago stormed to a 9-1 finish, this year’s Bears lost two more to compound problems.
“Every year is different, but our culture in this building and who we are as a team and as a family is so strong and so powerful that we really are built for moments like this,” Nagy said. “It tests you no doubt, but it’s been great seeing how our guys have grown closer together, and now it’s just a matter of doing everything we can to play well, and not focus on the results.
“We just let the results take care of themselves.”
Lions at Bears
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Soldier Field, Chicago
TV/radio: CBS/760 AM
Records: Lions 3-4-1, Bears 3-5
Line: Bears by 2
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.