The Bears have hired their new head coach—Matt Nagy—and people are excited, myself included. Just as the troubled Megadeth album was titled, I say So far, so good... so what!
The Bears have hired a successful offensive coach from the coaching tree of the venerable Andy Reid. Nagy comes from a perennial playoff team in Kansas City, so what can we possibly expect from Nagy with this Bears team? Surely the Bears talent is not on-par with what a perennial playoff team is rolling out each week...right?
As general manager Ryan Pace alluded to this week, perhaps that talent level isn’t as far off as we think. Surely the Bears will need to add more talent, specifically to the wide receiver position, but the main building blocks appear to be in-place. To say that the Chiefs offense is loaded with dynamic players, and is above and beyond what the Bears have, is a little misleading.
Of course Alex Smith is a 12-year NFL veteran, but is he on-par with the top quarterbacks in the NFL? Surely you jest. Smith passed 3,502 yards and 20 touchdowns for the first time in his career, not exactly a high bar that he set for himself. I mentioned this in the Windy City Gridiron Nagy-Mania roundtable: Excitement level article “When I was doing draft prep last year, I had a floor of Smith for Trubisky. We already know what Nagy can do with Smith. What’s exciting is we get to see what Nagy can do with Trubisky.”
I saw Mitch Trubisky as having a lot of Drew Brees in him coming out but I could also see the floor, which I thought was Alex Smith. That would be a disappointment for sure, but considerably better than what we are used to as Bears fans. So the point remains, other than experience, is Smith more talented of a quarterback than Trubisky?
Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing in 2017, surely he is better that Jordan Howard, right? He may be a tick faster, but as you will see in the videos below, Hunt and Howard are very similar running backs. The spread, shotgun style of running game is also where Howard has been the most successful as a Bear.
One of the big differences is Tyreek Hill. Hill is much more of a receiver than Tarik Cohen is. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Cohen can’t be the same kind of matchup nightmare that Hill has been. Even with the Bears completely misusing Cohen for much of the season, their rookie season’s were comparable. As you will see below, there are ways you can make Cohen a better receiver by simply using his scary speed to your advantage.
Other than wide receivers, which I believe will be overhauled and one of those additions may just come from Kansas City, Travis Kelce is that guy that Adam Shaheen hopes to be. The good news for Shaheen is that the Chiefs do an excellent job of incorporating the tight end into the offense. Not to say that Kelce doesn’t have a ton of talent, but as you will see, they do quite a bit to get the ball into his hands.
Now Shaheen isn’t quite as fast as Kelce, but he is bigger and still plenty athletic. Honestly, there is a chance that the steps from rookie to year-2 could see several players become household names in the NFL.
So how can we project the Bears current talent into what we assume is going to be Matt Nagy’s offense? Let’s take a trip back into the film vault and take a peek, shall we?
When I have watched the Bears offense for the past 2 seasons, it has become increasingly obvious that Jordan Howard works best in a shotgun, spread formation.
Here the Chiefs are in a shotgun formation with 11-personnel with trips to the right-side of the formation. This formation puts the Raiders defense in nickel while running a cover-3 look. Check out how light the box is, which gives Hunt plenty of room to hit the hole and pick up a nice gain.
Here again the Chiefs come out in shotgun with 11-personnel, which again forces the Raiders to come out in nickel defense with a cover-1 look. The most important thing here is the 6-man box. With the amount of RPO’s (Run/Pass Options) that the Chiefs run—which we will see later on—the linebackers have to respect the pass first. Watch the two inside linebackers hesitate before flowing downhill.
Now we get into some of the creativity and, with the hire of Mark Helfrich, should see plenty of college concepts in the Bears running game.
The Chiefs come out with 21-personnel with twins-left. This keeps the Dolphins in their base package with a cover-3 look. The twins-left pulls the single-high safety to that side of the field. With Smith and Hunt in the pistol formation, they run a speed-option to the right (open) side of the formation. This is something that both Trubisky and Howard have experience with in college.
This play is so creative, and one of the things that really excites me about this offense. This is a fake RPO. The Chiefs come out in a shotgun formation with double-twins in a tight alignment. Hunt is split-wide initially and motions into the backfield. This look for the defense would seem to be for pass protection. At the snap, Smith fakes the jet-sweep to Hill, then runs a speed-option to the right side. The receivers are blocking all the way, except Hill who sells his route, so I am confident in calling this a fake RPO.
The RPO, or Run/Pass Option, has become a staple in NFL playbooks over the past few years. The basic concept here is simple for the offense and difficult for the defense. The play will have—as the name implies—a run option and pass option based on how the quarterback reads their keys. Generally this will start with reading the safeties for coverage, the linebackers for blitzes, and should there be a run, the edge player for the option to hand the ball off or have the quarterback keep it.
The Chiefs come out in a shotgun formation with 21-personnel. There are a lot of things going on in this play, so stay with me. The first read here is the coverage. The Dolphins are in nickel cover-2 with both safeties deep. This read screams hand the ball off. The key block here is Kelce whipping around—almost as if there was going to be a shovel pass—and blocking the Mike linebacker. To the right-side of the formation they setup a bubble screen and on the left-side, the receiver is blocking all the way. This play would have been successful either way but Smith makes the correct read here and Hunt picks up the first down.
Here is another creative play. In the shotgun with four wide receivers in a 2x2 alignment with the receivers stacked, the Dolphins counter in nickel with cover-4 coverage. The read becomes easy when you see a linebacker lined up over a wide receiver and showing blitz. The two receivers on the line of scrimmage run mirrored slant routes. while the two receivers in the backfield run zero-routes. Smith sells the fake and the keeper, that is a key for this play. Kiko Alonso is sucked into the run fake, which leaves the receiver wide open. This is excellent play design.
The Chiefs spend an overwhelming amount time in the shotgun formation. We have touched on the running game already, so it should come as no surprise that the they are also passing from the ‘gun the majority of the time. As noted many times before, Trubisky ran an offense in college that was almost exclusively out of the shotgun. Needless to say, we are going to focus on this in the passing game as well.
Here the Chiefs come out in a shotgun formation in 11-personnel with a trips-right alignment. As we have noted before, this offense does a great job of using motion to check zone or man coverage. Here we see Kelce motion in towards to formation. This is important once you watch the play unfold as Kelce is responsible for making on downfield block on this tunnel screen. This is an excellent play call against a zone blitz look from the Dolphins.
Here is another play out of the shotgun with 11-personnel and trips to the right. This is, oddly enough, a familiar play design for Bears fans. This actually is a play that was run quite often this season. The difference being that Howard has typically dropped this pass. The specific part of this that is interesting is the rub at the top of the screen., just enough to get Charcandrick West open for a touchdown. This looks like a nice play for Benny Cunningham, doesn’t it?
I think this play is really cool. It is a really brilliant play design in its simplicity. Initially the Chiefs come out in a shotgun formation with five wide receivers. Hunt motions in from the right-side, leaving a trips-left look at the snap. The receivers at the bottom are basically just clearing out space on this play. The brilliance here is that the Chiefs are tricking the Raiders defense into thinking that Hunt is being brought into the backfield as a blocker. By running two crossing routes, they have essentially muddied up the middle of the field, which is basically a pick to free up Hunt.
This is an interesting formation. The Chiefs are in shotgun in basically a max-protection look with three tight ends and two wide receivers. Since the Raiders are in cover-2 here, the in-line tight ends offer nothing more than a chip and then work the flat. Kelce is the slot receiver and draws the attention of both linebackers in their middle zone, which allows the outside receivers to run deep comeback routes. This play design is perfect for beating the cover-2. It hits every zone and look at how spread out each receiver is on this play.
You didn’t really think that every play was going to be out of the shotgun, did you? Here is a classic play-action pass from under center. The Chiefs are in 12-personnel and look like they are getting ready to pound the ball with Hunt. Based on this route design, this is an installed “take a shot downfield” play. Two vertical routes flank a deep in-cut by Kelce, and Hunt is the check down.
Obviously, Travis Kelce is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and Adam Shaheen is nowhere near him...yet. The thing that Shaheen has going for him is that he has all the tools to be in the upper echelon of tight ends in the NFL. So let’s take a look at how the Chiefs use Kelce and project how that may translate to the growth of Shaheen as his career moves forward under Nagy.
Want to talk about innovation, watch this play. Hill comes in motion, circles around the quarterback and flares out into the left flat to fake a screen. The real screen however is to the right side. The timing and spacing is excellent on this play. This feels like a little bit of Nagy’s arena league experience coming through.
Here Kelce is lined up as a split-end. The slot receiver clears out the safety and Kelce runs a deep in-route. This is actually reminiscent of the plays the Mike Martz use to run. It is a perfect “zone beater.”
Here is another spread look with five receivers with Kelce in the slot to the right. Kelce does a nice job at the top of his route to give a head fake and run a slant. Look for plays like this on first down or third and manageable.
This is similar to the play above, at lease in the route by Kelce and what situations you would use it in. This is a simple isolation with trips to the opposite side of the formation. This is another thing I expect to see with Nagy calling plays. This is how most teams with good tight ends use them, and I would expect nothing different here.
In the red zone, again this is about isolation. With trips to the left and a tight end on as the end man on the line of scrimmage to the right, the play is designed to allow Kelce to get open over the middle, the pressure forces this play to be more patient than that but it still works because of the formation and route design.
The Chiefs used Kelce in the slot quite a bit. The advantage here is being able to use his athleticism against a linebacker or size against a defensive back. This is a simple clear out and get the ball underneath concept, which is a staple of the west coast offense. Trubisky also excels at attacking the middle of the field.
Finally we get to see Kelce line up as an actual tight end. Here is another west coast staple. This is basically a “levels” concept where you are giving the quarterback multiple options at different depths on one side of the ball.
The key is going to be coaching up players like Shaheen to be able to “sit down” in the open portion of the zone and to use head fakes, along with his size, to get open in man coverage.
The Bears simply don’t have anyone like Hill on the roster but they could find a way to us multiple players to accomplish this same things that Hill does. The obvious comparison on the Bears roster is Tarik Cohen. Cohen is shorter and not quite as fast, but he does have the elite start/stop and change-of-direction that Hill does. This is where finding a guy like Josh Brown in free agency could make a lot of sense.
This is a straight go-route, pure speed. This is a perfect example of where you can say that speed kills. If the Bears can find a burner, that can also do more than just this, then they can take a shot or two every week.
Here is a way to use Cohen on the outside. His speed is already known throughout the league. Watch the cornerback flip his hips and bail at the snap, this is simply respect for Hill’s speed. With a quick comeback route, there is a ton a separation and an easy pitch-and-catch. Cohen could absolutely do some of this.
This is ultimately not a hugely successful play but it’s the call and design that I want to look at here. By motioning Hunt into the backfield, it shows an inside zone look to the defense. With Hill in the backfield—basically playing the h-back role—he takes the hand off on the jet-sweep. This should be a staple with Cohen.
I don’t think Albert Wilson is a world beater by any stretch of the imagination but he is, however, a solid, professional receiver, who already knows the offense. In addition to an outside receiver and a speed guy, I would like to see the Bears take a long look at Wilson this off-season.
Wilson is a hard-working guy who isn’t afraid to go over the middle and get hit. They could bring back Kendall Wright and have a similar player, but I think that Wilson is more versatile and has better hands. He also has some wiggle to him as evidenced by the yards after the catch on this play.
Again, Wilson does much of his work out of the slot, but here is an example of his ability outside the numbers. Another leg-up on Wright for me. This is a tough catch and he does an excellent job of making the adjustment in the air on a slightly underthrown—but not quite a back-shoulder throw—ball from Smith.
Well there you have it. I think that you can daydream a bit about what this offense if going to look like and how the Bears personnel is going to fit into it. Obviously, the Bears have a long way to go this off-season to shore up the roster and add the appropriate amount of talent to the offense, but you can see some pieces there.
The addition of Mark Helfrich certainly adds another dimension to this as well, especially in the running game. This style of offense seams to be absolutely tailor made to the Bears personnel and has me giddy at the opportunity to finally have a Bears team that is at the forefront and not stuck in decades past.
Will any of this work? I have no idea, but the aggressiveness of these hires and the amount of dynamic offensive minds on this team cannot be overlooked. Might the Bears finally have a team that is aggressive in all three phases and wreak havoc on their opponents? This approach may be risky but when the status quo has failed, time and time again, I am willing to take that risk.