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Dissecting the Designer: A look into how Matt Nagy’s aggressive creativity affects the Bears’ offense

Despite a bevy of offseason offensive additions, Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy remains the most impactful offensive factor heading into 2019.

Wild Card Round - Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Anyone who watched the 2018 Chicago Bears offense saw that Head Coach Matt Nagy does things a bit... differently. Defenders play offense, RBs throw passes, and offensive lineman catch TDs. But why does it work? Is there a method to Nagy’s madness? Find out in this film breakdown!

As usual, if your platform doesn’t display the videos being referenced within the article simply look for the italicized portion of each paragraph — that’ll contain a link to the video you need.

We’ll start off by looking at what Nagy does well...

First and foremost, Nagy wants to get the ball to his players in space. Unfortunately, space is hard to come by, so he has to be creative — watch here as Trey Burton, Allen Robinson, and Anthony Miller clog up the middle to set legal downfield screens for Tarik Cohen. This cheeky design picks up 12 easy yards.

Nagy also displays a keen understanding of his players’ strengths and weaknesses — because Howard lacks speed, Nagy places him on the end of the line to instantly put Howard in blitz-beating space without him needing to run a route. The play, basically a slip screen without the slip, goes for 15 yards.

Nagy loves to combine unusual formations with pre-snap motion to disguise simple play concepts — this play, run from the famous 2QB formation, uses Burton’s motion and the quarterbacks’ hard counts to pull Tampa Bay’s eyes away from Gabriel for an easy score. Despite the zany formation and crazy motions, it’s really just a simple jet sweep — a deceptively simple play.

He’ll also re-use his “trick formations” to generate defensive confusion — here the 2QB formation returns to draw the play’s focus toward Chase Daniel (who motions right), giving Kevin White the whole left side of the end zone for his fade route. Though they don’t score, the Bears got just the space Nagy wanted — if that’s Riley Ridley or Allen Robinson, it might just be a touchdown.

But before you start thinking that Nagy’s “magic” is just pre-snap smoke and mirrors, check out how well he simplifies Trubisky’s reads by forcing defenders into lose-lose situations — this 4th & 1 play shows Burton and Miller create an easy read for Trubisky. Once the Pats’ LB commits to Miller, Burton is left wide open for the first down.

This attitude (creating unwinnable defensive situations) bleeds into tons of Nagy’s route concepts — watch how Bellamy’s route here leaves White’s CB with no way to stay close. This “legal downfield pick” gives Trubisky a wide-open receiver for an easy first down.

In short, Nagy runs a smart, creative offense that keeps things simple for its players while confusing the defenses it faces. Pre-snap motion, downfield picks, and unusual formations all give defenses headaches and create yards. But Nagy’s not perfect; where does he struggle?

As many Bears fans know, Nagy has a tendency to occasionally “get too cute”. This stems from his desire to be unpredictable — sometimes doing the unexpected is genius, but sometimes it’s flat-out dumb. This play tries to pack 3 receivers into the ball-side of the end zone and completely fails.

Also, Nagy’s own creativity will occasionally become his undoing — this 3rd & 1 play should be a simple conversion for Howard, but he and Cohen blow the mesh point and instead turn the ball over. Nagy’s creativity puts uncommon players in position to handle the ball and thus unavoidably increases the offense’s error rate.

These errors show us the double-edged sword that is Matt Nagy — he pushes the envelope until it pushes back, both in his play calls and in his play designs. Not everything will work, but it’s his constant prodding that creates his high highs (Santa’s Sleigh) and low lows.

Overall, I think Matt Nagy brings more to the Chicago Bears than any offensive coach I’ve ever seen in my tenure as a fan (‘06-present). He clearly understands how to exploit defenses of all kinds and consistently experiments to find the limits of what football allows him to do. While his style undoubtedly creates errors, Nagy’s aggressive creativity should leave you excited about Bears’ “202” season. If this offense takes a step forward... watch out.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of Matt Nagy? Do you like what he’s doing in CHI? Let me know!