Arkush: What was Nagy thinking going for it on fourth down in fourth quarter?

  • Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.

    Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. Associated Press

Updated 9/14/2021 7:25 AM

I'm sure nobody was more upset than Bears coach Matt Nagy on Sunday night while his secondary blew coverages on multiple occasions, his quarterback and receivers occasionally failed to communicate effectively, and his defense showed practically none of the "juice" or "swag" that -- as we were reminded regularly during the offseason and training camp -- they were so anxious to get back.

Media and fans alike want to know exactly who the guilty parties were, but what good can possibly come from Nagy calling out and embarrassing his players and/or coaches?


Absolutely none.

On the other hand, the damage that can be done -- most notably losing the trust and buy-in of his team, and fan base that hasn't already deserted ship -- is obvious.

That is why Nagy's first Monday post-mortem of the season was, for the most part, very calm, reasoned and uneventful.

That and, of course, the most overused cliché in sports: "It's just one game and this is a marathon, not a sprint."

Cliché or not, it is the simple truth.

But one place none of that does extend to is in a willingness to discuss, debate and evaluate the head coach's own decisions and mistakes.

In fact, that would be a great way for the boss to solidify his base, with an occasional, "Yeah, I may have screwed that up."

Whether Nagy has that in him at the moment is an open question, and it's a big reason he is currently struggling in the court of public opinion.

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I don't know anyone, and I mean no one, that picked the Bears to beat the Rams Sunday. I didn't.

So how can we be so frustrated and disappointed the day after they lost?

Probably because with 10 minutes remaining they were battling, still very much alive, and had shown signs of possibly being able to steal a victory.

But then on fourth-and-15 with a makable 47-yard field goal, Nagy elected to pass on the 3 points in spite of having completed one pass all night of more than 11 yards (19 to Marquise Goodwin) and go for it.

According to NFL operations, the success rate of converting a fourth-and-15 are 16.8%, just 3.6% better than recovering an onside kick.

So I asked Nagy Monday, "What were you thinking?"

"That's one of those situations where you could look at both sides of it. And some of that goes into the game flow and how it's going," Nagy said. "If the game was a different situation and it wasn't as high-scoring, 10 or 15 points by the opponent, then maybe the field goal, I would have went that route."


Fair enough, but it wasn't really what I was asking. Perhaps I asked the question poorly.

So I tried again, asking whether his focus in that moment was to go or not, or what play to call.

Nagy replied, "No. At that moment, you're doing both. You've got to always try to stay one step ahead. You know going into it, depending on the result of the third-down play, what you're gonna do. If a third-down play results into a fourth down and whatever -- that case being 15 -- do you have a play that you like? And what is the play?"

Here I respectfully disagree.

The offensive coordinator or playcaller can be thinking about what plays might work, and probably should be. But the head coach has one responsibility at that point, and one only.

What gives me the best chance to win: closing the gap to a touchdown and a field goal with 10 minutes to play, or converting the fourth down and then still needing to get into the end zone twice after struggling in the red zone a good part of the evening?

I believe Nagy clearly made the wrong choice.

If you read here regularly, you've probably figured out I like the guy and would like to see him succeed.

And the entire season including that possibility is still in front of him -- but I believe he's reached a dangerous crossroads.

Does Matt Nagy want to be the best head coach in the NFL or the best playcaller?

The odds on achieving both are most likely well below the odds of converting a fourth-and-15.


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