There were multiple reasons Matt Nagy got fired last month, but one almost always stands above the rest. One decision lit the fuse on the powder keg. For many, it was the decision by the former Chicago Bears head coach to bench Justin Fields in favor of Andy Dalton. Nagy made his agenda clear from the start. He intended to copy the Kansas City Chiefs’ approach with Patrick Mahomes. Sit the talented rookie behind an experienced veteran.
He never recognized the flaws with this approach from the start. Dalton was not the same player Alex Smith was back in 2017. Smith had been entrenched as a starter with Kansas City for years. He knew the offense inside and out by that point. Dalton had yet to take a single snap in Chicago. Assuming he’d be able to play at a Pro Bowl level as Smith did that year was a remarkable level of delusion.
Yet Nagy didn’t stop there.
He was so convinced the approach would work that he didn’t even give himself an outlet. Almost every single snap with the first-team offense was given to Dalton in training camp. Fields was relegated to the second team. He wasn’t even allowed a chance to compete for the starting job. This decision stunned many at the time. It was felt Nagy was inviting disaster if Dalton played bad or got injured.
Everybody knows what happened next. Dalton suffered a bone bruise in his knee in Week 2 against Cincinnati, forcing the rookie into action. Nagy was not prepared for this, and everything came to a head the following week in Cleveland, where Fields was sacked nine times and had one net passing yard. That was the true beginning of Nagy’s downfall.
Yet if people are more interested in hard evidence of how insane the entire situation was, look no further than this excellent chart created by Johnathan Wood of Da Bears Blog.
“I’ll get to a more typical table with concrete numbers in a second, but for now the graph below shows how many dropbacks (pass attempts + sacks) were needed to produce an explosive pass for all 33 QBs with 200+ passing attempts in 2021. The two Bears samples (Fields and the Dalton/Foles combo) have their dots shown in orange.”
Fields outdid Andy Dalton despite getting actively sabotaged
It took the veteran more than twice as long between explosive plays as it did the rookie. Dalton threw more interceptions than touchdowns too, just like Fields. This hammers home the entire point. Nagy’s logic behind the entire “plan” was flawed from the start. His willingness to double down on Dalton by intentionally robbing his talented rookie of reps with the starters. It was sheer lunacy.
If the head coach had devoted everything to Fields from the start or even just made it an open competition, he might’ve saved himself. Instead, he put all his eggs in the Andy Dalton basket and acted shocked when said basket splattered all over the Soldier Field turf. It was final proof that Nagy never had a firm grasp on how to handle developing players. His solution was always the same.
Just copy what the Chiefs did.
He never realized that doing such things is rarely a good idea. Both because the Bears didn’t have the same players as Kansas City, and Nagy himself is not Andy Reid. Competent coaches adapt to the situation they’re in. If he’d been more self-aware, he’d have recognized the odds of failure for Dalton were high. Yet he plowed ahead anyway. Now both men are unemployed.
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