In the novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”
That’s one of the most cynical things I’ve ever read. But there are times when circumstances make me wonder if there isn’t a whole lot of truth in it.
Before their blow out loss to the Buccaneers last week, Bears head coach Matt Nagy held a team meeting to discuss the state of the team. Its one of many that Nagy has had over the years, especially when things aren’t going well, and many of them are to ask the players what they want him to do differently in terms of how the offense or the defense is being run.
“Big picture, I think sometimes as a coach you’ve got to have a feel and pulse as to where your guys are at,” Nagy said Sunday after the game. “Every now and then you’ve got to pull together and have a good talk with the guys where it’s open and it’s everybody. I just thought it was a good opportunity right there to speak from the heart a little bit from where I’m at as the head coach and where we’re at as a team. You can’t have those every week, but sometimes you’ve got to have some that are real conversations and mean a lot. That’s what we did.”
“The question was something about ‘Are you concerned after this type of loss of losing your locker room, losing your team?’ That’s why I responded the way I did. I’m not because I know the feedback I got after that talk. To have that feedback from your players feels good.”
There’s no doubt that Nagy’s players love him. He is easily the most players coach of all the players coaches that I’ve seen anywhere near the Bears. And it’s good to work to get a feeling for how the men in your locker room are feeling. But you have to wonder if all of this is the best thing for the team.
In many ways this is the least disciplined Bears team that I’ve ever seen. Against the Buccaneers, defensive lineman Bilal Nichols was ejected for throwing a punch. Add this to some damaging penalties of a similar nature by Mario Edwards and to the incidents last year involving Anthony Miller and Javon Wims and you have some serious problems with player self-control.
Perhaps the worst thing about these incidents is that Nichols, Miller and Wims were all warned that their opponents were known instigators and not to engage. And they did it anyway.
“We’ve discussed a similar situation like last year with a player that [the Saints] had with a player who was out there today — you know, it was loud and clear …” Nagy said after the Nichols incident. “But our guys understand, they know that every action has a reaction. What we need to do is continue to keep emphasizing it like we are, and guys gotta follow up by not falling into that trap.”
Nagy and his coaching staff have been talking to the team about things like this for an extremely long time now. If they were going to learn from it they would’ve done it by now. The message is evidently not being received. Or, more likely, it is being ignored.
Let’s add in another curious incident that has happened within the last couple weeks. Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson was fined for being late to a meeting. No big deal. Stuff like that happens all of the time in the NFL. But Johnson felt compelled to take a snap shot of the notice he received on Instagram adding the comment, “This shii crazy bruh. walked in as it turned 8:16 and they tax me like this.”
Can you imagine a player on the New England Patriots ever doing something like that? But it happens on Nagy’s Bears among players that regularly express their love for him. Why? Because the players don’t respect the authority of those in charge and don’t fear the repercussions of their actions.
I was struck in this context by a recent comment from well-known sports writer Dave Hyde at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Hyde was asked about whether Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ unlikable personality contributed to their recent lack of success.
“Look at Bill Belichick. He isn’t liked by his players,” Hyde said. “There is a difference between like and respect.
“What do players want? They want answers. They want ‘here’s how we’re going to be better.’ [If a player asks] a question in a meeting and the coach has the right answer… That’s what players want.”
Does that sound like Matt Nagy? The guy who calls meetings and asks the players what they want? Who asks them what he should do?
Players don’t want to have to tell the head coach that they should be using the downhill running game, as Nagy’s offensive line men have told him (twice if you count last year). They think they do but they really don’t. Players want structure. And they want the coaches to tell them how to be better not the other way around. What they want is for the coach to tell them what the right thing to do is and to have it work.
Nagy is well liked by his players and the good news is that he is unlikely to lose the locker room, something that coaches like Flores always risk.
But when you look at the lack of discipline on this Bears team, and especially when you look at the fact that players are warned not to do certain things and to respond to certain actions and they do it anyway, you wonder how much they respect Nagy. And you wonder how that lack of respect leads to their poor execution on the field as they fail to make improvements without fear of consequences stemming from a coach who so wants to be loved.
Perhaps Nagy would be better off if he stopped worrying so much about how his players perceive him. Perhaps instead of asking the players what he should do, he should start coming up with his own solutions. Therein lies the path to respect for his authority and the improved team discipline and performance that comes with that.
And if he can’t do those things, then he’s the wrong guy for the job he currently holds.
- What struck me about the 49ers offense is how much it looks like what the Bears are trying to do. A lot of tight ends to help the offensive line, a good running game and play action off of it. They really didn’t start to execute until the second half but this was what the Bears offense could be.
- One reason it didn’t get going until the second half was the fact that the 49ers had such a hard time catching the ball. There must have been at least four damaging dropped passes in the first 30 minutes and probably more.
- Another reason was Jimmy Garoppolo’s poor accuracy. Almost all of his passes were at least a little bit off and most were a lot more difficult than they should have been to catch. Garappolo was much better in the second half and that helped spur the offense.
- But what really hurt the Bears defense was their inability to stop the run. They gave up 467 yards of total offense and 145 of that was rushing. they ripped off some very long, damaging runs against the vaunted Bears defensive front for an average of 6.4 yards per carry before the kneel downs at the end. The defense essentially allowed the 49ers to run out the fourth quarter. This is something that the Bears will surely need to clean up.
- Eddie Jackson went down with a bad right hamstring early in the game and he was replaced by Teez Tabor, who didn’t play badly to my eye.
- Deebo Samuel is a man. He led the 49ers in receiving yards with 171 on 6 catches and there were times early on when it felt like he was the only thing keeping them in the game.
- Not to be forgotten is the effect of not having Khalil Mack in the line up today. The bears struggled to get pressure on Garoppolo all game and had 0 sacks. If they even had a pressure, I didn’t see it. In fairness, the 49ers were keeping in a lot of guys to help. But I still think that we should be able to expect better. Definitely not a good day for the Bears front 7.
- The Bears tried to run their usual offense with a lot of run heavy sets and play action off of that. There were times when it had moderate success. And let’s be honest. Twenty-two points against anyone for this team is an improvement. Entering the game the Bears were averaging 14.4 points per game, 30th in the NFL and ahead of only the Houston Texans (13.9) and New York Jets (13.3).
- The Bears had the worst passing offense in the league before playing today at 871 net passing yards, the fewest through seven games in the NFL in 15 years. Today’s total of 148 won’t help that much. the Bears continue to struggle to get the ball to their wide receivers (11 catches for 117 yards), though we did see more life from the tight ends again today. Jesse James had 3 catches for 38 yards and a nice touchdown and Cole Kmet had 3 for 21 yards.
- Khalil Herbert looked good and the Bears ran for 176 yards (4.9 yards per rush). Herbert’s low center of gravity makes him very difficult to bring down. They had more success in the first half then in the second, where it was obvious that they if they stopped the run and made Fields play quarterback, they’d have more success. they adjusted accordingly.
- Having said that, Justin Fields accounted for 103 of those yards. He was noticeably more apt to run early when receivers weren’t open rather than holding the ball and the 49ers didn’t do as good of a job of keeping him in the pocket as, for instance, the Packers did. The Bears also put Fields on the move more often with designed runs and, especially, with roll outs off of play action. As a result, Fields looked more comfortable more often today.
- Fields wasn’t exactly inaccurate but I did notice a tendency to throw high over receivers heads that I haven’t seen before. There were times during this game when he looked a little more tightly wound than usual. You wonder if the frustration with losing isn’t building a bit.
- We say a little bit of Damien Williams early in the game but he wasn’t having much success and the Bears shut him down. On wonders about the lingering effects of COVID on him.
- As usual, whenever I saw Fields in the shotgun with a 5 man protection scheme, I held my breath. Rookie Larry Borom, fresh off of IR in his first start, wasn’t bad. But the offensive line as a whole just isn’t good enough to protect Fields in obvious passing situations without help.
- One positive. The Bears were 8 of 15 on third down which isn’t bad. At one point in the first half they were 5 of 6.
- Cairo Santos missed an extra point today. That’s his first miss of any kind this year.
- The 49ers had a dismal day for drops. I lost count at about 4 in the first half. They seemed to clean it up later in the game but Garoppolo’s accuracy also got better then. Kmet dropped a touchdown but it would have been a good catch.
- Both of these teams really lack discipline and it showed itself in the number of penalties. Statistically the 49ers had 7 for 55 yards and the Bears had only 4 for 30 yards. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. This was a very sloppy game with penalties at the worst times for both teams, especially for the 49ers and the only reason that both teams didn’t have a lot more was because the penalties were often declined because taking the play was preferable.
- An interesting anomaly, the Bears actually dominated time of possession this game. the held the ball for just over 37 minutes.
- I would be severely remiss if I didn’t mention Justin Fields wonderful 22 yard touchdown run in the second half. Fields ran right and then, under duress and finding no room, broke several tackles and ran back around the left end and into the end zone. Seeing him reverse field like that brought back vivid memories of Devin Hester kick returns of yore. Here’s hoping its the first of many for Fields.
- Hey, did you hear that there’s world series game tonight? Because I don’t think FOX telling me a dozen times was nearly enough.