When Matt Nagy’s offense headed onto the field for the first time under the lights in Lambeau Field to begin the Bears’ 2018 season, the first play proved that last year would be different from the ones fans were accustomed to seeing.
As a tribute to Chicago’s renowned history, Nagy had his offense line up in the T-Formation, one of the oldest formations in football. Running back Tarik Cohen followed fellow backs Michael Burton and Jordan Howard to the left to gain seven yards on the first call of Nagy’s career as a head coach.
And not too long after Nagy called one of the oldest plays in the book, he brought out something new.
Charles Leno Jr., a 6-foot-3, 306-pound offensive lineman, who primarily starts at left tackle, lined up on the numbers to the right side of the field just inside of wide receiver Allen Robinson. The play, however, only resulted in a two-yard gain to Howard.
Two plays later, though, Leno Jr. lined up in the same exact spot, but this time the Bears scored a touchdown thanks to Mitch Trubisky’s two-yard run.
Nagy’s creativeness on the Bears’ first offensive possession against the Packers set the foundation of what was to be expected from the first-year head coach throughout the entirety of the 2018 season, and he did not disappoint.
Just three weeks later in the Week 4 matchup with the Buccaneers, Nagy decided to utilize another one of his unique formations. On second-and-goal from the Tampa Bay three-yard line, Trubisky and backup quarterback Chase Daniel both lined up in the shotgun.
The result was an effortless three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel.
Nagy is a coach who likes to have a lot of moving parts in his offense. One way he does that is by incorporating motion prior to the snap.
On this play against the Dolphins in Week 6, Cohen acted as a decoy the entire time when he motioned to the right and went for a swing pass to the left. Gabriel gained nine yards on the play, but if right tackle Bobby Massie looked upfield at the safety, Gabriel might have taken this handoff for a touchdown.
In Weeks 12 and 13, while Trubisky was sidelined due to a right shoulder injury, Nagy didn’t dial down the creative plays because Daniel was the starting quarterback.
On Thanksgiving against the Lions, Daniel threw a pass to Anthony Miller with just over 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and it initially looked like a routine play, but Miller threw the ball right back to his QB, which was Daniel’s first reception in his eight-year career.
The following week against the Giants, with the Bears trailing by a touchdown with :03 seconds in regulation, Nagy called his own version of the “Philly Special,” which resulted in Cohen throwing his second touchdown pass of his career, this time to Miller.
Whether Nagy was working on different Run Pass Option concepts with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich or developing a series of scripted plays to set Trubisky up for success at the start of games, the 2018 Coach of the Year was always thinking of the next way to put his team in advantageous situations.
Throughout last season, Nagy did something that most coaches, especially a first-year coach, wouldn’t do: taking members of the defense and putting them on offense.
The play that stands out above the rest happened in prime time against the Rams in Week 14.
On third-and-2 with 10:01 left in the third quarter, the offense lined up with no skilled position players on the field. Rather, the offense consisted of the starting five offensive line, backup lineman Bradley Sowell, Trubisky and four defensive linemen: Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols, Jonathan Bullard and Akiem Hicks.
Trubisky faked the handoff to Hicks, who scored on a rushing TD against the Giants a week before, and threw a soft touch pass to Sowell for the first touchdown of the game. The play would later be known as “Santa’s Sleigh.”
Regardless of the situation in any particular game, Nagy showed that he is willing to try just about anything to win a football game. For Nagy, his play calling isn’t restricted to the corresponding position associated with each individual player. Instead, this just allows for more unique formations, schemes and plays to be constructed.
All these creative plays happened in Year 1 of Nagy’s system, so it is only to be expected that there will be more to come in 2019. Factor in new acquisitions such as Cordarrelle Patterson, who did a little bit of everything for the Patriots last season, and third-round draft pick David Montgomery, a dual-threat running back, and the possibilities become endless for Nagy.
Nagy gives the Bears a competitive advantage, and he proved that the first time his offense stepped onto the field.