Matt Nagy is not taking Nick Foles out for a test drive. The Chicago Bears committed to Foles – barring future injury -- the moment Nagy benched embattled former second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky last Sunday.
“As far as the quarterback, when I say the starter with Nick, he's our starter moving forward,” Nagy said on Monday’s Zoom call.
The decision was not hard.
Trubisky has been too inconsistent to start for a perennial playoff team. The Bears haven’t been a consistent winner since the 1980s, but Nagy correctly deduced – after two-plus seasons – Chicago would be hard-pressed to string together consecutive postseason appearances with Trubisky at the controls.
The whole point is to sustain success. The Bears have made the playoffs once since 2010 when – in Nagy’s first season in 2018 – Vic Fangio’s historically great defense carried them to 12 wins. The ride quickly ended when Philadelphia – led by Foles, ironically – upset the Bears at home on wild-card weekend. The Bears regressed the next year and missed the playoffs altogether.
Trubisky took full advantage of the COVID-19 abbreviated NFL offseason and outplayed Foles for the right to start Week 1. The Bears won their first two regular season games, but Trubisky’s play still was uneven. Trubisky was dreadful in the first three quarters of the opener in Detroit until – to Trubisky's credit – he fired three fourth-quarter touchdown passes and narrowly escaped with a victory. Trubisky looked sharp in the first half versus the New York Giants in Week 2 and then the offense bogged down over the final 30 minutes.
In Week 3, two plays sealed Trubisky’s fate.
Trubisky threw a bad third-quarter interception behind tight end Jimmy Graham. The play was a trifecta of bad: Trubisky failed see the defender in front of Graham, the pass was inaccurate and Graham wasn’t expecting the ball. Nagy pulled the plug thereafter.
“I was just working through my progression,” Trubisky said after the game. “I didn’t see the defender in front of Jimmy. We just weren’t on the same page. I was trying to get him the ball going out the backside and I didn’t see that defender in front of him. I just have to see in front of throws and make better decisions. It all falls back on me for not playing better in the first half and when you have plays like that you put it out of your hands. It is tough.”
An even more egregious mistake happened earlier, near the end of the first half when Trubisky overshot a wide-open Anthony Miller. The play was an easy touchdown. Another golden scoring opportunity wasted and underscored Trubisky’s well-known lack of touch on the deep ball.
“Anthony was running down the middle, and we just missed it,” Nagy said. “That’s just…you’ve got to complete that ball. When you’re in those situations, and a defense presents a certain look to you, you have to capitalize.”
Foles did just that. The 31-year old quarterback’s game-winning 28-yard touchdown pass to Miller came on a very similar play.
“When we were in the huddle, I had explained to Anthony that if I do happen to kill it [to beat the blitz], I’m going to throw it to the ‘L’ [in the ‘Falcons’ logo painted on the endzone turf]. So get to the ‘L’ and it will be a pretty stiff ball. I knew just in case I didn’t have time to get it off cleanly, he would be there. So, we had that conversation and he did his job. We executed.”
Foles connects with Miller for a score pic.twitter.com/3j3MtVv— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) Sept. 28, 2020
Added Nagy: “And I think we saw one [quarterback]that capitalized — one play that did [work] and one play that didn’t.”
Nagy trusts Foles to run the offense. And for good reason.
Last Sunday marked the first time Nagy called plays for Foles in a regular-season game. Foles had not taken a first-team rep in practice since the conclusion of camp. He still completed 16-of-29 passes for 188 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and had two other touchdowns overturned by the officials.
“This is the first time that I’ve called plays with him, so just getting used to the little things of how the play comes in, but we kept the whole playbook the same, open,” Nagy said. “There was a couple plays that might have been game-plan specific that he did not rep in practice that he didn’t get this week that were new that we didn’t maybe do in training camp, so you’ve got to be careful how many of those you do. But that’s, I think, the experience he has in this offense. And then for him to be able to add some things to a play here or there that he likes that are his strengths, we let him do that, too.”
The head coach-quarterback relationship dates back to Philadelphia when Nagy occupied a spot on Andy Reid’s staff. Foles and Nagy later worked together in Kansas City. There’s little question that Nagy was a driving force behind Chicago sending a fourth-round pick to acquire Foles from Jacksonville in March.
Foles has additional history with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo (Philadelphia, Jacksonville), offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (Philadelphia) and offensive line coach Juan Castillo (Philadelphia).
“I’ve been fortunate to be around Nick for a while now,” DeFilippo said on Monday. “Nick has an innate ability. There’s a couple things Nick has a really good ability to do that separate him from a lot of other quarterbacks. No. 1 is to play the game one play at a time. He literally has a blank chalkboard in his mind when he goes to the line of scrimmage on every snap. That’s a quality to me that you need to have to play this position. He could easily have gone in there and been like, ‘Wow, I had no reps. I haven’t had reps for weeks, a month, whatever it’s been, and I went in there and I threw a go-ball and it didn’t work out for me.’ He just goes back out and plays. He just goes right back out and plays and has tremendous short-term memory.
“And No. 2 is the way Nick can see the field.”
Because of Foles’ field vision and experience within the system, Nagy is somewhat liberated. The handcuffs are off, so to speak. The entire playbook should be open for Foles, granted he’s now had enough time to familiarize himself with Nagy’s version of the Andy Reid scheme.
It does not mean the Bears will finish 16-0. And it does not mean Chicago has necessarily seen the last of Trubisky.
Foles has suffered injuries in the past. The veteran quarterback has also bounced around five different teams (Eagles, Rams, Chiefs, Jaguars and Bears). Trubisky did not lose those jobs to Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Foles is a former Super Bowl MVP, but his career trajectory has been all over the map. It’s entirely possible that Trubisky might be pressed into action later in the season. How will he handle life as an NFL backup?
The 26-year old sometimes struggles to process information when he receives every snap in practice throughout the week. How will he play – if forced into action -- with zero practice snaps? Trubisky was a reserve the majority of the time at North Carolina, but the NFL is much different.
The rest of the league will be watching. Trubisky’s career in Chicago beyond 2020 is effectively over. The Bears already declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option and – barring a miracle – it seems best for both sides to go their separate ways next offseason. Still, Trubisky will find work. He’s young, healthy (for now), experienced and a former No. 2 overall pick. Someone will sign him. For what role remains to be seen. Trubisky can help himself by staying as sharp as possible in the event he receives one more chance at redemption in Chicago.
“You just got to move forward, accept it, and continue to be a great teammate,” Trubisky said. “It's just a tough deal sometimes.”