CHICAGO — Matt Nagy might have watched the Minnesota Vikings play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4 and thought, “Let’s do that.” The Rams that Thursday night in L.A. threw the kitchen sink early at the Vikings, and they pretty much had their way with one of the best defenses in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears couldn’t quite reach that level of offensive success against the Vikings. But they gained an early advantage in their 25-20 win over the Vikings Sunday night on the first few drives of the game by planting seeds in the defenders’ heads.
You have to stop the power run with Jordan Howard.
You must be mindful of the ends-around — to multiple players.
Don’t forget about Mitch Trubisky, scrambler extraordinaire.
Similar personnel packages but different formations almost every time they step to the line. From the shotgun or under center.
Now here’s some up-tempo offense for you ...
Oh, and the Bears will be giving the ball to players such as Josh Bellamy and even Taquan Mizzell, they of limited touches coming in.
This is the Nagy offense in a nutshell. You have to scout all 53 guys if you want to stop his offense. And even on a night when Trubisky was up and down, you have to recognize the coach’s overall confidence in him running the entire library in almost any situation now.
That’s the crucial takeaway in this pivotal victory to give Chicago a major leg up in the NFC North at 7-3, with the Vikings falling to 5-4-1.
The Bears only came away with three points on their first two possessions, and Trubisky’s poor-decision interception ended the second one, but that’s not the point. Nagy stole a page from the Rams’ Week 4 playbook by formation-ing, motioning and window-dressing the Vikings to death. That set up what came thereafter.
While the Bears’ defense was harassing Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ run game early, the Bears’ offense was just heating up by the time it took over on its own 18-yard line with 13:13 left in the second quarter.
Thirteen plays, 82 yards. Schematic advantage, Chicago.
The drive started slowly, but Trubisky hit Allen Robinson for the first time in the game to get him involved — smart with Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes out at that point. Then Trubisky, who had only run once at that point, scrambled on back-to-back plays. On the first one, he made four people miss and gained 6 yards. On the second, he gained 13 and a first down.
Four plays later, Nagy called for a designed QB sweep with Trubisky. He was toying with the Vikings, who were without LB Anthony Barr. (Replacement Eric Wilson had a bit of a rough night, including a brainless hit out of bounds right before the half to help give the Bears better field position on a field-goal drive.)
In between those plays, Nagy called Howard’s number — remember him? Three straight carries netted 20 important yards. All the consternation over Howard not being used the way he used to, followed by all the reassurances from Nagy that Howard absolutely was not in any way in his doghouse. Maybe we should listen now?
That drive actually felt destined to be left to Cody Parkey and the rosary beads after Ben Braunecker’s holding penalty on first-and-goal knocked them back to the 18-yard line. But Nagy once again was huge on the next play call, creating a gorgeous design with three receivers on one side of the field and moving Trubisky outside the pocket. His throw was pretty so-so, but Anthony Miller — he’s going to be a star before long — adjusted beautifully on the under-thrown ball for the score.
Trubisky atoned for that throw with an absolute dime to Bellamy on the two-point conversion. Oh yes, Nagy was going next generation on that two-point call, not to mention a nice play design there as well. It’s a wonder why more coaches don’t consider this type of thinking more.
That made it 11-0, and the field-goal drive to follow put it out of reach at 14-0.
It was the longest touchdown drive, both in terms of plays run and time elapsed, that the Vikings’ defense has allowed this season. In fact, you have to go back almost two years to the day that this group allowed a TD drive longer than the one the Bears ripped off in that first half to set the tone for the game.
The run game in particular was a diverse show of wizardry. It’s a facet of the Bears’ offense that strangely has been slowest to develop in Nagy’s first season, but it had a bit of a birthing on Sunday. The Bears stretched the Vikings’ defense our horizontally early on by running sweeps and end-arounds. Then they mixed in a steady diet of split-zone runs, playing the Vikings’ downhill nature against them. Then came the power stuff with Howard. It produced an eye-opening 116 yards on the ground in the first half alone.
Overall, Nagy is going to find plenty of things his team can clean up. Two interceptions. A fumble by Tarik Cohen. A Miller penalty that wiped out a 36-yard Trey Burton catch. It wasn’t the cleanest performance of all time on offense.
But Nagy is in the zone right now as a play caller. He’s dialing up the most fun, diverse offense in the NFL not named the Rams, Chiefs or Saints right now.
Trubisky was challenged Sunday — both by the defense of the Vikings and by his coach. His results against the Vikings were a mixed bag, more good than bad you’d say. But where Trubisky is winning, even on a two-pick night, is that his coach is letting him take this Ferrari of an offense out on the highway and open it up a little.
That’s what makes the Bears so dangerous with the playoffs almost becoming a surety at this point: They’re not too far off from what the Rams of the NFL can do and they have a defense that can win games.