Matt Nagy was forced to go to the bullpen early on Sunday when starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Nagy turned to long-time backup Chase Daniel, who performed admirably in relief of Trubisky, helping lead the Chicago Bears to a big divisional victory over the visiting Minnesota Vikings. When watching – and re-watching – Daniel’s game against the Vikings two areas stand out: Design and decisiveness.
With his backup on the field, Nagy did not deviate much from what the Bears have been doing offensively this season, but we did get a chance to see how Nagy’s designs can be effective with some decisiveness from the quarterback position. We will get into Daniel’s reads and decisions more in a minute, but we can highlight how some of Nagy’s concepts worked to perfection – or at least near-perfection – on Sunday.
We can start with this play from early in the first quarter. The Bears face a first-and-10 on the Vikings’ 42-yard line. Having just converted on a fourth-and-1 the previous play, Chicago is looking to finish this drive with points. They line up with Daniel (#4) in the shotgun and use 11 offensive personnel:
The Bears dial up a run/pass option play with these elements:
Let’s focus first on the pass element of this play. Javon Wims (#83) is the outside receiver to the left, and he runs a simple slant route. Slot receiver Anthony Miller (#17) runs a bubble to the outside. If Daniel wants to throw the slant route to Wims, he needs to make sure the throwing lane is clear. The two biggest threats to that throwing lane are the slot corner (who might be covering Miller’s bubble) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (#54).
That is where the run element of this play comes in. Daniel meshes with David Montgomery (#32) on a potential outside run to the right edge. In addition, tight end Trey Burton (#80), aligned in a wing to the left, shows a block across the formation to the right. The Bears also show a pulling offensive lineman, as left guard Cody Whitehair (#65) pulls to the right edge.
If you are Kendricks, watching this develop, let’s recap what you see: A pulling guard, a tight end blocking across the formation, and yes run action to the edge. That moves Kendricks out of the throwing lane, giving Daniel the chance to throw the slant:
Watching this from the end zone angle gives an even better view of the design of this play:
Linebackers read the interior offensive linemen when deciphering between run and pass, and when Kendricks sees Whitehair pull, he thinks run. That opens up the lane for Daniel and the slant route to Wims.
The touchdown to Tarik Cohen came on a staple of Nagy’s offense, the running back option route. It also came from a Y-Iso formation, and if you remember my work last season I argued on many occasions that a Y-Iso alignment with Burton and Cohen to one side of the formation was Chicago’s most dangerous offensive setup. It works again to isolate Cohen in space against linebacker Anthony Barr (#55):
Burton aligns wide to the boundary, which helps to create space for Cohen’s option route. The RB as a two-way go here, and can break either inside or outside based on the defender. Barr uses inside leverage, and Cohen reads that and responds by breaking to the flat. Daniel reads the same thing, and the Bears are in the end zone.
Viewing this from behind, you can see how the route comes together and QB/RB are on the same page:
Yes, those plays came on the same drive. Chicago did indeed cap off that possession with points.
Here is one more design that stood out to me from Sunday. Another staple of Nagy’s offense is the mirrored curl/flat design. Last year I argued that he would turn to this often when the offense needed a big play in the passing game, and that this concept gives the QB an easy set of progression reads. In the second half the Bears showed Minnesota a mirrored curl/flat design:
However, there is a twist coming. Both of the outside routes, the “curls,” are instead double-moves:
Wims is able to get separation on his vertical move, and Daniel drops in a touch throw for a big gain:
This is a great example of using your own tendencies in your favor against a defense. Minnesota was probably ready for the mirrored curl/flat we see so often from the Bears, so Nagy showed them this little twist, and it worked to perfection.
Now we can dive into Daniel a bit more.
The backup QB ran the Bears’ offense effectively, and when he was tasked with making quick reads and decisions he was decisive with his play. Couple that with some advanced ball placement, and you get an offense that stays ahead of schedule and keeps the defense on its toes.
Returning to the first quarter, with just under nine minutes remaining in the first the Bears run an aggressive switch verticals concept, looking to hit on a big play in the downfield passing game:
Chicago aligns Cohen, Wims and Allen Robinson (#12) in a bunch to the left with Robinson as the apex player. They show the Vikings’ defense a bubble screen with Cohen, but after faking blocks Wims and Robinson run the switch verticals.
Daniel takes a deep shot to Robinson here, and look at the state of play when the QB makes up his mind:
Daniel cannot be sure that cornerback Mike Hughes (#21) will not recover and make a play on this throw, so the quarterback turns this into a back shoulder throw on the fly. Daniel puts this ball towards the sideline, putting Robinson himself between Hughes and the ball:
A decisive read and a perfect throw.
Here is another example of Daniel’s decisiveness. On this third-and-7 play to start the second quarter, Daniel aligns in the shotgun and the Bears have three receivers to the right. The Vikings show pressure. Robinson aligns as the #3, or inside, receiver in the trips formation. Robinson runs an out route while the two outside receivers release vertically:
Watch Daniel on this play read the safeties, confirm the coverage and that no blitz is coming, and get the ball out on time and in rhythm:
There is no hesitation here, and Daniel’s timing and decisiveness on this play enable the Bears to convert this third down chance.
His decisiveness also showed up in more ways than choosing which receiver to target. We also saw Daniel be decisive in terms of where to place throws. Take this play from late in the first half. The Bears face another third down, this time a third-and-9. Daniel aligns in the shotgun and the Bears use Y-Iso again with Burton and Cohen on the same side of the field:
Unlike the previous example, this time the tight end uses a reduced split and is aligned closer to the right tackle. Chicago runs a sticks concept, with three receivers curling right at the first down marker. The outside receiver to the trips runs a vertical route:
Burton’s curl puts him right between two underneath defenders: Cornerback Trae Waynes (#26) who has the TE in man coverage, and Barr. Daniel puts this throw to the inside, leading Burton away from the cornerback but not too far away from the TE that he gets led to danger:
Decisive placement leads Burton to safety, and the Bears convert another third down.
Daniel’s decisiveness, paired with Nagy’s designs, were big factors in Chicago’s win on Sunday. How long Trubisky remains sidelined remains to be seen, but with Daniel under center Chicago can still be productive and efficient on offense. Pairing that with their incredible defense makes for a nice combination in the tough NFC North.