What was Matt Nagy thinking at end of Bears’ crushing loss?


Each week, with the aid of Pro Football Focus research, I’ll take a big call in a game from the weekend and explain the whys, and whether it made sense from an analytical view.

Game: Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago, Sunday.

Situation: Fourth quarter, Chargers ahead 17-16. After a Mitchell Trubisky 11-yard scramble gave the Bears a first down at the Chargers’ 21-yard line, 43 seconds remained, and Chicago had one timeout left.

The decision: Instead of trying to get the ball closer to the goal line with a sideline pass to stop the clock, or a pass inbounds with plenty of time to stop the clock before a field-goal attempt, or instead of handing it to rookie back David Montgomery after he’d rushed for a career-high 135 yards on the day, Bears coach Matt Nagy called for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to kneel on first down, losing a yard. On second-and-11 at the Chargers’ 22, Nagy chose to let the clock run down to four seconds.

The thought process: Nagy, post-game, said he had “zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. They know you’re running the football so you lose three, four yards … That wasn’t even in our processes … We were in field-goal range before the scramble and then we got the scramble so that didn’t even cross my mind … Throw the football? Throw the football right then and there? What happens if you lose the ball? … Zero thought of throwing the football, zero thought of running the football.” Obviously, Nagy is not going to say he didn’t trust Trubisky to get 10 or 15 extra yards safely there, but I can name 15 coaches in the league who trust their quarterbacks enough to let him try to get the ball closer, or to score a touchdown.

The analytics: PFF analyst Eric Eager said: “An additional five yards leads to, on average, five percentage points in favor of making the kick and hence an additional five percentage points in favor of winning the football game outright. While there is always a chance of a turnover or a loss of yards, the chances the Chargers defense would either play conservatively so as not to give up a chunk play, or be willing to let the Bears score so that they could get the ball back with enough time to score themselves were probably higher. Given how close the field goal was to slipping through the left upright, every yard counted, and the Bears mistakenly decided to surrender them.”

The result: Eddy Pineiro kicked the 41-yard field-goal attempt barely wide left. The Chargers won, 17-16, dropping the Bears to 3-4, three-and-a-half games out of first place in the NFC North with nine games to play.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.