Even in his first year at the helm, Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy is not afraid to spit in the face of conventional wisdom. Nagy announced Friday that the team will sit most of their starters during Saturday’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
While this is the third preseason game for most teams in the league, it’s the fourth exhibition game for the Bears, who participated in the Hall of Fame game. Since the game in Canton, Ohio is always a glorified “dog-and-pony show,” Nagy did what most coaches do and sat all his starters and key backups.
However, this week’s preseason games typically serve as dress rehearsals across the league. Starters usually play the entire first half or even go as deep as the third quarter.
Instead, Nagy is weighting risk vs. reward. The decision, according to the Bears, was made earlier in the week.
“Coach Nagy and his staff had planned for this all week, giving starters on both sides of the ball extra reps,” the team tweeted Friday night.
Since the Bears participated in the Hall of Fame game, they got an early jumpstart on training camp and have held more practices than any other team in the league. And since teams rarely show their hand in preseason, Nagy might not see the value in risking injury to key players.
There is laundry list of well-known players who have gotten hurt in preseason games. In 2015, Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the third preseason game and missed the entire season. Last season, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman and Bears receiver Cam Meredith also suffered season-ending knee injuries in the “all-important” third preseason game.
Nagy isn’t the only one making the call to sit his starters. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay is sitting multiple starters, including Todd Gurley and possibly Jared Goff, against the Houston Texans Saturday.
The Green Bay Packers, who the Bears face in week one, sat 18 of their starters against the Oakland Raiders Friday. That included notables like Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Devante Adams and offseason acquisition Jimmy Graham.
However, the Bears aren’t as cohesive as the Rams or Packers. With 10 of 11 starters returning on Vic Fangio’s defense, that side of the ball can get away with resting players. But with plenty of new faces on offense, it’s a dicey proposition.
While Trey Burton and rookie Anthony Miller have shown their value in limited snaps, we still haven’t seen what free agent signings Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel can do when thrown in the mix. Also, second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky needs meaningful reps in a new system.
As the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Wiederer pointed out, Trubisky has taken part in ” fewer than three dozen plays in game action from this preseason.” For a raw quarterback with only 25 combined starts between college and the pros, the decision is a headscratcher.
For Trubisky and the Bears offense to succeed, they need to work out all the kinks. While practice is valuable, facing an opposing defense in live action certainly helps. Instead, they’ll have to wait until the regular season to give it a go.
Of course, if Trubisky were to play Saturday, it would open up the possibility of injury. Without him, the Bears chances of growth and meaningful competition go out the window. The team also has dealt with injuries in recent weeks to Leonard Floyd, Adam Shaheen, Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith. However, you can’t keep Trubisky or any key starter in a bubble.
If the last two years have shown us anything, it’s that major injuries happen not only in games but also practices. Teddy Bridgewater severely injured his knee in a practice before week one of the 2016 regular season. Last season, Ryan Tannehill injured his knee in a preseason practice, and DeShaun Watson tore his ACL in a November practice after playing just seven games.
Nagy’s decision is certainly a bold one, and it might be a template going forward when it comes to handling starters in the preseason. But for now, it leaves more questions than answers about an already unknown offense.