By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Sunday afternoon the Chicago Bears and head coach Matt Nagy will square off against head coach Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles — two coaches who could mean a lot to the near future of the NFL and who already mean a lot to each other and their shared histories.
Nagy and Pederson’s relationship started from their time spent with head coach Andy Reid when he was with the Eagles and later with the Chiefs, from where both men were hired to start their head coaching careers — 2008 was the year and Nagy, after an eventful few years in and out of the game. Nagy was given a coaching internship under Reid and he would progress to offensive quality control coordinator in 2011 where he replaced Pederson who had that job from 2009 to 2011 when he was promoted to quarterbacks coach.
Coach Reid would be relieved of his duties in Philly at the end of the 2012 season and was picked up quickly by the Chiefs, he brought both Pederson and Nagy along after seeing the talent of these two. Coach Reid has always valued bringing in smart or even smarter minds to help enhance his team, he started his Chiefs tenure in 2013 by making Pederson the offensive coordinator and Nagy the quarterbacks coach.
This trio dramatically improved the Chiefs and developed a modernized offensive system that was unique to the league. Fast forward to 2016 and Pederson accepted the head coaching position for the Eagles, as he began building his staff he wanted to bring Nagy as his offensive coordinator but Reid wouldn’t let Nagy go. Reid, without an offensive coordinator, promoted Nagy to the position and wound up fast-tracking his mentee to a head coaching position of his own.
In his lone season as the KC OC, Nagy was a success and he even took over play calling duties when the Chiefs offense struggled towards the end of the season. These experiences made Nagy ready for his shot at being a head coach and he was hired to be the Bears head coach almost a year ago on January 8th.
In the cases of both men, they’ve proven the value of looking to Reid disciples to kick-start franchises, each starting off their head coaching careers with a bang (or a #BOOM in the case of Nagy).
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Pederson has reached the playoffs in two of his first three seasons and brought the Eagles their first ever Super Bowl win last year. Nagy has accomplished a lot so far in his first year, giving the Bears both their first division title and playoff berth since 2010 and he is a favorite for the coach of the year award.
These two have an interesting history with each other with many parallels extending from their times on the same team to how their young head coaching careers have played out.
Now that these two meet for the first time as opposing head coaches in a do or die situation, the question is how will these two established competitors and friends attack each other?
The quarterback beyond being a leader of the football team is a figurative extension of any football coach while on the field. Both Nagy and Pederson are considered quarterback gurus, they have both done an excellent job managing the quarterback situations they have inherited in their positions, neither being ideal.
For Pederson it it included his early molding of high draft pick Carson Wentz and suffering through losing him midway during each of the last two seasons.
In both situations, backup Nick Foles has come in to save the day, causing some to suggest that Pederson’s real connection lies between him, a career NFL backup QB himself, and the career journeyman turned Super Bowl hero.
Foles does a lot of things that Pederson appreciates like getting the ball out quick but also being aggressive and pushing the ball downfield. When he has played his best Foles rarely turns the ball over and exhibits an accurate deep ball.
The Eagles run a lot of RPO (run-pass option) with Foles and even though he isn’t considered a mobile quarterback, he is good at reading defenses. Pederson, an aggressive playcaller who notoriously goes for fourth downs, looks for his QBs to make plays that go beyond the average check-downs and rollouts, such as a particularly legendary play in the last Super Bowl.
Foles fits what Pederson wants to do at every turn so its no surprise that Foles has been as successful as he has been with Pederson at the helm.
On the other side of the field is quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and he has been the quarterback that Nagy has wanted him to be in their first season together.
Nagy is similar to Pederson with their aggressive styles so that has allowed Trubisky many chances to exhibit how good he is at the RPO and how dangerous in general he gets when he gets outside the pocket with his scrambling ability and his ability to throw on the run.
Though Trubisky isn’t as experienced as Foles, he has improved in his 14 starts in 2018 with his field vision and deep ball accuracy. Nagy likes to keep defenses off-balance with creative formations and plays. Trubisky’s knowledge of the offense is in its early stages but Nagy trusts him to execute all the creative play calls.
Nagy knows his defense is as good as there is in the league and he has incorporated the run game a lot more in the month of December to allow the Bears to play a steady, deliberate game that relies on said defense to keep opposing offenses off the field.
What Nagy will be looking for most in Trubisky is his command and conviction to keep Chicago controlling the ball and churning yards. The pressure isn’t on Trubisky to be the best player on the field for the team to win, Trubisky simply needs to make the right reads and hit receivers when they are open.
Nagy talks a lot about making throws with conviction, meaning a quarterback’s eyes, feet, arm, mind and heart are all in unison to make a throw. Nagy appreciates Trubisky and believes in him to deliver, if Trubisky keeps playing the way he has the last three weeks then Nagy will be happy with his quarterback’s performance Sunday.
Nagy and Pederson won’t be making any throws or tackles on Sunday to change the course of the game, their performances will mainly take place in the week leading up to the game. Both men will rely on good defenses with legitimate star power that have to be carefully game planned for while preparing their respective offenses for the other defense.
Pederson will put an emphasis on scoring in the red zone where the Bears defense is especially strong. Nagy will want to establish a run game to open up the offense and slow the Eagles pass rush. Then there is the situational game planning, will Pederson be more aggressive with his offense to keep the pressure of his defense? What “trick” play or formation is Nagy practicing this week for a specific scenario within the game?
Hard to predict what these two mad scientists will come up with but fans can expect both to have their teams and quarterbacks ready for this matchup. This game should be tightly contested and both teams are peaking at the right time of the year.
The coaches won’t decide the game, it will come down to the players but these players have been successful in large part because of the winning cultures their head coaches have each developed.
Sunday, the Bears will either stop the Eagles attempt to defend their Super Bowl crown or be eliminated from the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome both Nagy and Pederson will hug at midfield after the game wishing the other all the best for the remainder of their playoff journey.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR