(670 The Score) During his five years in Kansas City rising through the coaching ranks, Matt Nagy worked with one Chiefs starting quarterback. It was veteran Alex Smith, with whom he shared a close connection.
The Chiefs and coach Andy Reid fit an offensive system around Smith, and that was the way it worked. Rarely were adjustments needed or suggestions made by Smith.
"We were at a pretty high level," Nagy said of the dynamic in the Chiefs' offense.
Three years into his tenure as Bears coach, Nagy is in a different place with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago offense.
Trubisky was benched in favor of veteran Nick Foles three games into the season, rode the bench for the next seven games and then returned to the starting spot ahead of the Bears' contest on Nov. 29. At the time, he took over a Bears offense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most key statistical categories and one that had gotten a new play-caller in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor just one game prior.
Seeking his best chance for success, Trubisky approached Nagy and Lazor with his own suggestions for the offense. He wanted to move the pocket more to help the offensive line and running game. He sought greater tempo out of the huddle and quicker snaps in an effort to keep the defense off balance. He wanted to stretch the field horizontally with running back David Montgomery and vertically with rookie tight end Cole Kmet. And he wanted to have a say in what plays should stay or go from the game plan.
Nagy and Lazor took Trubisky's wishes to heart and integrated them into the offense. The Bears have averaged 30.3 points per game during Trubisky's last three starts after averaging 16.7 points per game in Foles' seven starts. They're moving the pocket, alleviating pressure, creating better opportunities for Montgomery and even dictating the defense with their passing attack.
It's what Trubisky has long wanted from Nagy and the offense.
"I guess you never know," Trubisky said. "I was asking. I was putting my input in. But you can’t change the past."
Perhaps hearing Trubisky out was last-ditch effort from Nagy, who now sees a new identity in the offense. He admitted it took an open mind to alter the offense based on Trubisky's suggestions.
"I played quarterback all my life, and I’m a very opinionated person," Nagy said. "So, just to be able to accept that, hear that from Mitchell right now with where he’s at -- none of it is in a negative way by any means from him, it's all just to try to help this offense."
The Bears' offensive identity looks similar to what Nagy unveiled late in the 2019 season as Chicago similarly attempted to salvage its playoff hopes. The Bears won three straight games in the second half of their season with Nagy committed to a new scheme before they lost to the Packers in December and were eliminated.
The Bears quickly got away from that scheme when Foles took over as the starter, a move Nagy felt would ignite his team. After it didn't work out, Nagy relinquished play-calling duties to Lazor ahead of their Nov. 16 game and went back to Trubisky as the starter a game later.
Three regular-season games now remain for the Bears (6-7), who will play the Vikings (6-7) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday in what amounts to an elimination game in the NFC playoff race.
Nagy felt the Bears' last chance this season was to hear Trubisky out and tailor the offense to his quarterback. Did it happen too late?
That remains to be seen, but at least it finally happened.
Open field: All-Pro Ro
Days before the Bears strapped on the pads for the first time in August, linebacker Roquan Smith seemed keenly aware of a narrative surrounding him.
Many wondered whether Smith was a finished product after two years in the Bears' defense -- that he was just a good player but not a great one. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Smith desired more.
"I just have a chip on my shoulder," Smith said in early August.
Smith has played like he had a point to prove. He has been stellar in 2020, deserving of Pro Bowl honors and even All-Pro consideration.
Smith has 122 total tackles, including a league-best 85 solo tackles. He has 17 tackles for a loss, second to only Steelers star T.J. Watt. And he also has four sacks, with two coming in the Bears' win last Sunday.
The 23-year-old Smith committed himself to having a breakthrough season, and he has produced.
"Like a fine wine, he's getting better with age," Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "He's not Opus One yet, anything near that. Maybe a Duckhorn, a Cakebread. He's moving up the ladder. A Northern California, Napa Valley really nice Cab. He's maturing."
Smith's ascension is significant for the Bears, who have seen a key draft investment emerge into a cornerstone of their defense. Smith should be a star in Chicago's defense for many years to come.
Come this offseason, Smith should find himself in position to land a lucrative contract extension with the Bears. He has earned it.
1.) ARob's statement season
Contract extension talks between top receiver Allen Robinson and the Bears broke off in September in part because general manager Ryan Pace wondered whether Robinson was capable of stacking up big seasons.
Robinson has answered that question. Last Sunday, he became the fifth player in Bears history to post consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Robinson is on pace to make nearly 106 catches, which would top his career-high of 98 receptions in 2019.
While the big question is what lies ahead in his future, Robinson is also taking a moment to reflect on what he did to achieve these numbers.
"I always want to look back," Robinson said, "and say that I gave it my best.
"It is fun seeing the fruits of your labor."
Robinson, 27, is set to hit free agency in March for the second time in his young career. The Bears could prevent that from happening by tendering the franchise or transition tag. They could also sit back down with Robinson at the bargaining table, where they two sides haven't been since September.
Regardless of what happens next, Robinson has produced in another standout season.
2.) Cole train
After breaking mutliple Texans tackles on a catch last Sunday, Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet ran to Nagy on the sideline.
"Nobody's going to bring me down," Kmet told Nagy. "Nobody's going to bring me down."
The Bears see a rookie in Kmet who's now brimming with confidence. It's a development that has come after they finally established him in the offense.
Kmet played in less than half of the Bears' offensive snaps during his first nine career games. In the last four games, he has played more than 70% of the snaps. Last Sunday, he played 85% of the offensive snaps, the most of any Bears skill position player. Kmet has a combined nine catches in the last two games after making just eight in the first nine games.
His increased opportunity has coincided with Lazor taking over the play-calling duties and Trubisky's recommendation to get Kmet more involved.
"It's been a growing process for sure, from the first day of camp to now," Kmet said. "I feel like each week, I'm just getting better and better."
3.) Sam's club
In Sam Mustipher, the Bears may have found their center of the future.
Since making his first start on Nov. 1, Mustipher has earned the praise and respect of his team and is proving himself as a starter, as offensive line coach Juan Castillo pointed out. As for Mustipher, he's just trying to grow.
"Moes and Joes, not Xs and Os," Mustipher said. "There’s a lot of good Moes and Joes in the NFL. There’s a lot of talented people, from coaching staffs to players, themselves. I think that’s a big adjustment from college football, and just getting used to that and learning every week and gaining experience is very important for me.”
4.) Change for the best
Nagy spoke positively of how the move to Lazor as the play-caller has boosted the Bears' offense.
One key dynamic he feels has improved is the Bears' ability to make in-game adjustments "from drive to drive instead of quarter to quarter or half to half."
Quote to note
"I’ve thought about it, but thoughts come and go and right now I just gotta stay focused on what’s about to happen this weekend, and that’s just preparing every day for the Vikings."
--Trubisky on whether he wants to be back with the Bears in 2021
OLB Khalil Mack (shoulder) -- After dealing with this shoulder issue last week, Mack posted a vintage Mack game in a win against the Texans. He should be ready to roll for this Sunday.
CB Buster Skrine (concussion) -- Here's wishing the best for Skrine, who has a scary history of concussions. Duke Shelley could start again Sunday at the nickel cornerback position.
CB Jaylon Johnson (right shoulder) -- The rookie Johnson is dealing with an injury to the same shoulder that he had surgically repaired last offseason. Fellow rookie Kindle Vildor would take his spot as the outside cornerback.
TE Jimmy Graham (hip) -- Tied for the Bears' lead with six touchdown receptions this season, Graham is dealing with a new injury.
Prediction (8-5): Bears 24, Vikings 21
The Bears have figured it out offensively of late and have a defense that’s still fighting to be dominant. What will it mean Sunday? A win against the Vikings in an evenly matched divisional game.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.