We spoke with a pro scouting director from another team this week, one who has previously worked with Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy. When Nagy was hired, the director gave the move an emphatic thumbs up even though he and Nagy only worked together briefly in the past.
"They got a good coach," he told PFW at the time. "Everyone who worked with him longer raved about him, and I felt pretty good about him having what it takes to take over his own team after learning from one of the best [Andy Reid]."
That was then. This is now: The Bears are one of the most improved teams in football. They're currently out in front by a game and a half in the NFC North for first place. They have the third-best record overall in the conference. At 8-3, the playoffs are not really the question for the Bears — but rather, how far can they go?
We thought we would revisit with our director acquaintance now to see how his feelings and views had changed after watching the Bears to this point. And specifically, what he thought Nagy was doing so well in earning as many victories in 11 games as his two predecessors, Marc Trestman (16 games) and John Fox (24), did in a far longer time frame.
"I've seen a lot of them [the Bears]," the director said. "Nagy is doing a great job. He is allowing his guys to be the best version of themselves. Letting each guy play to their specific strength as opposed to forcing a certain system on them."
When Nagy said he'd be bringing "70 to 80 percent" of the Chiefs' playbook with him to Chicago, some viewed this as the head coach wanting to make adjustments to what Reid had installed or preferred to run in Kansas City. But that might not have been exactly the reason for the difference, the director said.
"See, I just see it as him catering to his talent," he said. "I see it as him designing a playbook around the players, not the other way around. You can do it that way, but you won't get [immediate] results that way. [Nagy] is going about this smart; he's doing what he can with what he has, not trying to be something that team is not."
Especially impressive in his eyes is the work Nagy has done to shepherd MItch Trubisky through the season. Yes, there are still critics of the second-year QB's game, and he's far from a finished product. But the director implores anyone wanting to pass judgment to first look at the progress from Day 1 under Nagy until now.
"We looked at Mitch last year, and it's night and day, first of all," the director said. "Then you look at the stuff they were running early [this season] versus everything they've put in now ... there's more volume, there's tempo, there's more freedom [at the line of scrimmage] and more trust in letting him thrown downfield more often.
"That part of it has been really impressive. It's brick by brick, and they're building something there."
Asked about the Bears' slumping run game — outside of Trubisky's impressive scrambling ability — the director agrees that it remains a concern.
"Yes, I agree, it's still not there," he said. "[Jordan Howard] and [Tarik] Cohen have differing styles, and Howard’s runs have been effective just not explosive runs. It looks like 68 [LG James Daniels] has done a nice job, but then you lose a [player like Kyle Long], and it sets you back.
"None of this stuff is built in a day. There's always going to be something, one part of your football team, that takes time to develop. I used to have a coach years ago explain it's like building model airplanes: It's really detailed work and a little messy, you've got glue on your fingers and all that, and then all of a sudden you finish and ... there you go, you've built something impressive. But it takes time and patience, and sometimes you have to redo a few parts before it's right."
Just before he stepped into a meeting, we fired one more question at him. In a conference featuring the high-flying offenses of the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams (who visit Soldier Field in Week 14) at the top, can a team such as the Bears — constructed quite differently — have a shot in a head-to-head matchup against them?
"It will be a challenge offensively [to keep pace]," he said, "but the defense is real, so yes, they have a chance."
It's just one opinion, of course, but it might come as music to Bears fans' ears just as the team is entering its most exciting and meaningful home stretch in several years.