No reason to bury the lede.
If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.
What Would Starting Fields Do?
This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.
With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.
Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.
And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.
Defensive Regression Continues
Yards allowed per game is a weird stat but it does a pretty damn fine job of identifying the best defenses in the league. Last year, the top ten in that stat were (in order): LA Rams, Washington, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, San Francisco, Tampa, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Green Bay, LA Chargers. The Bears came in at 11th.
That’s about what the Bears defense was in 2020. Paired with a good offense, they were good enough to win games. Paired with the Bears offense, they left the team mired in mediocrity.
And they’re not better this year.
Yes, you’d expect Eddie Goldman to dramatically strengthen the run defense and you’d expect Robert Quinn to be far better than he was a year ago. But the Bears only have one professional corner on this roster (Jaylon Johnson) and that corner has a serious injury history.
So ask yourself this. If you’re Sean McVay or Zac Taylor or Kevin Stefanski, how are you approaching this defense? Are you going to run into the strength of the unit on early downs and let the pass rushers get involved on third-and-long? Or are you simply going to spread the Bears out and attack their corners? If Johnson has Woods, throw quickly to Kupp. If Johnson has Higgins, throw quickly to Boyd or Chase. If Johnson has Landry, throw quickly to Beckham.
The Bears defense won’t be bad. There is far too much talent for that to happen. But there is almost no chance a unit this deficient at such a crucial position can be great. And they’d need to be great for this team to have a substantial season.
Five Statistical Predictions
- Darnell Mooney: 83 catches, 810 yards, 6 touchdowns.
- Robert Quinn’s (somewhat) rebound: 6.5 sacks.
- Cole Kmet scored 2 touchdowns in 2020. He QUADRUPLES that to 8 in 2021.
- Bears allowed opposing QBs a passer rating of 94.9 last year, while allowing 231.6 yards per game in the air. How do both of those numbers not increase? I think we’ll see the opposing passer rating jump into the 97-98 range and passing yards allowed jump over 250, putting them right among the ten worst pass defenses in the league.
- Pat O’Donnell will have his best season and make the Pro Bowl. (Is that a good thing?)
So how does it all end, Jeff?
Same old, same old.
First five games: @Rams, vs. Bengals, @Browns, vs. Lions, @Raiders.
What’s the optimistic projection? 3-2.
Next five games: vs. Packers, @Bucs, vs. Niners, @Steelers, vs. Ravens
What’s the optimistic projection: 2-3, and that’s severely optimistic as the Bears will be heavy underdogs in all of those games, with the possible exception of San Francisco.
Final seven games: @Lions, vs. Cardinals, @Packers, vs. Vikings, @Seahawks, vs. Giants, @Vikings.
What’s the optimistic projection? They hold serve on the home games, and finish a season sweep of the Lions for a 4-3 finish. That’s AN OPTIMISTIC 9-8.
My projection is 8-9, which is a nightmare season if Dalton plays all 17 games.
If Fields plays, the record simply doesn’t matter. All that matters is knowing he’s the guy. But…will he play?