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Dannehy: Next Two Games Will Decide Season

| October 27th, 2021

While doom and gloom is popular amongst Chicago Bears fans, media and bloggers, it’s hard to argue the team scoring convincing wins over two AFC division leaders is bad. At 3-4, the Bears have played a brutal schedule, including three teams with one loss, two with two losses and a Cleveland Browns team that fell off only recently due to some injuries. (Football Outsiders ranks their first seven games as the hardest played in the league and their remaining 10 the third hardest.) As terrible as the Bears looked against Tampa Bay, the reality is the team still has a good chance at making the playoffs this year if they’re able to win the next two games.

This week, the Bears welcome a San Francisco team coming to Chicago for a noon start. Then they head to Pittsburgh for Monday Night Football before the bye week. There’s no reason the Bears can’t be 5-4 entering their bye. Both teams offer favorable matchups, with quarterbacks who can’t really attack deep and a lack of perimeter playmakers. Both teams have decent defenses, but nothing like Tampa Bay and maybe not even as good as Green Bay.

Looking at how the middle of the backend of the NFC playoff field is playing out, it will probably only take nine wins to make the playoffs this year. Eight might even do it with tiebreakers. The Saints have the six seed at 4-2. The Vikings and Falcons are both 3-3. The Bears and free-falling Panthers are 3-4. If the Bears can win their next two, beat Detroit, Seattle, New York and split with Minnesota then they’re gonna be in.

But they’ll need improvement from the quarterback position.

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Dannehy: Pace and Nagy Must Be A Package Deal

| October 20th, 2021

When it comes to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, the Chicago Bears have to keep both or neither.

It was this calendar year that Ted Phillips and George McCaskey attempted to sell the fan base on the collaboration that would occur between the team’s head coach and general manager. The men were now on equal footing and, more likely, Pace was no longer the top football mind in the organization. Reports about the Bears investigating Nagy’s good friend Mike Borgonzi as a possible replacement for Pace didn’t come from thin air. Pair that with Louis Riddick’s insistence that it is no longer Pace’s show and it’s logical to conclude that Nagy signed off on keeping Pace.

But now another season has began and the Bears offense is still bad.

Pace won over fans because he’s seen as the roster builder and that approach led to the Bears landing Justin Fields. The reality is that it was Nagy who was doing the legwork on Fields and had the final say in picking Fields over Mac Jones. But nobody cares about reality during the course of a season. The Bears offense is the worst in the league and both the GM and head coach have blame to share.

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Dannehy: Bears Must Let Fields Do More.

| October 13th, 2021

The Chicago Bears have found a winning formula the last two weeks. The recipe is good, it just needs minor tinkering. If they are actually going to make any noise this season, they have to let Justin Fields do more.

Rookie quarterbacks are usually at their best when they are complementary pieces. Three of the more recent success stories — Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson — all played for teams that were in the bottom three in passing attempts. The Bears are attempting to hide Fields even more, and letting him do less than other recent rookie successes: Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert.

There is no easy way to compare rookie quarterbacks. The players are always as different as the situations. But when you combine passing attempts, rushes and sacks, Fields has had the ball in his hands with a chance to make a play roughly 26 times per start. That’s considerably less than Wilson (33) and Prescott (34) and it’s even further behind Jackson (42), Murray (43) and Herbert (46).

This recipe has worked because the Bears are playing to their historical best: running the crap out of the ball and playing defense like a top-five unit.

But we can see flaws in that defense. The Raiders had numerous opportunities to make plays down the field with open receivers, as did the Browns — but both missed with either errant throws or dropped passes. The Lions and Jared Goff have made a living of shooting themselves in the foot this season and, well, pretty much every season for the past 50 years. But the caliber of opponent changes drastically this week and the Bears must adjust.

Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are not going to miss the passes that Goff, Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield did. And the Bears running game goes from playing bottom-ten to top-ten fronts. If the Bears are going to win either of the next two games, they’re going to need more than 20 points and they’re going to have to do it without running for 150 yards. That means the passing game. That means Fields.

And there’s reason to believe it will work.

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Dannehy: Switch to Dalton Would Put More Pressure On Nagy

| October 6th, 2021

If Matt Nagy switches back to Andy Dalton, it would be a move for the present.

It would place an enormous amount of pressure on Nagy to win games right now, this season.

It would put his job in even more jeopardy than it already has been.

While fans always expect victories, fairly or not, no matter who is under center, the organization paying $10 million to the veteran quarterback certainly would expect results should the coach choose to play that veteran over the future.

If Nagy were to stick with Justin Fields, he could spin 2021 as a rebuilding year. He’d be able to tell ownership they are focusing on the long-term future of the club and that teams don’t typically have success with rookie quarterbacks. (The data on that would overwhelmingly support his argument.) Nagy could even point to last week’s game plan, with the Bears dropping back to pass on just 37.5 percent of their plays, to show the rookie is learning on the fly.

With Dalton, though, there is going to be an expectation that they run an actual, competent NFL offense. And doing so got a lot more difficult last week when David Montgomery had to be helped to the sidelines. It could be said that the Bears need a more accomplished passer without Montgomery and Dalton has completed 73.5 percent of his passes to Fields’ 48.1 percent, with a passer rating 30 points higher. The quick passing game that Dalton executes so well (and Fields not at all) could now be the key to any short-term success.

But as we have seen throughout Dalton’s career, he needs almost as much help to succeed as rookies. If they can’t run the ball well, it doesn’t really matter if Dalton throws a four-yard pass on third-and-10 or if Fields takes a sack.

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Dannehy: The Curious Case of Matt Nagy

| September 29th, 2021

After three weeks of the season, two things are unquestionably true:

  • Matt Nagy installed an unforgivable game plan against Cleveland and was not able to fix it.
  • Matt Nagy was right in that Andy Dalton should be the starting quarterback.

Sunday’s game was among the worst we’ve seen. The backlash against Nagy has been every bit as bad. And that’s fair. There is no excuse for managing just 47 yards and one net passing yard in a league where every single rule change is engineered for more passing, more yards, more points. It’s hard to figure out Sunday is even possible. But is it possible. It happened. And the blame has to be tossed on Nagy’s lap.

But does this season warrant a second look?

The Bears offense is close to the bottom of the league pretty much across the board, but it didn’t start that way. While few are willing to accept that Justin Fields really just may not have been ready, it’s hard to find another legitimate explanation. When Dalton quarterbacked the team, the offense was nothing short of competent. In the 11 drives Dalton served as the primary quarterback, the Bears averaged 43.1 yards, that mark would be good enough for fourth best in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

Yes, you read that right.

The common rebuttal to that is that the team didn’t score enough. And that’s true, their 1.91 points per drive would be just 24th in the league – almost equal with Tennessee.

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Rookie QBs: Hope For The Best, Prepare For the Worst

| September 22nd, 2021

While recent NFL history has plenty of success stories when it comes to rookie quarterbacks, Bears fans should prepare themselves for the most likely scenario: rookie quarterbacks struggle.

The 2021 season is the perfect case study.

All of the rookie quarterbacks were tremendous in the preseason. Trevor Lawrence went 11-for-12 with two touchdowns in his last action and Zach Wilson finished 9-for-11 with two scores. Those two are currently the lowest-rated passers with at least 20 attempts in the regular season. If you drop the number of minimum attempts to 15, the four lowest-rated passers in the league are Fields (38.2), Wilson (56.1), Lawrence (57.1) and Davis Mills (58.1).

Not good.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Fields had a dropped touchdown pass that went right threw Allen Robinson’s arms. Even with that completion on Sunday, his passer rating would’ve only been 71. Maybe better chemistry with Darnell Mooney could’ve led to a couple of more completions, but the interception and the fumble still happened and were nearly catastrophic.

In August, Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic did a story looking at rookie quarterbacks, wherein he determined that 24 of the 31 were below average. “The median rookie season was Mike Glennon,” Kapadia wrote.

In the last five years, there have been 17 teams that have had rookie quarterbacks play extensively. Only two of those teams finished inside the top 15 in terms of scoring and three were in the top half of the league in yardage. From 2016 to 2019, the worst offenses in the league were all quarterbacked by rookies.

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ATM: Would Justin Fields Be Able to Save Mistake-Laden Bears Offense? Doubtful.

| September 15th, 2021

As different as the Chicago Bears offense looked on Sunday night, familiar mistakes and a suddenly leaky defense opened the question on if we should even want Justin Fields to deal with this mess.

The Bears did a lot of things differently and were even good in some aspects. This wasn’t the same as the group that struggled to get past midfield against the Rams a year ago. They actually moved the ball well until it was a two-score game late in the fourth quarter. The running game was exceptional and Andy Dalton was able to find open receivers underneath to keep the chains moving. The veteran quarterback even showed some mobility, running on one first down and scrambling before throwing for another.

The Bears gained 40 more yards than the Rams allowed on a per game basis last year.

Matt Nagy has, in the past, been killed for his unwillingness to be aggressive on fourth downs, but we saw four attempts during this game. Had any of them been successful, the stat nerds would’ve rejoiced.

But they weren’t.

And the same flaws that have killed the offense for four years were still there.

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2021’s Ten Most Important Bears (Other Than Justin Fields)

| September 8th, 2021

The 2021 season probably won’t be one the Bears highlight, but it could be important for determining the future of the franchise. They have an odd mix of veterans and young players, all needing to prove themselves. They have key positions that didn’t have battles, but also don’t have sure things locked in.

We know Justin Fields is ultimately going to be the straw that stirs the drink, hopefully for the next two decades. But the Bears need to determine two things: (a) who will be surrounding Fields and (b) how will they make life easier for the quarterback.

With that, here are the ten most important Bears of 2021, other than Fields, of course.

10. Akiem Hicks

Hicks flashed greatness last year, then seemed to run out of gas.

His job was different last year without Eddie Goldman; teams were able to focus more on him in the running game. But then you’d see the spurt; he’d throw a guard three yards back and take out a running back in the backfield.

Hicks is in a contract year and the Bears have to know what he has left before deciding what to do.

9. Sam Mustipher

Mustipher was a legitimately good center last year and could be a building block going forward. The team didn’t consider replacing him. He needs to reward that confidence.

8. Darnell Mooney

If teams are going to take Allen Robinson away, Mooney needs to make them pay. The wide receiver needs to take a significant step in his sophomore season.

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ATM: More Explosive Roster Should Help Nagy’s Vision

| September 1st, 2021

Matt Nagy likes to talk a lot without saying anything.

When asked last week why he was optimistic, his answer centered on the fact that more players understand their roles, having been in his system for longer. As expected, that response was universally panned because fans see more immediate results elsewhere.

But there was a second part of his answer.

After rambling about experience he added “When you have that and you have a guy like Andy (Dalton) and these quarterbacks that come in and understand it, that’s where it gives me confidence.”

Ah, yes. The most important position in sports does, in fact, matter. The truth is there is reason to believe the team’s offense will be better largely because the personnel fits what we believe he wants to do.

Nobody is going to tell you that Dalton is the savior. (Fields may be in time.) But Dalton can do things that previous quarterbacks simply couldn’t; most notably, he can throw the ball down the field with accuracy.

Keep in mind, Dalton isn’t a great downfield passer, but he’s better than what’s been here, according to Pro-Football-Reference.

  • Since 2018, Dalton has 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on passes 15 yards or more down the field, with a passer rating of 77.3.
  • In the same span, Mitch Trubisky had 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a rating of 63.2.
  • Nick Foles had seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a rating of 56.

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Training Camp Diary: Nagy Set Dalton Up to Fail

| August 24th, 2021

Matt Nagy almost seemed annoyed when asked about the quarterback situation in the moments after Saturday’s preseason affair against the bills.

He only has himself to blame.

Nagy is optimistic the team will move the ball in the regular season with Andy Dalton calling signals. His belief is that the reason they failed to in the preseason was because they were missing key players. That’s fair. The team’s top three wide receivers, two tight ends and running back all played fewer than five snaps. That’s complemented by three backups – one of whom was likely a third-stringer – along the offensive line. It would be hard for any quarterback to have success and none of the best are ever put in these situations in August.

There is more than a decade of evidence telling us that if the Bears are going to have any success with Dalton, they better have the wind at their back. They need all hands on deck and other clichés too. Dalton needs the situation to be perfect. That’s who he is. The Bears should know that.

In practice, Dalton has reportedly looked good when they’ve been near full strength. But most of the fans don’t see practice and the national media doesn’t pay attention to those reports.

Nobody should blame Nagy for sitting the stars; they need them healthy when the games matter. But if he’s that confident that Dalton is going to be the starting quarterback, why not sit him with the starters? All playing Dalton with backups did was anger fans because all they’re seeing is an immobile guy, behind a makeshift line, going three and out repeatedly. How is he supposed to succeed in that scenario?

Maybe Nagy is right. (It could happen.)

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