225 Comments

As Fields Becomes the Starter, Opportunity Moves to Nagy.

| September 21st, 2021


Justin Fields is now the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Could Andy Dalton come back from injury and find himself on the field? Sure. But it’s highly unlikely. Even Dalton knew, as he watched Fields from the sideline, that he wouldn’t be able to survive an injury as the starter. Fields will start Sunday in Cleveland, start at Soldier Field the week after, and assuming he stays healthy, start every subsequent Bears game for the next decade or more.

And now Matt Nagy has 15 games to prove he’s the right guy to coach him.

It’s a pretty simple enterprise. The Justin Fields that plays January 9th against the Minnesota Vikings has to be an improvement over the Justin Fields that plays September 26th against the Cleveland Browns. And the two men have to develop the kind of working relationship the best coach/quarterback combinations seem to enjoy. If those two things are achieved, Nagy safely stays on as head coach in 2022. If either is in question, the Bears can’t risk wasting a second year of Fields’ rookie contract and will have to move on to a new coach.

The work is there to be done. Fields needs to develop an internal clock on the field, guiding his decisions whether to run or not. He also needs to clean up everything pre-snap, both with his cadences and his protection calls. And Nagy needs to completely reconfigure his offensive approach for Fields, a quarterback who shares almost no traits with the former guy. Fields needs to be on the move constantly. The Bears need to take advantage of his 4.4 speed.

It’s on Nagy now, as he enters the most important three-month period of his coaching life. If he succeeds, he’ll be the coach in Chicago for a long time.

Tagged: ,

249 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

294 Comments

Week One Game Preview, Volume II: Nagy, Dalton, LA Movies & Predictions!

| September 10th, 2021


Yesterday was the breakdown of what the Bears must do to beat the Rams, a team superior to them at almost every facet of the game. The Bears don’t run it better. The Bears don’t throw it better. The Bears don’t stop the run better. The Bears don’t stop the pass better. The 2020 Bears were better in the return game but their kick returner has left town. It is not difficult, at all, to see why the Bears are opening as more than a touchdown underdog on the road.

But hope is not lost.


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

But they’re testing me right now. And I’m failing.


Big Night For Nagy, Dalton

To paraphrase the great Hyman Roth, “This is the life they’ve chosen.”

By not giving Justin Fields even so much as the opportunity to win the starting job, Nagy has effectively forced the NBC cameras to cut to Fields with every three-and-out, every Dalton blunder, every quarter that goes by with the offense flailing. No, this group shouldn’t be expected to flourish against unquestionably one of the league’s best defenses, but that doesn’t matter.

Because every time Dalton gets sacked, fans will wonder if Fields could have avoided it.

Every time Dalton checks down, fans will wonder if Fields could have extended the play a few seconds with his mobility and made a big gain down the field.

Every time Dalton throws a ball into the fourth row, fans will wonder if Fields could have used that 4.4 speed to race by the sticks and extend the drive.

Matt Nagy and Andy Dalton don’t need to win Sunday night. But they need a tight, clean performance. They need to look like this offense is heading the right direction. Because the eyes of the football world will be upon them.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

603 Comments

Week One Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Rams

| September 9th, 2021


We’re finally talking about football. Two teams playing. Someone keeping score. Results that matter.

This season, the Thursday space will be occupied by a simple concept: how the Bears beat their opponent that week. Friday will fill out the game preview, including off-topic stuff and a prediction. But Thursday will be specific to mapping out a potential journey to victory for the boys from Chicago.

____________________

VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)

93.6%.

Victory is highly unlikely.

____________________

What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • Get Cole Kmet involved early. The Bears aren’t going to surprise anyone with what they do offensively. They don’t have the kind of weapons to make surprise feasible and they have a milquetoast quarterback. But they do have something of a secret weapon in Kmet, a talented player underused during his rookie campaign. If Nagy truly believes he can finally run the Andy Reid offense in Chicago, that requires dynamic tight end play, and the Bears are not getting that from anybody else on this roster. It has to be Kmet. And it has to happen quickly Sunday night.
  • Pass to run. The Rams were the third best run defense in the league last season. So for all those fans out there who scream RUN THE BALL every week, this ain’t the week to do it. If the Bears run the ball on early downs and get behind the chains, the Rams pass rush will eat their potato leak soup with multiple spoons. Pass early. Get positive yards. The playbook opens far wider on 2nd-and-5 than 3rd-and-11.
  • Play the cleanest game possible. If the Bears lose the turnover battle or commit a dozen penalties they have literally 0% chance to win this game. Despite the babble coming out of Halas Hall, this is still a matchup between the league’s best defense in 2020 and one of the worst offenses. The contest was comical last season. The Bears need a significant improvement for the story to change in 2021.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

323 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

340 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

141 Comments

Six Final Thoughts on 2021 Training Camp

| August 27th, 2021


Camp is over. Here are some big picture thoughts.

(1) Listen, the quarterbacks were always gonna be the main characters but who could imagine the story would come directly from The Twilight Zone. Justin Fields was never given an opportunity to be the starting quarterback. The game was rigged, Nagy chose Andy Dalton from the start, and the Bears will begin the season irrelevant. When will Fields play? No one knows.

(2) The actual offensive line FINALLY got on the field. There was so much hemming and hawing about poor OL play in the early weeks of camp but the Bears rarely had more than two of their starters available. Amazing that it took until the final days (and the signing of Jason Peters) to get their starting five on the field at the same time. How will they perform as a unit? One of the sport’s best defensive fronts will let us know on the evening of September 12th.

(3) Few roster surprises. This camp was pretty dull when it comes to position battles, roster spots…etc. The Bears seemed to have their minds made up in July (Kindle Vildor was placed with the ones and left there) and little that happened on the practice field or in preseason games changed them.

(4) Alec Ogletree turned up one day and couldn’t stop intercepting the football. That production – and his energy – translated to his preseason debut, where Ogletree cemented his spot on the final 53-man roster. Don’t be surprised if he’s playing a major role in the middle of the defense this season.

(5) Matt Nagy said a lot of dumb things. Signing Peters had nothing to do with Teven Jenkins’ injury? It takes four years for your offense to produce in the NFL? Nagy’s inability to (a) tell the truth and (b) own his early-career failures did not win over a fanbase that already wants him to be sent packing at year’s end.

(6) They are healthy. Teven Jenkins won’t be a factor this season. Tarik Cohen is likely to take until November to find his legs. But, for the most part, the Bears will enter the 2021 season with their roster intact.


Note: I had penned an Is There Any Reason to Watch… column about the final preseason game but with Tennessee now facing a serious Covid outbreak, that game may not even happen. (The Bears would be crazy to take on that risk for a practice game.)  If it happens, enjoy the Riley Ridley drops!

Tagged: , ,

166 Comments

Training Camp Diary Ends: Season Approaches. I Feel Nothing.

| August 26th, 2021


We should all be pacing our living rooms, ordering our game-watch merch for the season, diagraming fool-proof end arounds in the condensation of our shower walls. This should be one of the more anticipatory three-week periods in the history of the Chicago Bears organization.

But it’s not that.

We should be talking to our friends, tanked in the tavern, caffeinated in the coffee shop, toweled in the Turkish bath, about how much fun it’s going to be to watch Aaron Donald try to track down Justin Fields in the backfield, only to see Fields run from the pressure and complete a ball twenty-five yards down the field.

But we won’t be doing any of that.

Instead, the fan energy and enthusiasm generated by Fields this summer – seeing a quarterback do things we have never seen one do in a Bears uniform – has been thoroughly extinguished in the short-term by his head coach mangling the position all summer long. Instead, on September 12th, we’ll be forced to sit through an entire slate of Sunday football action only to see Andy Dalton take the starter’s reins on Sunday night.

Trevor Lawrence is starting. Zach Wilson is starting. Kyle Shanahan has given Trey Lance starting reps since the first day of camp and has already made it clear Lance will be part of the game plan from day one. Hell, even Mac Jones looks like he has a chance to start, after being given competitive reps with Cam Newton all summer long.

But not Fields.

Of course not Fields.

Why? Because Matt Nagy says so, that’s why.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

196 Comments

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.)

Read More …

Tagged: ,

191 Comments

By Choosing Dalton, Nagy Chooses Irrelevance.

| August 22nd, 2021


What do the Bears think they are?

That’s the question that kept rolling through my brain as I watched Andy Dalton play quarterback on Saturday.

Do the Bears think they were this close to contending for a title a year ago and slightly better quarterback play will put them over the top?

Do the Bears think this roster is good enough now to run through Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and a Matt Stafford-led Rams in the tournament?

Do the Bears think Vegas has them all wrong? That they should have better odds than 65-1 to win it all? 35-1 to win the NFC? 6-1 to win the NFC North? 2-1 to make the playoffs? An over/under win total of 7.5?

The truth is, they must. Matt Nagy saying the team needs to see Andy Dalton in the regular season is so misguided, so out of touch with the reality of where this franchise currently resides, that no other explanation is possible. The Bears don’t need to evaluate a quarterback who has been in the league for a decade and consistently underwhelmed for the duration of that time. Andy Dalton is Andy Dalton. He’s perfectly capable of being capable. The Bears, with Dalton under center, have a ceiling of about nine wins and a wildcard weekend exit. (And even that would be an achievement.)

This season, the point of the entire enterprise, is Justin Fields. And it is abundantly obvious that no matter what Nagy saw from the young quarterback, he was never going to be given an opportunity to be the starting quarterback. Now, over these next three weeks of pivotal practices, Fields will be relegated to the second teamers and scout squad. If he gets his shot to take over the starting gig during the season, it’ll likely be that week he throws his first passes to Allen Robinson, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney in any structured kind of way.

It is malpractice, plain and simple.

____________________

The Bears have played two preseason games. In the first, Justin Fields thoroughly outplayed Dalton. After that game, many expected Fields to be given increased exposure to the starters in practice. He was not. Why?

In the second game, with the exception of one bad throw that a Buffalo first, second or third-team corner easily knocks to the ground, Dalton was brutal. You want to blame the absence of Robinson, Kmet, Mooney and Montgomery? Go right ahead. But Fields came onto the field with a worse collection of skill guys and an offensive line of future real estate salesmen, and moved the team down the field. He used his athleticism. He used his mobility. He used his rocket for an arm. If any of the scrub receivers he was paired with could catch the football, he might have had a stat sheet similar to his first performance. Did Nagy see this performance and say, “It’s time to get Fields some reps with the starters”? Nope. He used the postgame press conference to name Dalton his official Week One starter.

He watched what we all watched. That was his conclusion. How?

Read More …

Tagged: , ,