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The Midseason Progress Report: QB, HC, GM

| November 15th, 2021


Quarterback

Pre-Bye Grade: B-

A few sentences: A quarterback’s rookie season is difficult to evaluate but the Justin Fields trajectory is that of a player who is going to be around a long time. He flashed big plays, even when struggling, and has translated those flashes into two dynamic performances against two solid opponents. B- is a fantastic grade for a rookie at this stage.

% Chance of Returning: 100

Thoughts on Return: Fields is the most dynamic player at quarterback in Bears history. All focus now shifts to building a roster to support him. (That means protection. Fields will make the skill guys better.)


Head Coach

Pre-Bye Grade: D-

A few sentences:  The Bears lose to every good team they play. They never have a sideline advantage. They commit too many penalties. They make too many mistakes. Details are constantly ignored. The only thing keeping this grade from the basement is the development of Fields, for which Matt Nagy must be given at least some credit.

% Chance of Returning: 7.8

Thoughts on Return: The only way Nagy can plausibly return as head coach is if Fields dominates the second half and the Bears find themselves either (a) in the postseason or (b) seriously contending for a postseason spot, the final week of the season, with a winning record. Neither of those things is going to happen.

Based on some conversations with folks close to ownership, the team is ready to find the next coach.


General Manager

Pre-Bye Grade: A+

A few sentences: Many are going to see that grade and think, “What the hell drugs is he on?” But Ryan Pace drafted – in this year’s draft – what looks like a franchise quarterback. That’s all that matters in this league. I don’t care what the old quarterbacks and tight ends cost. I don’t care what he’s doing with the cap. If he got the QB correct, and it looks like he did, everything will become easier for Bears in the years to come.

(This is not Pace’s grade for his tenure. Just his grade for this season, pre-bye.)

% Chance of Returning: 56.5

Thoughts on Return: It is close. But it’s looking slightly more likely that Pace will be allowed to choose another coach. He had a good draft in 2020 and a potentially transformative draft in 2021, including the selection of a franchise quarterback. Ownership could see these two years as a young GM making progress, lay the failures of the last few years at the feet of Matt and Mitch, and keep stability in their front office.

Bears ownership chose to keep Pace after 2020. He drafted Fields in 2021. Why would they fire him now?

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Bye Week Thoughts: Fields Buying Nagy 2021, Kmet Progression, Bye Weeks Songs & More!

| November 11th, 2021


Nagy Should Get Rest of Season

Many had targeted this week, the bye week, as the optimal time for the Bears to move on from Matt Nagy as head coach. But Justin Fields’ performances against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers – two good defenses, two teams playing for everything – will likely guarantee that Nagy sees out the remainder of this campaign.

And that’s the right decision.

This season needed to be entirely about Justin Fields and his development. (It hasn’t been, of course.) Over the last two weeks, the club is actually seeing tangible evidence of that development. Why would they do anything to stunt that progress in-season? The wins and losses don’t matter. The defense doesn’t matter. The weird personnel usages and return men bringing the ball out from five yards deep and penalties all over the place, they don’t matter. All that matters is Fields and Fields is currently an overwhelming positive. The Bears can’t disrupt that.

Nagy should (and likely will) be fired the second the 2021 season concludes. And if Fields continues on his current path, the head coaching candidates will be circling this vacancy like one of those dirty crows that circles your golf cart when you’ve got an open protein bar on the seat. An argument could be made that the new two-week window to interview coaches at the end of the regular season should expedite the process, and that argument is valid, but this is going to be THE destination coaching spot of the off-season. It comes with a quarterback. And these jobs rarely do.


Cole Kmet Continues to Rise

Kmet’s last four games: 4/49, 5/43, 3/24, 6/87.

His 17-game projection: 53/546.

But more important than the numbers is the rapport now developed between the tight end and the quarterback. Fields has found his security blanket and Kmet is cementing his role as a pivotal part of The Justin Fields Project in 2022, joining David Montgomery and Darnell Mooney as charter members.

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Dannehy: Defensive Failures, Under His Hand-Picked DC, Another Nail in Nagy’s Coaching Coffin

| November 4th, 2021


Sean Desai dressed as Mel Tucker for Halloween. And he was the spitting image.

It was just another failure of Matt Nagy’s tenure; the second straight game in which Desai had no answers for his opponent and the third time this season in which his defense has been completely outclassed. Desai’s squad has allowed more than seven yards per play twice already this year, after the Bears did so just once in Chuck Pagano’s 33 games.

There are excuses for Desai, but they don’t really add up. The Bears had injuries, but they still had good players on the field. One could argue that Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Robert Quinn, Jaylon Johnson and Roquan Smith are all better at their jobs than any of the team’s offensive players.

It isn’t just that they struggled against a 49ers offense that was average at best coming into the afternoon. The Bears were gashed on every single play. The 49ers gained 8.6 yards per play. In the 55-14 blowout loss to Green Bay in 2014, the Packers gained seven yards per play. The only time Tucker’s unit gave up more than eight yards per play was a 54-11 loss to Philadelphia in 2013 — and that was still nearly half a yard less per play. The only reason the 49ers didn’t score 50 points is because the Bears controlled the time of possession with a nearly 15-minute advantage.

The 49ers went into the game as an average offense. They came out as juggernauts..

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Nagy and Pace Have Only Themselves to Blame

| November 3rd, 2021


After some Monday morning conversations with several people – both inside Halas Hall and around the league – I came away, for the first time in 2021, believing there was little chance of either Matt Nagy or Ryan Pace returning to the Chicago Bears in 2022. The program, the entire program, seems to have reached its conclusion. And it begs a simple question: why are we here?

When Nagy and Pace selected Justin Fields, they should have had the built-in cushion of this season. After receiving the vote of confidence from George and Ted at the end of the 2020 campaign, and then being allowed to choose the quarterback of the future, they could have sold the whole of Bears world on Fields’ long-term development being more important than any short-term results. Like it or not, they could have wiped the last several seasons off the ledger and started fresh.

Instead, they mangled the whole thing.

They didn’t have a contending roster on their hands but they naively, confusedly, acted like they did. They refused to give the rookie quarterback even so much as the opportunity to win the starting job this summer for that very reason. Then, when forced into action due to injury, they’ve seen their young quarterback struggle to find rhythm with any of the starting skills guys because of a complete lack of reps with them all summer long.

And because they pretended like they had a contending roster, they needed to contend! And there was simply no way that was going to happen. Nagy and Pace installed pressure on themselves to achieve the unachievable in 2021. Listen, the reason the franchise is not a contender this year is entirely their fault, but that almost doesn’t matter. They were given a second life. First, from ownership. Then, with Fields. They could have totally changed the conversation to a future with Justin Fields and built an entirely new program around him.

But instead, they tried to shoehorn Fields into the old program; a failed program. George McCaskey was looking for every possible reason to keep these men in their jobs, to not go through another exhausting search, but they have almost left him with no choice.

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Two Stats Defining the 2021 Chicago Bears

| October 25th, 2021


Stat #1

The Chicago Bears have now played three of top five teams in the NFC. The combined score of those three games was 96-31.

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Stat #2

The top five teams in the NFC are Arizona, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Dallas (in no particular order). Their yards per game, when averaged, is 404.26. The Chicago Bears are averaging 255.4 yards per game.

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Summary

In a league that is designed and officiated for maximum offensive output, the Bears are simply not playing modern NFL football. And they have zero chance to compete with the league’s best teams consistently until they do so.

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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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Bears Must Shift Emphasis from Winning Games in 2021 to Preparing Justin Fields for 2022.

| October 19th, 2021


Herm Edwards said it best, and for the most part he was right. When you line up to play a football game, the primary objective should be to score more points than the other team. That has certainly been the approach of Matt Nagy, at least offensively, through the early goings of the Justin Fields era at quarterback. The Bears have identified their best approach to winning as play good defense, run the ball consistently, and ask the quarterback to make a play or two at pivotal moments.

But is this the right approach for the Chicago Bears moving forward, especially over the difficult four-game stretch to come? The answer is unequivocally no. And it all comes down to self-evaluation.

Forget the complexity of QBR and DVOA and all the other analytics flooding your Twitter feed. Let’s objectively look at each position group on offense for the Chicago Bears and assign them either a + (plus) or a (minus). Let’s leave quarterback out. Plus means they’re good. Minus means they’re not. Simple.

[Side note: these evaluations are based on current usage and production. I think Damiere Byrd is a good NFL wide receiver but he’s not being used at all so what can you do?]

  • Running backs: +
    • David Montgomery is one of the better backs in the league, Damien Williams is a terrific change of pace option and Khalil Herbert looks every bit an every-down back. (And don’t forget Tarik Cohen is still in the wilderness.) This has turned into as good an RB room as there is in the league.
  • Offensive line: –
    • They are a good run-blocking unit but they’re incapable of protecting the quarterback in obvious passing situations. In this modern NFL, that’s a must.
  • Tight ends: –
    • Cole Kmet finally flashed in the passing game Sunday. But they have Jimmy Graham making $7M to block once every other week. When you factor in the supposed importance of this position in this offense, it’s something of a disaster.
  • Wide Receivers: –
    • Darnell Mooney is going to be a player for years to come. Allen Robinson is ordinary. The rest of the group can be found on practice squads around the league at this production level.

So if you’re Nagy and Bill Lazor, of course you’re going to be run-first, run-always, run-forever. The only two real positives on your offensive roster, around the rookie QB, are the OL’s ability to run block and the backs behind them. But this approach only makes logical sense if the primary objective is to squeeze out as many wins from the 2021 season as possible. And that should no longer be the primary goal. It should never have been the primary goal.

The goal has to be Fields.

They need to get more out of him every week.

They need to ask more of him every week.

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What Happened in Vegas: Bears Beat Raiders, Give Themselves Chance for a Season

| October 11th, 2021


The Bears were significant underdogs in Las Vegas. And they won the game by double digits. There is plenty to criticize about this performance. (And you’ll find much of that below.) But one thing can not be stated clearly enough: this was a massive win for the 2021 Chicago Bears and their head coach, Matt Nagy. They now have a chance for a season.

Rapid fire.

  • Everything starts with Justin Fields and he was getting annihilated early. And most of it was NOT the result of poor play on the offensive line. The Raiders came into Sunday with the clear directive to hit Fields, whether the play was alive or dead. And Fields almost didn’t survive it.
    • As brutal as the hit was later in the game, don’t think for a moment those early hits didn’t play into Roquan Smith’s mindset when he knocked Derek Carr from the game. That was a teammate having the back of another teammate. You hit my guy up top, I hit yours up top. That’s how football used to be played.
  • Fields was good in this game, but the Bears have to let him do more moving forward. At several moments late, Nagy could have told his quarterback, “Make a play here and the it’s over.” He didn’t Sunday. He will have to soon.
    • I would have loved to see a replay of Fields’ touchdown pass to Jesper Horsted from any angle but the one shown on TV. (Apparently the only camera working at the time was on the other side of the field.) It looked like a bold decision, perfectly executed.
    • The Fields-to-Mooney 3rd down toss on what ultimately became the game-sealing drive was an absolute thing of beauty. If Fields can make that throw, in that moment, there’s nothing he can’t do physically out there.
  • As for Roquan, what a performance. He broke up a touchdown in the end zone. He stopped Carr on what looked like an easy first down run on a pivotal third down in the first half. And he’s called for two big penalties – a PI and an unnecessary roughness – neither of which were actually penalties. In the modern NFL, teams need to be wary when paying inside linebackers. The Bears should hand him a blank check.
  • There’s very little left to say about Khalil Mack. The Raiders tried to hold him early but the refs called it. Then they tried to double, and sometimes triple him. He beat it all. Some days he’s unblockable. Quite frankly, there aren’t enough of those days. But Sunday was one of them.

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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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