Bears breakdown: Andy Dalton will start the 2021 season, but who will finish?Mark Potashon September 3, 2021 at 6:11 pm

I expect Andy Dalton to …

Be better than Nick Foles was in the Bears’ offense last year but not good enough to silence the cry for Justin Fields to start. For all his experience, decision-making and intangibles, Dalton still is at the mercy of the offensive line, which is a huge unknown entering the regular season. If the Bears can run the ball, Dalton will hold onto the job longer than many Bears fans would like him to.

When will Justin Fields play his first snap? …

Against the Rams in Week 1 in a red-zone or goal-line package designed especially for him. Matt Nagy locked himself into Dalton being the starter, but he still wants to play with his new toy. He’ll find a way to incorporate Fields in key situations — like the Saints use Taysom Hill — and hope his luck has improved since he tried to emulate Sean Payton’s alternate-quarterback tack last year only to have Mitch Trubisky suffer an injury.

When will Fields make his first start? Unless the offense is as bad as it was under Mike Glennon in 2017, that could be awhile. A steady Dalton could have strong performances against the Bengals in Week 2, the Lions in Week 4, the Raiders in Week 5 and the Packers in Week 6. If Dalton eventually falters, any game after that is a possibility — with the home game against the Ravens on Nov. 21 after the bye a likely spot.

Do you trust Matt Nagy?

I trust Matt Nagy to keep this team together — there might not be a more player’s-pal coach in the NFL. It remains to be seen if he can design and call an offense that will be effective in the NFL. But if things aren’t working out, I trust him to make the quarterback change sooner rather than later.

The Bears’ roster is still missing …

Proven offensive tackles in their prime. Jason Peters is 39. Larry Borom is a 23-year-old rookie. Germain Ifedi is 27 with a sketchy history. The Bears were right to search for upgrades over Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, but might end up missing both of them if Peters shows his age and Ifedi doesn’t take the next step.

Which injured player will they miss the most?

Alec Ogletree should be an acceptable replacement for Danny Trevathan in the Bears’ defense. And we don’t know how big of a hole rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins leaves. But the Bears don’t have a player with quite the gadget-ability of Tarik Cohen. Even if Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert are productive as a complement to David Montgomery, the offensive dynamic Cohen provides Matt Nagy is tough to replace.

Which defensive player is under the most pressure?

After Robert Quinn? Second-year cornerback Kindle Vildor. Even if Jaylon Johnson fills the Kyle Fuller role in the secondary, if Vildor is a weak link in the defense it will be costly at that position.

I feel better/worse about the Bears than I did Day 1 of camp …

Worse, with an explanation. The Bears have potential to surprise on offense if the offensive line leads to a run game that gives Andy Dalton a chance. But they didn’t show much in the preseason and are counting on everything clicking when the regular-season begins. That’s a big expectation. But then again, you can never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL.

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