This is when an offensive mastermind would prove himself.
While the starting quarterback getting knocked out by injury would be a major setback to most teams, being forced to shift from Andy Dalton to Justin Fields isn’t a problem that’s been dropped into coach Matt Nagy’s lap. It’s an opportunity.
A thrilling one.
Nagy’s imagination started spinning when he studied Fields’ before the draft and he showed snapshots of those ideas in the first two games. But now, as the Bears prepare to visit the Browns on Sunday, it’s time to design an entire game plan around a quarterback who is inexperienced, but multidimensional and more polished than most rookies.
“A quarterback that can throw the ball like he can, run like he can, has the ability to process, the fire and the competitiveness — all that together, that’s why you go get him,” Nagy said. “When it is his time, there’s going to be a lot of good stuff that we can do with this offense, but that does take a little bit of time.”
Patience is sensible, but time is something Nagy doesn’t have. His job is on the line, and while no one expects the Bears to go to the Super Bowl, he needs to live up to the credentials that got him hired: an expert quarterback teacher and limitlessly creative play caller.
There was little evidence to support either claim over the last two seasons as his quarterbacks floundered and the Bears scored the seventh-fewest points in the NFL.
Now would be a good time to come up with a brilliant plan. Show us something.
Nobody doubts Fields’ talent. The concern is whether Nagy knows how to use it.
While Nagy praised Fields’ progress throughout the last five months and admitted he exceeded all internal benchmarks by the start of the season, his rigid commitment to Dalton prevented Fields from showing he could handle even more.
This week, with Fields off the scout team and taking the full share of first-team reps, has been eye-opening for Nagy.
“There’s little things that we’re learning,” Nagy said. “There’s things that we’re seeing that maybe we didn’t see in the first two weeks. That part is good.
“That’s the beauty of him having these great reps in practice, which is what he wasn’t getting. But now he has an opportunity to do it, so we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Fields’ mobility, whether sprinting upfield or simply buying time, could offset all the shortfalls of the Bears’ offense. He isn’t as dependent on the offensive line or Nagy’s play call working. The play can implode, or the defense can simply cover every facet of it, and Fields can still make something happen–as he did when he took off for 10 yards on a late third-and-nine to clinch victory over the Bengals.
“Mobile quarterbacks make the game tougher on a defense,” Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said. “There is a great deal of benefit to having a quarterback that can move around in the pocket, get you out of a bad situation — even keep his eyes downfield and make a good throw.”
Fields is a weapon.
And it’d be easy to make pre-excuses for Nagy and the offense because they’re facing a good team — as opposed to a much more favorable scenario next week at home against the Lions — but the Bears can’t keep pointing toward tough opponents and throwing their hands up like they did against the Rams.
Sure the Rams and Browns are good, but there are plenty more teams like them coming. Nagy went 3-11 against playoff teams over the last two regular seasons. Two of those wins were in 2019 against the Vikings, one in a meaningless finale, and the other was over the eventual champion Buccaneers last season.
That’s why the pressure really isn’t on Fields. It’s on Nagy.