Justin Fields (1) has started the last two games for the Bear, but coach Matt Nagy said Andy Dalton will start at quarterback against the Raiders if he’s healthy. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Nagy keeps saying he’ll do “what’s best for the Chicago Bears” when it comes to managing Fields, but the time has come for Nagy to actually decide, what IS best for the Chicago Bears?
Pick a lane, Matt Nagy.
The course for proceeding with the Bears’ quarterback quandary is more clear than ever for the beleaguered head coach: Play Andy Dalton and perhaps win more games; or develop rookie Justin Fields.
Nagy keeps saying he’ll do “what’s best for the Chicago Bears” when it comes to managing Fields, but the time has come for Nagy to actually decide, what is best for the Chicago Bears?
Is it better for the franchise for him to play the veteran Dalton for — arguably — a better chance to make the playoffs; or to play Fields and allow him to make all his rookie mistakes as a rookie and not a second-year player?
Prior to Week 3, Nagy could hide behind the unknown and stick with the general Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes game plan to let Fields mostly sit behind Dalton. But now that Fields has made two starts, that template has been fractured.
Fields was overwhelmed in his first start against the Browns, lending credence to the idea that he’s not ready to play. But then he responded against the Lions with an impressive performance that provided evidence of why he should play — including downfield throws for gains of 21, 64, 28 and 32 yards that led to three touchdown drives.
Regardless of Dalton’s health, it would almost be a dereliction of duty to not give Fields a chance to build on the momentum and give Nagy a better chance to see what he’s got. This is a rookie who by the Bears’ own admission learns well, isn’t rattled, practices well, is already showing improvement in reading defenses and gets along well with others. How is he not ready for this?
And the outside evidence is starting to mount. Rookie starters Trevor Lawrence (96.5 at the Bengals), Zach Wilson (97.3 vs. the Titans) and Mac Jones (101.6 vs. the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers) all had impressive performances in Week 4 after coming in with a combined 64.2 passer rating (nine touchdowns, 17 interceptions.
It’s almost like talented, first-round rookie quarterbacks learn and grow as they get more experience. That leads to the sometimes overlooked third scenario Nagy should consider — that playing Fields eventually might also give the Bears the best chance to make the playoffs.
Whether that scenario ensues, it seems pretty obvious which direction Nagy should go.
2. Fields’ 82.7 passer rating (11-of-17, 209 yards, no touchdowns, one interception) actually was the lowest for a Bears quarterback against the Lions under Nagy. In fact, he is the first quarterback with a rating under 100 against the Lions in Nagy’s four seasons. Even Chase Daniel had a 106.8 rating against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 2018.
But the eye test told a different story. And even statistically, Fields’ 12.3 yards per attempt was the second highest for a starting quarterback in Nagy’s four seasons — behind Mitch Trubisky’s 13.6 in the 48-10 rout of the Buccaneers in 2081, when he threw for 355 yards and six touchdowns.
Truibsky, though, averaged 10-plus yards per attempt three times in 40 starts under Nagy. Fields is 1-for-2.
3. That said, the Bears’ offensive success Sunday came with an asterisk — it was against the Lions, a team that Nagy’s offense has had anomalistic success against.
In Nagy’s four seasons, the Bears have a 115.5 passer rating against the Lions — and an 81.4 passer rating against the rest of the NFL. The Bears have scored 24 or more points five times in seven games against the Lions (71.4%) and 18 times in 45 games (40.0%) against the rest of the league.
In fact, the Bears offense was least successful in the one category the Lions’ defense is most credible — third downs. The Bears were 1-for-8 on third-down conversions against a Lions defense that came in ranked fifth in the NFL in that category.
4a. When offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked prior to Week 1 what he wanted to see from the offense this season, he said, “When you look at some of the things we committed to improving from last year, I’ll put third downs [at] the top of the list.”
That continues to be the biggest red flag for the Bears’ offense in Nagy’s fourth season. The Bears, who were 31st in the NFL in third-down conversions last year, are 32nd and last after four weeks this season — 13-of-45, 28.9%.
4b. The Bears also are 1-for-7 on fourth-down conversions (14.3%, tied for 29th), even after David Montgomery’s nine-yard gain on fourth-and-1 against the Lions. For what it’s worth, the top 10 teams in the NFL in third/fourth down conversion percentage are a combined 29-11. The only teams without winning records are the Chiefs (2-2) and Saints (2-2).
5. A new stadium for the Bears was a pipe dream prior to the June announcement that the Bears were bidding on buying Arlington Park in Arlington Heights. Now it appears to be a fait accompli after the Bears signed an agreement to buy the 326-acre site.
The city’s underwhelming response to the initial volley underscored the reluctance of politicians (and Chicagoans) to spend even a dime of public money on a new Bears stadium — an understandable concern with taxpayers still footing a $600 million bill for the 2002 renovation of Soldier Field.
There is a measure of civic pride in Chicago’s sports teams playing with the city limits. But while economic realities in sports are often distasteful — does every single thing that happens in a baseball game have to be sponsored? — some actually drag us into the current century.
Like lights in Wrigley Field, a state-of-the-art stadium would accomplish that. Now it’s up to the Bears to make it happen. There’s a long way to go.
6. If NFL officials are given the latitude to determine when “hand-fighting” becomes pass interference, they should also have the same latitude on roughing-the-quarterback and taunting penalties. But it seems like they feel bound to go by the letter of the law in calling both infractions.
Khalil Mack’s roughing-the-passer penalty against the Lions — and Darren Waller’s taunting penalty for spiking the ball at no one against the Chargers — were the latest examples of officials getting it wrong.
7. Nagy went against convention by taking the ball when the Bears’ won the coin toss Sunday. It was only the second time in the 29 times the Bears have won the toss in Nagy’s four seasons that they have elected to receive. The only other instance was against the Jaguars in Week 16 last season — also a Lazor-called game. The Bears went three-and-out, but won 41-17.
8. Bits & Pieces: The Bears’ defense is second in the NFL in sacks per play, but 26th in third-down conversions (46.2%) — a dubious disparity. … The Bears had four pass plays of 25 or more yards against the Lions — the last time they had more than that was in 2018, when they had six, also against the Lions. … The Bears are second in the NFL in gross punting average (50.7), but 20th in net yards (39.6) — the biggest “drop” in the NFL. … The Bears’ 17 pass attempts are the fewest in a victory in Nagy’s four seasons. … The Bears are 14-3 under Nagy when they pass 30 times or fewer — tied for sixth best in the NFL. … Cole Kmet has eight receptions (29th among tight ends) for 59 yards (39th) on 15 targets (23rd) through four games.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bear Player of the Week: Falcons wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson caught three touchdown passes — for 42, 12 and 14 yards — from Matt Ryan in a 34-30 loss to Washington. Patterson had five receptions for 82 yards (16.4 avg.) and six carries for 34 yards (5.7 avg.) in the game.
Patterson (18 receptions, 235 yards, 13.1 avg., four touchdowns) already has more receiving yards in four games with the Falcons than he had in two seasons with the Bears (32 receptions, 215 yards, 6.7 avg., zero touchdowns).
A Bears receiver has caught three touchdowns in a game just four times in the last 20 years. Taylor Gabriel was the most recent — in 2019 against the Redskins. Brandon Marshall (2012, 2014) and tight end Greg Olsen (2009) are the others.
10. Bear-ometer: 5-12 — at Raiders (L); vs. Packers (L); at Buccaneers (L); vs. 49ers (L); at Steelers (W); vs. Ravens (L); at Lions (L); vs. Cardinals (L); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Seahawks (L); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (L).