Everybody taking aim at Matt Nagy for starting Andy Dalton — hold your fire.
Justin Fields is a rookie, not a magic wand — especially not in this offense. Only in Chicago could one magnificent preseason pass by a quarterback in an otherwise pedestrian performance be a revelation and a defining moment that should change Matt Nagy’s mind and force his hand.
Fields is ready for the NFL, but the Bears’ offense — as it currently stands — isn’t ready for him. Especially in the early going this season, Dalton is just as likely to win games that Fields wouldn’t as Fields is to win games that Dalton wouldn’t.
As promising as he is, Fields isn’t good enough to make a bad offense good. But he can make a good offense great. So let Dalton use his veteran experience to get this offense on solid ground and if that happens, it’ll be up to Nagy to make the right call.
Fields’ preseason performance wasn’t going to win the job, but it raised the bar for Dalton. How high? If the Bears are winning in spite of the quarterback and not because of him — a historically common scenario with this franchise — Nagy appears open-minded enough to change quarterbacks. He knows what he’s got now. When he announced the one-year-apprenticeship plan in May, he did not.
Be that as it may, Fields will open the season backing up Dalton but spending most of his practice time running the scout team, which prepares the Bears’ defense for that week’s opponent. We’ll never have to ask Nagy how you simulate the speed and mobility of Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and maybe even Trey Lance. We’ll know.
Bears fans will be expecting Fields to be starting by the time the Bears face the Ravens, Cardinals, Seahawks or 49ers. But until then, Nagy is resolute that Fields will learn and grow as a quarterback in that role. Tom Brady started out that way, for what it’s worth. And even if Fields isn’t running the Bears’ offense, he’ll be facing the Bears’ defense — that’s a benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“He’ll be out there trying to do everything he can to give our defense the best look that they can give,” Nagy said. “You’re trying to go out there every day [and] make great throws when presented an opportunity to drop back and throw against our ones. So he’s gotta do that.
“[So] don’t go in a different mode, which I know he’s not going to do. … don’t be a guy that’s just throwing the ball around. Continue to get better every day. You can work on all your fundamentals; you can do everything you need to do and always stay prepared, which I think is … one of his greatest strengths. He does not like running the cards [the opponent’s plays]. So we’ve got to continue to help him understand that you can grow in that role.”
Fields has been pitch-perfect in his role as franchise-quarterback-of-the-future — never more than when he supported Dalton and chastised Bears fans who were chanting his name while Dalton was playing.
But the focus now is on Nagy, not Fields. Nagy was asked Monday about the risks of playing a young quarterback too soon and it didn’t sound like he thinks that’s an issue with Fields. “The biggest thing is making that game go from super fast to a little bit slower,” Nagy said.
The speed of the game can cause young quarterbacks to develop bad habits they never shake. But Nagy didn’t seem too concerned. “Sometimes if that happens you could say, ‘Well it’s good that they learn from that,'” he said. “Some quarterbacks have had that happen and there’s others where it just becomes bad and it can ruin them.”
Fields seems like the strong-minded type of quarterback who can overcome that. The biggest detriment to him playing too soon is being in a bad offense that doesn’t give him a real chance to succeed. That ruins more talented, young quarterbacks than the speed of the game. So it’s up to Nagy to put Fields in a position to succeed. The kid will do the rest. But timing is everything.