It’s always overwhelming, the moment you get what you’ve been asking for all along. From Justin Fields’ second draft (a move by Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who won near-universal praise for his situational aggression and recognition that he couldn’t survive with the quarterback room as it was built at the time), we imagined what Matt Nagy’s offense would be like. look like driven by an athletic quarterback with a deft passing touch and a temper to handle high-pressure situations.
We all rolled our eyes together when Nagy did what most coaches do, forcing Fields to earn the job out of training camp. We all clenched our fists and pounded the table when Nagy actually made up his mind, seemingly out of stubborn adherence to the old-school training bible, and started Andy Dalton in Week 1.
But now that Fields takes the field as a starter against the Browns on Sunday, some of us aren’t necessarily cheering, especially with Nagy affirming Dalton’s role as a starter once his bruised knee heals. It’s a good-natured concern, like biting your nails watching a kid ride a bike without a helmet. It’s more out of fear that Fields’ development will slow rather than some anonymous scout projection that he doesn’t have the tool required to survive as an NFL starter. In small previews, Fields shows promise, though we’ve seen how quickly a doomed offense can sink an NFL starter. What if that kid riding a bike without a helmet is heading for a pit of live alligators?
Dalton isn’t a fun choice when Fields is on the bench, but there’s a reality to his situation. Chicago is doing its best with the offensive line. Jason Peters is one of Focus on professional footballThe top-rated pass blockers of his season at 39 are mind-blowing. ESPN’s pass block success rate metric has Peters winning on 87% of his pass snaps, which is better than all but five tackles in the NFL. To help the line in its quest for survival, Dalton got the ball out faster than all but four other NFL players: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Jimmy Garoppolo and Dak Prescott.
One of those quarterbacks (Prescott) plays on the NFL’s most effective offense. Two others (Garoppolo and Brady) were raised in a system that grants accelerated decision-making. The last (Roethlisberger) does the same to compensate for his age and his pocket of athleticism. He has also been playing the sport professionally for nearly two decades.
That don’t mean Fields can not get rid of the ball quickly; it’s simply an acknowledgment that he will have to, and that it may not be the best option for him. Dalton was always a player who relied on a quick release and had offenses built around that advantageous trait. Fields is tough and mobile, with better arm strength and significantly better pocket tools to help him escape the rush. Will Fields jump too fast when the pass rush mounts? Will he become too risk averse in an attack built for Dalton, negating his best passing qualities? What’s going on in the snaps that Peters is clearly dusted off by a speed rusher like Myles Garrett?
If the Bears had a powerful Fields-specific offense ready and beta-tested, we wouldn’t be talking about Dalton’s return. If Chicago felt good about their offensive line, we wouldn’t have talked about Dalton in the first place. If Nagy is still so concerned about his quarterback’s development that he’ll reinsert Dalton once Dalton is healthy, then Fields has no place in the huddle on Sunday for his own protection. This is especially true when you consider the Bears have Nick Foles just sitting on the bench.
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Quarterback development is a tricky road. We’ve seen allegedly ruined bystanders, like Ryan Tannehill and now possibly Sam Darnold, find a second life elsewhere. We’ve also seen others clutching clipboards, unable to erase bad habits ingrained in their bodies during frantic times like this. The Bears are 1-1 and see an opportunity to stay afloat in their division with the Lions and Vikings reeling. Fields represents an advantage as there is little tape available on him in Nagy’s attack outside of pre-season. Perhaps the first drafts of Nagy’s vision will be shown on Sunday, offering a slight schematic advantage over what he would get from Foles.
But there’s also this: while we hated Nagy’s decision, made fun of it, and wanted Fields – like Mac Jones, Zach Wilson or Trevor Lawrence – to get the attack early in the summer, this may have been one of the few times a coach was right to slow him down. We know, we can hear Nagy’s eyes rolling from here. It’s the trick of getting what you want and making it happen. It can always have a cost.
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