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NFL Draft

Time Is Now For Justin Fields To Play With Bears’ First-Team Offense

  • The Draft Network
  • August 22, 2021
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Andy Dalton made waves this week when he declared it was his time to be the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“Justin [Fields] is going to have his time and Justin is going to have a great career,” Dalton told reporters on Wednesday. “But right now it’s my time, so my focus is on being the best player I can be for this team and helping this team win.”

While head coach Matt Nagy has not wavered in his position that Dalton is the starter, Chicago’s first preseason game against the Miami Dolphins didn’t exactly provide inspiration for what the Bears offense could be with Dalton at the helm in 2021, especially compared to how rookie Justin Fields was able to move the offense. 

With one preseason game in the books and fresh off Dalton’s strong comments, the attention was again on Chicago’s quarterbacks in the Bears’ second preseason contest against the Buffalo Bills. Considering former Bears quarterback Mithcell Trubisky was set to start the game for the Bills, surely Nagy and the Chicago quarterbacks were looking for a sharp performance.

While Trubisky engineered four consecutive touchdown drives to open the game for Buffalo, Dalton led the Chicago offense to three three-and-outs and a turnover. The Chicago offense found life in its fifth possession of the game where Dalton found Rodney Adams on a deep ball down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown, but the Bears then turned the ball over on downs before Dalton threw an interception on his final drive of the game. 

The boxscore reads that Dalton was 11-of-17 for 146 yards with one touchdown and an interception, but those numbers are heavily inflated by Adams’ 73-yard touchdown reception, which was, more than anything, an impressive catch and run by Adams and less to do with an underthrown pass by Dalton. Chicago’s offense fluttered and struggled to move the football in seven drives with Dalton as the triggerman. 

Fields took over in the second half and if nothing else, the offense looked different. It wasn’t crisp or rhythmic with Fields at quarterback, but it was far more potent and difficult to defend. There is no denying the superior physical talent of Fields compared to Dalton and that is what makes the Bears offense far more dynamic with him in the lineup. Fields’ ability to run, extend plays, create with his legs, push the ball down the field, and fit the ball into tight throwing windows puts significantly more stress on opposing defenses than the “rhythmic” approach of Dalton, which lacks any sort of dynamic physical ability. 

While it doesn’t appear that Dalton has more command of the offense at this point than Fields, surely his 10 years of NFL experience gives him an advantage when it comes to processing defenses, working progressions, and understanding where to go with the football. The problem is that everything has to be on schedule around Dalton for him to flourish. In today’s NFL, defenses are too smart and talented for that to consistently be the case and when “something more” is required, Dalton struggles to deliver because the athleticism and arm talent needed to win outside of structure are missing from his game. 

The challenge for either Bears quarterback is a lack of talent in the supporting cast. The offensive line is loaded with question marks and outside of Allen Robinson, there are no difference-makers to be found when it comes to the weapons in the passing game—maybe Darnell Mooney adds his name to that list this year. Expecting the offensive structure to remain consistent and on schedule is unlikely when considering the makeup of the Bears’ roster. When it comes to play-calling and designing the scheme to make things simple for the quarterback, Nagy has come up short so far during his tenure in Chicago. 

No matter how you spin it, executing at quarterback this year for the Bears is going to be a challenge. While there are likely to be growing pains and Fields needs development when it comes to processing, working progressions, and staying in rhythm, at least he has the physical upside to make plays. He presents more playmaking upside than right now than Dalton, even if he still needs to develop more comfort executing the offense. With that said, Nagy needs to consider giving Fields the opportunity to take all of the first-team reps in practice and run the first-team offense next week in the preseason finale to help get him up to speed. 

The permanent switch to Fields is inevitable and Dalton hasn’t done anything to this point that makes it clear the job should be his. It’s time for Nagy to give Fields a legitimate shot at the job or Chicago runs the risk of finishing in the bottom 25% of the league in total offense for the third consecutive year.

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