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The Chicago Bears‘ plan to start veteran quarterback Andy Dalton never held much weight, because the organization made a significant investment to trade up and select Justin Fields with the 11th pick in this year’s NFL draft.
But the organization, specifically head coach Matt Nagy, continued the needless charade of building up Dalton as the starter. In March, the Bears’ social media team tweeted Dalton’s status as QB1. Even after the franchise chose Fields, Nagy told reporters in June that Dalton will be Chicago’s starter. On Wednesday, the coach said he’d feel great about the veteran leading the offense if a game were tomorrow.
Well, a preseason game happened Saturday, and the entire team dynamic shifted. That’s because the tidal wave of support in Fields’ favor to take over first-string reps will be insurmountable, especially after the comments Nagy made earlier in the week.
He told the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Jason Lieser:
“The only way we can evaluate is by seeing him play. He’s gotta get valuable reps.
We gotta be able to evaluate—that’s the beauty of the preseason—but we also need these guys for Week 1. It’s that Catch-22. You play somebody and all of a sudden they get hurt and go, ‘You dummy. Why’d you do that?’ The other [side] is you don’t play them and [people] say they need the reps.”
Nagy and the entire NFL viewing audience saw what Fields can do in Saturday’s 20-13 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.
An impressive combination of poise in the pocket, athleticism to create outside of structure and downfield passing prowess vaults the 22-year-old over his 33-year-old counterpart and should revoke Dalton’s status.
Matt NagyNam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Things didn’t start well, though.
The Bears offense sputtered in its first five series, including Chicago’s first three possessions with Fields behind center. Some might argue the rookie signal-caller didn’t perform well while facing Miami’s first-team defense, and he didn’t start to shine until many of the Dolphins’ second- and third-string defenders took the field.
Upon closer inspection, his surrounding cast let him down. In the first three series, the Bears suffered from two false-start penalties, a bad snap, a throw on which the tight end fell down that almost resulted in an interception and a great play on the ball by Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene.
Chicago kept trotting Fields back in, and he orchestrated the offense through the entirety of the second and third quarters.
As the game progressed, his comfort level grew, and seemingly so did that of those around him. From there, the quarterback’s playmaking ability began to shine. During Chicago’s first drive of the second half, Fields showed his penchant for connecting on deep passes with a well-thrown back-shoulder throw to Rodney Adams for 25 yards.
Once the Bears reached the Dolphins’ 8-yard line, Fields displayed his creative side.
The pocket collapsed as the quarterback’s blindside protector gave up his inside leg to the oncoming edge-rusher, who flushed Fields out of the pocket. The quarterback rolled to his left and leisurely strolled toward the end zone for an easy score.
Throughout the contest, the Bears’ offensive staff cut the field in half with designed rollouts and movement. This approach limited Fields’ options but also gave him the opportunity to create with his feet. In most cases, the quarterback simply extended the play to push the ball downfield.
“It was actually kind of slow, to be honest,” Fields told reporters of the game’s speed. ” … Me going against [the Bears defense] every day slows it down for me.”
However, a brilliant stratagem led to Fields’ first preseason passing touchdown. After utilizing boot action in multiple scenarios and allowing the quarterback’s athleticism to threaten the edge of Miami’s defense, the Bears called a Y throwback to tight end Jesse James, who casually backpedaled into the end zone for a 30-yard score.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fields completed two of four passes over 20 yards, including the score to James. Chicago managed only four such touchdowns last season.
The performance wasn’t perfect, of course. At times, Fields’ decision-making and ball security could have been better, as can be the case with any young quarterback. But those two aspects should only improve once he’s granted more opportunities.
“The one thing that you felt from Justin … was that he was extremely calm the whole time,” Nagy told reporters after the contest.
Fields finished 14-of-20 for 142 passing yards, 33 rushing yards and two total scores. Dalton went 2-of-4 for 18 yards passing and no scores.
The idea of committing to Dalton as the starter is folly, and Nagy seems to realize his predicament, though the coach won’t publicly budge on his previous stance.
“Just worry about tomorrow. And just create competition and be the best quarterback you can be,” the coach responded when asked what his first-year signal-caller can do to earn the job.
Fields is already the Bears’ most talented quarterback. He should get all the first-string reps in hopes he can elevate the entire team. He’s an elite prospect at the game’s most important position, whereas Dalton is nothing more than a place holder.
The present and future of the Bears organization is already on the roster. It’s long past time to pull the plug on the Dalton-as-starter experiment.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.