Chicago’s plan at quarterback continues to be that Andy Dalton will be the starter to start the season. How long that lasts remains to be seen.
Ultimately, it may not be up to Dalton. It may hinge on how the overall offense performs when he plays.
Coach Matt Nagy explained to Albert Breer of SI.com that, for the preseason, the Bears focused on Dalton’s performance and only Dalton’s performance, given that he didn’t have full access to all starters — and that he had limited reps.
“You see a lot of these teams where there’s a lot of players that aren’t playing at all, what we wanted to do was get him a few live reps, getting in there and understanding what it’s like with this offense,” Nagy told Breer. “And we knew going into it that some of it was not going to be with some of the starters. The variable I keep talking about in the preseason, of not having your starters in there with you, it’s hard.”
So what did Nagy study?
“We looked at decision-making, we looked at how he runs the huddle, the things he does at practice, does it transfer into the game?” Nagy said. “He didn’t have a lot of reps, but the reps he was in there, he did a great job. Now is when we really get going with Week One. This preseason was more about individual evaluation than it was about team production.”
This implies that, as of Sunday night against the Rams, the quarterback analysis becomes an issue of team production. If the Chicago offense produces, Dalton presumably stays. It if doesn’t, the door opens for Fields.
But what happens if it doesn’t produce with Fields? Once a young quarterback becomes the starter, it’s difficult to bench him and then un-bench him and then re-bench him. Once Fields gets the job, it needs to continue to be his job.
That’s a very real factor for the Bears to consider before making the switch.
And let’s not forget the reality that Nagy served as offensive coordinator in Kansas City when Alex Smith served as the full-season starter (but for a meaningless Week 17 game) and Patrick Mahomes sat. Although the situations have many very real differences, the best outcome for the Bears would be to see Dalton thrive and to keep Fields on ice for 2022.
That won’t be enough to placate Bears fans, unless the offense performs well with Dalton under center. Then comes the question of whether fans and media have one opinion as to Dalton and the coaching staff and front office have another.
Regardless, the Bears went to the playoffs in 2018 and 2020. They made a big move to secure a long-term answer at quarterback. Yes, the fans are impatient. But this isn’t about 2021. It’s about the decade following 2021. Bears fans need to remember that — and they also need to ask themselves whether playing Fields as a rookie will make a dramatic difference in the team’s prospects for the coming season.
If giving Fields a year to learn how to play works like it did for the Chiefs with Mahomes, Bears fans will be singing a much different tune, as soon as next year. And this year’s angst will be a distant memory.