Possible reasons Justin Fields will watch the opener
Bears coach Matt Nagy loves what he sees from quarterback Justin Fields to date.
Fields has earned his coach’s confidence in case he “needs” to play. It’s the “need” part of this which mystifies Bears fans.
After playing without a viable quarterback since trading Jim McMahon in 1989, the Bears have drafted a passer who ignites the fan base. His performance in preseason has done nothing to dampen enthusiasm, as he has led them to 32 of their 62 preseason points.
Yet he sits. Andy Dalton starts the opener and only Nagy and staff seem to know why.
Nagy said until they “need” him to play? Of course they need him to play, the reasoning goes. It’s only been about 32 years.
“Yeah, I think he’s at a point right now where (he’s at) the level we thought maybe he would be at coming into this thing,” Nagy said. “You never know, right? He’s done a lot of great things.
“So I would say that with our situation with where Andy is at and where (Fields) is at, that he’s done everything he can to make us feel good that if we had to put him in the game that he would do fine.”
Nagy doesn’t see Fields as a finished project, but then again Fields says he also feels this way.
“I think every aspect I need to improve in,” Fields said. “I’ll probably say that for the rest of my playing career, but I
think there is always room to improve.
“So I’m just going to try to get better each and every day.”
Here are reasons for Fields to be watching when Andy Dalton faces Aaron Donald and the Ram.
1. Needs more work in the offense
Dalton has been around 10 full seasons and knows all about offenses and how defenses try to fool quarterbacks. Fields hasn’t seen this in preseason. Defensive coordinators don’t scheme then. As Nagy says, it’s “high school Harry” defenses. “For us, what we’ve asked him to do is to digest this offense, to be able to play fast,” Nagy said. “He is still growing with some things within, whether it’s schematically, some things he’s seeing or where he’s at, but I like that. I think that’s natural.
“Every rookie quarterback right now is going through some of that stuff.”
While every rookie quarterback is going through it, this doesn’t qualify as a reason to start someone. They need to be sure and three preseason games haven’t shown this yet. It’s only shown Fields could handle the position if called upon, not that his performance would be better than Dalton’s.
2. Excessively outside the pocket
Field’s scrambling throw for the 20-yard TD to Jesper Horsted was pure brilliance considering the way he put the ball on the run from a long distance in a spot where only the tight end could come up with it.
“That’s one of the things I’ve come away with in training camp is realizing he’s pretty special when he’s outside the pocket,” Nagy said.
The trouble is too much of Fields’ throwing came from outside the pocket. He needs to become a little more comfortable within the offense, get the short passes out on time and anticipate where receivers are coming open as he’s inside the pocket.
Quarterbacks who live outside the pocket die there with their teams. While Patrick Mahomes is excellent outside the pocket, he stays in it and does even better. Fields needs to get there.
Statistically, the difference is easy to see. For all his moving around and the big completions to Horsted and Jesse James, Fields averaged 5.6 yards per pass attempt in preseason. Dalton and Nick Foles were at 7.8 and 9.4 respectively, and were in the pocket.
An NFL team averaging 5.6 yards per pass attempt is going to finish last or near it in passing offense, without question.
Sure, preseason is a small sample size. However, Fields had more attempts than Dalton and Foles put together and his yards/attempt was poor and there’s no denying it.
Fields has accomplished much with pure athletic ability, whether with his arm or legs. He’s obviously a superior athlete.
However, he’s been doing this against players who are either backups or not even going to be on NFL rosters. Fields’ only start came in the final preseason game and then it was against Tennessee subs.
Do starting NFL cornerbacks or safeties let Horsted even have that tiny bit of room Fields exploited on the sidelines with his TD pass Saturday? The ones who keep their jobs don’t.
Do NFL edge rushers or linebackers allow Fields to get outside to even make that pass. It might happen on occasion, but their speed is much greater and they’ve seen and faced more than the backups Fields has challenged.
It’s not Fields’ fault he played against backups. It was the coaches’ decision.
That means nothing.
Regardless of the reason, Fields still hasn’t done it against respectable competition and this does matter when his competition is a quarterback who is in his 11th year.
4. Outside influences
Nagy needs to win and the surest way to do it is with a good start by the most experienced quarterback.
In the last 10 years there have been 30 first-round quarterbacks who started games in their first seasons and only five had winning records as starters: Andrew Luck (11-5), Robert Griffin III (9-6), Lamar Jackson (6-1), Tua Tagovailoa (6-3) and
Patrick Mahomes (1-0). Luck is the only one of the 30 who started the season opener and had a winning record.
In other words, rookies need to learn to win.
If you’re a coach who has to win, you’re going with a veteran to start the season and if things don’t work then the rookie is a last resort or next-best choice.
Besides Nagy’s situation, there is this often-mentioned agreement the Bears had with Dalton to let him start the opener. While Dalton is the one who said he was promised he is the starter, the Bears have tried to dial back this situation without ever completely denying it’s true.
There are plenty of instances of rookie quarterbacks playing too early in their career, struggling initially and never recovering from the disaster. There are plenty who did, like Peyton Manning for one.
What would have happened if Mitchell Trubisky could have waited until much later in his first season to start? Possibly nothing much would have been different, but perhaps it would have changed something about how he developed and he would have been better.
A rookie quarterback hasn’t been through an actual week of NFL practice, seen the game plan take shape and how the team works its scheme toward beating an opponent. This never happens in preseason and Fields will get to see it the first week.
The Bears would want to minimize any chance Fields would be wrecked by his own initial struggles, which happen so often with rookie quarterbacks. Witness Josh Allen’s 67.9 rookie passer rating, Jared Goff’s 63.6 and Ryan Tannehill’s 76.1.
Fields has bought in to “the plan,” this approach Nagy is taking.
“I felt like I got better each and every day, so I’m just going to stick to that plan and try to keep on improving,” Fields said.
If he buys in and sticks with it, he’ll continue to progress. At some point, the improvement will be great enough to let the Bears make him starter.
Then there will be no more debate.
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