State of the Union: Da Bears

Mitch Trubisky is out, Andy Dalton is sidelined, Justin Fields is in. Change is coming for the Bears, and that can only be a good thing.

By Dheeraj Devarajan

A diehard Bears fan returns from a trip to the moon on which he embarked in 2019. They do not have telecom towers on the moon, so our friend—let’s call him George the Astronaut—has no clue what’s happened with the Bears. George returns home to Chicago on a Sunday afternoon, walks into his bachelor pad, and turns the television on, eager to watch his beloved Bears and their stud young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky light up the Detroit Lions. He turns the television on and sees “Fields” on the back of the jersey of the guy throwing the ball. “Where’s Mitch?” he thinks to himself, so he takes a trip online to figure out what the hell has gone on with the Bears in the last two years. He is utterly bewildered by what he reads. No Super Bowl? No playoff wins? Everybody hates Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy? Mitch is a backup on the Bills? Andy Dalton? Every moment of confusion, sadness, shock, and pure anger that every Bears fan has felt in the past two years hits him all at once. George is every Bears fan, and for the last couple of years, it seems like this fanbase, one of the most loyal, rowdy, passionate groups of people in the world, has been toyed with by Bears management. Will that change? Let’s take a look at what’s going on in Halas Hall right now. 

Finally, FINALLY, the Andy Dalton charade has come to an end. Matt Nagy announced this past week, after months of indefensible decision making, that Justin Fields would be the permanent starter on this Bears team. Fields has started two games thus far. Game one was disastrous, primarily due to a pathetic offensive game plan by Matt Nagy which involved practically no use of read option, bootlegs, or basic play action plays. As a result, the Bears’ offensive line, which is by no means stout, gave up eleven sacks to the Cleveland Browns’ defensive line. No NFL coach’s seat was quite as hot as Matt Nagy’s in the days that followed that game, and he made the decision to give up play calling duties to Bill Lazor for last week’s game against the Detroit Lions. There doesn’t seem to be a better team to play than Detroit when coming off a bad game; nevertheless, things looked different for the Bears as they rolled to a 24–14 win. Star running back David Montgomery was heavily involved in the game plan—as he should always be—and Fields had more time to throw the ball downfield than he did in the Browns game. Lazor’s play-calling and sequencing involved more play action usage and allowed the Bears’s receivers to take advantage of the Lions’s less than stellar defensive backs. While Fields’s statline wasn’t great (he completed 11 out of 17 passes, accumulated 209 yards, and threw for 0 touchdowns and 1 interception), his talent was on full display; he made a couple of eye-popping deep throws to Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson. Positive signs for sure. Now that Fields has been confirmed as the long-term starter, next week’s Raiders game will likely be a much better test and a better indication of what things will look like for the rest of the season. 

So what do the Bears need to do this season to ensure Fields’s progression? For me, the one thing they must do without fail is leave him in there. He loses a couple of games? No problem! Let the kid play! You’re not contending for a Super Bowl or a deep playoff run this year, so even if on a losing streak, let Fields learn about NFL defenses, how to deal with a locker room as its unquestioned leader, and the scrutiny that comes with being the quarterback in a media market as big as Chicago’s. Lazor and Nagy must tailor their game plans to suit Fields’s greatest strengths: his strong arm and his speed. The consistency and accuracy might not quite be there yet, but it will come with time. For now, give him the opportunity to play outside of the pocket, use him in the designed run game, and get guys open using an offensive plan as opposed to relying on individual talent alone. The Bears’s best offensive player, David Montgomery, will miss the next few weeks of the season, so things might get tough. It doesn’t matter. Let the kid play. 

To conclude, let’s talk about this Bears team as a whole. The defense has been pretty good so far this season, and in spite of their lackluster secondary, they have held their four opponents (including three 3–1 teams) to an average of under 23 points a game. This is largely due to their defensive front generating pressure on the quarterback; they lead the league in sacks with 15 in just four games. Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack have both had great starts to their bounce-back seasons, with 4.5 and 4 sacks respectively. Additionally, Jaylon Johnson has been consistently playing above expectations; PFF ranks him as the second-best corner in the league thus far. In terms of their offensive weapons, there is a lot left to be desired. Jimmy Graham and Allen Robinson are likely out after this season, the offensive line needs to be remodeled with second-round left tackle Teven Jenkins leading the way whenever he returns from injury, and the Bears need to prioritize Darnell Mooney and David Montgomery, who look like the team’s top wide receiver and running back for the foreseeable future barring any major injury.  

There’s a lot of work to be done in the offseason if this team wants to contend in the future, but for now, let’s focus on the 2021 NFL season. After catching up on the two years of Bears football he missed out on, George the Astronaut, albeit flabbergasted, sees some light at the end of the tunnel. If Nagy and Pace play their cards right, this team could be set up to dominate the division for the next decade and a half. The Minnesota Vikings seems to be stuck in a gray area between contending and rebuilding with no way out for the next couple of years, the Lions are likely retooling for the long haul, and up in Green Bay, it may be the last season on the Packers for the big bad wolf who wears number 12. Bears fans, there is hope. As Ted Lasso would say, “Believe.” Nagy and Pace, on the other hand, face a hot seat and the pressure to give Fields what he needs and help him develop. Otherwise, change is on the horizon. Your move.