Matt Nagy and Andy Dalton gave Bears absolutely no chance to win against Rams
“They told me I was the starter. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come here. That’s the assurance I got.”
That’s what Andy Dalton said a couple days after the Bears signed him to a one-year, $10 million contract in March. And since that was the agreement, apparently nothing first-round pick Justin Fields did in the preseason was going to change that. Fields was more impressive than Dalton was in every way in the preseason, but that didn’t matter — Dalton was going to start Week 1 at SoFi Stadium against the Rams, and damn the torpedoes.
One unimpressive 34-14 loss later, and we’re guessing Halas Hall is going to be full of torpedoes this week as the Bears prepare to take on the Bengals next Sunday. Dalton finished his day with 27 of 38 completions for 206 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. As the spray chart below shows, Dalton was completely negated in the intermediate and deep passing games — not only by a defense that didn’t get beaten deep too often in 2020, but by his own limitations.
Andy Dalton did not complete a pass over 10 air yards tonight (0 for 2, INT).
Since the start of 2020, the #Rams defense has allowed the fewest TDs against passes traveling over 10 air yards (4), six fewer than any other defense in that span.#CHIvsLAR | #DaBears pic.twitter.com/eeARoqBVBs
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 13, 2021
On passes of 10 or more air yards for the Cowboys last season, Dalton completed 48 of 90 passes for 911 yards, 744 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 88.7. Dallas’ coaches knew exactly that Dalton was not a good intermediate passer, which is why he had 90 such passes on 376 dropbacks, while Dak Prescott had 71 such passes on just 240 dropbacks. That’s 29.6% of Prescott’s dropbacks, as opposed to 24% of Dalton’s dropbacks. Coaches will tell you what they think of their players based on what the players are asked (and not asked) to do.
Last season for Ohio State, Fields (who scored a rushing touchdowns and completed the two passes he was allowed to attempt) completed 52 of 77 passes of 10 or more air yards for 1,220 yards, 1,053 air yards, 12 touchdowns, and four interceptions.
But that’s in college, you say? Okay, let’s look at the preseason. That’s where Fields completed four of eight passes of 20 or more air yards for 104 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Yes, he did it against preseason defenses, but he also did it without any first-team teammates until the preseason finale against the Titans. As for Dalton this preseason, he completed one of three deep passes for a 73-yard touchdown, and one interception.
And under pressure, Dalton completed three of seven passes in the preseason for 21 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, no scrambles, and a passer rating of 50.3. Fields completed 13 of 18 passes under pressure for 133 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, eight scrambles, 11 first downs to Dalton’s no first downs, and a passer rating of 111.6.
Head coach Matt Nagy’s response to the Rams’ proposed pressure concepts, and Dalton’s limitations against them was not to bring in Fields. It was to neuter his own passing game from the start.
Andy Dalton averaged a 2.10-second time to throw in the first half, 4th-fastest by a QB in a game since 2019 (min. 14 attempts).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 13, 2021
The idea was supposed to be that Dalton, while far more physically limited than Fields, would give the offense a level of consistency while the defense played at a high level, and that would give the Bears a strong start. The problem with that theory — besides the fact that Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford blew Chicago’s defense apart — is that this is not who Dalton has ever been. He’s been physically unimpressive throughout his career, but there’s an automatic shelving to such quarterbacks into the “game manager” category, and Dalton has been problematic in enough key situations to take him off the list. He’s more Ryan Fitzpatrick than Alex Smith.
For the best NFL odds: https://t.co/a3YpVpv1Gq
— SBR Sports Picks (@SBRSportsPicks) September 13, 2021
“I was going to [Bears WR Darnell] Mooney on that one ,and unfortunately it got tipped, and when balls get tipped in this league, they more times than not end up in the other team’s hands. And so unfortunately it happened. It was a really good drive for us. I thought we kind of set the tone early with how we were wanting to play. But, unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish that one.”
This interception came one play after a nine-yard completion from Fields to Marquise Goodwin, after which Fields was taken back out. There seemed no rhyme or reason to the quarterback switches, unlike what Kyle Shanahan is doing with veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance. It’s as if Nagy watched the 49ers’ preseason finale against the Raiders, thought, “Oh, that’s cool,” and decided to get tricky.
“It was hard to tell if we knew exactly how many snaps he was going to get, but again, once you get behind, like we did, and you get back a few scores, that’s when you get more into the two-minute mode,” Nagy said after the game regarding Fields’ lack of reps. “That’s probably why there was a little bit less. But who knows? I think that for him, the times that he got in there, that he did well, it being his first game. Andy did a good job to help and extend some of those drives and us going through that whole deal of how it’s going to go. We’ll continue to keep growing with that stuff and see what we want to do with that.
“In the end, and again, I go back to that touchdown run, Justin did a great job and early in the game on the first throw, too. So, the film, going back and just watching the film in general, regardless of Justin or Andy, just in general and see where we were. I thought we got the run game going pretty good, which was good, but we’ve got to use this to grow and we got to stay positive.”
JUSTIN FIELDS RUSHING TOUCHDOWN ‼️ #DaBears
— NFL (@NFL) September 13, 2021
The rushing touchdown was something Dalton couldn’t do. The ability to get out of the pocket and make deep throws under pressure is something Dalton doesn’t have. Raise your hand if you think Dalton could make a throw like this Fields did to tight end Jesper Horsted against the Titans.
Fields into a tight window for SIX. @justnfields
— NFL (@NFL) August 29, 2021
Under pressure, boot right, into traffic, dime. That’s what you need at the position; not a bunch of four-yard outs when you’re down by 20 points.
And if you’re going to change your offense because your opponent is raining footballs all over your defense… well, doesn’t it behoove you to replace the quarterback with no explosive play potential with the quarterback who may make a few mistakes, but who can also tilt the field?
If we believe tat Nagy is tanking his own offense because of a promise he made Dalton back when he had no clue his team would be able to select Fields, that’s an adherence to a policy that does not work, and should not happen. Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots’ starter in 2001 until he was hurt and replaced by Tom Brady. Matt Flynn believed he would be the Seahawks’ starter in 2012 after signing a nice contract until a rookie named Russell Wilson got his vice grips on the starting gig and wouldn’t let go.
It’s past time for Nagy to reverse his thought process and name Justin Fields his starter from now on. And if he doesn’t, it won’t be long before Nagy is replaced by someone who invariably will. Because there is no way in which Andy Dalton gives the Bears a better chance to win.