Training Camp Diary: Dalton an Essential Piece of the Nagy Evaluation

| August 3rd, 2021

Tweet one. Adam Jahns.

Tweet two. DBB.

There is an eagerness to get Justin Fields on the field. And, as Jeff illustrated, that eagerness seems to be okay with shipping Andy Dalton east. But like it or not, the Chicago Bears need Dalton as much for the future of the franchise as the present. Because developing Fields is the single most important thing the franchise is trying to accomplish right now and making sure he has the right coach is an important part of that. Through three years, we still don’t really know if Matt Nagy can outsmart opposing defensive coordinators. Dalton could help us get that answer.

The numbers aren’t pretty. Through three years:

  • All three years in the bottom twelve, in terms of yardage.
  • Two scoring offenses in the bottom ten.
  • Bottom five in rushing twice.
  • Bottom twelve in passing yardage all three years.

Judging by the numbers alone, one could only conclude that Nagy is a bad offensive coach.

But we know it’s about more than the numbers.

The league told us what it thought of Mitch Trubisky when the best offer he could muster was a league-minimum deal to back up Josh Allen, a player that has started every game the past two years. Trubisky’s individual statistics — and team success — would’ve otherwise been enough to warrant a job in which he could compete to start, or in which the starter is a liability. Trubisky is being paid low-level backup money to play behind one of the game’s best.

But the league is often wrong when it comes to coaches and quarterbacks.

The hope was that Nick Foles would provide us a definitive answer on Nagy last year. Foles’ time as a starter can’t be discussed without also mentioning the constant changes on the offensive line due to injury and COVID-19 protocols. But he was also a statue, taking too many sacks, missing open receivers and throwing into tight coverage. These inconsistencies prevented teams from employing him as a starter. Foles didn’t answer any of the questions surrounding Nagy.

Dalton isn’t great, but that’s not important right now. In Dalton’s first seven seasons with the Bengals, they only once had an offense in the bottom ten in terms of yardage and scoring. Injuries (and horrendous offseason moves) hindered his last three years there, but his worst seasons were still comparable to Nagy’s first three in Chicago. Once Dalton got comfortable after the bye week last year, the Cowboys averaged 27.3 points and 342 yards per game. He is still capable of getting the ball out to the right spot and on time.

We know the Bears have studs in David Montgomery and Allen Robinson and most of the rest of the offensive starters are at least average. We know Dalton can quarterback an adequate offense when the supporting cast is there.

But can Nagy coach such a unit?

Good coaches are often determined by having good quarterbacks (check out Brian Daboll before Josh Allen became good), but the offensive coaches who are actually good find a way to get the job done. Kyle Shanahan may not score a lot with quarterbacks outside of Jimmy Garoppolo, but his teams have been in the top half of the league in terms of yardage all four years and never in the bottom ten in scoring.

If the Bears were to struggle with Justin Fields, Nagy would have an out — rookie quarterbacks and their teams almost always struggle. If Fields is great, maybe that’s all we need to know, but history says don’t bet on that.

Dalton isn’t special. He struggles with decision making, especially on the fly and doesn’t have a great arm. He can read defenses, make enough throws and won’t kill the team with crucial mistakes. The Bears need to find out if they can trust Nagy to put Fields in position to succeed and Dalton will help them do just that.

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