Bears Must Shift Emphasis from Winning Games in 2021 to Preparing Justin Fields for 2022.

| October 19th, 2021

Herm Edwards said it best, and for the most part he was right. When you line up to play a football game, the primary objective should be to score more points than the other team. That has certainly been the approach of Matt Nagy, at least offensively, through the early goings of the Justin Fields era at quarterback. The Bears have identified their best approach to winning as play good defense, run the ball consistently, and ask the quarterback to make a play or two at pivotal moments.

But is this the right approach for the Chicago Bears moving forward, especially over the difficult four-game stretch to come? The answer is unequivocally no. And it all comes down to self-evaluation.

Forget the complexity of QBR and DVOA and all the other analytics flooding your Twitter feed. Let’s objectively look at each position group on offense for the Chicago Bears and assign them either a + (plus) or a (minus). Let’s leave quarterback out. Plus means they’re good. Minus means they’re not. Simple.

[Side note: these evaluations are based on current usage and production. I think Damiere Byrd is a good NFL wide receiver but he’s not being used at all so what can you do?]

  • Running backs: +
    • David Montgomery is one of the better backs in the league, Damien Williams is a terrific change of pace option and Khalil Herbert looks every bit an every-down back. (And don’t forget Tarik Cohen is still in the wilderness.) This has turned into as good an RB room as there is in the league.
  • Offensive line: –
    • They are a good run-blocking unit but they’re incapable of protecting the quarterback in obvious passing situations. In this modern NFL, that’s a must.
  • Tight ends: –
    • Cole Kmet finally flashed in the passing game Sunday. But they have Jimmy Graham making $7M to block once every other week. When you factor in the supposed importance of this position in this offense, it’s something of a disaster.
  • Wide Receivers: –
    • Darnell Mooney is going to be a player for years to come. Allen Robinson is ordinary. The rest of the group can be found on practice squads around the league at this production level.

So if you’re Nagy and Bill Lazor, of course you’re going to be run-first, run-always, run-forever. The only two real positives on your offensive roster, around the rookie QB, are the OL’s ability to run block and the backs behind them. But this approach only makes logical sense if the primary objective is to squeeze out as many wins from the 2021 season as possible. And that should no longer be the primary goal. It should never have been the primary goal.

The goal has to be Fields.

They need to get more out of him every week.

They need to ask more of him every week.

And perhaps as importantly, they need to find out which guys on this roster will work with him moving forward. Sure, the Bears lost to the Packers Sunday, but long-term it was almost more important to see Fields and Kmet get into rhythm for the first time. Big plays, down the field. That bodes well for their relationship, and the Bears, moving forward.

Sunday is their best opportunity to ramp up “the Fields ask”. The Bucs allow only 54 rushing yards a game, 20 less than the next best rush defense in the league. They are allowing 280 yards a game through the air, sixth worst in the league. If Nagy and Lazor think they’ll find success adhering to their early-season strategy, they’ll find themselves in a series of third-and-longs and Fields will find himself on the ground, a lot.

Spread them out. Toss it around. Run the offense through the quarterback. Understand that you’ll need 30 to beat the Bucs. (Remember, you play to win the game, right?) And keep doing this when the Niners come to town, and when you head to Pittsburgh, and when Baltimore comes in after the bye. Stop using Fields as a complementary piece to the league’s worst offense and start moving this operation in the direction it must go: with Fields as the centerpiece. Yes, that will come with failures! Fields is bound to have an out-and-out clunker in these next batch of games against good opponents. But let them be his clunkers. Fields won’t let the struggles define him and if he does he was never “the guy” in the first place.

This is not an easy transition to make for Nagy, a coach coaching for his future in Chicago. But if he could take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and see what his roster is, he would understand that a full commitment to Fields is his easiest (and perhaps only) path to returning in 2022.

If the Bears finish the season 7-10 and Fields’ second-half numbers light up the marquee, Nagy will have a convincing argument to make to ownership come mid-January.

But if the team continues to labor at the bottom of the offensive rankings, with Fields throwing 20 times a game, what argument could he possibly make?

The Bears are 3-3. But there offense is an inarguable failure. Why not fail with your most exciting player, and the future of your franchise, leading the charge?

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