This piece examines if we can quantify how much the offense around him may have hurt Fields’ production.
My initial idea was to look at Andy Dalton’s stats in Chicago compared to his previous seasons. Dalton has been on three different teams over the last three years – Cincinnati in 2019, Dallas in 2020, and Chicago in 2021 – so if his performance took a drastic drop in 2021 compared to the previous stops, that would be supporting evidence for the theory that Fields was hurt by the offense around him.
The table below examines Dalton’s efficiency (blue) and playing style (orange) across his last three seasons. Deep throw % is from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, while all other playing style stats are from Next Gen Stats.
As you can see, there doesn’t actually appear to be much of a change across seasons. Dalton’s sack rate rose a little in Chicago, but he also held the ball a little longer. Besides that, he was pretty much the same bad quarterback in all three years. You can argue Dalton had a similarly bad supporting cast in Cincinnati in 2019, but he played in a really good Dallas offense in 2020, and there is no evidence that going from that to Chicago hindered his performance.
Of course, you could make the claim that Dalton is simply a bad QB, and that doesn’t change no matter how good or bad the offense is around him. But that doesn’t help us if we are trying to identify how (or how much) the supporting cast impacted Fields in 2021.
On the surface, it’s reasonable to think that Fields’ stats took a hit due to factors that are outside of his control. Consider the following:
- Two different sources said the Bears were able to get WRs open at the lowest rate of any team in the NFL.
- Related to that, there were plenty of complaints about the offensive scheme and play calling, which features a comically high rate of hitch routes for WRs, and, as we saw earlier this series, not as much play action as was warranted considering how well Fields did on play action.
- Somebody attempting to quantify how much help a QB received ranked Fields 28th of 32 NFL QBs, meaning only 4 other QBs got less help from the rest of their offense than Fields did as a rookie.
Clearly, it’s fair to say that Fields wasn’t operating in ideal circumstances as a rookie, but how much did that actually hurt his performance? I want to briefly look at three specific areas where Fields appeared to be impacted more than Dalton.