Fields in Focus Part VI: Offensive Hindrance

| February 21st, 2022

This piece examines if we can quantify how much the offense around him may have hurt Fields’ production.

Dalton Dropoff

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.

Anecdotal Evidence

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:

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.

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Dannehy: Bears Offense Closer Than You Think

| December 15th, 2021

Stop if you’ve heard this before, but the Chicago Bears are good quarterback play away from having a really good offense.

As thoughts of sweeping changes in Halas Hall flood the minds of Chicago Bears fans, the reality is that the offense isn’t as far away from being good as most think. The season totals probably aren’t even as dreadful as they look; they’d be 22nd in yards per game without their 47-yard performance. That game was a part of a five-week clunk fest in which the Bears didn’t do a heck of a lot well on offense.

But we have seen some considerable progress since.

In Fields’ last four games, the Bears have averaged 36.4 yards per drive. That mark would be tied for the sixth-best in the entire league. They have also averaged two points per drive, a mark that would be tied for 20th.

Not great, but certainly not as awful as some have reported.

There’s more to this though, with Andy Dalton at quarterback, the Bears have averaged 40.6 yards per drive — a mark that would be the best in the league — and 1.98 points per drive, 21st. Since Halloween, the Bears offense is 16th in EPA per play.

What this tells us is that when the Bears have had adequate quarterback and offensive line play — which they mostly have since Halloween — they’ve moved the ball. But the quarterbacks need to take better care of the football if the team is going to score more points.

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Dannehy: Switch to Dalton Would Put More Pressure On Nagy

| October 6th, 2021

If Matt Nagy switches back to Andy Dalton, it would be a move for the present.

It would place an enormous amount of pressure on Nagy to win games right now, this season.

It would put his job in even more jeopardy than it already has been.

While fans always expect victories, fairly or not, no matter who is under center, the organization paying $10 million to the veteran quarterback certainly would expect results should the coach choose to play that veteran over the future.

If Nagy were to stick with Justin Fields, he could spin 2021 as a rebuilding year. He’d be able to tell ownership they are focusing on the long-term future of the club and that teams don’t typically have success with rookie quarterbacks. (The data on that would overwhelmingly support his argument.) Nagy could even point to last week’s game plan, with the Bears dropping back to pass on just 37.5 percent of their plays, to show the rookie is learning on the fly.

With Dalton, though, there is going to be an expectation that they run an actual, competent NFL offense. And doing so got a lot more difficult last week when David Montgomery had to be helped to the sidelines. It could be said that the Bears need a more accomplished passer without Montgomery and Dalton has completed 73.5 percent of his passes to Fields’ 48.1 percent, with a passer rating 30 points higher. The quick passing game that Dalton executes so well (and Fields not at all) could now be the key to any short-term success.

But as we have seen throughout Dalton’s career, he needs almost as much help to succeed as rookies. If they can’t run the ball well, it doesn’t really matter if Dalton throws a four-yard pass on third-and-10 or if Fields takes a sack.

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Dannehy: The Curious Case of Matt Nagy

| September 29th, 2021

After three weeks of the season, two things are unquestionably true:

  • Matt Nagy installed an unforgivable game plan against Cleveland and was not able to fix it.
  • Matt Nagy was right in that Andy Dalton should be the starting quarterback.

Sunday’s game was among the worst we’ve seen. The backlash against Nagy has been every bit as bad. And that’s fair. There is no excuse for managing just 47 yards and one net passing yard in a league where every single rule change is engineered for more passing, more yards, more points. It’s hard to figure out Sunday is even possible. But is it possible. It happened. And the blame has to be tossed on Nagy’s lap.

But does this season warrant a second look?

The Bears offense is close to the bottom of the league pretty much across the board, but it didn’t start that way. While few are willing to accept that Justin Fields really just may not have been ready, it’s hard to find another legitimate explanation. When Dalton quarterbacked the team, the offense was nothing short of competent. In the 11 drives Dalton served as the primary quarterback, the Bears averaged 43.1 yards, that mark would be good enough for fourth best in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

Yes, you read that right.

The common rebuttal to that is that the team didn’t score enough. And that’s true, their 1.91 points per drive would be just 24th in the league – almost equal with Tennessee.

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ATM: Would Justin Fields Be Able to Save Mistake-Laden Bears Offense? Doubtful.

| September 15th, 2021

As different as the Chicago Bears offense looked on Sunday night, familiar mistakes and a suddenly leaky defense opened the question on if we should even want Justin Fields to deal with this mess.

The Bears did a lot of things differently and were even good in some aspects. This wasn’t the same as the group that struggled to get past midfield against the Rams a year ago. They actually moved the ball well until it was a two-score game late in the fourth quarter. The running game was exceptional and Andy Dalton was able to find open receivers underneath to keep the chains moving. The veteran quarterback even showed some mobility, running on one first down and scrambling before throwing for another.

The Bears gained 40 more yards than the Rams allowed on a per game basis last year.

Matt Nagy has, in the past, been killed for his unwillingness to be aggressive on fourth downs, but we saw four attempts during this game. Had any of them been successful, the stat nerds would’ve rejoiced.

But they weren’t.

And the same flaws that have killed the offense for four years were still there.

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Week One Game Preview, Volume II: Nagy, Dalton, LA Movies & Predictions!

| September 10th, 2021

Yesterday was the breakdown of what the Bears must do to beat the Rams, a team superior to them at almost every facet of the game. The Bears don’t run it better. The Bears don’t throw it better. The Bears don’t stop the run better. The Bears don’t stop the pass better. The 2020 Bears were better in the return game but their kick returner has left town. It is not difficult, at all, to see why the Bears are opening as more than a touchdown underdog on the road.

But hope is not lost.

Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

But they’re testing me right now. And I’m failing.

Big Night For Nagy, Dalton

To paraphrase the great Hyman Roth, “This is the life they’ve chosen.”

By not giving Justin Fields even so much as the opportunity to win the starting job, Nagy has effectively forced the NBC cameras to cut to Fields with every three-and-out, every Dalton blunder, every quarter that goes by with the offense flailing. No, this group shouldn’t be expected to flourish against unquestionably one of the league’s best defenses, but that doesn’t matter.

Because every time Dalton gets sacked, fans will wonder if Fields could have avoided it.

Every time Dalton checks down, fans will wonder if Fields could have extended the play a few seconds with his mobility and made a big gain down the field.

Every time Dalton throws a ball into the fourth row, fans will wonder if Fields could have used that 4.4 speed to race by the sticks and extend the drive.

Matt Nagy and Andy Dalton don’t need to win Sunday night. But they need a tight, clean performance. They need to look like this offense is heading the right direction. Because the eyes of the football world will be upon them.

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Predictions & Projections for the 2021 Chicago Bears

| September 7th, 2021

No reason to bury the lede.

If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.


What Would Starting Fields Do?

This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.

With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.

Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.

And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.

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ATM: More Explosive Roster Should Help Nagy’s Vision

| September 1st, 2021

Matt Nagy likes to talk a lot without saying anything.

When asked last week why he was optimistic, his answer centered on the fact that more players understand their roles, having been in his system for longer. As expected, that response was universally panned because fans see more immediate results elsewhere.

But there was a second part of his answer.

After rambling about experience he added “When you have that and you have a guy like Andy (Dalton) and these quarterbacks that come in and understand it, that’s where it gives me confidence.”

Ah, yes. The most important position in sports does, in fact, matter. The truth is there is reason to believe the team’s offense will be better largely because the personnel fits what we believe he wants to do.

Nobody is going to tell you that Dalton is the savior. (Fields may be in time.) But Dalton can do things that previous quarterbacks simply couldn’t; most notably, he can throw the ball down the field with accuracy.

Keep in mind, Dalton isn’t a great downfield passer, but he’s better than what’s been here, according to Pro-Football-Reference.

  • Since 2018, Dalton has 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on passes 15 yards or more down the field, with a passer rating of 77.3.
  • In the same span, Mitch Trubisky had 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a rating of 63.2.
  • Nick Foles had seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a rating of 56.

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Six Final Thoughts on 2021 Training Camp

| August 27th, 2021

Camp is over. Here are some big picture thoughts.

(1) Listen, the quarterbacks were always gonna be the main characters but who could imagine the story would come directly from The Twilight Zone. Justin Fields was never given an opportunity to be the starting quarterback. The game was rigged, Nagy chose Andy Dalton from the start, and the Bears will begin the season irrelevant. When will Fields play? No one knows.

(2) The actual offensive line FINALLY got on the field. There was so much hemming and hawing about poor OL play in the early weeks of camp but the Bears rarely had more than two of their starters available. Amazing that it took until the final days (and the signing of Jason Peters) to get their starting five on the field at the same time. How will they perform as a unit? One of the sport’s best defensive fronts will let us know on the evening of September 12th.

(3) Few roster surprises. This camp was pretty dull when it comes to position battles, roster spots…etc. The Bears seemed to have their minds made up in July (Kindle Vildor was placed with the ones and left there) and little that happened on the practice field or in preseason games changed them.

(4) Alec Ogletree turned up one day and couldn’t stop intercepting the football. That production – and his energy – translated to his preseason debut, where Ogletree cemented his spot on the final 53-man roster. Don’t be surprised if he’s playing a major role in the middle of the defense this season.

(5) Matt Nagy said a lot of dumb things. Signing Peters had nothing to do with Teven Jenkins’ injury? It takes four years for your offense to produce in the NFL? Nagy’s inability to (a) tell the truth and (b) own his early-career failures did not win over a fanbase that already wants him to be sent packing at year’s end.

(6) They are healthy. Teven Jenkins won’t be a factor this season. Tarik Cohen is likely to take until November to find his legs. But, for the most part, the Bears will enter the 2021 season with their roster intact.

Note: I had penned an Is There Any Reason to Watch… column about the final preseason game but with Tennessee now facing a serious Covid outbreak, that game may not even happen. (The Bears would be crazy to take on that risk for a practice game.)  If it happens, enjoy the Riley Ridley drops!

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