It’s a long-held courtesy that you shouldn’t cheer for injuries. This hasn’t always been held up, as anyone in Philadelphia knows. But in general, fans don’t applaud when players leave the field hobbling, even if it ends in a conclusion they most definitely want. Especially when it’s a player on their team.
It could have been a poisonous atmosphere at Soldier Field yesterday afternoon. You won’t find a single Bears fan who wants Andy Dalton starting over Justin Fields. And the fact that the Bears just kind of dangled Fields in front of fans for a handful of plays in Week 1, and promised to do so again in Week 2, could have made things much worse. You don’t wave a slice of pizza in front of a starving person, let them have some of the grease drip onto their tongue, and then sentence them back to the sawdust they’ve been eating their entire life without a fair amount of rancor coming back the other way. Bears fans have waited generations for a Justin Fields. Scores of Bears fans went their entire lives and spun off their mortal coil never seeing plus play from their quarterback. This is salvation, not just for fans now, but for their entire lineage.
Surprisingly, Dalton didn’t actually let it get that chaotically raucous, with a beautifully executed opening drive for a touchdown, something that happens to the Bears once an election cycle. While fans came for Fields, or to beg for Fields, or to boo for Fields, it’s hard to complain when the Bears are up 7-0 one beer in.
So it made for a pretty awkward sound when Dalton stayed on the sideline after a scramble, clearly hobbling to the tent of sadness. The outcome is what fans have wanted since draft night, Fields taking over full-time, and yet it came in a scenario that didn’t allow for anyone to let it out. You could sense everyone kind of cheering within themselves out of shocking politeness, but to a point where you thought a good portion of the stadium might burst from the tension.
This isn’t what Matt Nagy had said he wanted, as he would have preferred to push Fields’ full unveiling as long as he could. And the evidence on Sunday was clearly pointing to why. And that’s because Matt Nagy doesn’t know what to do with Fields.
While Nagy will claim that the game plan all week was to have Dalton starting but with a smattering of Fields plays, it shouldn’t be that big of a gear change. The coaching staff has known that at some point Fields will be starting (even agitating for it), and there has to be a section of the playbook engineered for his skills. At least you’d hope.
It certainly didn’t look like that Sunday, though. Did Nagy ever roll Fields out of the pocket to cut down on his reads and get him in more space? Nope. Designed runs? None of those either. Even on one red zone trip, Nagy didn’t make things easy for Fields. There’s only one thing Jimmy Graham can do. He gets paid ridiculously handsomely for it, and that’s just posting up defensive backs in the endzone. Get him isolated, throw the ball above his head, and it’s still pretty close to automatic. Nagy couldn’t find that page in the book though, and the Bears had to settle for a field goal that made the game awfully interesting late.
Fields made his own mistakes, with a couple of his own false starts and a remedial interception in the 4th. He also missed out on some crucial help, with a drop from Allen Robinson in the end zone on a pass that quite simply made me weep at all that I’ve missed in life, and a soft-as-baby-shit call on Cole Kmet that was another big gainer. But still, the biggest culprit is Nagy himself, and his lack of being able to see what’s right in front of him.
Bears fans have lived with this knowledge for the past two seasons. Mitch Trubisky was hardly a stud, and perhaps at his absolute ceiling he was “functional.” But we know what he did well, which was being on the move, outside the pocket, and only having to read half the field. But that didn’t fit Nagy’s vision of his offense, so he stuck Mitch in the pocket constantly, which was like putting a monkey at the helm of a submarine. When that didn’t work, Nagy insisted he needed a pocket passer in Nick Foles, who could run the vision of Nagy’s offense that only Nagy could see. Except Foles couldn’t move at all, the offensive line sucked, Foles told Nagy as much, and they went away from that too.
We still have no idea what Nagy’s offense is supposed to look like. It’s just stuff that happens. It doesn’t seem to have a consistent strength, focal point, attack, or attempt to uncover any sort of weakness in a given defense. It’s this. When the offense does offer a flash of effectiveness, like David Montgomery running from actual designed runs instead of option-reads in the shotgun, Nagy goes away from it without explanation. And often Nagy himself doesn’t know why, saying postgame “we’ll have to get back to that,” even though he’s in charge.
Today’s postmortem wasn’t any better:
Nagy knows that once Fields takes over full-time, which will likely happen as soon as this week, it will be clear the emperor has no clothes. Nagy can guise it in espionage and mystery and cleverness, but we’ve seen too much. Once Fields is in, and the offense sputters and still looks unimaginative and ineffective, there’s nothing left. He can’t blame a limited QB. Maybe he could blame a shoddy line, but he also doesn’t plan around a shoddy line and hasn’t in the past. The possibilities should be limitless with Fields. But instead of embracing that potential, Nagy is terrified of it. And when he doesn’t have answers for those questions, as he hasn’t since Cody Parkey broke his brain in January of 2019, he’ll be out of a job.
Clock starts ticking Sunday.