The Chicago Bears are back to .500 after their 24-14 victory at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. Granted the victory was against a winless Detroit Lions squad, but the story of the day was rookie quarterback Justin Fields’ performance. All of this coming off the heels of an embarrassing 26-6 loss the week prior in which the offense mustered just 47 yards of total offense.
In some ways, the win felt vindicating for Bears fans and in other ways, it felt like an all too similar script. Despite having a 21 point lead late into the third quarter, the game ended much closer than it felt. Now the tough part of the schedule starts and many are left wondering, is this team good enough to hang in there? Only time will tell but for now, let’s dissect Sunday’s 10-point victory.
1. If there was any worry what type of impact Week 3’s massacre had on Justin Fields’ psyche, rest assured, the kid is going to be just fine.
Last Sunday, fans were left with a feeling of “here we go again.” Not only did head coach Matt Nagy fail to come up with a competent game plan, his rookie quarterback was sacked nine times and they put up just 47 yards of total offense. That’s enough to break any player that isn’t mentally strong enough to handle early adversity.
Instead, Fields came out and looked completely unfazed. Despite throwing the ball just 17 times, the rookie completed 11 passes and had some impressive plays to boot. Fields had five throws through the air that exceeded 20 yards. Although he didn’t finish the game with a touchdown, he threw for 209 yards and averaged (12.3) yards-per-attempt.
This is exactly the type of performance we had all been waiting for. This is who Fields is. He’s a touchdown-to-checkdown quarterback that wants to stretch the field and challenge defenses vertically. Well, mission accomplished.
2. For as impressed with Fields as most were, there’s still plenty to improve upon in the coming months.
All in all, I would give Fields a more-than-passing grade for his overall performance in Week 4. With that being said, he’s still a rookie and he still has warts he’ll need to develop out of.
1. Internal clock
Fields was sacked just one time in Week 4, after being sacked nine times in Week 3. Even so, the rookie’s internal clock still must improve. There were a few moments where he took some hits that blew up plays because he held the ball too long in blitz situations. This will come in time but something that the Bears will have to scheme around for the time being.
2. Protecting the ball
For as impressive as Fields has been at recovering his own fumbles, he needs to be able to feel pressure better and subsequently protect the ball if he takes a hit. This is the second time in two weeks he has fumbled and he also had a pretty tough fumble in the preseason as well.
3. Checking the ball down
While I’m the first one to admit that Fields is a deep shot guy first and a runner second, the rookie needs to add checking the ball down into his mental checklist. Sometimes, he’s too late in recognizing this, which results in broken plays. Again, this will come in time but this will also save him plenty of tougher situations in the future.
All in all I was very impressed with Fields’ follow up performance but these are things to look for, moving forward.
3. Don’t be surprised if Andy Dalton is back as the starting quarterback in Week 5. If so, don’t fret too much just yet.
Nagy has been pretty clear. Dalton is the team’s starting quarterback once he is healthy. Considering we’ve now seen a historically bad offensive performance and one pretty good one, I don’t think Fields has done enough to change their “plan.”
Even if Dalton is healthy enough to play Week 5 and takes the job back, I wouldn’t expect that to last for too long. Why? They feel like Dalton gives them the best chance to win games. They are also about to start a stretch in their schedule where there aren’t too many winnable games on the horizon. So what happens when the quarterback you expect to win you games, doesn’t? You make the switch to the promising rookie and ride it out.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Dalton is terrible, but he’s also not going to consistently challenge defenses down field the same way that Fields can. They have two completely different games, which is why this has made for somewhat of a weird transition over the past few weeks.
Only time will tell if Dalton will be ready for Week 5, but considering he was practicing in a limited capacity last week, I would guess they’ll try to push him more this week to get him back for a key road game against the Las Vegas Raiders this Sunday.
My only advice to Nagy — Don’t start Dalton until he’s 100% ready. Not only is there a risk for re-injury or more severe injury, Dalton’s mobility will surely be compromised behind an offensive line that has been inconsistent at best through the first four weeks of the season.
4. Despite Nagy’s secrecy earlier in the week, it seemed obvious offensive coordinator Bill Lazor would be calling plays on Sunday, and he did just that.
In Nagy’s post-game press conference, he gave Lazor credit for the offensive play calling. Shortly after, he made sure to let everybody know that he’s still controlling the offense and it’s a “collaborative effort”.
I’ll always maintain that Nagy’s ego is far too big for comfort, his actions speak louder than words. The fact that he gave back play calling to Lazor tells me that deep down he knows he just doesn’t have what it takes. It also tells me that Nagy is in full survival mode in terms of saving his job. While I believe it may be too little too late, this can only help the offense moving forward and more importantly, it can only help Fields’ development in 2021.
5. Despite only giving up 14 points, the defense lived on the edge far too much for my liking in Week 4.
If I had to rank the level of offenses the Bears have faced this year, the Lions would be last on that list. Despite that, the Lions moved the ball at will far too often against a Bears defense that has rebounded nicely from a poor Week 1 performance.
On the Lions’ first three offensive drives, they reached the red zone each time. The Bears had a pair of takeaways and a turnover on downs to help keep the game scoreless. Even so, it felt like the Bears defense was more lucky than they were good in Week 4.
A big reason for that? They didn’t do a good job of stopping the run and committed far too many penalties for a veteran unit. With a slew of quality offenses coming up, they’ll need to find away to fix these issues if they want to stay in upcoming games.
6. Trevis Gipson needs more playing time and that needs to start immediately.
Very rarely does preseason production translate to the regular season. Which is why I wasn’t overly surprised that Gipson didn’t see much time in the early going. In his first real opportunity, Gipson impressed with four tackles (two for a loss), a sack and multiple quarterback pressures. I would also guess that upon review, the NFL will credit him with another sack on the Jared Goff strip sack in which he ended up running for six yards late in the fourth quarter. The former fifth-round pick also added a pass breakup to his big day.
Especially with Khalil Mack being limited with his foot injury, Gipson’s involvement in the defensive game plan needs to grow. Whatever he figured out during the preseason has clearly translated over into game-time situations.
7. Speaking of the pass rush, the Bears should once again tally a five-sack game upon further league review.
Once Gipson is properly credited with his strip sack late in the fourth quarter, that would mean the Bears have had five sacks in three consecutive games. That’s pretty impressive considering the expectations moving into the season. It’s even more impressive considering Mack was limited and Akiem Hicks left the game early with a groin injury.
Three players factored in largely on Sunday and our guy Lester Wiltfong did a good job of illustrating that in his tweet.
The #Bears OLB trio of Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Trevis Gipson combined for 9 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks (each player had a sack), 5 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass defended, and 1 fumble recovery.— Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. (@wiltfongjr) October 4, 2021
This will continue to go a long way in covering up a secondary that is still searching for answers at cornerback opposite of Jaylon Johnson.
8. Earlier in the week, I tweeted out that fans need to cool it on the weekly overreactions of these first round rookie quarterbacks...
The complete 180 I’ve seen in terms of Trevor Lawrence last night/today has been incredible.— Aaron Leming (@AaronLemingNFL) October 1, 2021
Really just goes to show that the NFL creates a lot of reactive takes from a week to week basis.
I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again- Don’t judge the rookie QBs too hard in Year 1
I think this is vastly important to keep in mind moving forward. As we’ve seen with Fields, rookie quarterbacks have rollercoasters of rookie seasons. We’ve seen the same with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones (to a lesser extent). At this point, enjoy the ride and just hope we see those “gifts” each quarterback showed in college. It’s also fine to acknowledge that they are nowhere near finished products and Year 2 is just as important for improvement as this year will be.
9. Is it just me or was Week 4 home to a lot of upsets?
As we leave Week 4 and head into the “second quarter” of the year, we can reflect on some of the craziness that happened this past weekend. The Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars are the only two winless teams on the young season.
The three big surprises for me this week?
- The New York Giants somehow beat the New Orleans Saints.
- The New York Jets shocked a disappointing Tennessee Titans team.
- The Arizona Cardinals absolutely dominated the Los Angeles Rams.
As the season moves along, it appears that the cream of crop may not be nearly as dominant as we once thought. This is shaping up to be yet another excellent NFL regular season.
10. The NFC North is shaping up exactly how I thought it would outside of one team...
The Green Bay Packers have quickly proven that Week 1 was an anomaly and they are still one of the better teams in the NFC. Since being blown out on the road against the Saints, they have rattled off three straight wins. With two of those in pretty dominant fashion.
The Bears are middling much like most had expected and the Lions are in for a rough season as they start Year 1 of a pretty intensive rebuild. Neither one of those have been overly surprising thus far.
The team that has picked up where they left off in 2020? The Minnesota Vikings. On paper, they looked improved. Their defense is better and their offense still has plenty of firepower. Yet, they are (1-3) and all of their loses have come by one score. They’ve lost three games by a combined 11 points, including Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns by a 14-7 score.
There’s still time for the Vikings to right the ship but much like the Bears, the Vikings look like they are headed to a regime change at the end of 2021. Six of their next seven games appear to be quite the gauntlet with a combined opponent record of (16-7) in those six games.