Many Chicago Bears fans have been left to wonder whether or not they are allowed to have nice things in the quarterback department after Sunday’s embarrassing 26-6 loss. In what should have been an exciting game, it quickly turned into a disaster with rookie quarterback Justin Fields being sacked nine times and completing just six of his 20 passes.
While many fans went into the season with low expectations, it’s hard to prepare for such a historically bad offensive showing. The team had less than 50 total yards, which is just the second time it has happened in the modern era. As much as everybody would like to move on and write this one off as only one game, it’s a game that needs more perspective and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
1. Head coach Matt Nagy should be ashamed of himself after that game plan.
Now, this isn’t to say that Fields was somehow without blame because he was not. We’ll get to more of that in a bit. My bigger issue is that the talk all week was about how this entire offense would look different with Fields under center and simply put it didn’t. It looked far worse.
Nagy designed just a handful of moving pockets and more alarming, he failed to adjust in the second half. Fields took nine sacks in the game. While a few may be on him, I would bet the large majority were not. Nagy also failed to get the run game going, having just 10 designed runs the entire game. It’s harder to run the ball during a blowout, but it’s easy to forget this was a relatively close game until the latter part of the third quarter.
Since taking over this offense in 2018, things have just not come to fruition. The Bears have yet to have a top 15 offense and each year, this offense continues to get worse. Again, I know Fields isn’t shielded from criticism in this game, but this may be the most disastrous first start for a rookie I’ve ever seen. A lot of that has to go to Nagy.
2. As critical as some will get this week, how much can we really draw from Fields’ first start?
Brace yourselves, Bears fans. There will be hot takes coming from every angle. Some them will blame Nagy and some them will blame Fields. It’s going to happen and to put it simply- This is not going to be a pleasant week to be a Bears fan.
Even so, how could anyone draw much from this performance? Yes, there were times when Fields needs to be quicker on his reads. There were also a few missed reads or poor throws in general. But when any quarterback gets sacked 9 times, what exactly is he supposed to do?
Maybe in a few weeks, we’ll be able to write this off as an anomaly, but for the time being all we have to go off is his one start. Frankly, there’s just not a lot to evaluate and that’s a shame because Sunday’s game should have been a fun occasion.
3. Once the final bell sounds after Week 18, look back at this game as an important piece of the evaluation process regarding this regime.
Over the last decade, we’ve seen Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox eventually walked out the door for their cluster of poor performances. If there’s one thing the McCaskey family cannot stand, it’s being blown out by rivals in spotlight games. Even so, one would have to wonder how much this type of game will weigh on their minds come January.
George McCaskey talked about needing to see progress. So far, the Bears are (1-2) with two blowout losses to playoff caliber teams. It’s hard to see any sort of “progress” so far, but more importantly, shouldn’t their biggest “progress” come in the way of their rookie quarterback’s development?
Only time will tell how much one game factors in to their final decision at the end of the year. But sending your rookie quarterback out to slaughter in an embarrassing loss may weigh heavier than any loss to the Packers this year.
4. Speaking of coaches, defensive coordinator Sean Desai has done a fantastic job with this defense since Week 1.
If you’ve read any polls or spoke to anyone in league circles, you’ll know that the overall perception of the Bears’ coaching staff isn’t exactly great. Same with Pace. Yet, if there was one true bright spot on Sunday it was their new defensive coordinator. Yes, the same one who looked completely overwhelmed in Week 1.
For the second straight week, his defense played a whale of a game. They had five sacks on the day and came up big on a few fourth downs early in the game. They were the reason this game wasn’t a blowout heading into halftime on Sunday.
The one thing that has become noticeable with Desai is his ability to adjust depending on the situation and his weaknesses in personnel. If the Bears do end up cleaning house, one bright spot could end up being Desai. While it’s still far too early to make any proclamations, so far he’s been the team’s best coach and it’s not even all that close.
5. A few weeks ago, I called upon the Bears high-paid defensive “stars” to step up and they continue to do so
There’s always a caveat to things like this (*cough* *cough* Eddie Jackson), but for the most part, their higher paid players have stepped up over the past few weeks. As I noted coming out of Week 1, the Bears currently have seven defensive players making $2 million or more this season.
For as big of a target for criticism as Robert Quinn was last year, he’s come through in a big way to start the season. He surpassed his 2020 sack total in Week 2 and added another sack and a half on Sunday. Quinn currently leads the team in sacks with four through jut three games. Khalil Mack also had a pair of sacks, despite leaving the game (and later coming back) with a foot injury.
Akiem Hicks has also played extremely well, both as a pass rusher and against the run. Angelo Blackson and Mario Edwards Jr. also factored in the sack department, which is a welcomed sight.
All in all, the Bears defense has really turned things around. Coaching plays a huge part, but don’t discount the re-emergence of their star players too.
6. Speaking of defensive stars, the Bears have two fantastic building blocks in Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson.
There’s a reason I left out two key players on the defensive side of the ball in my last point. It’s simply because they deserve their own recognition. Smith has become one of the best linebackers in the league. Yes, at points he has still left something to be desired in coverage. But as a whole, he has been the team’s most consistent and valuable defender at the second level.
Another player that has ascended quickly? Johnson. I cannot overstate how impressed I have been with Johnson through three weeks of the season. He has been about as “lock down” as one can be without a ton of secondary talent around him. He’s been so impressive that Desai actually had him tailing Odell Beckham Jr. for a good part of the game.
These are two players the Bears absolutely need to step up if this defense is going to continue to be labeled “good” over the next handful of years.
7. Just a week after the offensive line heaped plenty of praise for their play in Week 2, nothing went right in Week 3 and that should be a concern.
Heading into Week 3, Pro Football Focus had both Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi graded out as top-end offensive tackles. That all came crashing down on Sunday against a defensive front that featured Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Garrett had four and a half sacks and Clowney added two to his name as well.
On the interior, the inconsistencies continue. Sam Mustipher continues to be physically overwhelmed. Cody Whitehair is not playing up to the level of his paycheck and James Daniels doesn’t look like a second round pick heading into a contract year.
Outside of the Kansas City Chiefs, there’s only so much you can do in one off-season on the offensive line. Even so, the Bears look like they have plenty of work ahead of them in the coming year to make sure they don’t get Fields seriously injured.
8. Although the animosity for Nagy is justified, don’t forget who built this roster.
It’s hard to believe but the Bears have entered Year 7 of the Ryan Pace era. It has been one that has produced just one winning season and two playoff appearances in that time. The bigger issue for me? This roster has hemorrhaged young talent over the past few years and their cap situation continues to get worse.
All criticism pointed at Nagy are more than fair to this point, but I’d caution you to not forget who ultimately built this roster. We’ve seen it over the past few years and it showed up again on Sunday. There’s a large talent gap between the best teams in the league and the Bears. Outside of their miracle win against the Tampa Buccaneers last year, they’ve been consistently blown out in games against good teams.
That’s a direct reflection on the general manager. Again, I think the hourglass is running low on this regime and Pace has only himself to blame.
9. It’s truly time to adjust expectations for this team moving forward.
It’s normal for optimism to be high heading into a season. It’s also normal for fans to get a renewed sense of optimism after their team’s first win. Even so, it’s very clear this team is much closer to being bad than they are an actual Super Bowl contender.
At least for me, that was apparent in looking at their roster this year. I do believe last year’s playoff appearance severely clouded ownership’s judgement on this roster as well.
Even so, the focus needs to be turned to development. There’s plenty of question marks on this roster, but there’s also some bright spots. Fields is the obvious one, but there’s also Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, Darnell Mooney, Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley and more around this roster that can develop into useable pieces for the future.
Yes, the Bears cap situation will be considerably better in 2022 but that doesn’t mean they can spend freely. With so many holes on the roster, they’ll need development from within to field a competitive team that can challenge for a real playoff spot next year.
10. We’ll end with something positive- Devin Hester being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a matter of when, not if.
I know there’s been plenty of debate whether or not Hester deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame, but let’s be clear — He absolutely does. While I’m not sure he’ll be a first ballot guy, he’s still the best return man in the history of the game. His numbers will never be broken again and he changed the way a lot of teams had to defend the return game. It’s always easy to make cases for guys not to get in but there’s no doubt in my mind Hester will be inducted within the next few years. He was a game changer in his role and that should absolutely be deserving enough to get in soon.