The Chicago Bears offensive meltdown was something the likes of which has only been outdone by one performance once this century. In rookie quarterback Justin Fields‘ first start he looked every bit as “not ready” as Head Coach Matt Nagy claimed. And the coach seemed every bit as intent on (and content with) letting that play out in real-time.
Fields completed just 6-of-20 passes for 68 yards, was sacked nine times, and hit a ton more. It ties the mark set back in 2010 when the New York Giants massacred Jay Cutler. Chicago, after a week’s worth of practice with Fields as a starter, finished with one net yard.
Matt Nagy under heavy fire after Bears offensive meltdown in Justin Fields’ first start
The magnitude of this loss is yet to be determined. It’s just one game on the (tough) schedule. But we know what kind of effect these kinds of performances can have on young quarterbacks. Perhaps most famously, 2002 first-overall pick David Carr. He was almost literally broken taking 76 sacks as a rookie, still an NFL record.
We probably shouldn’t expect it to get that bad. But it definitely won’t be much better and everyone had a hand in it on Sunday.
It Starts Up Top
Nagy said early in his postgame presser that he needs to do a better job of getting the offense prepared this week. This after asserting the game plan with Fields would look different and better after of week of practice. And, despite how it all felt after the end of the game, they did have a somewhat encouraging start.
The Bears did manufacture three points on their first drive of the game. But, after receiving the ball on their 47-yard line, they could only muster 24 yards for the 47-yard make by Cairo Santos.
Under the microscope should be the weakside toss to David Montgomery on third-and-short that forced the Bears to kick.
Chicago’s game plan failed to get its rookie quarterback on the move until late in the game. Even those might have been more on Fields breaking the pocket than actual design. But their “attack” called for Fields to stand in the pocket behind a porous offensive line.
It also called for leaving the very questionable tackles on an island against a talented pass rush that had underperformed. Browns EDGE Myles Garrett had a career-high four on Sunday.
Some very disparaging numbers highlight just how bad things have been offensively under Nagy.
Sunday marked the fourth time in the last three years the Bears failed to score at least seven points and the first since 2019. That’s not that bad truth be told. But it was also their 20th game with fewer than 20 points with only three of those games coming in 2018. Six of them came last season and already two this season.
The Bears averaged 1.1 yards per play vs the Browns, the 2nd-fewest by any team in a game this century. pic.twitter.com/0oo2rvU99i
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) September 26, 2021
On the Line
Jason Peters enjoyed a solid bounceback in his second regular-season game as the Bears left tackle. Germain Ifedi has gotten acknowledged for not falling on his face as many predicted. That all changed on Sunday as Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney worked the duo consistently all afternoon.
There is something to be said for their being able to protect Dalton, whom they know where he will be, as opposed to Fields who is always a threat to run.
There weren’t many sacks he ran into against Cleveland, though.
Fields simply didn’t have time as a Browns front that had three sacks coming in finally got uncorked. But perhaps more concerning than the abhorrent pass protection was the lack of a push in the run game.
After rushing for 108 yards in the opener, Montgomery has run for 61 yards on 20 carries in the win against the Cincinnati Bengals and, now, 34 yards on 10 totes. Fields added 12 yards on three carries as, as a whole, the offense netted one yard. We’ve already talked of the scheme woes and will get to the quarterback. But the line can make a lot of things easier by blocking.
That is on Ryan Pace for putting the pieces in place. But the interior of the offensive line, generally accepted as the “strength” of the unit, was blown off of the ball in this one too.
Sam Mustipher has quickly lost a lot of support among the fanbase after looking overmatched at the point of attack while both Cody Whitehair and James Daniels have been inconsistent. We could see more days like this one if Juan Castillo can’t get these guys back in order.
Fields received no help from his head coach nor his offensive line. But that does not absolve the rookie from some of the indecisiveness that cropped up during Sunday’s beating. Questions about his processing speed and elongated delivery showed up again.
Fields had several plays where he tried to extend and wound up taking a sack instead of throwing the ball away. He also found the back of more than one linemen’s head with passes. There were also a few plays where he seemed to be waiting to “see it” first.
One thing that was probably underappreciated about Andy Dalton’s starts was that he got the ball out quickly. That was as much out of necessity as it was effectiveness.
The rookie isn’t at that level to identify the open man (when there is one) yet.
By staying in the pocket, either by coach’s orders or self-preservation, Fields became a sitting duck trying to read complicated NFL defenses designed to confuse him, a point Garrett made after the game.
Most didn’t want to believe Nagy when he insisted Fields wasn’t ready and didn’t give the Bears the best option to win over Dalton. His track record warrants skepticism. It also didn’t help when all of the quotes about the former Ohio State Buckeye from teammates were glowing with praise.
We heard about how he does something special in almost every practice. And that he brings the “wow” plays. We didn’t see any of it on Sunday.
As the quarterback, despite opinions of the coach and offensive line, Fields has to be better and shoulder some blame for Sunday. How much may be debatable. But no passer ever fully escapes blame.
There was a question posed before the game, “Fields is good. But is he good enough to overcome Matt Nagy”.
We still don’t have that answer.
Many took a pair of soundbites from Fields(one from the preseason and one from last week) and saw this week as proof positive he is out over his skis.
After his start in the third preseason game, Fields said the speed of the game wasn’t any worse than college. It was about the moment but many felt he wasn’t giving proper credit to NFL defenses when they game plan for you, something they do not do in the preseason.
Then, after coming in for an injured Dalton last week, he vowed to be 100 percent better after a week of practice, echoing the sentiments of his coach.
Neither comment was inflammatory and Fields has come to Dalton’s support during times of struggle in the young season. He also said that he wasn’t necessarily proud of his performance in relief of Dalton. But he gets to see first-hand how brutal playing quarterback in the NFL can be. That is especially true in a city like Chicago.
One thing that needs to get as much attention as possible is how well the defense played. Up until the fourth quarter, at least. Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack looked good but keep an eye on the latter’s sprained foot that took him out for parts of this game.
Second-year corner Jaylon Johnson also continues to improve and did well against Odell Beckham Jr. who was playing in his first game since Week 7 of last season. The stud receiver was able to get open some but Johnson made his life difficult.
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