LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy officially switched starting quarterbacks when he announced Wednesday that rookie Justin Fields is the club’s starter moving forward, regardless of Andy Dalton’s (knee) health status.
Nagy emphasized that the Bears won’t turn back to Dalton, barring injury, telling gathered media, “This is Justin’s time.”
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Fields, who started Weeks 3 and 4 due to Dalton’s injury, will again lead the Bears’ offense when they visit the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET on CBS). Here are five reasons Nagy and the Bears decided to make the move to the former Ohio State standout:
1. The Bears moved up to get him
Once the Bears traded up nine spots to take Fields in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, it became inevitable that he would eventually be Chicago’s full-time starting quarterback. Teams had traded up in the first round — or into the first round — to draft a quarterback 19 times from 2002 to 2020. It happened seven times from 2017 to 2020, with teams taking the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen (and Mitchell Trubisky). Heard of them?
Fields is the future. Everyone at Bears headquarters knew it the moment Fields stepped into the building for the first time. It was only a matter of time before Fields leapfrogged Dalton on the depth chart.
2. Dalton’s knee injury
The moment Dalton suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in the second quarter of the Bears’ Sept. 19 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, it was over for the veteran quarterback, despite Nagy telling reporters Dalton would remain the starter when healthy. It’s not as if the Bears needed much incentive to go with Fields, who already had played snaps against the Los Angeles Rams and Bengals prior to Dalton’s injury in Week 2. Dalton’s knee issue opened the door for Fields, and the Bears never really looked back, even after Fields posted a QBR of 8.4 in his starting debut against the Cleveland Browns the following week.
3. Big-play potential
Fields put up modest numbers (11-of-17 for 209 yards and one interception) in Sunday’s 24-14 win over the Detroit Lions, but five of Fields’ completions went for 20-plus yards. Fields hit wide receiver Darnell Mooney downfield for gains of 64 and 32 yards. That’s a huge deal for a Bears offense that had lacked explosive-play potential.
Of Dalton’s 49 attempted passes this season, none traveled 20 or more air yards, making him the only quarterback with 40 or more passes this season who hasn’t thrown deep, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Fields, on the other hand, is 5-of-8 when throwing 20 or more air yards this season, including 4-of-5 in Week 4 against the Lions. In all, 15% of his throws have been 20 or more air yards, which is the fifth-highest mark of 34 quarterbacks with at least 40 attempts.
Simply put, with Fields, the Bears are a threat to throw deep.
4. He can run
Fields has elite speed and is a threat every time he scrambles out of the pocket. Dalton does not have that trait. Especially now with running back David Montgomery out for several weeks with a sprained knee, the Bears need a threat to run the football. Fields provides that. How fast is he? Fields reached a maximum speed of 20.39 miles per hour as a ball carrier in his preseason debut, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. At the time, that was the fastest speed reached by any Bears rusher since 2020.
The Bears also did a better job of playing to Fields’ strengths against the Lions, when new playcaller Bill Lazor ramped up the offense’s play-action usage and put Fields under center more than in previous games. The Bears hope the increased use of Fields’ mobility will continue with Lazor at the controls.
5. It’s what the city wanted
The public anger at Nagy’s indecision at quarterback prior to Wednesday was intense. The fans wanted Fields, and have from Day 1. The thought of going back to Dalton was unbearable (pardon the expression) to the majority of fans in Chicago. Bears fans haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman retired more than 70 years ago. Many believe Fields can be a legitimate franchise passer. The fan base could not wait any longer. Can you blame them?