It took an injury to Andy Dalton for Bears fans to finally understand why he had been playing while Justin Fields sat.
Some probably still don't get it, but the numbers don't lie.
Fields' struggles in the passing game against Cincinnati in a 20-17 Bears win were exacerbated by some bad breaks like Darnell Mooney having a long catch go off his hands. Still, when Allen Robinson emerges from a game with only two catches for 24 yards and Jalen Ramsey is in Indianapolis, it's obvious something has gone wrong with the passing.
Coach Matt Nagy admitted to dumbing things down so Fields could be more effective.
"When you get out there in this situation and you're the backup quarterback and you don't have all those practice reps and you get thrown in the mix, the last thing you want to do to that guy is make him start thinking about how to call formation, motion, shift," Nagy said. "You want him to be able to play fast. We had to adjust a little bit because of the situation of coming in like he did. That's all part of it."
Did they over-adjust?
At least they've removed all the mystery about when Fields will b?e playing more. The next step is when he starts, and that could be Sunday.
The other limitation is the offensive line, which is still trying to pull together.
However, the Bears did enough in this one on defense to show they could be at a level close to 2018 if not overburdened by their own offense.
They'll only get stronger as Eddie Goldman heals and suspended right defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. come back into the picture as soon as next week.
Week 2 Grades:
Running Game: C-
The 123-yard rushing total looks respectable and Matt Nagy even made good on the promise to get David Montgomery 20 carries, but the run game should do better against Cincinnati's defense. They got only 67 yards rushing from the running backs and 56 came from quarterback runs, mostly scrambles. The biggest run of the game might have been Justin Fields' run for a first down. The line's run blocking was a disappointment any way you look at it but some gutsy running by Fields and Montgomery during the four-minute drill let the running attack save face.
Passing Game: D
Andy Dalton had the potential for a strong game until his injury, but the Bears still have not pass completions on the year beyond 21 yards and that one was thrown by Justin Fields. Switching quarterbacks is always disruptive, particularly when one of the passers is a rookie who has five snaps to his credit. The problem was both Fields this week and Dalton last week threw interceptions when they would have been better off just throwing away the ball. No tight end receptions this week and Decision making is the key. You don't win many games in the NFL when your passing game accounts for 116 yards and your running backs for 67 rushing. When your passing game accounts for 3.1 yards per attempt, it's sometimes right before the offensive coordinator gets a pink slip. One thing the Bears always had were sure-handed receivers in Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney but now it appears even their skills have been diminished.
Run Defense: A-
Holding Joe Mixon to 3.5 yards an attempt, 69 total yards fell right in line with the defensive effort last week when they held the Rams runners in check. Even without Eddie Goldman, the defensive front has been difficult to move out. Roquan Smith again a force against the run and pass, had eight tackles, while end Bilal Nichols stepped up with four tackles, including one for loss.
Pass Defense: A-
The third-down conversion rate was too high at 50% (6 of 12) and slot cornerback Duke Shelley still seems questionable, but was more effective than Marqui Christian last week at avoiding big plays. Again Eddie Jackson's tackling deep in the secondary had to be questioned as it again resulted in an opposing TD, but the Bears were tight in coverage on the one fourth down they stopped and no one can ever complain about three interceptions in a game. When an NFL team is held to 207 gross passing yards, the defense has done its job. The pass rush of Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn was definitely felt in this one as both broke into the sack column. And even though Jackson had one poor tackle attempt deep, he did pull a Peanut Tillman and strip the ball for Tashaun Gipson to get for a fumble recovery after a completion.
Special Teams: A
A stat that had to warm the heart of special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was the Bengals started five times from their 20-yard line or worse, including the 9, 7 and 8 in the first half. And each of those came after either a kickoff or punt. The Bears lengthened the field on special teams to back their defense in a real show of complementary football. Now if they can only get the offense involved in that. Cairo Santos now at 29 straight, a Bears record for consecutive field goals.
Everything Matt Nagy said about Sean Desai in preseason proved true in this one as he came up with ways of having defensive players in position to make plays, particularly along the front and linebacker. They mixed up the personnel and even had Mack and Quinn beside each other in the rush to really confuse Joe Burrow and his blockers. Offensively, the plan for using Fields when Dalton was still healthy was far too disruptive. Dalton had momentum going and was working well in a rhythm with receivers, and then he was pulled for Fields. They need to be better in tune with when the offense is actually clicking when they decide to use him. It might be a moot point now because they might have to use him. They also needed more rollout or bootleg action out of a formation Nagy doesn't like, the "I," once Fields was in there so he could read only half the field. He isn't Mitchell Trubisky, but he definitely isn't a polished product yet when it comes to reading defenses and helping his reads helps the offense.
If they had maintained their 17-point or 10-point leads this could have been counted as proof they can move ahead with some degree of optimism to Cleveland next week. Letting the Bengals make it close only proved how close the Bears are to the middle of the NFL pack. The good teams put the game away and keep it locked away.