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Best Bears Path Depends on Justin Fields' Hand

Analysis: The Bears have hit a fork in the road and if Matt Nagy swallows his pride again like last year, and is willing to risk playing a rookie quarterback, they could get the team headed in the right direction as they did late last year.

The Bears have reached an early tipping point and Matt Nagy admitted it by telling media on Monday by acknowledging the possibility of change at quarterback and play caller.

Doing what needs to be done this year is a far trickier maneuver than when they found themselves in a similar spot last year.

In one respect, the Bears are better off this year than when the same thing happened last year.

They are only three games into this season and haven't gone on a crippling losing streak.

So, it's easy to see why Matt Nagy picked now to decide on some sort of altered course.

The exact nature of it hasn't been revealed, but when they say who the starting quarterback will be this week against Detroit then the other change should be come apparent.

If Bill Lazor Calls Plays, Then ...

If Nagy is truly giving up the play calling in favor of Bill Lazor, then the first change will be toward an offense more focused on the running game, play-action, bootlegs and maximum pass protection at times.

In short, they'd go for a repeat of what they did with Mitchell Trubisky last year. They won straight games this way, albeit against three of the league's worst defenses. They also lost three games using that approach, including one against this week's opponent, the Detroit Lions. The Lions were under different coaches, in a different defense then.

If the Bears turn this way again and sort of meld the outside zone blocking scheme and Mike/Kyle Shanahan running attack with the Kansas City scheme they already use, there can be only one quarterback for it.

Justin Fields should be perfectly at home in operating the run game that way and in passing on the move or off the edge. It would only make sense then for the Bears to announce he'll start this week if his injured hand allows it.

"I think he's very well prepared," quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator John DeFilippo said. "I think he's shown that in his past. He showed it yesterday—we threw the pass going to his left and did a nice job of passing the first progression, go to the No. 2 (target), then going back to the No. 1.

"So I think Justin's well-schooled in that and we'll continue to work on that for sure."

In fact, it would make more sense for Nagy to simply announce Fields is his quarterback the rest of the year, say his apologies to Andy Dalton and go from there. It would mean accepting their lumps and some losses they wouldn't otherwise have.

However, they'd be playing their rookie and also playing to his strength.

The Road Block

So what could possibly be preventing this? Only Matt Nagy's ego.

Nagy brought the Kansas City style offense and has tried to continue coaching this system even when he doesn't have the same type of players. He doesn't have the offensive line that normally protects Patrick Mahomes for five to 10 seconds at a time on passes. He doesn't have a Tyreek Hill who will get open far downfield. And even though they picture Fields as Mahomes type, he is nowhere close to being at the level of even an average NFL quarterback at the moment. He needs to develop.

So expecting the Bears to continue beating their heads against the wall with this same Chiefs-style approach makes no sense. It's the truest definition of football insanity--doing the same thing over again and again and expecting a different result.

It makes too much sense switching to last year's attack and getting the running game going. Even Nagy hinted at this.

"Well, after what we just went through yesterday as an offense, if Justin is able to go and he ends up being the starter, then that's where we've got to make sure that from now until the rest of the week that everything we learned both from our side and opponent's side, that we give him the best opportunity possible to be successful, and we're learning through that," Nagy said. "But without a doubt, we know what Justin is and what he can be.
"And again his ability to want to be great, that’s what gets you excited, knowing that."

The opposite direction

Then there is the other path. This would be sticking with the same offense and simply changing play callers and quarterbacks.

Dalton can do this but probably not this week because of his injured knee. Nagy again on Monday pointed out Dalton is week-to-week, and most likely this would make it tough for him to play this week in that case.

So, the quarterback would have to be Nick Foles and Nagy admitted Foles is under consideration.

The Bears tried this approach last year in one game. It didn't work, but there were other problems.

This was the Minnesota Vikings game at Soldier Field when Lazor made his play-calling debut. The Bears lost 19-13. Foles was quarterback and they were running the offense like Nagy wants but with Lazor calling plays. 

The main reason it didn't worked is they didn't have a running back. David Montgomery was recovering from a concussion. Cordarelle Patterson is no running back and behind him the Bears had Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce, also Lamar Miller coming off an ACL tear. Later, with the season on the line for both teams and Montgomery back, they ran all over the Vikings defense.

Could it work with Lazor, Foles and an actual running back? It's possible.

Foles didn't exactly excel when given the ball in Nagy's style attack from Weeks 4-9 last year. The offense didn't run the ball at all then, even with Montgomery.

Best choice for now and the future

The running game works better with the threat of a running quarterback on the bootleg to attract attention away from the back.

It could work even better with Fields if he's given the chance. One way is if they put multiple tight ends on the field for extra blocking or shorter targets. They block better on the edge.

On Sunday they had Jimmy Graham on the field for seven offensive plays, third tight end Jesse James for one offensive play and their best blocking tight end, J.P. Holtz, didn't see a single offensive down.

All of this hinges on Fields' hand, and Nagy said they'll know more on the issue Wednesday, most likely after practice.

The best course is apparent and it's one they need to take for their long-range future rather than just the Lions game or until Dalton returns.

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