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Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Ride the hot hand in Vegas

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Hoge's 10 Bears Things

Sunday’s 24-14 win over the Detroit Lions provided signs of life for Matt Nagy’s offense, but Monday’s press conference just opened up more questions about the quarterback position. 

There’s a lot to digest from the last 24 hours, so let’s dive into it with my 10 Bears Things:

 

1. Hard to believe Fields won’t start in Las Vegas

Matt Nagy said the one thing Monday morning he had to know would infuriate the fan base and the media.

“When (Andy Dalton) is healthy, he’s our starter. He’s the 1. Justin’s the 2. Nick’s the 3.”

Commence #BearsTwitter meltdown.

A few things here. For one, until Dalton is actually healthy, there doesn’t need to be a rush to change the dialogue from the Bears’ side of things. It forces the Las Vegas Raiders to spend time preparing for both quarterbacks (which their advanced scouting staff was already doing ) and it gives the Bears an out should Fields struggle or get injured. In that case, they can always say starting Dalton is/was the plan.

There’s also the very real human element of the promise that was made to Dalton before Fields was drafted. They told him he was going to be the starter and they paid him $10 million to be the starter. It’s certainly easy to argue that that shouldn’t matter, but until the Bears’ hand is forced by Dalton being cleared to play, they don’t need to break that promise.

 

Maybe that happens later this week. Maybe it’s next week. But as of Monday morning, I’m not surprised Nagy kept his public stance on the starting quarterback job.

More notable to me? What Nagy said when asked about the 64-yard completion to Darnell Mooney in the first quarter:

“The safety came down strong, Justin took a beautiful drop, set his feet, one-hitch throw. Mooney ran a great route. He kept it skinny. He didn’t run back to that safety to the field. And Justin threw a perfect ball. And so those are, we need to get more of those. You don’t want to go on 12 and 13-play drives all the time.”

The NFL has become a league of explosive plays and the Bears have severely lacked in that category. Nagy has talked about that problem a lot recently. Sunday, Fields completed five passes that traveled at least 20 yards through the air. On the season, he has six of those on 52 passing attempts. 

Andy Dalton has zero in 49 passing attempts.

Too small of a sample size? Well, going back to the 2017 season, Dalton has 51 completed passes of 20+ air yards in 1,771 passing attempts. That’s one every 34.7 passing attempts, meaning you might get one per game. It’s just not his game. 

Fields was drafted to attack downfield. It’s what he did at Ohio State and it’s what he’s capable of doing in Chicago. Nagy knows Fields gives his offense the opportunity to be more explosive.

My advice: React less to what Nagy says on Monday and more to who actually plays on Sunday.

 

2. Rising to the challenge

Even if it came against the Lions, Fields deserves a lot of credit for the way in which he bounced back from the Week 3 disaster in Cleveland. He played very well Sunday, improving in almost every area.

"When I go back and watch the tape, I thought he saw the coverages pretty good,” Nagy said. "They were really holding their shell or their Cover-3 or Cover-1. They were two-high safeties and, at the snap, coming down. That’s hard as a quarterback no matter who you are when you hold your shell that long. I thought he did a good job of understanding that post-snap. In Cleveland it wasn’t always like that every snap.”

After the game, Fields said he was glad the Cleveland game happened and indicated that the adversity took his focus to another level. 

“Yeah, he's one of the better ones I've been around with that,” Nagy said. “For 22 years old to have that is rare.”

 

3. Surviving the Montgomery injury

In Chicago, a possible franchise quarterback playing well gets top billing. But if we’re being honest, David Montgomery’s knee injury could easily have led this column. As much as Fields deserves the focus, Montgomery is the offense’s identity right now. 

 
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“With a lot of this offense going through him, I think a lot of you feel it, you see it, his energy, his passion, the way he runs the football,” Nagy said. “The other stuff that you guys can’t always see is how he is in practice and how focused he is and how he runs that huddle at times. You love that about him. So we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see where he’s at.”

There’s early optimism that Montgomery did not suffer a torn ACL, but an MRI Monday will show the extent of the damage. At a minimum, Montgomery figures to miss a few games, which is a big deal for the offense. 

The Bears ran the ball 34 times with their running backs Sunday, and even Darnell Mooney’s one carry for 10 yards came with him lined up in the backfield with Montgomery in the Wildcat formation. They only threw the ball 17 times. 

If the Bears want to have any chance against the Raiders, Packers and Buccaneers in the next three weeks, they can’t get away from that run-first mentality, but that will mean Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert stepping up with Montgomery out. 

And it’s probably yet another argument in favor of Fields starting, because the threat of verticality will help the running game.

 

4. Hello, Trevis.

Before the season began, I identified second-year edge rusher Trevis Gipson as a key developmental player who needed to start contributing. With major concerns about what Robert Quinn could give this defense, a young player like Gipson needed to step up.

That’s why it was very concerning when Gipson was a healthy scratch against the Bengals in Week 2. 

But since then, Gipson has been great. Against the Lions, he delivered a sack, two tackles for loss, a QB hit, a pass knockdown and a forced fumble. That will work. 

Meanwhile, Quinn is blowing away expectations after a bad 2020 season. And neither of these guys are Khalil Mack, who also played well Sunday despite dealing with a foot injury. 

With Gipson emerging, the Bears’ edge rushers suddenly look very, very dangerous.

 

5. Any interest in catching punts?

Remember last year when Ted Ginn Jr. had absolutely zero interest in catching the ball on punt returns? Eventually the team let him go mid-season.

Nsimba Webster is now the Bears’ punt returner, but he seemed to have a similar issue Sunday. I counted two punts he should have caught and one other that was debatable. One of the punts he let go landed around the 20-yard-line and rolled down to the 4-yard-line, backing the offense up to their own goal-line. Given that there were only 34 seconds left in the first half, it’s very possible special teams coordinator Chris Tabor told Webster to be extra careful fielding the ball as the Bears were going to let the clock run out anyway.

 

Still, it seems like something to watch going forward. It looked to me like Webster could have been more aggressive on the other ones.

 

6. Losing Hicks would hurt

Akiem Hicks played just one snap Sunday before leaving the game with a groin injury. 

Honestly, it was a little odd. He walked to the sideline, barely received any attention from the trainers/doctors and never returned. To me, it almost looked like they knew there was a chance he might not be able to finish the game before it even started. I thought he was battling through something a week ago in Cleveland, but if that’s true, it didn’t seem to be hurting his play. For what it’s worth, Hicks wasn’t on the injury report all week leading up the Lions game.

Maybe it’s not a significant injury, but losing Hicks would be a big blow to the defense. That side of the ball is better equipped to withstand the loss of a key player, but the defense always looks different when Hicks isn’t on the field. He’s a special player and his energy is hard to replace.

 

7. Ogletree taking over?

Linebacker Alec Ogletree played well Sunday, leading the Bears with 12 tackles and adding a TFL and a pass deflection in the end zone on fourth down. It’s enough to make you wonder if Danny Trevathan is in danger of losing his spot when he’s able to return from injured reserve. 

“(Ogletree was) flying around, he was all over the place. I really felt him and Roquan in there getting tackles and doing different things,” Nagy said. 

Trevathan returned to practice last week, opening up a three-week window to return from injured reserve. The veteran linebacker was dealing with knee soreness in the preseason, but looked pretty good when he played against the Titans, recording an interception. The move to IR seemed somewhat precautionary since it’s a long season.

At a minimum, Ogletree’s play allows the Bears to be patient. If healthy, Trevathan can still be a starting caliber linebacker and, personally, I’d plug him back in as the starter. Either way, the depth there is encouraging. 

 

8. Tracking A-Rob

Through four games, Allen Robinson has just 13 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown on 24 targets. Those aren’t exactly exciting numbers for someone playing on the franchise tag and hoping for a big contract in the offseason. 

Still, there was a glimpse of hope Sunday as Robinson caught three passes for 63 yards and made a really nice grab along the sideline on a strike from Fields. If the rookie quarterback is going to open up the Bears’ offense downfield, then Robinson stands to benefit, even if Mooney provides more breakaway speed.

It’s still early in the season, but if I’m Robinson, I’d be hoping the Bears stick with Fields. That pairing should continue to get more dangerous. 

 

 

9. Opponent look-ahead: Las Vegas Raiders

As of publishing, the Raiders are only one of two unbeaten teams in the NFL, but they play Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. That means the Bears will get the Raiders on shorter rest with one less day to prepare, but it also means Nagy’s staff has one less day to break down the Raiders’ most recent game. 

Derek Carr was one of the many quarterbacks the Bears did their homework on in the offseason before signing Dalton, and he’s playing very well for the Raiders right now. Considering the Chargers run a similar defensive scheme as the Bears, it will be interesting to see how Carr plays Monday night. 

One interesting quirk: Considering the hold the Raiders still have in Los Angeles, they’ll probably have more fans than the Chargers at Sofi Stadium Monday night. And considering the amount of Bears fans expected to show up in Las Vegas on Sunday, it’s theoretically possible the Bears fans will outnumber the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.

 

10. Final word

Despite the drama in the first four games, the Bears are right where I thought they’d be at 2-2. Still, it’s impossible to ignore that their two wins came at home against the Bengals and Lions, while they clearly weren’t in the same class as the Rams and Browns on the road. 

Even if Akiem Hicks misses some time, the defense should give the Bears a chance in most games, but the offense needs to continue to make progress in a hurry. That will be harder to do without Montgomery. The spotlight on Matt Nagy isn’t going to dim anytime soon and the schedule is about to get much tougher. 

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