NFL
September 29, 2021

Why Justin Fields' Debut Proves Matt Nagy is Out of Time in Chicago

Week 3 was supposed to be a coronation for Chicago Bears' rookie quarterback Justin Fields. Playing in the same state as he did in college, and for the first time starting for his new franchise, Fields had sky-high expectations from a position that has haunted the Bears for many years.

But at the end of Sunday's 26-6 drubbing by the Cleveland Browns, questions only got louder. Fields was sacked nine times and produced a measly one net passing yard for the entire game.

Was the lack of offense all on the rookie, or was this more of a systemic issue for the Monsters of the Midway? Of course, Bears head coach Matt Nagy is under fire for the teams' performance as well.

After reviewing the film from Sunday's shellacking, it's clear that Nagy may have been hesitant about committing to Fields because he's out of time in Chicago. Fields' performance only exacerbates the issues caused by Nagy's scheme and general manager Ryan Pace's personnel decisions.

The Mistake By The Lake

It's easier for Nagy to hide Fields on the bench than expose him to a toxic on-field situation. The lack of quality blocking was apparent Sunday and Nagy did little to give Fields advantageous situations.

Only one of the sacks had an extra dedicated blocker in addition to the offensive line. Failing to chip Myles Garrett, who set a Browns' franchise record with 4.5 sacks in one game, was a massive miscue by a staff that knew this line would be overwhelmed by a talented Browns defensive front.

I'd argue Fields never had a chance to even throw the ball away on seven of the sacks because the pressure came so fast.

The obvious situational play-calling hurt Fields, too. Five of the last six sacks came on third down. Only one of the takedowns came with a distance of fewer than nine yards.

Creating easier pre-snap reads and post-snap decisions is always up to the head coach. Fields tried to extend some plays with his legs, much like he did at Ohio State, but the Browns were able to swarm quickly.

The Bears' lack of proven playmaking at receiver beyond Allen Robinson showed, and even then, Nagy did little to maximize David Montgomery and Darnell Mooney as weapons in space.

The goal was to hasten Fields' ability to get rid of the ball. His average release time was 2.63 seconds, 10th-fastest this week. But easily the highest percentage of attempts into tight windows also belonged to Fields at 45%, per The Athletic.

What Now For The Chicago Bears?

Nagy isn't a miracle worker as far as personnel. Offensive tackles, Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi had no chance on an island. The obvious plan to get Fields outside of the tackle box was thwarted as the Browns angled their ends out wide to contain Fields.

The lack of adjustments in routes and play design was apparent after halftime. Fields was often criticized at Ohio State for holding onto the ball too long and sometimes that was a fair assessment. Some of his brilliance is waiting to release the ball until a big play becomes possible. The Bears need that playmaking ability but have to create a structure that can lead to un-structured success.

The creativity Nagy once showed with the Kansas City Chiefs has been absent this season. Even last year with Mitchell Trubisky at the helm, Nagy and the Bears showed flashes.  The 2020 Bears with Fields would still have made the playoffs, but the 2021 Bears so far have looked far less talented.

The time is now for Nagy to dip into his bag of creativity. The Bears' offensive line is poor but can be elevated through max protection, rollouts, rub routes, and varied route depths.

Fields is ready for the job, but he's not a miracle worker. 

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration