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Bye week could pay dividends for Justin Fields

While Fields took most of the week off, the Bears’ coaching staff used self-scouting to learn how to manage their talented rookie. “I think it helps a lot,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said.

Justin Fields (1) has started the last two games for the Bear, but coach Matt Nagy said Andy Dalton will start at quarterback against the Raiders if he’s healthy.
Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields (1, with coach Matt Nagy) has an 87.4 passer rating in his last two starts after having a 64.8 rating in his first five starts.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears coach Matt Nagy sounded refreshed after returning from the bye week Monday.

“You know what? It’s always fun for us to be able to go through the self-scout,” Nagy said. “You’re able to just kind of step back and see, ‘OK, what do we gotta do more of or less of? You look at some things where we need to improve — and we know where that’s at. And we’re gonna emphasize that in all three phases.”

The actual benefit of self-scouting is hit-and-miss at best. Some teams respond. Others don’t. The Bears, for instance, are 0-3 in the game after the bye under Nagy and 0-6 in the first two games after the bye.

The notion of bye-week self-scouting has been dubious at Halas Hall ever since 2014, when Marc Trestman resolutely vowed that self-scouting would get the Bears on track after a 51-23 loss to the Patriots — only to see his team fall behind 42-0 at halftime en route to a 55-14 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field.

The Bears have yet to win their post-bye game since that debacle — seven consecutive losses heading into Sunday’s game against the Ravens at Soldier Field. They eventually finished strong after their bye in 2018 under Nagy, winning nine of their last 10 games. But overall, self-scouting hasn’t been a game-changing benefit.

But with rookie quarterback Justin Fields starting just seven NFL games so far, the bye week this season presents an opportunity for a bigger payoff.

Fields is a different style quarterback than Andy Dalton — the veteran the Bears spent the offseason, training camp and preseason developing their offense around. Just as Fields is learning and adjusting to real-time NFL defenses, the coaching staff is learning and adjusting to him. It hasn’t been an easy transition.

“Yeah, there is [a transition period],” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. “And we’re not perfect. We’ll never call the perfect game. We work at it, and we try. At the end of the day, the quarterback obviously plays a huge piece in your game-planning. When you have someone of Justin’s skill set, I think you have to let him go a little bit and let him play.”

It seems like Fields is leading the way in that regard. The more he does, the more he gets to do. So after Fields’ best performance yet in the loss to the Steelers, the bye week self-scouting gave the coaches a chance to assess how they have handled Fields so far.

“I think it helps a lot,” DeFilippo said of the bye week. “We self-evaluated everything we do. And you try to not only get trends of what you’re doing, but how are teams playing you?

“We went back and said, ‘How are teams playing us on third down?’ Same thing in the red zone. Same thing in short yardage. That goes into a piece of putting players in a good position to make plays, as well.”

DeFilippo pushed back on the notion that the Bears aren’t running the best offense for Fields. “We’re running the Chicago Bears’ offense,” he said, “and whoever is the quarterback is going to be where the game plan [is] steered for each week.”

This still has a long way to play out. But it’s fair to say that Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and DeFilippo, like Fields, are in a better place than they were when Fields made his starting debut against the Browns.

“Yeah, for sure,” DeFilippo said. “It’s not like Justin just showed up the week of that game. But obviously you’re more comfortable knowing what a player can do in a game-type situation for sure.”