Bears coach Matt Nagy confident in QB Andy Dalton, but he has said that before
Nagy feels much better about Dalton than everyone else seems to after two lackluster preseason games. Meanwhile, Justin Fields is making his run at the job.
Bears coach Matt Nagy is feeling a lot better about Andy Dalton as his starting quarterback than everyone else seems to be after two nondescript, uninspiring preseason performances.
Then again, that’s usually the case.
With Nagy’s irrepressible optimism, it’s always tough to tell whether he really thinks things are going great or merely wants that to be true so badly that he convinces himself of it.
A month before Mitch Trubisky plummeted through the 2019 season, Nagy similarly dismissed some of his struggles in August by saying: ‘‘Yeah, no doubt, I feel really good about where he’s at.’’
So his positive spin on Dalton’s nine possessions — five three-and-outs, two turnovers, one touchdown and one turnover on downs near midfield — is met with earned skepticism.
‘‘I understand the part [that] we haven’t been getting first downs,’’ Nagy said before practice Monday. ‘‘I get that. But really, when you look at play by play by play . . . he’s making really good decisions.
‘‘He’s made some plays that maybe he couldn’t have or shouldn’t have been able to make. We like what he’s doing right now with the [first string] in practice, and that really makes us feel good.’’
The difference between practice and preseason games is significant. Dalton has the full offense in practice, whereas he has been playing mostly without starting receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet and running back David Montgomery in preseason games.
On Dalton’s interception Saturday against the Bills, receiver Rodney Adams slipped when trying to break toward the ball, and it sailed straight into rookie cornerback Nick McCloud’s hands. Nagy thought that could have been a 22-yard completion had Adams kept his footing (or if it had been Robinson instead), but that doesn’t look like a certainty on replay.
Speaking of hypotheticals, Dalton connected with Adams for a 73-yard touchdown pass on which Adams was streaking downfield but had to turn back and reach around cornerback Siran Neal’s helmet to catch the ball. So that underthrown pass might not always get the job done.
Dalton looks like an upgrade over Trubisky and Nick Foles, but he has completed 13 of 21 passes for 164 yards with a touchdown and an interception for an 82.2 passer rating in two preseason games. Without Adams’ brilliant catch, he’d be averaging 4.6 yards per pass.
That’s why Nagy still is weighing how much to play Dalton in the preseason finale Saturday at the Titans. It’s imperative that he get rookie Justin Fields an extended opportunity, but it would boost everyone’s confidence if Dalton can be more productive with the first-string offense before he leads it against the reigning No. 1 defense in the regular-season opener at the Rams.
That decision would be more intriguing if this was a legitimate competition. Nagy repeatedly has committed to Dalton starting the opener, and when the Bears drafted Fields, Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace intended to sit him for the entire season with an eye on him taking over to begin 2022.
But Fields might revise their timeline. While his passing statistics — 23-for-39, 222 yards, one touchdown, 83.5 rating — aren’t any better than Dalton’s, he has added 79 yards and a touchdown on nine runs and shown flashes of his potential. His mobility must be a factor in Nagy’s calculation about which quarterback gives the Bears the best chance to win, especially when it’s hard to predict what they’ll get from the offensive line.
Nonetheless, Nagy remains hopeful the eventual quarterback change will be predicated solely on Fields’ readiness rather than on Dalton forcing the Bears into it by faltering. With the team now about a week from diving fully into preparation for the opener, it would be a good time for Dalton to back up what his coach keeps telling everyone.