Matt Nagy not afraid of a QB controversy

The Bears’ coach of course hopes that Andy Dalton will excel as the starter. But if he doesn’t, Nagy is ready to deal with the outcry for Justin Fields: “We all understand the passion and excitement that we want to see from Justin.”

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Justin Fields (1) will be Andy Dalton’s backup when the Bears’ 2021 season opens Sunday night against the Rams.

Justin Fields (1) will be Andy Dalton’s backup when the Bears’ 2021 season opens Sunday night against the Rams.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photos

If a quarterback controversy ensues at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy is ready for it. 

The Bears’ coach has been criticized for using a faulty template and questionable logic in handing the starting job to veteran Andy Dalton and giving rookie Justin Fields no chance to win it. But he has managed the quarterback issue artfully in public. Nagy has never flinched in response to dozens of questions about Fields, Dalton, The Plan and the possibility of a quarterback change. 

His decisions on the quarterback situation are debatable. But his tone has been exemplary even if his explanations have at times been more circular than succinct. He’s been understanding and reasonable instead of defensive or antagonistic. He gets it. It’s as if he knows that despite the heat and grief he’s getting now, in the end Justin Fields will be his quarterback. 

But now, as they say, the stuff gets real. 

The regular season is a brand new ballgame for Nagy in managing the Dalton-Fields situation. If Dalton doesn’t perform at an acceptable level — the bar figures to be set fairly high — the call for Fields not only will be louder and clearer than ever, but based on actual on-field results and not just a coaching philosophy or previous template. 

And to his credit, Nagy gets that as well. He sounded well-prepared for it Monday — even tacitly acknowledging that a Plan B has been discussed among the coaching staff and general manager Ryan Pace at Halas Hall. 

“We all understand the passion and excitement that we want to see from Justin,” Nagy said. “The biggest thing is for myself, our coaching staff, Ryan, everybody included — when we get together and talk about what our plan looks like and we play out scenarios.” 

Nagy has yet to shed any light on what the standard is for Dalton to keep the job — and publicly setting the bar is unfair to Dalton, who deserves every chance to succeed. But there is a bar, and Dalton and the offense will have to meet it. 

It’s almost a fait accompli that a quarterback controversy — or at least a cry for Fields — will develop. Dalton’s passer rating is 84.1 over the last three seasons. It’s unlikely that in an unproven offense, he’ll suddenly play at a level that will stave off a call for Fields. 

Nagy isn’t going to let public pressure force his hand, but it doesn’t sound as if he’ll ignore reality either. Even if the Bears are winning, if Dalton is not why their winning, a decision will have to be made.

“Sometimes you can get caught up in emotional decisions, and that’s where I have to be really strong and understand the way. If you just keep it super simple and don’t overthink it . . . as to why things are the way they are, then it will take care of itself.

“So I do understand all that. I think all of our players, if we’re being completely honest — everybody understands that part of where we’re it. We’ve got to understand that why behind it all.”

Nagy could help fuel a quarterback debate inadvertently (or advertently) by using Fields in a special package designed especially for him — similar to what Saints coach Sean Payton does with Taysom Hill. It comes with some risk — Mitch Trubisky suffered a shoulder injury on his only play in that situation against the Saints last year, when Nick Foles was starting. But Nagy indicated he would roll the dice with Fields — whenever that happens. 

“There’s always risk,” Nagy said, “but it is football, and we want to make sure that whatever we’re doing with whatever players, we understand that comes with the territory.” 

It could happen as early as Sunday night, with Nagy likely eager to show the world he can be as inventive as Rams coach Sean McVay. And if it accelerates a Dalton-Fields controversy, so be it. Matt Nagy will gladly deal with it.

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