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The State of Bears Nation – 10 Things to Watch

Part 2

Darnell Mooney make a leaping grab

In Part 1, I gave you ten to six out of this list. This article will continue the countdown to #1!

So, let’s dig in shall we?

5. Darnell Mooney

The Bears desperately need another playmaker on offense. Allen Robinson has been the lead dawg since he arrived in 2018. 2020 was no different. Robinson enjoyed a 25% target share, meaning a quarter of all passes thrown by Bear’s QB’s in 2020 went to Robinson. While this is great for fantasy football and for Allen Robinson’s career, the Bears need to spread the wealth and find another viable option in the passing game.

Enter Darnell Mooney. The big question? Will he take a step up from his impressive rookie campaign or will he struggle in his 2nd year now that opposing defenses know he’s coming? I believe he will excel. Especially when Justin Fields enters the fray. Fields is an excellent deep-ball passer. He was the best graded deep ball thrower (from PFF) in college in 2020. Mooney is fast. Really fast. Multiple times he beat his man deep and either Mitch or Foles just missed Mooney. Those deep shots need to succeed for the Bear’s offense to improve.

Mooney set the Bear’s rookie record in receptions last year with 61 grabs. He also added 631 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had a stellar rookie campaign for an under-radar 5th round pick. Mooney’s yards per reception needs to go up. He was at 10.3 YPR last year. If the Bears are going to be more explosive in 2021 Mooney needs to be a reliable deep threat and tick up his YPR to around 12 yards per catch. Mooney has the talent to excel, the question is will the offensive line be able to block long enough for Mooney to exploit defenders downfield and will Andy Dalton or Justin Fields be able to hit those deep shots when they are there? Mooney’s development can make this offense hum.

4. Cole Kmet

Speaking of other offensive playmakers. The Bears need Cole Kmet to step up this year. With all the speed the Bears brought in this will open up the middle of the field. This is where Kmet should shine. For some odd reason, Kmet didn’t get much run last year. Jimmy Graham is still on the roster as a red-zone specialist but Kmet needs to be the main tight end target the Bears envisioned when they took him in the 2nd round in 2020.

Between Mooney and Kmet the Bears have young playmakers but they need to improve. Kmet is not off the charts athletic but he is talented. He has soft hands and is able to get open underneath. He was drafted with the belief he could be Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz like in the Andy Reid west coast offense. That is how those players excel. Speed on the outside, multiple formations, find the mismatch, get the tight end open underneath.

Kmet has the talent to be great in this offense. Nagy knows the newly acquired speed will open up holes for Graham, Kmet, and the backs out of the backfield. It takes tight ends a while to adjust to the NFL and all reports suggest Kmet is already a solid all-around tight end. He is a solid blocker which helps the offense to keep the defense honest. If Kmet can improve his pass-catching game, understand route concepts, and find subtle ways to get open underneath he could catch 60 balls this year in this offense. Mooney and Kmet are entering year two, they should improve. Did the Bears help develop their games and will the Bear’s stated upgrades at the quarterback position open up and let their talent shine?

3. Matt Nagy’s Play-calling

I never thought Nagy would give up play-calling. Play callers love it. Wouldn’t you? They have complete control of the offense and they make the calls that set the tone of the game. Nagy’s offense has struggled the last three years. That isn’t good for a coach that was brought in to improve the Bear’s legendary offensive woes. The Bears have been 21st, 29th, and 26th in total yards the last three years. I’m no math major, but that doesn’t seem good.

The truth of the matter is that great quarterbacks make play-callers jobs soooo much easier. The Bears believe they have a solid veteran in Andy Dalton this year that can elevate the Bear’s offense. They really believe that Justin Fields will elevate this offense, but in their mind, he needs to sit and develop. The bottom line is no matter who is under center the Bears need to improve on offense.

While the Bear’s defense hasn’t been great the last two years, they have been good enough to win a lot of games. It has been the offense that is the anchor of the total team. Matt Nagy needs to find rhythm and identity early in the Bears season or the boo birds will surely come out by the time the Bears host their first home game against the Bengals in week 2. Bears fans are excited but they are on edge. The sentiment is that Nagy is a bad coach and a worse play-caller. The Bears found success in the run game after the bye week last season and that needs to continue to open up the play-action passing game and allow Dalton to make efficient throws.

If the Bears are unable to block upfront and open up holes for David Montgomery, Andy Dalton will be in a bad situation and Matt Nagy’s playbook will become limited. Nagy loves to pass but he needs to learn to lean on Montgomery. Montgomery proved he can be a bell-cow back and with Tarik Cohen on the PUP list to start the year, Matt Nagy needs to be disciplined and continue to pound the rock with his bruising running back. All eyes will be on Matt Nagy, Andy Dalton, and the Bear’s offense. The Bears defense has issues and will more than likely take a big step back from the middle of the pack. If the offense doesn’t improve, this could be a long, long season for Bears fans.

2. When will the Bears make a QB change?

This question heard around Chicagoland… When will Justin Fields play? Andy Dalton will get the first start in LA vs. the Rams, this much we know. What is unknown is when Fields will play. Once he plays, that’s it Bears fans. Get ready for a decade-long ride of glory. I understand Bears fans want to see Fields. He should be starting but his time will come soon enough and when it does the Fields era will begin and there’s no looking back.

Like many Chicago Bears fans, I believe Fields gets his first start against the Lions in week 4. The Rams game on Sunday night in LA is going to be tough, the Bears are heavy dogs and they don’t match up well with this Rams team. Stafford should be able to pick apart the Bear’s inexperienced secondary and the Rams pass rush should be able to get to statuesque Andy Dalton.

What’s the Benchmark?

There is really no criteria coming from Ryan Pace or Matt Nagy when Fields will start and when Dalton will be benched but at this point in his career, we all know what Andy Dalton is. He is an underwhelming quarterback that feels like most QB’s Bears fans have had to suffer from the past 80 years. The Bears have a Ferrari in the garage and they are rolling out a Honda Civic. I actually think Dalton is better than folks give him credit for, but he was never elite and at 33 years old he nothing more than a backup QB.

Look for the Bears to struggle out of the gates but look for Dalton to play better than most expect. I believe the Bears lose against LA, beat the Bengals at home, and then lose to the Browns in the dog pound in week 3. At 1-2 and the wolves howling for change, the Bears will take the cherry red Ferrari out for a spin and never put it back in the garage.

The Fields era is coming good people, the suffering won’t last long.

1. Justin Fields

Last but not least, Justin Fields. Fields is all I will be watching in 2021. I’ve had the privilege of watching every throw he made the last two years at Ohio State (OSU) and he is a fun watch. From his preseason efforts, most casual fans will think Fields is a dual-threat QB but he has basically been running for his life with backups all throughout the preseason.

Justin Fields is a pocket quarterback that happens to run a 4.4 forty. I was shocked when watching tape how calm he is in the pocket as chaos surrounds him. He is able to slide, step away from pressure, step up in the pocket and deliver strikes with an elite-level power arm. Justin Fields has everything a quarterback needs to be successful. He is tall (6’3) and is built (225 pounds), he is fast (4.4 forty), and he has a rocket arm that can deliver 65 yards throws on the run!

I love Justin Fields athleticism but what I believe sets him apart is his mind. The dude is brilliant. He had offers to play for Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern before the big football schools came calling his junior year of high school. In a test given to all QB’s before the draft, he scored the highest of any QB that has ever taken the test the last 8 years. The dude may have a photographic memory. He learns fast and doesn’t often make the same mistake twice.

Develop the King

This Bears season is about Justin Fields developing more than the Bears contending. Although I will contend that given Fields experience he should be the starter on day one. But my opinion doesn’t matter. The Bears coaches are rolling with Dalton but Fields is coming. We will get plenty of Justin Fields looks throughout the year. If the Bears have a losing season and Fields looks every bit as good as most people think he is, it will be a success for the Bears.

Justin Fields is simply the greatest NFL QB prospect the Bears have ever had. He is athletic, he can read defenses, he is highly intelligent, he is cool under pressure, and he has the “it” factor whatever that is. Fields has it. Will he be great. Who knows. There are many factors that contribute to greatness. Coaching, surrounding talent, organizational competency to name a few. Every indication is that Justin Fields is legit and greatness will come in due time.

Bears fans need to give Justin Fields time. I pray we don’t live and die on every throw. There are going to be challenges. There will be interceptions. Justin Fields will make mistakes. It’s hard being an NFL QB but I believe deeply the Bears finally found their guy. I’ve been saying all year to my buddies, the Bears got one. Meaning we finally landed a QB that could be a top 5 QB in a matter of two years. It’s exciting and as a football fan, I can not wait to see what action Justin Fields delivers. All eyes on Fields, he is going to wow.

10 Things to Watch in Two Parts

That’s it Bears fans. 10 things to watch for this NFL season.  Once Justin Fields is inserted we will finally get a taste of what so many franchises with great QB’s feel. The ability to win every single game because #1 is the best player on the field. Quarterbacks are everything in the NFL and once Fields is fully developed the Bears will be an elite NFL football team. It feels so good to say those words out loud!

Written by Keith James

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