Chicago Bears 2021 Team Study

Part 16 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 15 here: Minnesota Vikings. Part 17 now available: Indianapolis Colts.


Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
4.60 -0.41 25th

Offensive Eff. Rating (orange and black) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
29th 23rd 28th

Justin Fields had a rough rookie season. As I predicted after watching him play in the preseason, NFL defenses moved too quickly for him and as a result he did not handle pressure well. At his best, he had excellent play making ability but often held the ball too long trying to make a play. This led to the NFL‘s worst ratio of sacks taken per pressure. Outside of the highlight plays he was also inaccurate. The Bears as a team had the 5th-worst on-target percentage and, relatedly, the NFL’s worst conversion rate on third and fourth down.

The Bears offense did not look better with Andy Dalton or Nick Foles on the field. They lacked consistency regardless of who was playing quarterback as they didn’t have great weapons in the passing game or a particularly good offensive line. None of these quarterbacks were capable of elevating the talent around them. The scheme also failed to make the most out of what they did have. This continual struggle likely got Matt Nagy fired.

One thing the offense did better with Fields at quarterback was run the ball. Not only did Fields himself create yards for himself but the running backs were also more efficient overall with the defense having to account for Fields’ rushing ability. They averaged 134.7 rushing yards per game with Fields and only 96.5 rushing yards per game with Dalton and Foles. The easiest path for improvement in 2022 involves Fields parlaying this rushing success into easier passing opportunities. This will require him to improve his mechanics and accuracy as well as his decision making and ability to read both pressures and coverages.

We have seen quarterbacks in this mold succeed. Deshaun Watson is probably the ideal comp for Justin Fields (on the field) because both players are able to create with their legs but also make downfield throws look easy. One benefit to the style of play of a quarterback like Watson is that he is less reliant on the quality of his receivers for production. For example, in 2020, Watson had one of the NFL’s highest EPA/play without any elite receivers on his team and a mediocre offensive line. He was able to accomplish this because so much of what he was able to do involved extending the plays with his legs and getting the ball downfield once the play broke down.

We have also seen other quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts take a big step forward in year two when they can incorporate a lot of designed runs and zone reads into their approach. These players also did well without elite weapons. The Bears certainly do not have weapons and so they will need that element in their offense for even moderate success.

Don’t get me wrong. Darnell Mooney is a fine receiver, but he is not a typical number one wide receiver who can take over the game and draw double coverage. David Montgomery is a fine player too, but again, dependent on good offensive line play or an effective scheme to get him the ball in space. If the Bears are going to take a step forward an offense, it must be because Justin Fields took massive strides from year one. These types of improvements are not unprecedented, but they also are not automatic. I believe Fields has the widest range of outcomes of any starting NFL quarterback in 2022.

The big unknown is how they plan on using Fields and how they plan on building this offense. In 2021, the offense was vastly inconsistent because Fields played such a different style of football than Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. And, like all quarterbacks who run a lot, Fields is always a liability to get injured. In 2021, his injuries exacerbated this inconsistency, stunted his growth, and prevented the offense from establishing a well-defined identity. Instead, the offense had to shift on a dime, sometimes even mid-game. This was obviously less than ideal.

Primarily due to the inconsistency (and lack of talent), the Bears were not the type of offense that could excel against the best defenses. As a run-heavy team, they were at their worst when they were playing from behind and the run was taken off the table. I anticipate this will continue in 2022 regardless of how they set up their scheme.

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