By Joseph Lewis @FlowsAndolini
CHICAGO - The Chicago Bears took to Soldier Field for their first preseason game is almost two years and their first home game in over a year with fans present. With the clock reaching zero, the Bears completed a 13-3 deficit to defeat the Miami Dolphins 20 to 13. Unlike most preseason games that are anticlimactic and typically a chance to watch 2nd and 3rd string players fight for a spot on a team’s active roster, this game came with an added bonus; the first professional game for the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft: Quarterback Justin Fields out of Ohio State University.
When you walked into Soldier Field you could spot his jersey at almost every area of the stadium. I’d even dare to say that 1 out of 3 jerseys being worn were either a Bears legend or a Fields #1 jersey. This was an atmosphere that I have never seen in my 30 years as a Bears fan (yes, I’m only 30 years old but I was born into this fandom, so it counts). With every tick of the clock, the emotions and anticipation of the fans grew louder. For a team that has been “cursed” with terrible to mediocre QB play, Justin Fields represented not only a new start but a hope that one could only compare to the likes of Luke Skywalker. Amongst the darkness that is the history of Bears quarterbacks, there stood a lone player in Fields, 1 shy of a top 10 pick but with talent and experience that many people would argue was worthy of being the 2nd quarterback chosen in the 2021 draft.
With all this energy and pressure for him mounting, Fields took the field with a mixture of skill players from the 1st and 2nd team, with the starting interior offensive line. His first two series were mediocre to put it lightly but a quick 1-minute drive to set up a Cairo Santos Field Goal from 50 yards out allowed the Bears to gain some momentum heading into halftime and allowed Justin to see his game from a bird’s eye view and adjust as needed. His next possession in the 2nd half? 8-yard touchdown run, 30-yard touchdown drive. This was all the Bears community of fans needed to bang loudly against the metal walls containing the press box. It was all they needed to yell loudly in joy and relief. It was all they needed to feel like this team was finally entering the 21st century offensively and headed in the right direction.
However, football is not a one man show. It is a game that is dominated by the collective and unlike most other sports, one man can never reshape a franchise quickly, it takes a village. So, how did those other units do? Namely the ones that fans have been anxious to see fixed. The glaring hole is the offensive line. With their starting right tackles sidelined with injuries, the Bears would see a mix with FA signing Elijah Wilkinson notably taking over the left tackle position. This and the subsequent line 2nd and 3rd string lineman managed to not give up single sack this game, something Nagy noted in his post-game press conference. However, the stat sheet can miss some crucial statistics that cannot be calculated. Namely, how did the line hold up against the blitz? How did they manage to keep a clean pocket for Fields and co? The answer? A mixed bag. While they did not pick up any sacks, some of this was due to the quick decision making of Andy Dalton to get the ball out of his hands and the blazing speed of Justin Fields to get outside of the pocket. One could see several instances where the pocket began to break down and both QBs had to make quick decisions to limit a loss. Of course, a good QB would find his way in avoiding the rush, this does not take away from the fact that the Bears offensive line remains a problem. With a fanbase that is growing anxious for new blood at its most important decision, general manager Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy cannot wait for this problem to figure itself out. The solution needs to be in the works immediately.
Perhaps the Bears are trending in the right direction. At the end of the game the news was delivered to the media and fans that the Bears signed former All-Pro tackle Justin Peters. The 39-year-old may be past his physical prime but Matt Nagy made it clear that his arrival is to compete for a starting job, not to simply mentor and provide depth. Does this make the offensive line problem moot? No. But it does suggest that the Bears understand there is a problem and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.