Like so many who spent even a little time in Buffalo this summer, I came away impressed with Mitchell Trubisky. Long miscast in Chicago, with insufficient incubation and dubious play calling at times, Trubisky finally appeared comfortable and relaxed in a backup role to MVP-candidate Josh Allen.
On Saturday afternoon, off the lake in downtown Chicago, worlds collided with Allen sitting this exhibition affair out, Trubisky carving up what some believe will be a strong Bears defense, all while Chicago’s brass rolled out what’s left of Andy Dalton to lead its offense. Yeah, it was just one ugly preseason game, and sure, the Bears offense could end up looking better when the real games start (I wouldn’t bet on it), but surely it says something about the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills – and their ability to assess and address the quarterback position – that the mobile and effective Trubisky is playing for a couple million bucks this season while the Bears lost another faux QB bidding war (trading up for Trubisky, trading for Nick Foles) for the right to trot Dalton out there Week 1 with a guaranteed $10M in his pocket (and possibly as much as $13M). And all while dynamic first-round pick Justin Fields holds a clipboard (I guess at this point it’s a tablet).
The QB rich, I suppose, get richer, while the perpetually QB-needy keep searching. In this instance, the Bears are tying two cleats behind their back, as head coach Matt Nagy – a front-runner among Vegas odds for coaches on the hot seat – refuses to consider slick rookie Justin Fields for the starting gig. Nagy’s married to conventional wisdom and what has long been viewed as CYA 101 in the coaching fraternity – play the veteran, and if he stinks you can always go to the kid; play the kid too soon and you may lose him, shatter his confidence, and if the vet stinks replacing him, well, start sending out resumes.
I get it. I do.
But it doesn’t make it right, or especially logical in this instance as the angst over this Dalton-led “attack” has only grown as the summer has wound down. Good luck selling Bears fans on Team Dalton after watching him and Chicago’s offense get stifled in the first half while Trubisky championed scoring march after scoring march looking cool, calm and collected. And all of those fans have to deal with the realization that it truly doesn’t seem to matter, the Bears messaging remains ironclad and Dalton is their guy to start the season barring only injury.
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“We need to see him in the regular season,” Nagy proclaimed of Dalton following the disconcerting outing against the Bills (41-15 and it felt worse than that).
Hmm. Be careful what you wish for, coach.
Sure, it’s just preseason and all … but the Bills are in Super Bowl or bust mode and not taking many chances with the roster and this was decidedly one-way traffic all afternoon long. This Bills “starting” defense did not include the likes of Tremaine Edmunds or Matt Milano (basically any real starting linebacker) or Star Lotulelei or Mario Addison (half the defensive line) or Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer or Tre’Dvious White (basically the entire starting secondary sat out), and still Dalton and his band of blockers and runners and pass catchers suffered ever so mightily.
They mustered all of four first downs in the first half, and outside of one 73-yard touchdown burst it was difficult to stomach. A slew of incredibly short passes to tight ends. A drive chart that read as such in the first half:
Three plays … 5 yards gained … Punt
Three plays … 9 yards gained … Punt
Three plays … 28 yards gained … Fumble
Three plays … -5 yards gained … Punt
Dalton throws 25 yards and Rodney Adams takes it the next 50 for a TD
Six plays … 25 yards gained … Turnover on downs
Four plays … 8 yards gained … Interception
Yeah, it really was that bad.
Meantime, Trubisky was shining. The Bills coaching staff catered to his needs and hid many of his warts. Many of the routes were crossers or had receivers running into his line of vision. They played at an up-tempo pace and got him into an early rhythm. It had to make for some uncomfortable exchanges in the owner’s suite as the one-time-alleged-franchise-savior-of-the-Bears actually looked the part against a defense that they believed gives them legit playoff hope.
The Bills’ first half drive chart? Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal, field goal. Yeah, 34-6 at the half. If general manager Ryan Pace hid out in the bathroom the entire halftime to avoid ownership, would you blame him? After all of the QB shenanigans on his watch?
Trubisky completed 20 of 28 passes in that half with a touchdown, no interceptions and a rating of 106.4. Sure, it was mostly rudimentary stuff (his longest completion went for 26 yards) but it was effective, and he continues what has been a very successful summer for him as he aims to steady himself and eventually relaunch as a potential starting quarterback in this league again.
Those days, at this point, should probably be over for Dalton. It would take a pristine cast around him to believe he is going to win games on a regular basis at this point in his career, and the Bears are lacking across the offensive line and are hardly overflowing with elite talent. Fields has the athletic prowess and improvisational skills and speed and arm strength to make something out of nothing, which is precisely what is in order with this bunch.
Even despite missing some practice time this week with a nagging injury, Fields got some run in the second half. Yes, there are obvious things he must improve on, and it got a little erratic playing with guys likely to be cut against guys likely to be cut, but he racked up 46 yards on four scampers and anyone who has watched him practice this summer has come away overtly impressed with what his ceiling could be.
Not force feeding him reps this summer may come at the expense of all, given what promise Dalton and Foles hold at this point. And if Fields is as good as many think he is, he may end up saving jobs in the end whenever the Bears do get around to playing him (I can’t see it going much beyond Week 6, honestly).
But, alas, no one is even pretending there is any drama afoot, even after Saturday’s stinker. It’s Dalton’s team, and everybody knows it. That’s why Dalton came out swinging in the media last week with a quote that just might come back to bite many soon enough, as he embarks on Year 11, having last been viewed as a starting QB somewhere around the middle of the 2019 season when he benched by the Bengals right before the trade deadline.
“Right now, it’s my time,” Dalton now famously uttered.
Once more, be careful what you wish for. Fields Time has to be coming sooner rather than later. Round about October, I reckon. And it’ll last longer in Chicago than Trubisky Time, too, if they develop him right.