Lions brace for trio of QB possibilities against battered Bears
Allen Park — The macro news coming out of Chicago this week is the Bears might be on the move.
After years of rumblings and rumors, the team signed a purchase agreement for a 326-acre plot of land in Arlington Heights, a little more than 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field, the franchise's home for a half-century.
The official acquiring of the land the team bid on in June doesn't assure the Bears are moving, but it holds the city's feet to the fire to keep them downtown. Either way, it means a new stadium, replacing the NFL's oldest and smallest venue.
That big-picture conversation seems so much more important than the micro happenings with the franchise, but there's plenty to digest there, as well. Coach Matt Nagy, in his fourth year steering the ship, is seemingly holding on to his job by a thread as he weighs which of his three quarterbacks to start on Sunday.
The Detroit Lions, this week's opponent, could conceivably be the dagger in Nagy's coaching tenure. The division rival is preparing for each of Chicago's quarterbacking possibilities as they search for coach Dan Campbell's first victory after an 0-3 start.
In Chicago, fans had been clamoring for first-round draft pick Justin Fields to start, but after getting their first extended look in Sunday's 26-6 thumping at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, it's clear why Nagy wasn't in a rush to put the youngster under center full-time.
Fields only got the start last week because veteran Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury in the team's Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Fields struggled after replacing Dalton in that game, completing just six of his 13 passes for 60 yards with an interception, but that paled in comparison to his struggles as a starter.
In the loss to the Browns, Fields had fewer completed passes (six) than times he was sacked (nine). He led the offense across midfield just twice in 11 possessions, with one of those drives aided by a 48-yard pass interference penalty. In total, the Bears averaged a historically bad 1.1 yards per offensive snap.
To add injury to insult, Fields suffered a hand injury in the game, although the X-rays came back negative. Both Dalton and Fields participated in practice on Wednesday, although it's unclear if either will be cleared ahead of Sunday, particularly Dalton, who remains No. 1 on the team's depth chart, according to Nagy.
And even if Dalton doesn't get cleared while Fields does, it's possible, with jobs on the line, Nagy turns to third-string quarterback and former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
If his first season with Chicago after being acquired in an offseason trade from Jacksonville, Foles struggled, posting an 80.8 passer rating with eight interceptions in nine games (seven starts). That resulted in the moves to add Dalton and Fields this offseason.
Stylistically, each is a little different, adding to Detroit's challenge a week after an impressive defensive outing against the high-octane Baltimore Ravens.
Dalton, an 11-year veteran, is more of a traditional pocket passer, operating primarily under center. Fields, a dual-threat option, was utilized more out of the shotgun in his starting debut, accentuating his threat to run on any snap. Foles also works out of the shotgun more frequently than Dalton and, according to Campbell, more heavily utilizes run-pass options.
In a way, it's like the Lions are preparing for three different offenses heading into the matchup.
At first glance, it would appear Fields would be the optimal draw for the Lions. The team just showed the ability to effectively control the running element of the game's best mobile quarterback in Lamar Jackson, and the rookie isn't likely going to be able to iron out all of his early struggles put on display the past two weeks.
Still, Campbell noted he saw positive development from Fields as the game against Cleveland progressed.
"If anything, they’re going to try to do a little more of what they did in the second half with him," Campbell said. "Look, he had some struggles early, but I would say there were signs of life at the end of that tape when you watch him. Now, maybe it wasn’t always the right read, but he’s pulling the trigger, he’s not waiting in the pocket, he’s trying to diagnose quicker, they’re getting him out on the perimeter. And so, there were some things to where, OK, they probably gathered some information on things that can help him. Those are the things we’ve got to be ready for.”
This isn't new territory for the Lions, even this season. It's similar to the opener, when the Lions knew the San Francisco 49ers would try to utilize both Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance at quarterback, a duo with similarly contrasting skill sets to Dalton and Fields. Even before the veteran went down, the Bears were sprinkling in snaps for the rookie.
"I think Dalton brings a little more variety, just on what he’s able to do, but we’ll be prepared for both," Campbell said.
Lions at Bears
► Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Soldier Field, Chicago
► TV/radio: Fox/97.1
► Records: Lions 0-3; Bears 1-2
► Line: Bears by 3