Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy survived a regrettable, high-profile mistake in the 2017 draft. Now the franchise has new life.
How strange and circuitous this NFL world is, that perhaps, while the NFC North is in absolute upheaval and the division’s best quarterback is wielding a pry bar as he tries to force his way out, the Bears may have somehow become the gold standard of quarterback decision-making overnight?
While a general manager who survived a regrettable, high-profile mistake at the quarterback position is not a narrative fit for Disney studios anytime soon, there is something to be said about Chicago’s performance on Thursday night, which resulted in nabbing Justin Fields with the 11th pick.
Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy could not go into 2021 with Andy Dalton as their presumptive starter. It was not in the best interest of the Bears. It was not in their own personal best interests, with pressure mounting each time Patrick Mahomes torpedoed another behind-the-back touchdown pass, reminding the Bears of what could have been.
Now, thanks to some masterful board work and a timely spring up eight spots, they have instantly transformed themselves from a middling franchise aggressively burrowing toward the mean, while squandering sound play-calling acumen in the process, to something worth game-planning for.
A quarterback obviously changes everything; this was the same thing Pace thought a few years ago when he took Mitch Trubisky. It was the same thing he thought when he stumbled over himself to acquire Nick Foles. But the outlook of the franchise changes considerably now with the arrival of a dual-threat passer who could end up being the second-best quarterback in the class.
During his junior season at Ohio State, Fields added nearly a half point per dropback in terms of EPA (0.32), which was higher than Trevor Lawrence at any point in his Clemson career. Nearly 90% of his balls during his senior year were scored “catchable” from the scouting service Sports Info Solutions. Throughout his college career, his quarterback rating while under pressure was above 100. He torched man and zone coverage with equal efficiency.
This is something that Nagy, a gifted play-caller who has been desperately trying to find ways to stretch out his offense and incorporate many of the wrinkles he smuggled with him from Kansas City, has never had before. In the past, Bears games were a showcase in covering up the fact that anyone was under center at all. All of the gadget plays Nagy became known for during their run to the playoffs in his first season there were not a window into his philosophy, but a visual interpretation of his strain to move the ball forward.
Sometimes it’s just easier to flip the ball behind your back to Tarik Cohen and then have him pass it to a tackle than to call what you’d like your quarterback to run in the red zone.
Sticking with Pace through it all was a move that caused a lot of agony in Chicago, especially as he actively flailed to make it work, masking the deficiencies with one extraneous signing after another. But in many ways, one has to wonder if Pace was uniquely qualified to take this second swing. Fields could not be more different from Trubisky, and not just in terms of playing style.
In Fields there is more evidence. There is less blind faith. There is more “You know you can do on Day One.” More that a defense has to account for. We’ll now see the best of Nagy, who was still able to drag this team into the playoffs twice despite the most important position on the field weighing him down.
Those who obsess over the Bears never expected Pace to be the one to save them after everything he’s been through. But only Pace knew how badly he had scrambled the process the first time, and what it would take to piece his vision back together if he had a second chance.
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