The Justin Fields era is about to begin. But first, Bears fans are going to have to hold tight. Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton will start Sunday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. It’s a new season, and the first in four years without Mitch Trubisky’s name attached to the Bears.
A matchup on the road against the Rams in primetime is not an easy way to kick off the 2021 season. The Bears will have their hands full with defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams defense.
These two teams have squared off every year of the Matt Nagy era, dating back to 2018. The Bears won the 2018 game at Soldier Field, but the Rams have won back-to-back years in California.
Here are five things to watch in the 2021 edition of the matchup.
1. Andy Dalton’s Bears debut
Dalton will make his first appearance in a Bears uniform. His two starts in the preseason were less than inspiring, but they came with only a shell of the starting offense. When Dalton is playing well, it’s because he has a clean pocket and is distributing the ball well.
The Bears need Dalton to play well if they have any hope of keeping rookie Justin Fields on the bench. The quicker Dalton struggles, the more fans will be calling for the rookie to play. Week 1 will tell Bears fans a lot in terms of just how long Nagy can ride with Dalton.
2. The Stafford-Rams marriage
Matthew Stafford will make his debut at quarterback for the Rams. Head coach Sean McVay must be thrilled to have a quality quarterback like Stafford added to his offense.
How the Rams use Stafford is going to be fun to watch. Already they were one of the trickier offenses thanks to all the motion they use to create mismatches. Adding in a passer who should have a better understanding of how to utilize those mismatches makes the Rams a serious contender in the NFC.
The Bears, of course, know Stafford well from his Lions years.
3. The Bears’ new speedsters
The Bears spent the offseason searching for elite speed to add to their offense. They found receivers like Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and Breshad Perriman. They added running back Damien Williams, who boasts 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, which is saying something for a guy who weights 225 pounds.
The Bears did a good job adding elite speed. Now they must find the right ways to take advantage of that speed. They didn’t show any indication in the preseason of how they intend to deploy the likes of Goodwin or Byrd.
4. Jason Peters at left tackle
Adding a future Hall of Fame tackle is always a good thing. But adding a 39-year-old future Hall of Fame tackle comes with some risks. If Peters is still in top form, he could be one of the best signings of the year. If he’s not, the Bears might have a mess on their hands.
The key with an older player will be keeping him healthy. The Bears are placing a lot of pressure on Peters’ 39-year-old body. If he can’t hold up over the course of the season, the Bears have nothing but inexperience at left tackle behind him on the depth chart.
5. Kindle Vildor at cornerback
The Bears are rolling with second-year pro Kindle Vildor at starting cornerback opposite Jaylon Johnson. The 2021 salary cap situation forced their hand in cutting former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller. Now Vildor, who has one regular season start to his name, will step into the starting job.
Expect to see the Rams target Vildor often Sunday night. They’re not going to test Johnson or safety Eddie Jackson if they can attack Vildor instead. Bears general manger Ryan Pace is excited about Vildor’s future. But now it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the 2020 fifth-round draft pick.