October 17, 2021


Bear Down, Nerd Up: Numbers match the eye test with Andy Dalton, Justin Fields

A deeper look at the stats shows Fields has been more aggressive

The Bears locked up their ninth consecutive victory against an AFC North opponent with Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

They swept the all four AFC North opponents in both 2013 and 2017. The 2017 Bears went 5-11 with four wins over AFC North teams. They will try to extend the streak to 10 when they take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 3.

Bears coach Matt Nagy extended his September record to 10-3 and the Bears are now 68-30-4 in home openers.

As always, it was a unique week in the NFL. For the Bears, it will always be remembered as the first extended look at rookie quarterback Justin Fields in a regular season game. Bears fans don’t need the numbers to tell them that Fields is a different quarterback than Andy Dalton.

But the numbers certainly indicate as much.

Tale of two quarterbacks: Two weeks of football is a small sample size. The NFL, however, is the king of small sample sizes. So forgive me for drawing conclusions through two weeks, but the numbers never lie. Take it with a grain of salt, if you will.

Fields has been significantly more aggressive than Dalton throwing the ball, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Fields is throwing the ball 10.2 yards per pass attempt, according to Next Gen Stats’ “average intended air yards,” which measures the actual distance the ball travels from the line of scrimmage. That ranks third among quarterbacks through two weeks (Houston rookie David Mills ranks first).

Dalton, meanwhile, ranks dead last among QBs at 4.2 yards per attempt.

There is an obvious caveat here. Dalton’s Week 1 performance could be skewing the results. Dalton aired the ball out a little more early in the Bengals game. If he had played the entire game in that manner – which it’s possible that was the game plan – his average for the season might be significantly higher.

“We capitalized on third down, moved the ball, didn’t have any penalties, took advantage of our opportunities,” receiver Allen Robinson said of the game’s opening drive.

Dalton’s touchdown pass to Robinson, which capped the drive, traveled about 11 yards through the air.

Neither Dalton nor Fields had enough pass attempts to qualify for the Week 2 leaderboards on Next Gen Stats, but we do know that Dalton attempted three passes of 10 yards or more (all were completed) on 11 attempts. Fields completed seven passes of 10 yards or more on 13 attempts. Fields attempted four passes of 15 yards or more (completing one), while Dalton attempted one (also completing one).

Just because Fields is throwing the ball deeper than Dalton doesn’t mean he’s completing more deep passes. He sports a negative 3.8 difference in his average air yard differential (which is calculated by subtracting the passer’s average intended air yards from his average completed air yards). Fields ranks third from the bottom in this metric (Mills also ranks first in this). But had Allen Robinson caught a catchable deep ball that slipped through his hands in the fourth quarter, Fields’ number probably improves dramatically. That would’ve added a 35-yard completion to the mix.

Fields scored a 20% “aggressiveness” rating on Next Gen Stats, meaning he throws 20% of his passes into tight coverage (defined as with a defender within one yard). That ranks sixth among quarterbacks. Dalton’s 16.3% ranks slightly above average, 14th out of 35 qualified quarterbacks.

The Bears have indicated that Dalton will start if he is healthy this week. Whether or not his knee is healthy remains to be seen.

“That’s all stuff that we’ve talked about,” Nagy said about the QB decision. “We’ve discussed how things would go, the what-if game, just so that you’re not making emotional decisions. And you also got to see how things are going.”

There’s no denying that Fields and Dalton are different animals.

Stellar defense: Sunday was a nightmare for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. He was sacked four times and threw three interceptions.

The Bears haven’t picked off one quarterback three times in a game since they picked off Washington’s Case Keenum three times on Sept. 23, 2019. The Bears won that game, 31-15. That was also the last time the Bears defense had four or more turnovers in a game (it had five that night at Washington).

Linebacker Roquan Smith’s pick-six touchdown was his first NFL touchdown. The 53-yard touchdown return was the first 50-plus yard interception return for a Bears defender since Lance Briggs picked off Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and ran the ball back 74 yards for a touchdown on Oct. 1, 2012.

Smith finished Sunday’s the game with eight tackles, a sack and an interception. His sack, on which he surprised the Bengals offensive line and reached Burrow untouched, occurred in three seconds flat. That was the 11th fastest sack in the NFL so far this season, according to Next Gen Stats.

Still kicking: Bears kicker Cairo Santos didn’t attempt a field goal in Week 1, but he made both his attempts in Week 2. He extended his field goal streak to 29 consecutive made field goals, dating back to Week 3 of 2020. It has been nearly a full calendar year since Santos missed a field goal in a regular season game (Sept. 27, 2020).

If you include his made field goal in last season’s playoff game, Santos has made 30 consecutive.

New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (32 consecutive) and New York Giants kicker Graham Gano (35 consecutive) also have long active streaks.

The all-time record is 44 consecutive made field goals in a row, set by legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri in 2015 and 2016 with the Indianapolis Colts.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.