The Chicago Bears are almost a week into their 2021 training camp, and one of the more notable takeaways has been the performance of starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton was signed to a one-year contract this offseason as a bridge quarterback for rookie quarterback Justin Fields, with the hopes of giving the Bears a chance to compete for the playoffs in 2021. So far through the camp, the former three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has excelled with his deep ball accuracy, something the Bears offense has lacked in the last few seasons.
Saw more deep balls today than any other practice at Bears camp. The best throw came when Andy Dalton hit Damiere Byrd down the right sideline.
Solid day for both quarterbacks, but Fields led a longer drive in the situational period. Lots of catches today for Kmet, Byrd, Ridley.
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) August 2, 2021
Dalton’s Deep Ball Success Can Transform A Limited Bears Passing Attack
So far through training camp, Dalton’s deep ball accuracy has stood out as one of the major positives. Under head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears offense has struggled to connect on deep passes. Since Nagy’s tenure beginning in 2018, Chicago’s offense has connected on nine touchdown passes of 25 yards or longer in which the ball traveled 20 yards or longer in the air. The problem is that for Nagy’s offense to be the most efficient, there needs a deep ball element.
The offense has lacked that element as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky struggled significantly with his deep ball accuracy during his time with the Bears. One of the main reasons why Trubisky was benched during the Bears’ week three victory against the Atlanta Falcons was due in part to an overthrow to receiver Anthony Miller. Miller was open almost 40 yards downfield as Chicago’s fourth-year quarterback overthrew him by five yards.
Mitchell Trubisky intercepted in the end zone. Overshoots Darnell Mooney on a deep ball.
— Jeff Dickerson (@DickersonESPN) November 30, 2020
Nagy turned to veteran Nick Foles, who connected on four deep passes of 25 yards or more during his first two games as the Bears quarterback. Unfortunately, Foles’ deep ball accuracy grew worse as the season progressed as there were several overthrows each game to rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney. To make matters worse, Mooney was wide open on each overthrow and would have scored an easy touchdown had the ball been thrown accurately.
7. Darnell Mooney had 40 yards on 3 catches. Honestly, he should've had well over 100 on the night.
He was wide open multiple times including an absolute torching of Jalen Ramsey at one point.
— Erik Lambert (@ErikLambert1) October 27, 2020
One of the main reasons for the team’s 2-7 stretch during the middle of the season was because of the offense’s inability to generate big plays. Without a threat of big plays downfield, opposing defenses could better guard against the run and short-passing plays. This lead to the Bears moving away from the run-pass option offense to more of a boot-leg-styled offense to suit Trubisky.
With Dalton, he has success completing deep passing routes with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. The former Pro Bowl quarterback has worked with several high-quality receivers during his NFL career that have excelled in getting open downfield, including A.J. and Amari Cooper. With receivers Mooney, Allen Robinson, and Marquise Goodwin, Dalton has a large opportunity to be successful downfield.
If Dalton’s Downfield Success Can Really Open Everything up underneath
The reason why Nagy’s offense needs accurate deep passes is because of how the tight ends and running backs are utilized in Chicago’s offense. The RPO offense puts pressure on the linebacker to guard the tight end in the middle of the field or the running back coming out of the backfield. Without big-play receivers to stretch the field and draw the attention of the cornerbacks and safeties, opposing defenses are better equipped to take away any underneath passing threat.
Andy Dalton is good at throwing deep balls
John Ross is good at running deep routes
— PFF (@PFF) August 2, 2017
If Dalton can complete deep passes to Mooney and Goodwin early to start the season, the Bears offense can become extremely dangerous as the weeks go on, given the tight ends and running backs they will have in place. Running backs David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Damien Williams are all known for their pass-catching ability and have excelled in the passing game in this offense before. Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet were terrific short-yardage and red-zone targets last season as seven of their nine touchdowns came within the red zone.
A high-low offense has been seen in Chicago before as deep passing routes helped open up passing plays underneath. In 2013, head coach Marc Trestman’s offense saw early success with down-field pass completions from quarterback Jay Cutler to wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. As the season progressed, running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennet combined for five pass plays of 20 yards or longer on throws that came five yards of the line of scrimmage. Opposing defense were stretched, allowing Forte and Bennett to shed tacklers in one on one coverage.
Matt Forte on entire #Bears 2013 starting offense back in 2014: "I think that's the first time that's ever happened in my career."
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) May 27, 2014
With all the attention on when Fields will make his NFL debut, Dalton could be in store for a big season without many fans expecting it. Chicago’s offense could look significantly different than in years past if they can connect on passes downfield. With opposing defenses forced to defend downfield, the Bears’ offense could become extremely efficient on short to mid-range passing plays as Dalton has a 64.9 career completion percentage.