On Wednesday, the Chicago Bears made the announcement everyone was anticipating as rookie quarterback Justin Fields was named the starting quarterback. Fields will make his first NFL start in Cleveland against the Browns in one of the more premier games of the week 3 schedule. For Chicago’s rookie quarterback to be successful moving forward, the offense will need to see more production from their tight ends, who are vital to the offensive scheme.
Coach Nagy has announced that Justin Fields will be our starting QB against the Browns.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) September 22, 2021
Chicago’s Tight Ends Have Yet To Make A Difference In The Offense Through Two games
Through the first two games of the 2021 season, the Bears only have seven receptions for 53 yards from two tight ends. Chicago has five tight ends on their roster, which is the most by any team in the NFL. Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet, Jesse James, Jesper Horsted, and J.P. Holtz are all expected to generate production in the Bears’ offense, but only Kmet and Graham have registered receptions so far.
#Bears targeted tight ends Cole Kmet (1) and Jimmy Graham (0) just once. Nagy says: "Not enough targets yesterday. They need to be more involved. That's my fault."
— Larry Mayer (@LarryMayer) September 20, 2021
Head coach Matt Nagy loves to utilize the tight end position in his offense as he has made it a purpose to featuring as many tight ends as possible in the passing game. Last season, Nagy made sure that Graham, Kmet, and Demetrius Harris were targeted, especially early in the year. So far through this season, Bears’ tight ends have been targeted only ten times, with the longest reception being for 11 yards.
The lack of targets and production for Graham has been extremely concerning given the level of success the former All-Pro tight end had in 2020, especially in the red zone. The former Saints’ Pro Bowl tight end caught 50 passes for 456 yards but caught seven of his eight touchdowns in the red zone. Nagy used Graham in one-on-one situations and isolated him against one defender, with most targets leading to a touchdown.
In his first season with the Chicago Bears, Jimmy Graham finished with the third most touchdowns by a TE in the NFL with 9.
— Daniel Greenberg (@ChiSportUpdates) January 11, 2021
With James, Holtz, and Horsted, it is intriguing that the bears’ have not targeted any of the tight ends yet, given the success they had with the three during the preseason. Four of Chicago’s five passing touchdowns during the preseason went to their tight ends, who have yet to receive targets during the regular season. James and Horsted had some of the longest receptions during the preseason and caught the two passing touchdowns thrown by Fields.
Justin Fields Will Need The Tight Ends To Be Featured In The Passing Game Against Cleveland
During the preseason, Fields was most successful when he was on the move and when he targeted his tight ends. The rookie quarterback connected on James for a 30-yard touchdown pass against the Dolphins and connected with Horsted on a 22-yard touchdown pass against the Titans. Fields’ touchdown against the Titans was arguably his most impressive throw of the preseason, as he completed a perfect pass on the move to the tight end, who was double-covered in the end zone.
the all-22 angles of the Justin Fields touchdown throw against the Titans. pic.twitter.com/J2bOnVlO8P
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) August 30, 2021
The Cleveland Browns’ defense through the first two games has struggled to stop big plays against opposing tight ends. Both the Chiefs and Texans have had a tight end that has recorded a reception of 17 yards or longer in the Browns’ first two games. Cleveland’s defense struggled significantly to stop one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Travis Kelce as they allowed the All-Pro to catch six passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs and Texans both featured offensive game plans that attacked the middle of the Browns’ pass defense.
For the Bears’ offense to be one of the best in the NFL, they will need to give their tight ends more opportunities to produce. With Nagy’s offense, the tight end position must attack both the linebacker and safeties positions to free up the running backs and receivers in the passing game. If the Bears’ offense can get Graham, Kmet, and James involved on passing routes of 5 to 20 yards, this will free up running backs David Montgomery and Damien Williams on swing and screen passes. Receivers Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin should be more open on downfield targets, with opposing safeties having to guard the tight ends in the middle of the field.
Fun throwback play (and very bad defense) results in an easy Bears TD pass from Justin Fields to Jesse James. pic.twitter.com/vEfPDD6Y8n
— Matt Clapp (@DaBearNecess) August 14, 2021
With Fields making his first start, the tight end position is always a rookie quarterback’s best option in the passing game. When Mitchell Trubisky became the Bears’ starting quarterback in his rookie season of 2017, he targeted his tight ends heavily as his first two passing touchdowns were to tight ends Zack Miller and Dion Sims. On Sunday against Cleveland, it is in Nagy’s best interest to make Graham, James, and Kmet a vital part of the offensive game plan for Fields to have success.