LAKE FOREST – The chance to work with Andy Dalton again was always appealing to Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. If it wasn’t, the Bears wouldn’t have brought the 11th-year veteran to Chicago.
Dalton’s calmness and his poise in the pocket are two of the things giving him an edge as compared to a rookie quarterback like Justin Fields. There’s not much an NFL defense can throw at Dalton that he hasn’t already seen.
Lazor, who worked with Dalton for three years in Cincinnati from 2016-18, didn’t take any credit for Dalton’s poise. That quality was already present when Lazor showed up.
“It’s been fun to watch,” Lazor said. “When that happens, some of it is probably internal, some of it is probably what he has brought to the table, maybe just like our kids are hopefully learning that on Friday nights, maybe somewhere down the line he picked that up from a coach.”
The Bears are counting on that poise. They’re going to need it Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, one of the best defenses in the NFL last year. If this season is to be a success, the Bears are going to need that sense of calm in the red zone and on third down, in particular.
It’s a weird transition for the Bears because Lazor and his offensive staff are trying to fix the issues that plagued their unit a year ago. Much of that offense remains the same, except for a few positions – none more important than the quarterback.
The Bears offense ranked 22nd in the red zone last season and 31st on third downs. But Dalton, obviously, wasn’t a part of that. The Bears are hoping he changes the dynamic for their offense in those key situations.
“I have confidence in how we progressed in the passing game in practice in the red zone,” Lazor said. “[We had] some good practices down there that our quarterbacks and pass catchers had. We tried to zero in on the concepts in practice that we felt confident we could carry through the year.”
Dalton isn’t necessarily a vast improvement over Mitch Trubisky in that area. In fact, their red zone efficiencies looked pretty similar in 2020. Dalton completed 57% of his passes and threw for 160 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Trubisky completed 55% of his passes for 198 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Both started nine games.
Their third-down numbers were eerily similar as well. The Bears are betting on Dalton’s experience and poise to take things to another level.
“His competitiveness is definitely special,” Lazor said. “Hopefully when the real lights are on and we are going on Sunday night that shows up for everybody and it spreads.”
Would Fields give the Bears an even better chance in the red zone? His legs certainly would. Dalton doesn’t run like Fields. Dalton can place the ball where he needs to, but doesn’t have the same zip as Fields.
The fact is, if the Bears are going to have a successful 2021 season, it will likely be with Dalton at quarterback. Fields isn’t coming into a game, barring injury, unless Dalton and the offense are struggling.
“That’s the worst thing you can do is look over your shoulder,” Dalton said. “Understanding that is key. You know? We’re talking about tuning out the stuff you don’t need to focus on and knowing where you need to put your time and effort.”
Dalton is thinking a lot more about Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald than he is about Fields this week. As he should be.
Source: The Daily Chronicle