Emma's observations from Bears-Rams: Why Justin Fields' small role has big implications

It took four plays for the Bears to divert from their quarterback plan.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (670 The Score) – A new season began with the same concerns for the Bears, who lost 34-14 to the Rams in their opener Sunday night at SoFi Stadium. Here are the observations from the loss in Los Angeles.

Flipped the script
Four plays into the new season, the Bears altered course on their spoken quarterback plan.

That’s how long it took for rookie quarterback Justin Fields to take the field, as starter Andy Dalton jogged off to the sideline and Fields stepped in for a scripted package. Fields played five snaps in the opener. It’s not the volume of his playing that’s as important as the mere fact that it happened.

For the first time since the Bears selected Fields with the No. 11 overall pick in late April, Nagy opened the door for him to be Chicago’s starter. Entering Sunday, the Bears believed the 22-year-old Fields was more than capable as the backup, and they've also been planning for how he could be incorporated into the offense.

Nagy has stood by the 33-year-old Dalton as the Bears’ starter since Fields was drafted, and it’s unlikely that plan will change despite the results of Sunday. But the Bears have now revealed their hand at quarterback, and their approach is no longer following the script of the 2017 Chiefs, who had then-rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes waiting behind veteran starter Alex Smith.

Live On-Air
Ask Your Smart Speaker to Play six seventy the score
670 The Score
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

After his debut, Fields' role should be expanded – he'll likely get on the field for more than five plays when the Bears host the Bengals next Sunday. But at what point does Nagy’s comfort with Fields collide with his pre-existing confidence in Dalton?

Nagy and the Bears have already shifted away from their stated intentions for Fields’ rookie season, playing him earlier than many expected. Fields could be taking the Bears’ starting job before we imagined too.

Secondary a primary concern
The Bears offered little clarity on how they were left watching Rams receiver Cooper Kupp haul in a 56-yard touchdown pass with 10 yards of separation from the three nearest defenders on a Chicago defensive miscue in the third quarter.

In opening loss, Bears' defense reveals red flags

At the point in which he spoke to the media postgame, Bears coach Matt Nagy apparently hadn't yet consulted with any of the three players involved in the miscommunication – safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson and nickel cornerback Marqui Christian – and linebacker Roquan Smith was the lone defensive player made available for comment by the team.

What was clear is the Bears have problems in their secondary. It starts with Jackson, a former All-Pro at safety who has been a shell of his best form since 2018. He has just two interceptions since then and has been a poor tackler – including during the first quarter when he didn’t touch down Rams receiver Van Jefferson on a 67-yard touchdown.

Neither did Gipson, who started his 10th NFL season Sunday night with a rookie mistake. Those are the miscues one might expect from young cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson or Kindle Vildor, both beginning their second years in the NFL with plenty to prove. The Rams ran much of their passing attack through Kupp in the slot – challenging Christian as the nickel cornerback – which took some attention off Johnson and Vildor.

Regardless, the season opener showed the Bears have major concerns in their secondary – from Jackson on down. A defense that wants to be great could be set back by their secondary's weaknesses.

Nondescript debut
Since joining the Bears on a one-year deal in March, Dalton has carried himself the right way. That has especially proved true since Fields entered the fold.

But Dalton didn’t let his play do the talking in his first start in a Bears uniform, going 27-of-38 for 206 yards and an interception. It wasn’t the type of performance that elevates an offense, though that wasn’t the expectation with Dalton.

As the Bears’ starter, Dalton is being asked to bring competency to the offense – he's a game manager who can guide this group to productivity. Chicago finished with 322 total yards, in large part thanks to running back David Montgomery rushing for 108 yards.

Dalton’s most glaring mistake came on his first-quarter interception, a tipped pass that he said was intended for receiver Darnell Mooney in the end zone.

Dalton didn’t play well enough to silence the calls for Fields to start.

Where was Jimmy?
Veteran tight end Jimmy Graham hauled in his 700th career reception Sunday. It marked his only catch on the game.

Graham was targeted just twice in the game. He played only 14 snaps on offense, 20% of the Bears’ work on that side of the football.

Buy everything you need for a great pregame tailgate party here

That's notable because the Bears in March opted to retain Graham and release cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was sorely missed in the opener. The 34-year-old Graham restructured his contract last week and has been heralded as an excellent locker room leader.

But the Bears need to get Graham more involved in their offense to justify why he’s still on this roster – and why Fuller isn't.

Extra points
-- Asked last week about how he measures up to the NFL's top defenders, Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack said he would "show you" with his play. Mack then recorded just one assisted tackle in the opener.

While the Rams planned accordingly to keep Mack out of their backfield -- where was the rest of the pass rush? -- he simply can't be a non-factor like that if the Bears expect their defense to lead them to victories.

-- On the Bears' second drive, they faced fourth-and-4 from the Rams' 41-yard line. Dalton had tight end Cole Kmet wide open on a crossing route. He instead forced it to receiver Allen Robinson, who was covered well by Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and the Bears turned the ball over on downs on the incompletion.

Isn't the upside of Dalton supposed to be that he should spot the open Kmet?

-- It wasn't all bad for the Bears. Nobody was more impressive than Montgomery, who spent the offseason committed to improving his speed. He flashed it in the opener. Nagy fell short of his goal to get Montgomery 20 carries, but the Bears can stand confident in their running back.

-- The Bears' first seven drives finished in Rams territory, for an average final field position at the opposing 29.25 yard line. Chicago had just two touchdowns and 14 points to show for it.

-- Down 13-0 early in the second quarter, it sure seemed the Bears were on their way to being blown out. To their credit, they hung around until late.

-- Who's going to lead the Bears in starts at left tackle this season? I'm going with rookie Teven Jenkins, whom the team hopes can return in November. In the meantime, that position has problems.

-- I agree with Score colleague David Haugh. The Bears' decision to go for it on fourth-and-15 with 10:01 remaining spoke volumes of how Nagy felt about his defense.

-- The Rams built beautiful SoFi Stadium on the site of the old Hollywood Park thoroughbred course, in case Bears chairman George McCaskey was wondering.

-- The Bears have three more games in primetime. Warn the nation.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports