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Have the Bears Failed Justin Fields, or Was He Never That Guy? – The Ringer

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The second-year quarterback is the worst passer in the NFL this year, and everyone should shoulder blame for his regression. Now the focus is on whether Fields’s career in Chicago is salvageable, or if he was doomed from the start.
There’s an argument that the most important thing for a young NFL quarterback is the team that drafts him. There’s a world in which Tom Brady winds up on a team besides the Patriots, puts up the playing time and statistics more fitting of a sixth-round draft pick, and quickly finds himself dusting off his college résumé. (3.3 GPA, Merrill Lynch internship, he’s gonna be fine!) There’s also a world in which all of those famous NFL draft busts—the JaMarcus Russells, the Ryan Leafs, any number of Cleveland Browns or New York Jets—get picked by teams which nurture them and help them grow, taking advantage of the physical skills that made them such sought-after prospects. A quarterback needs talent to succeed in the league, but without good coaching, good schemes, and good teammates, it might be useless.
Right now, it’s time to ask: Is there a world in which Justin Fields could be the NFL’s hottest young QB right now if he weren’t on the quarterback black hole known as the Chicago Bears?? Or is the issue in Chicago that Fields simply isn’t the hyper-fast, rocket-armed star so many thought he could be?
Fields was supposed to be special. He was considered one of the greatest quarterback prospects of all time in high school, put together an iconic College Football Playoff performance for Ohio State, and ran a stunning 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. He had the body, he had the arm, he had the film. And yet he has become infected with the same case of Bearsitis that has afflicted every Chicago quarterback for the past 30 years. As a rookie, it was easy to pin Fields’s struggles on Matt Nagy, the lame-duck head coach that most of Chicagoland had wanted gone before the 2021 season. But now free of Nagy and playing for an entirely new coaching staff, Fields has actually regressed in Year 2.
Four games into his second NFL season, Fields is the worst passer in the NFL. He is ranked 37th out of 37 players in The Ringer’s QB Rankings, 31st out of 32 in ESPN’s QBR, 32nd out of 32 in Football Outsiders’ DYAR, and 44th out of 45 players on Pro Football Focus. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Fields has the worst completion percentage over expectation of any passer with at least 50 attempts, as he completes 13.1 percent fewer passes than he should. (With Fields, the stat probably should be called completion percentage below expectation.) The Bears have just 390 passing yards through four games; Tua Tagovailoa had 469 in one game last month against the Ravens. This is in spite of the fact that opponents are essentially daring the Bears to throw: According to TruMedia, the Bears’ opponents play eight defenders in the box on 35.2 percent of plays, the second-highest rate in the league. That approach from opposing defenses makes sense, as the Bears have built one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL this season. They’re third in rushing attempts and rushing yards through four games, and that run game has been somewhat effective–Chicago ranks 18th in offensive EPA on run plays. In fairness to Fields, he’s effective at running. He has 147 of the Bears’ 709 rushing yards, and has been especially effective when he scrambles, ranking third among QBs in EPA per scramble, behind only Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts.
But unlike those other QBs, scrambling is the only impactful part of Fields’s game right now. Fields does not seem particularly interested in throwing footballs, and the Bears aren’t keen on having him even try. A chart by PFF’s Timo Riske shows that Fields only targets receivers on 61 percent of dropbacks, miles below the league average of 82 percent. Under pressure, this drops to 34 percent; he is nearly as likely to scramble or be sacked than attempt a legitimate pass attempt. Fields is tied for the second-most sacks in the NFL. He has completed 34 passes and been sacked 16 times. (That’s really bad!) He’s on pace to have the highest sack rate in over 20 years. PFF assigns Fields (rather than his offensive line) with responsibility for 11 pressures, the most in the NFL.
I get it. If I were missing as badly as Justin Fields right now, I wouldn’t want to throw the ball either. On both of his interceptions against the Texans in Week 3, he flat-out missed the target. Here Darnell Mooney is expecting a pass over his left shoulder; Fields overthrows him and puts the ball on the wrong side of Mooney’s body. He miscalculated the power and the direction, like a kicker in a video game.
Call him Jalen P re

And on this one, Fields throws way out in front of tight end Cole Kmet. I came across a film breakdown on Twitter where, two minutes into the video, the analyst asks, “Wait, was this tipped?” It was not tipped—Fields just missed by that much.
Swooped right on in @jalenpitre1

It’s really startling stuff from Fields, who looked like a can’t-miss prospect at Ohio State. Literally! According to PFF’s draft guide, his biggest strength was his accuracy, noting that Fields “hasn’t ever been anything other than deadly accurate in college.” The Ringer’s Draft Guide also highlighted his “pinpoint accuracy” as a strength. Now, if you saw him playing darts, you’d leave the bar if you wanted to keep both of your eyes intact. What happened?
To many, the answer is easy: The Chicago Bears happened. It was hard to be confident about Fields’s development under Nagy, the coach already at least partially responsible for the stunted growth of Mitchell Trubisky. (It no longer feels like we need to ask whether Trubisky could have thrived on another team—he just got benched on the Steelers.) Nagy was oddly committed to playing Andy Dalton at the start of last season; when Fields did become the starter in Week 3, Nagy’s game plan was widely criticized for not catering to Fields’s strengths. When Nagy was fired at the end of last season, it became clear that Fields didn’t like playing under Nagy. Clearly, they were a bad pairing, and the Bears and Fields had a chance to start over in 2022.
If I ran the Bears, I would have prioritized hiring a QB-savvy coach who could get the most out of such an electric prospect. Instead, Chicago hired Matt Eberflus, the Colts’ defensive coordinator and a longtime linebackers coach. The Bears did hire Luke Getsy, previously the Packers’ quarterbacks coach, to be their new offensive coordinator and play caller. Getsy gets some credit for working with Aaron Rodgers in his MVP seasons of 2020 and 2021—but it’s not like Getsy, who became Rodgers’s QB coach 15 seasons into his career, is primarily responsible for Rodgers being the player he is today. When picking a new quarterbacks coach, the guy who would have the most day-to-day contact with Fields, the Bears made a strange hire: Andrew Janocko. He was the Vikings’ QB coach in 2021, although Janocko had spent most of his career working with receivers and offensive linemen. When The Athletic asked league sources about Janocko, they apparently responded “Who?” or “What do you know about him?” This new coaching staff claims to have focused on getting Fields to change his mechanics. (Hey! Maybe we’ve cracked the case and discovered why Justin Fields suddenly went from accurate to inaccurate!)
The Bears have also surrounded Fields with an absolutely abysmal collection of talent. The Bears’ receiver corps was ranked as the worst in the league by PFF, and the team is dead last in the NFL in spending on wide receivers, with just $4.6 million committed to the position in 2022. Dolphins star Tyreek Hill is making $26.6 million this year; therefore the Bears’ whole wide receiver corps for the entire season is worth roughly three weeks of Tyreek Hill. Their best wide receiver is probably Darnell Mooney, a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft. They did use a third-rounder on Velus Jones Jr. in April, but in his season debut on Sunday, he didn’t play any offensive snaps and muffed a punt.
The Bears are also weak on the offensive line, ranked 31st by PFF. Their starting left tackle, Braxton Jones, was a fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah in April’s draft. They had hoped Teven Jenkins would fill the role after drafting him in the second round last year, but after injuries and poor performance last year, he’s been shifted to right guard. Their best and most experienced lineman is probably Cody Whitehair, but he just suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for an extended period of time. That leaves the Bears with two undrafted starters—Sam Mustipher at center and Lucas Patrick at left guard. So yes, Fields is responsible for many of the sacks against him—but he’s not getting much blocking help.
Miraculously, Chicago is 2-2—the Bears won in a rainstorm against the 49ers, and outlasted the winless Texans. But that seems to be primarily due to the strong running game and a defense which has allowed just three passing touchdowns in four games. Every part of the passing offense is a mess, from the coaching to the receiving to the blocking to Fields. It’s a recipe in which every ingredient is rancid.
Maybe Fields is unsaveable, but the Bears haven’t thrown him a life preserver. The new administration, both Eberflus and new general manager Ryan Poles, arrived in Chicago earlier this year with a chance to figure out whether they have something in the young QB. But they haven’t seemed particularly interested in that. The question of whether Fields’s failure is due to his own poor performance or the Bears’ all-consuming suck remains unanswered—but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Fields is stuck on this team, and this team is stuck with Fields. No matter who is to blame, everybody in Chicago is losing.
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