1st-and-10: Bears need to hit the easy button on Justin Fields

Bears quarterback Justin Fields (running away from defensive lineman William Gholston) was sacked six times and threw two interceptions in a 27-17 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Where are Matt Patricia’s Lions when you need ‘em? 

In an early season developmental funk, Justin Fields needs the kind of confidence booster that Patricia’s Lions provided Mitch Trubisky — a dose of success that kept hope alive that the 2017 No. 2 overall draft pick could eventually figure it out and become the Bears’ franchise quarterback.

No doubt Fields needs to buy some time after a discouraging start in 2023. A few more sub-80 passer rating games like the ones Fields has had against the Packers and Buccaneers, and Tyson Bagent might become — awkwardly, uncomfortably and unrealistically — the most popular Bears player in Chicago. 

You want the Bears to keep it simple for Fields and get him in a groove? Nothing did that for Trubisky like Patricia’s Lions. Trubisky was 4-0 with a 133.1 passer rating (12 touchdowns, one interception) against them— and 25-21 with an 84.0 rating against everyone else he faced with the Bears. 

Against a developing quarterback flummoxed by zone defenses or any tack that forced him to “play quarterback,” Patricia stubbornly played a man-to-man defense that played right into Trubisky’s strength — all he had to do was find the winning matchup and let it rip.

That’s about where Fields is today — in the “simplify it” stage of Bears quarterback development. That’s after giving him a coordinator from a winning program, re-working his mechanics, fixing his footwork, getting him experience, upgrading his weapons, having him run more and having him run less.

The Bears’ work-in-progress offensive line even gave Fields time to throw on several occasions against the Buccaneers and it mostly exposed other issues — holding on to the ball too long, not seeing open receivers and failing to pull the trigger. There’s always something. 

The Bears keep looking for their Joe Burrow or Josh Allen, but are only getting Trubisky 2.0 with Fields — a quarterback who can play the position functionally but not intuitively. A quarterback who needs an easy button. 

Fields doesn’t have a sixth sense. He can’t influence a defense. He doesn’t have a knack for when to pull the trigger and when to buy time. When Bears coach Matt Eberflus was asked about Fields ability to sense pressure on a strip sack, he said it all, maybe more than he knew. 

“That’s all instincts,” Eberflus said.

Absolutely, it is. That’s the problem. Fields’ dynamic running ability gives him a higher ceiling than Trubisky, so it’s too early to give up on him. But it’s going to take the Bears time to build an offense that Fields can max out in — time that neither Fields nor Luke Getsy might have. 

2. Bears general manager Ryan Poles was lauded for cutting his losses and putting the roster ahead of the salary cap when he cut backup quarterback P.J. Walker and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood. But the misevaluations start to add up in tough times, with Velus Jones a bit player, Fields struggling, the offensive line shaky and Chase Claypool making in-house apologies in Week 2. And the Nate Davis acquisition is still to be played out. 

It’s hard to see Poles’ seat getting warm in 2023, but he needs a turnaround soon, almost as much as Eberflus and Getsy do. 

Kevin Warren, who now has two tear-downs that have become problematic since becoming team president — Arlington Park and the Bears roster — has been in a mostly observational role, but could loom larger if things continue to go south. It’s happened before. 

3. Even with modest expectations with many newcomers, the Bears have disappointed. Why is that?

“I would just say that we’re working hard,” Eberflus said. “We want to get continuity with the players, the coaches … the offensive line, the receivers, the defense, front seven and all those things. 

“And I did see improvement from the first week to the second week, which is a positive. We’re going to keep stacking improvements up as we go and if we seize those opportunities that we’re adding in the game, then the outcome will swing the other way.” 

4. Luke Getsy might be the next Kyle Shanahan for all we know. But this explanation of the failed screen against the Packers was a little too reminiscent of the Dave Wannstedt era, when Wanny would lament how close the Bears were to a breakthrough (“Two plays!”): 

“I know it sounds like screens have been a conversation,” Getsy said. “But a poor motion landmark, and a couple of poor blocks. But if you watch the film — and actually watch the film — we have everybody accounted for and there’s nobody else out there. If we can just capture that edge, those are 15, 25 yard gains and you guys are patting me on my back. And I get it. That’s part of it.”

It’s an earnest explanation, and a legitimate one in Week 2 of Year 2. The problem with Bears offenses in general over the years is that everything has to be perfectly in place for it to consistently produce, and something too often goes wrong — a miscommunication, a bad snap, improper receiver spacing or a receiver thinking it’s a run when it’s a pass. There’s always something.

5. The best thing that happened against the Buccaneers? DJ Moore’s four longest receptions — 33, 31, 26 and 12 yards — led to touchdowns. 

The worst thing that happened? With their first chance to win a game in the fourth quarter in 2023, the Bears looked even more unprepared for the moment than even last year. 

The most curious thing that happened? Asked after the game if defensive coordinator Alan Williams will still call plays when he returns, Eberflus said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” 

6. For What It’s Worth Dept. — Eberflus’ defense held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense to its lowest point total in Mahomes’ 50 career starts at Arrowhead Stadium — a 19-13 Colts victory as 10.5-point underdogs on Oct. 6, 2019. The Chiefs came in 4-0 and averaging 32 points a game. (The Packers tied that mark in a 13-7 loss in 2021.)

Eberflus modified the Colts’ defense game plan, aggressively defending Chiefs receivers at the line of scrimmage to alter the timing with Mahomes (91.1 rating), who was sacked four times and lost wide receiver Sammy Watkins to an injury in the first quarter. 

7. The Bears have to establish some offensive line continuity before they do anything else. With Ja’Tyre Carter starting for right guard Nate Davis against the Buccaneers, the Bears have had 23 different starting line combinations in 19 games under Eberflus. 

With Dan Feeney subbing for center Lucas Patrick for two snaps in the fourth quarter, the Bears have now made 43 in-game line changes in the Chris Morgan era — one change for every 27 snaps. 

8. Caleb Williams Watch — The USC junior is making a strong bid to become only the second back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner. In three games, he’s completing 78.6% of his passes (55 of 70) for 878 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions and leads the nation in passing efficiency at 240.50. 

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week — Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert, who played 17 special teams snaps for the Bears in 2016, had 18 carries for 121 yards and two touchdowns, including a 43-yard score in the third quarter, in a 24-17 victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. 

10. Bear-ometer: 5-12 — at Chiefs (L); vs. Broncos (L); at Commanders (L); vs. Vikings (W); vs. Raiders (W); at Chargers (L); at Saints (L); vs. Panthers (W); at Lions (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Lions (W); at Browns (L); vs. Cardinals (W); vs. Falcons (L); at Packers (L).


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