NFC North Reporter
Two teams entered 2023 with a particularly urgent need to evaluate their quarterbacks. They happen to play in the same division: the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
The Packers had Aaron Rodgers’ successor on the roster but with a reworked two-year deal, Green Bay needed to know if Jordan Love was the way forward by the end of 2023. Even with young receivers, even with what ended up being an unreliable backfield and offensive line, Love had a season to prove himself — and it looks like he’s going to do it.
Justin Fields was entering his third season back in September but it was his first time going into an offensive system he had operated the year before. There were reinforcements brought in to rid Fields of any excuses and make his evaluation as easy as possible for the front office. Nate Davis was signed during free agency while the team spent their first pick of the draft on offensive tackle Darnell Wright. Perhaps most importantly, Chicago brought in No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore via trade.
The Bears need to make a decision this offseason on whether to pick up Fields’ fifth-year option and ultimately, sign him to a long-term deal. But going into Week 14, are the Bears realistically any closer to making that decision than they were in Week 1?
The way the discourse is going, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Fourteen weeks into the season and 23 games into his tenure under Eberflus, it’s still a conversation. In simple terms, that’s not great. Fields was asked this week about his future with Chicago. His answer didn’t sound like a player assured of his standing.
“Life isn’t fair so me, personally, I’m just focused on what I can control and the rest is in God’s hands,” he said. “If I’m here next year, if I’m not, football doesn’t define who I am as a person. My happiness will still be in the same place, still be in God. Football-wise, life stuff, I think my faith in God, my hope in God is just so much more than anything that can be thrown at me on this earth. That’s why I don’t really stress over stuff like that, over stuff that I can’t control.”
Fields has had an up-and-down year so far. There have been flashes of brilliance in both wins and losses. He threw for four touchdowns in back-to-back games against the Denver Broncos and Washington Commanders.
He hasn’t thrown for more than one in any other game this season, though.
“Shoot, since I got to Chicago, y’all don’t hold back,” Fields said. “I hear it from y’all, I hear it from fans and stuff like that. I don’t take any of it personal, because I know everybody’s entitled to their opinion on certain things and stuff like that. That’s one thing I try to do is not take anything personal, and just go about it that way.”
Jay Glazer on Justin Fields’ future; Giants moving off of Daniel Jones?
Fields was hampered by a thumb injury that kept him out for a month as well. His cumulative stats are a moot point, as a result. But through eight games played, Fields is averaging 198 passing yards and 1.5 passing touchdowns per game. That won’t likely sway anyone’s decision in the Bears’ front office on Fields. It doesn’t appear to be what the coaching staff prioritizes either.
“You score touchdowns by getting the explosives, right?” said head coach Matt Eberflus, when asked what he wanted to see out of the Bears offense in their last five games. “How do we create advantageous positions for the offense through motions, formationally, to create those advantages, those angles that we want to have so we can pop those runs? And in the passing game — we’re going to have to take more shots downfield to create those explosive plays. Those things are there. We just have to take advantage of it.”
The Bears are tied for the second-fewest passing plays of over 25 yards in the league, according to Stats.com. They have just 13 such plays, tying them with the Carolina Panthers and putting them ahead of just the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots.
There’s also a question of whether Fields understands that those kinds of plays are what he’s being evaluated on. Asked whether he feels any personal momentum going into the last five games of the season to give him a strong finish, he didn’t use it as an opportunity to reiterate what Eberflus had said.
“I think I have a different mindset on that — personal momentum,” Fields said. “I’m really just trying to be consistent; I think that’s the biggest thing. You can play good one game, play bad the other. So me personally, it’s just trying to be consistent and trying to be better than I was yesterday.”
That isn’t necessarily on Fields, either. There just seems to be a breakdown of communication between the players and the staff. It wouldn’t be the first instance, either.
Not all of Chicago’s offensive woes rest on Fields’ shoulders. The consistency he seeks has been elusive because the scheme itself has been inconsistent. There seemed to be an emphasis on reinforcing Fields’ numbers in the passing game and trying to fit him into offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s rhythm-passing system. But it went to another extreme that didn’t allow Fields to incorporate what he’s best at, which is running the football.
It’s also what makes him unique as a quarterback. Fields was one of the league’s most explosive runners in 2022 — gaining those coveted explosive plays with his legs rather than through the air. Chicago’s system for much of the season, hasn’t accounted for that.
In the Bears’ ugly win over the Vikings before the bye, and even in the games leading up to it, there seemed to be more opportunities for Fields to use his legs via designed runs and RPOs. But when asked if Fields always made the right choices when it came to either tucking the ball and running or throwing it, Getsy said this:
“Yeah, that’s like I said before, there were maybe one or two he thought something and it really wasn’t,” he said. “But for the most part, Justin did a really nice job of diagnosing that stuff and seeing what they presented to us. And they do a great job of making everything look the same. So whenever they presented it and sometimes they got out of it, we were still able to out-leverage them. Like I said, Mooney and EQ did a great job last week. There were two or three of those that were really high-level blocking on the outside and sprung DJ pretty good there.”
Is Justin Fields showing enough to keep his job as Bears QB1?
Getsy doesn’t sound like he’s completely confident in Fields, and it shows. Getsy’s inconsistency in being able to call such plays and deviate from his usual system doesn’t help that confidence, either.
There have been times the pair have seemed on the same page — the first quarter or first few plays, in particular. Most, if not all, NFL teams script out their first 10-15 plays of a game to give their offense a means to ease into the game as well as see what their opponent is going to do to try and stop them. In these instances, Getsy and Fields shine. In three of Fields’ last four games, the Bears have gone down the field and either scored a touchdown or been in a position to score. In his last game against Minnesota, Chicago missed a field goal on the opening drive.
The first drive against the Lions in Week 11 was especially impressive. Fields gained 11 yards with his legs on one play before firing a pass to D.J. Moore for a 14-yard gain on another. The Bears mixed in running back D’Onta Foreman and 75 yards later they were in the end zone.
Getsy knows what it should look like but for whatever reason, it’s not working on that consistent basis the Bears and Fields need.
And if it’s consistency Fields needs, are five games even enough to show it? At least to the point that the Bears are comfortable passing on the opportunity to draft a highly touted quarterback prospect with what should be the top pick in the draft this offseason?
It’s clear the Bears haven’t committed to Fields yet. But does that mean they’ve already made up their minds to move on?
We’ll find out soon enough.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
Get more from Chicago Bears Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more