2023 NFL Week 1: Justin Fields Running Out of Excuses in Chicago

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields

Time is running out for Justin Fields. Quarterbacks don’t get more than three years to prove their mettle in the NFL. It doesn’t matter where they were drafted, how talented they are or how difficult a hand they have been dealt. At some point, the buck has to stop. 

The Chicago Bears have made sure they’ll get a clear answer on Fields’ future. They acquired a genuine No. 1 wide receiver in DJ Moore and spent the 10th overall pick on RT Darnell Wright. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy also stuck around for another season, giving Fields scheme continuity he didn’t previously get going from Year 1 to Year 2.

If Fields can’t put it together now, it’s hard to imagine what it would take for him to get there. 

Week 1 Woes

Fields needs to check three boxes this season to earn the Bears’ trust: prove he can handle more of the offense, make quicker decisions and throw with accuracy. Even checking two of those boxes could be enough to get him over the hump, considering what he offers as a runner. 

Fields didn’t check any of those boxes against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. 

We don’t even need to look into Fields’ individual play to understand how he’s struggled to take the next step so far. Getsy’s play-calling says it all. 

For one, Fields was barely asked to throw the ball down the field. Fields’ average depth of target (3.7) and average yards to the sticks (-6.7) were the second-lowest in the league through the afternoon slate of games. Only Desmond Ridder was worse in both categories, and it was painfully obvious watching him play how little the Atlanta Falcons trust Ridder right now. 

Baby-Proofed Offense

Fields’ issues go deeper than the stats. So many of Getsy’s calls are intended to protect Fields from himself. For instance, many of their drive starters didn’t ask Fields to do a whole lot. In the middle of the first quarter, the Bears opened with a half-field roll to cut the read in half and make things easy for Fields to read out. They opened with a flare screen to the running back two drives later, resulting in a seven-yard loss. 

Getsy also didn’t trust Fields to throw on a third-and-7 from the Packers 28-yard line in the first quarter. He called a screen for Chase Claypool, which was tipped and dropped.

Right or wrong, Getsy wanted to guarantee three points instead of seeing what Fields could do. It says a lot about the quarterback when a play caller effectively surrenders on a gettable third-down situation within scoring range. 

It’s not hard to understand why the offense is still so baby-proofed, considering how Fields played Sunday. 

Fields didn’t at all look to have sped up his processing and decision-making. Not only did Fields finish with a 2.95-second time-to-throw average — the fifth-highest in the league so far — he regularly held onto the ball for an eternity before ultimately scrambling.

Fields struggled all last season with triggering on throws unless they were completely wide open, and it doesn’t look like anything’s changed if the Packers game is any indication.

Same Old Problems

The same is true of Fields’ ball placement. Fields’ best throws are as tantalizing as it gets, but the more time passes, the more those throws feel like a siren song. The down-to-down accuracy still isn’t there. Per Next Gen Stats, Fields’ completion percentage over expectation was -7.2 percent against the Packers, the sixth-worst among the 28 quarterbacks who played before Sunday night. 

The concern isn’t that Fields played poorly. It’s that Fields played poorly in the same ways we’ve seen him play poorly before. This wasn’t a case of wide receiver drops, miscommunication or an insurmountable scheme disadvantage. It wasn’t a fluke of any kind. 

Fields was just the same kind of bad we have tried to excuse and explain away for the past two seasons. At a certain point, this is who he is. 

The Road Ahead

That’s disheartening more than anything. Fields entered the league as an exceptionally talented athlete with a booming arm. His accuracy profile in college was incredible. As a competitor, Fields had moments at Ohio State that made you believe he had what it took to take his lumps in the league. The way he battled against Clemson in the playoff with a shattered rib was the stuff of legends. 

Fields feels like a shell of the player he was at Ohio State. Not that Fields was a perfect prospect or anything, but he had all the traits to become something special. Twenty-seven games in and we haven’t seen any of that, save for his rushing ability and flashes of a pretty deep ball.

I want to believe that the confident, accurate passer he was in college is still in there somewhere, but most players who fall this far from grace don’t find their footing again. 

Thankfully for him, this isn’t the end of the road. He will get many games to figure it out this season — and he should. The Bears committed to giving Fields a proper chance, and one game shouldn’t deter them from that. 

This is the bed the Bears made for themselves, and I think they are comfortable lying in it, for better or worse. The way things are going, chances are it will be Caleb Williams or Drake Maye awaiting them when they wake up. 

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.

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