Justin Fields made his fourth start of the season this past weekend, a loss to Green Bay that dropped him and the Bears to 2-2 since he took over for Andy Dalton. After taking an in-depth look at his first start against the Browns, we decided to check his progress with a look into his most recent start.
First Drive: Starting at own 20, 11:09 left in 1st quarter, tied 0-0
With the Bears looking to establish the run game early, they start with two runs for a first down. The first pass for Fields is a designed rollout, play-action pass for an easy completion. Fields’ next two throws are sideline routes and the throws are on-the-money. He looks more comfortable in the pocket early in this game, but the Packers aren’t generating much pressure. A DPI sets the Bears up at the 1 yard line and they punch it in on the ground to take a 7-0 lead.
Second Drive: Starting on own 15, 4:25 left in the first quarter, Bears lead 7-0
The Bears again start on the ground and Khalil Herbert is making noise early, picking up chunks of yards at a time. Matt Nagy showed some confidence in the team by going for a 4th-and-1 from midfield, which they picked up. However, it’s a rough drive for Fields. Outside of a short scramble (that set up the fourth-down conversion) and a short WR screen completion, Fields throws two incompletions, both overthrows to covered receivers. He still seems like he locks onto his first read and that’s where the ball is going no matter what.
Then, on a 3rd-and-7, Fields believes he has drawn an offsides (not called) and heaves it downfield; the pass is intercepted. In defense of Fields, he thought he had a free play. However, the heave was nowhere near an intended Bears receiver. The closest Bears player, Allen Robinson, was at least 10 yards in front of the safety as the INT was made. Even with a free play, he needs to give his receiver a chance to make something happen.
Third Drive: Starting on own 29, 9:52 left in the second quarter, Tied, 7-7
The Packers score on their possession following the INT to tie the game. Fields and the Bears quickly go three-and-out and are forced to punt. Fields throws an incompletion and takes a sack sandwiched around a short Herbert run. Fields had an opportunity to throw the ball away instead of taking the sack and needs to learn to avoid unnecessary hits in these situations.
Fourth Drive: Starting at own 32, 4:01 left in the second quarter, Packers lead 10-7
Fields misses an opportunity on the second play of this drive. Play-action, deep drop for the rookie and he has Robinson running wide-open down the middle of the field but never sees him, despite avoiding the rush to give himself time to survey the field. He tucks and runs instead. Later on the drive, he takes a massive hit on a scramble where he did slide, drawing a personal foul (unfortunately for the Bears, it was offset by a penalty of their own).
On the next play, Fields again just heaves the ball down the field — eerily similar to his earlier INT where Robinson isn’t even close. This one should have been picked as well, but the Packer DB failed to keep his feet inbounds at the back of the end zone. The Bears are in field goal range at this point, but Fields tries to call timeout and refs don’t see it, which leads to a delay of game. Next play, he takes a sack. Hard to blame Fields on the sack; the Bears LG Cody Whitehair gets bull rushed right into Fields’ lap. The Bears, now well outside of FG range, punt the ball away and we head into the halftime break.
Fifth Drive: Starting at own 25, 15:00 left in the third quarter, Packers lead 10-7
The Bears get the ball to start the second half, still trailing 10-7. Following a first down run of Herbert for 13 yards, the Bears are unable to pick up another first down and punt. Bears try to run a screen that doesn’t work on second down. Third down, as soon as the pocket starts to break down, Fields immediately gives up trying to throw and attempts to scramble, gaining very little.
Sixth Drive: Starting at own 25, 6:00 left in the third quarter, Packers lead 17-7
The Packers score another touchdown on the preceding drive to open up a double-digit lead. Despite an eight-play drive that gains 35 yards, the Bears elect to punt on 4th and 7 from the Packers’ 40-yard line. Fields makes one strong throw across the middle to Darnell Mooney that converted a first down, but this drive was otherwise uneventful as the team continues to lean on Herbert. Fields goes 2-5 passing on the drive and is now 9-18 for the game with just 88 yards.
Seventh Drive: Starting at own 20, 15:00 left in the fourth quarter, Packers lead 17-7
Desperately needing points, down two scores in the fourth quarter, the Bears drive 80 yards and get into the end zone. After starting with two runs, Fields makes his best play of the day. With his first read covered and the pocket beginning to collapse, Fields escapes to his left. But, while he’s moving, he keeps his eyes downfield and finds Robinson breaking open in the middle of the field. Fields gets his feet set and makes a very strong throw to pick up 20 yards.
On the very next play, Fields hits tight end Cole Kmet for another 20 yards. This one, however, was a first-read throw to a wide-open Kmet, and the throw is a little high. Luckily for Kmet, no defender was close enough to lay a hit, but those are the throws that leave receivers vulnerable, especially in the middle of the field.
Two plays later, with no one open, Fields reverses field for a 16-yard gain on a scramble, showing off his speed and athleticism. A holding penalty negates a Herbert rushing score and pushes the Bears back to 1st-and-20 from the GB 26, but Fields completes consecutive passes and Herbert runs for a first down on third-and-short. Now first-and-goal from the five, Fields drops back in shotgun and has all day to throw; eventually, Mooney comes wide-open, and Fields hits him for the TD.
As someone who has watched every snap of Fields’ young NFL career, I can confidently say this was the best drive he’s ever had. He moved around in the pocket; he made throws beyond his first read; he used his legs when he needed to; and, when the team absolutely had to have points, he got them points. He was 5-5 passing on the drive after going 1-7 in his previous seven throws.
Eighth Drive: Starting at own 42, 4:24 left in the fourth quarter, 24-14 Packers lead
Unfortunately for Fields and the Bears offense, the defense couldn’t hold Green Bay following the touchdown and they immediately got it back, re-opening the 10-point deficit for Chicago. Early in the drive, Fields makes a nice play to escape a sack and scramble for 16 yards. On the next official play, Fields throws a dart to Mooney to pick up a first down into Green Bay territory on a sideline comeback route. That’s where the good news ends, as Fields takes a big sack on the ensuing play. He had some time early, but just didn’t feel the rush in time, though the Whitehair gets beaten again. After an RB screen picks up seven yards, Fields gets sacked again on third-and-long. In a spot where the Bears can’t afford it, Fields takes two sacks. Both sacks could have been avoided by throwing the ball away, but the young QB was trying to hit the home run. The Bears were forced to go for it on fourth-and-forever, which they did not get, and they would not see the ball again. The Packers take it, 24-14.
There are some definite positives to take from this game for the Bears’ young signal-caller, and he showed some improvements from his first start against the Browns. He looked much more comfortable in the pocket, had a few throws to second or third reads, and used his legs more appropriately. Fields has excellent arm talent, there’s no question about it. When he has time to throw and his first read gives him a window, he will hit it. He’s an exceptional athlete whose legs give him an extra edge for off-script plays.
However, too often he continues to lock on to one receiver and force the ball there, even when the coverage is very tight. When the pocket breaks down, he tends to immediately become a runner and not keep his eyes downfield while moving. It seems as if Nagy and the coaching staff are hesitant to give him more than he can handle and it reminds me a little bit of how Sean McVay would scheme around Jared Goff’s liabilities, though this Bears offense isn’t nearly as creative as those Rams. After four games, I would say it’s clear why Andy Dalton was the starter to open the season: at this point, I believe Andy Dalton is the better NFL quarterback and would give Chicago a better chance to win football games.