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NFL Draft

Justin Fields’ Struggles Shine Light On Bears’ Bigger Problems

  • The Draft Network
  • September 27, 2021
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Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields made the first start of his career Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and it didn’t go well. The Bears lost, 26-6, with Fields completing just six of 20 attempts for 68 yards. He managed just 12 yards on three carries as a runner.

Fields’ 41.3 quarterback rating is a fair indicator of how his afternoon went. He was unable to generate anything that resembled an offense, but it wasn’t his fault—at all. And no, this isn’t some kind of protective article trying to shield Fields from criticism.

There was literally nothing he could do.

Fields was sacked nine times by the Browns’ aggressive defensive front, including a career-best 4.5 sacks by Myles Garrett. Head coach Matt Nagy did him no favors, either. He didn’t call plays that put Fields on the move, he didn’t change protection schemes or commit to the run game in an effort to take some of the heat off Fields’ shoulders. David Montgomery ended the afternoon with just 10 carries; no other running back carried the ball.

Games like Sunday can ruin a rookie quarterback’s development, especially if they happen over and over again. The good news for the Bears is that this is just one game. And with the Detroit Lions up next on Chicago’s schedule, there’s a chance they’ll have a get-right opportunity in Week 4.

“You just want to do everything you can to just get a win, like no matter what it is,” Fields said after the game. “Like no matter how long I have to stay in the facility and no matter what, you just want to come out and after the game on Sunday, you just want to come out with a win, no matter what you have to do.”

Fields isn’t the only person in the Bears organization who needs to go back to the lab and work harder at being better. General manager Ryan Pace, the architect of this roster, should be hanging his head in shame after the performance his hand-picked offensive line turned in against the Browns. Chicago’s starting five—Jason Peters, Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, James Daniels, and Germain Ifedi—surrendered an unfathomable 21 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus on their first review. It wouldn’t matter if Patrick Mahomes was playing quarterback for the Bears in Week 3, no quarterback would be able to succeed in such a chaotic environment.

If you’re looking for a bright spot from Fields’ play, it’s that despite that barrage of pressure, he had zero turnover-worthy plays, per PFF.

Pace led the Bears to this result. His decision to draft Teven Jenkins in the second round, despite injury red flags, and releasing Charles Leno Jr. without a reasonable backup plan in place were decisions bordering on front-office negligence. His failure to upgrade at right tackle or bring in starting-quality competition along the interior compounded his head-scratching moves on the left side.

Poor decisions usually lead to poor results. In Week 3, those poor decisions led to Pace’s offensive line giving up the most sacks in one game since 2015.

But Fields’ struggles aren’t solely on the offensive line. Nagy was Mitch Trubisky-like with his playcalling. He kept Fields in the pocket by design, even when it was clear there was no pocket to operate in. No creative calls, nothing that put Fields on the move, nothing that even tried to let him take advantage of his legs when it was clear there was no way his arm was going to get the job done.

After the game, Nagy was more of the Nagy we’ve come to know. He was again a crockpot of excuses.

“I obviously did not do a good enough job of getting this offense ready to go,” Nagy said Sunday,  “so it starts with me [and] ends with me, and it’s as simple as that.

‘‘We know what we wanted to do and what we were gonna try to do; [the Browns] did, too. You’ve gotta be able to adjust if they’re gonna try to take something away that they think he does well. . . . It’s my job to make sure that [problem] gets fixed.’’

This sounds way too familiar for a city that’s gone through several seasons of Nagy searching for the ‘why’ things don’t work; years of Nagy needing time to review the film to find the fix. At some point, time is going to run out, and with a prized rookie quarterback’s future hanging in the balance, that expiration date could come way sooner than Nagy expects.

Fields will go through his rookie struggles. Everyone knows this. But it’s unfair to call Week 3’s performance a rookie struggle. Instead, Fields suffered through a sick NFL initiation led by Nagy, with strings pulled by Pace. If the Bears aren’t careful, they’ll break him before he has a chance to even get started.

When things don’t go your way, it shows who you truly are on the inside,” Fields said. “Just the way you bounce back and the way you react to those moments.”

Unfortunately, after just one career start, Fields is already being tested to prove who he is.

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