LAKE FOREST – Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields crouched near the Washington Commanders 10-yard line with his face in his left hand and helmet in his right. A 12-7 loss was recorded seconds earlier when Darnell Mooney missed the goal line in what could have been the winning catch.
It was a low point for Fields, and offense, especially passing offense, hovered near the bottom of the league standings all season.
Fair or not, Fields was expected to make the leap in his second season, despite the Bears focusing on defense early in the draft and not getting any of the elite wide receivers who switched teams this offseason. And despite the new regime introduces a new system.
When Fields crouched on the turf of Soldier Field after an evening game on Thursday, October 13, it was fair to wonder if the jump would come through.
The Bears had 10 days to come up with something before the Monday night game in New England in Week 7, and their self-prospecting in that time appears to have changed the narrative of Fields’ evolution.
Fields now has the highest QBR (55.4) among NFC North quarterbacks and has led the league in QBR since Week 7 (83.9). And he’s just been named NFC Offensive Player of the Year after his 178 rushing yards against the Miami Dolphins set the record for most quarterbacks in a regular season game in NFL history. Fields threw three touchdowns (no interceptions) and ran for another, at one point prompting Miami coach Mike McDaniel to jokingly ask him to “stop it”.
Prior to his transformation, Fields had been fired and had the worst pressure in the league for holding the ball for too long. Getting rid of the ball faster is just one of the ways he changed the script, but there are others. And while the offensive resurgence didn’t stop the Bears from losing two-for-three to the Washingtons, developing their 23-year-old quarterback was considered Priority 1 for a team undergoing a makeover.
More developed tracks
Fields hit 20.33 mph in his 61-yard scrambled TD against the Dolphins, his fourth carry to hit 20+ mph since week 7. This ties the Jacksonville Jaguars with running back Travis Etienne for the most such runs in the NFL, according to Next Gen. Statistics.
“Of course, when you see him in person, he is much faster than I thought,” said trainer Matt Eberfluth.
Justin Fields hit 20.33 mph on his 61 yard scramble, his 4th carry reached 20+ mph from week 7 (NFL best with Travis Etienne).
Fields on scramble runs (2022):
— Next Generation Statistics (@NextGenStats) November 6, 2022
The key was to create more thoughtful runs for one of the most dangerous runners in the game. The Bears called 13 scheduled runs for Fields during the first six weeks and 21 from Week 7.
Fields was also dangerous from the scrum. His 42 scramble runs lead any quarterback, and his 411 yards and 188 overtime are also the best among QBs. According to Next Gen Stats, Fields had 113 more yards than expected against the Dolphins, the most by a quarterback in a game since Next Gen began tracking the area in 2016.
The biggest blow to an offense that has a running quarterback is its consistency. It’s true that the Bears will have a hard time competing consistently when averaging 147.4 passing yards per game, but how Fields has been put in position to play his run is a major reason for the shift in offense.
This is best exemplified by Fields’ expected added points (EPA) for dropping that goes beyond the passer’s rating given the quarterback’s ability to run and climb. From Weeks 1 to 6, Fields was ranked 25th out of 32 quarterbacks with an EPA of -0.05 per drop. He is eighth in this category since week 7 (+0.01).
Fields keeps the drives moving with his feet. Against the Dolphins, he had seven carries for 111 yards and a touchdown on third down and had six first downs.
“He definitely makes us right,” left-back Cody Whitehair said. “When there’s a little bit of pressure, he uses his legs and makes something out of nothing when something breaks. For an offensive lineman, that’s pretty cool.”
Get rid of the ball faster
Fields remains the most fired quarterback (33) in the NFL after nine games. Chicago’s offensive line was often criticized despite Fields averaging 3.03 seconds per shot in the first six weeks of the season, which was the longest in the NFL. And despite the fact that OL ranked among the best in the league in terms of successful pass blocking according to Sportzshala.
According to Sportzshala statistics and information, Fields had 15 QBRs (26th in the NFL) in games when the opposing defense recorded a pass rush win and his execution speed and execution speed exceeded expectations – the latter of which quantifies the quarterback’s execution speed compared to what it would have been, given the difficulty of the shot, were the worst in the NFL.
The Bears had a winning pass percentage of 68% (second) during the first six weeks, but after week 7, that dropped to 59% (16th). Fields got rid of the ball faster, which resulted in less sacking and pressure.
Fields has averaged 2.85 seconds since week 7. He has the best QBR (99.3) in the NFL during that span of time when an opposing defense wins a passing rush, and he averages third in yards per throw away (8.6) and a 64% completion percentage.
“You want to block him until he gets rid of the ball, but I think he just knows offense better,” right tackle Riley Reiff said. “He has not been in this system for a very long time.
“As a striker, it helps if the ball comes out faster, but there are certain surfaces, he looks at so many things where it is difficult to hit the ball so quickly. He’s been doing a really good job lately and I think the more games, the more snaps, the more comfortable he’ll feel.”
Fields’ goal during his early season ups and downs was to improve his presence in the pocket, and the stats confirm he’s making progress. His completion percentage jumped from 33% to 60% under pressure, while his yards per attempt (from 6.5 to 8.8) and overall QBR (from 29 to 98) also increased. Most importantly, since the seventh week, he has never intercepted the ball while under pressure.
“It’s just being in the pocket, he knows the reads, he looks over his reads, he pitches the ball, he feels comfortable knowing that, hey, he can ride the pocket and come up and deliver it,” Eberfluss said. “Again, this is a learned skill. He must be able to go through the process.”
This was central to Fields, who sees a fully developed version of himself as a quarterback, developing his abilities as a passer. One area he needs to improve is accuracy, as he ranks 33 out of 34 qualified quarterbacks in off-target percentage (21.0%).
“Pocket presence, get to check faster,” Fields said. “I think that’s something I can grow into now and just keep evolving.”
“Everything is more comfortable”
There are no statistics to measure confidence, but it is clear that Fields has become more comfortable studying his second offense in as many years.
“The experience really motivated him to take the next step,” said Eberfluss. “But also, since I think we’re studying him and he’s studying offense, it’s kind of both.
“So we’re tailoring it more to him, but at the same time he’s learning the pattern, if that makes sense. You may just feel like he’s getting more and more comfortable with it.”
One area that exemplifies Fields’ comfort and confidence is his ability to read the defense. Because the Bears are a very productive team, able to attack quickly, the opposing defense counters more outreach—fewer defenders covering receivers and more at the line to stop the run. Fields has the fourth-highest player coverage (49%) in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks.
Against the people in the first six weeks, Fields had 25 QBs (#28 in the NFL) with two touchdowns and one interception. Starting in week 7, his QBR jumped to 82 (8th), and his six against-cover touchdown passes (with one interception) lead the NFL by that span.
“The more you play, the more you see things, the more you see defenses and the more you get used to just seeing different views,” Fields said. “I think I am growing every day. I think everyone on our team is like that.”