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Justin Fields And The Bears Might Have Figured Some Stuff Out

Justin Fields runs with the ball
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, you would have been hard-pressed to find a player more down and out than Justin Fields. The second-year QB’s box scores were hard to look at: 106 passing yards and two interceptions over here; 70 passing yards and another pick over here; the general sense that whoever the Bears were hoping Fields would be when they picked him 11th overall, he was a long way from becoming that player. Fields himself was as blunt as anyone could be in his assessment of his performances. “I played like trash,” he said after beating the Texans in Week 3. After a 12-7 loss to the Commanders in Week 6, he looked like a guy who was eager for the offseason to start while saying things like, “I’m tired of being almost there.”

So what did Fields think after Monday night’s 33-14 win over the New England Patriots? “My main goal right now is just to continue to improve each and every day, each and every game,” he said. If giving boring answers and signaling humility via a stated desire to grind is something all good quarterbacks must eventually master, then consider this a sign of progress. A far more important marker of progress was what Fields actually did in the game. You won’t find a 2022 Josh Allen performance here, but squint hard enough at Fields’s 179 passing yards, 82 rushing yards, and two combined touchdowns and you might see something resembling a 2019 Josh Allen performance.

If this wasn’t Fields’s best game as a pro, it was a solid performance that he desperately needed. And perhaps even more important than the result of the game was the process behind it, which included the Bears coaching staff maximizing Fields’s specific talents in a way that it has struggled to do previously. Fields carried the ball 14 times on Monday night, and 11 of those carries came on designed run plays, a career-high for him. There was nothing all that fancy about the designed run that Fields punched into the end zone in the first quarter, but it was the kind of play the Bears haven’t called much of since installing Fields as the starter, and it paid off for a team that seemed incapable of putting the ball into the end zone in last week’s loss to the Commanders.

“I thought it brought a whole different element to our offense,” Fields said after the game when asked about the designed run plays. “I think we executed that well and there were definitely some explosive plays in the designed runs, for sure.”

Fields was far from perfect. He still overthrew receivers, still held onto the ball too long a few times, and once even forgot to throw the ball out of bounds before getting sacked outside of the pocket. But he did a lot of good things, even aside from the designed runs. He went through his progressions to find open receivers, made a few nice throws downfield, and thought quick enough to find this throwing angle against an all-out blitz:

Young quarterbacks hardly ever develop on a steady upward slope, and it’s often not clear whether a guy possesses or lacks the juice until it’s far too late—until he either makes the jump, or doesn’t. Fields’s career has been all peaks and valleys so far, but games like the one he played Monday night offer some evidence that those dips in form can be smoothed out. A good place to start would be with Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy maintaining a commitment to building an offensive scheme that is specifically suited to Fields’s skills; Fields continuing to make the kind of quick reads and decisions that produced points against the Patriots would be a solid second step. What comes after that isn’t easy, but the path forward is a lot more visible this morning than it was last week.

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