Football Court is our series where we debate some of football’s biggest questions, but using facts instead of hot takes.
Today on the football court docket: Case number 23-JF-08523 “Will Justin Fields ever be a good NFL QB” The Bears had an ugly start to the season as they got blown out by the Packers and came up short against the Bucs. Today we hear whether this was simply two disgusting games, or sign of a far greater problem in Chicago.
The right honorable Judge Mark Schofield presides. James Dator will be arguing that Justin Fields is done, while JP Acosta will argue that the future is still bright for the Bears’ QB.
Justin Fields is done in the NFL — James Dator
Ladies and gentleman, Judge Schofield — it brings me no pleasure to discuss the case before the court today, but we must. Justin Fields was poised to take the step that would elevate him from being an exciting quarterback into the complete package, and against the Packers he looked like a rookie. That’s a problem when you’re in year three, and I don’t see many signs of things getting better.
Fields himself is saying he was too timid and risk averse against the Packers to start the season. The numbers back this up. His 3.3 intended air yards per attempt were second-worst in the NFL. Whether by offensive design or his own decision making, Fields has reached a point where he’s terrified of making mistakes.
Yet, he still finds ways to make mistakes too. One of his best qualities out of Ohio State was extending plays and never quitting on a possible gain, but that has now morphed into too often holding onto the ball and turning a potential lost down into lost yardage. Fields just refuses to throw the ball away.
So we’re left with this weird dichotomy where he’s both afraid to make big plays, and afraid to not makes plays. As a result in Week 1 he was sacked four times for a total sack loss of 27 yards. For comparison: Anthony Richardson was also sacked four time in his first NFL game, but only lost 8 yards — showing he already has a better knack for not taking deep sacks that help kill offensive drives.
Two games is a small sample size, but the preseason hype of a Fields and DJ Moore connection never materialized in Week 1, and it petered out in the second half against the Buccaneers. This Bears offense is both using Moore poorly, and also Fields isn’t willing to take the downfield shots needed to punch up this offense.
In Week 1 this was against the Packers, hardly world-beaters in the secondary who ranked 26th in the NFL in yards-per-completion in 2022, giving up 7.0 yards an attempt. Fields managed just 5.8 yards-per-completion. The Buccaneers are decidedly better against the pass, and Fields did lift his game slightly — but also gave up two interceptions, including this pick six, where Fields totally missed Shaq Barrett being in a position to make a play.
What we’re left with is a gunshy quarterback on a horrible team, locked in a horrible offense. Where will we see change? Who is supposed to completely change their fortunes overnight? Matt Eberflus seems locked into how he calls offense, and a tiger can’t change its stripes overnight — and even if he does, is that enough for Fields to move past the crushing weight of expectation placed on him?
At the end of the day we have a very simple calculus: With a new offensive line and new weapons, matched up against a below-average defense, we were supposed to see the best Fields’ had to offer. It was bad. It’s that simple. Whatever promise Fields showed in the past has been replaced by a broken quarterback who needs new scenery.
It’s incredibly difficult for a QB without proven production to really get a chance at leading a team again if they move on. It’s not impossible, but history has shown us that these guys more often than not bounce around for a few years, then fall out of the NFL. It’s a damn shame, but it’s where we’re at now.
It’s Not Over yet for Justin Fields — J.P. Acosta
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to understand what Bears QB Justin Fields has gone through, allow me to quote the great and underrated scribe of the mid-2000’s, Daughtry:
“You’ve taken away everything
And I can’t deal without, I try to see the good in life
But good things in life are hard to find
We’ll blow it away, blow it away
Can we make this something good?”
Folks, that’s from Daughtry’s hit “It’s Not Over” and I’m here to tell you that it’s not over for Fields. While I think Fields has played poorly, I also think the offense has been designed in a way that doesn’t help anyone on the field, and turns Fields’ weaknesses into gaping holes.
As an offensive coordinator, your job is to accentuate your players’ strengths while hiding the weaknesses they have. No player is perfect, and on a rebuilding team like the Chicago Bears, that’s definitely going to be true. However, Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has failed to put together a competent gameplan that highlights the strengths of all his players, including Fields.
The offense is so vertical at times that they don’t have any quick game or easy offense built in, and when you know that an offense is only predicated on the deep ball and the QB using his legs in a scramble situation, you look less like a competent offense and more like the 2022 Denver Broncos. Combine this with a rookie starting at right tackle and an offensive line that still has its’ issues and you get a high sack rate. Against the Packers, who despite a poor finish in 2022 still have an extremely talented group led by seven first rounders on the defensive side of the ball, Fields was pressured on 37.5% of his dropbacks, and that led to an 8.3% sack rate. Not good. However, when Fields wasn’t under pressure, his numbers look a whole lot better. According to Sports Information Solutions, when Fields wasn’t under pressure against Green Bay, he went 20-27 for 155 yards and an On-Target passing percentage of 85.2%. There’s a good QB in there, it’s just stuck beneath all the muck that is the Bears offense.
Now let’s make our way to the weapons on the team. Despite adding WR DJ Moore to the team, this offense still doesn’t have that many reliable weapons. On top of that, Getsy also is still unsure of how to use them. The entire quick game playbook is screens, which would set you behind the 8-ball if defenses start to figure out quickly. Moore is a fine number one option, but Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney aren’t good enough complements and neither is Cole Kmet. This offense needs more opportunities for Fields to both get in rhythm and for those guys to get opportunities to create after the catch that aren’t screens. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they need to lean heavily into RPOs. Build the boat out of it right now, because this offense is sinking due to poor design and a poor foundation and that’s on Getsy.
Take this as an example, from former NFL QB JT O’Sullivan. This is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad offensive design and execution from the Bears. No QB can survive in these conditions.
There’s still a talented QB somewhere in Fields, but the Bears won’t be able to get that out of him until they make his life easier through play design and better personnel.
The ruling – Mark Schofield
Before the Court today is a rather difficult matter, and counsel for both sides advance compelling arguments. Mr. Acosta makes a fair case for Justin Fields, and one of patience.
Mr. Dator, however, has the full weight of an entire body of work at his disposal, and ladies and gentlemen, it does not a paint a pretty picture for Fields and his chances at finding NFL success.
Ultimately, the decision in this matter lies with the Court, and in the interests of judicial fairness, the Court is going to exercise its inherent authority today, and defer judgment, choosing instead to set this matter in for a status hearing on October 5, 2023.
That is the Friday after Chicago’s Week 5 game against the Washington Commanders, which takes place on Thursday, October 4. Setting this matter in for a status hearing on that date will allow for further evidentiary findings in this matter, specifically games against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos, and the Commanders.
There is certainly evidence to support Mr. Dator’s position that Fields is indeed done. However, in the interest of patience — something which the Court notes is often lacking in this industry — and judicial fairness, the Court believes the only appropriate recourse at this time is to defer a final determination until further evidence is reviewed.
This matter is adjourned until October 5th. But be advised Mr. Acosta, at that time we are going to need to see more — much more — from your client if we are to rule in his favor.