The Chicago Bears will report to training camp in eight days with all attention to be on rookie first-round quarterback Justin Fields. Fields, who was drafted 11th overall in this year’s NFL Draft, is one of the most anticipated rookies heading into the 2021 season. If and when the former Ohio State quarterback starts for the Bears, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts’ 2020 rookie season may have provided a glimpse into how Chicago will utilize their rookie quarterback.
Highest % of positively graded plays among power 5 QBs:
1. Jalen Hurts – 37%
2. Tanner Morgan – 35%
3. Justin Fields – 34%
4. Joe Burrow – 31% pic.twitter.com/xowov8CZOg
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 28, 2020
Justin Fields Is Entering The Same Situation Jalen Hurts Was In Last season
Last season, the Eagles drafted Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft. Although Philadelphia already had a Pro Bowl quarterback in place with Carson Wentz, the team was looking for a young backup that could be an affordable option. Wentz, who had issues staying healthy the last few seasons, remained healthy but significantly struggled as the 2020 season progressed. He consistently turned the ball over and failed to effectively run head coach Doug Pederson’s offense.
Pederson benched Wentz in the second half of the Eagles’ week 12 game against the Green Bay Packers in favor of Hurts. The rookie quarterback threw a 32-yard touchdown pass in the 30-16 loss. Pederson named Hurts his starting quarterback for the remainder of the season, which led the Eagles to have one of the best offenses for the remaining four games of the season. Hurts, in his four starts, had two games in which he passed for over 300 yards and one game in which he rushed over 100 yards.
— Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. (@wiltfongjr) June 13, 2018
What made Hurts so successful during his four starts as Philadelphia’s quarterback was his mobility and how that mobility was the focus of Pederson’s run-pass option offense. The run-pass offense utilizes a mobile quarterback who can freeze defenses when handing the ball off to the running back. The quarterback, depending on what he sees from the opposing defense can either give the ball to the running back, hold onto the ball to pass it, or keep it and run with it himself.
The RPO offense focuses on freezing the linebackers into being unsure of where the ball is going on offense. Bears head coach has the same offensive format that Pederson used during his time as Eagles head coach. During Hurts’ four games as a starter, Philadelphia’s offense got better every week as their coach was able to incorporate more and more of his offense with his rookie as the weeks went on.
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 29, 2018
Matt Nagy Could Be Planning To Deploy Fields The Same Way Pederson Used Hurts
Last season, Nagy faced similar limitations with his offense that Pederson experienced with the Eagles’ offense. Chicago’s head coach started two quarterbacks during the 2020 season, each of who had weaknesses that limited Chicago’s ability to run their RPO offense effectively. Former second overall selection in quarterback Mitchell Trubisky struggled with his deep-ball accuracy as many deep balls feel incomplete. Former Pro Bowl quarterback Nick Foles severely lacked mobility which extremely limited Chicago’s offense at times.
I don’t know if the #Bears will top their 2020 record, but I do know one thing:
Andy Dalton and Justin Fields at QB > Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky
— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) June 15, 2021
Without a mobile threat or deep-ball threat at the quarterback position, Chicago’s offense struggled mightily at times in 2020 as they averaged less than 13 points per game during a four-game stretch. Despite finding offensive success with Trubisky in the final five games of the season, Chicago had to change their offensive philosophy from an RPO base to a boot-leg base offense.
Now with Fields expected to be the Bears’ starting quarterback at some point during the 2021 season, Nagy will have a quarterback that can effectively execute his offense. The Ohio State quarterback was one of the highly touted quarterback prospects due to his superb deep-ball accuracy and mobility. Both traits are vital to the success of the RPO offense, which was shown by Hurts during his four games as the Eagles’ starter at the end of last season.
Percentage of total passing yards from RPO's and Screens last year:
Trevor Lawrence 27.0%
Mac Jones 22.5%
Zach Wilson 12.1%
Trey Lance (2019) 11.2%
Justin Fields 8.5%
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) March 30, 2021
The two games of Hurts that fans should watch to get an eye of what to expect from Fields are the games against the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. Against the Saints, Philadelphia’s rookie quarterback utilized his mobility to move the ball as he rushed for 109 yards. The following week against the Cardinals, Hurts’ used his mobility not to scramble but to extend passing plays leading to deep completions as he passed for 338 yards. Pederson designed more deep-passing routes against the Cardinals as Arizona’s defense was trying to limit Philadelphia’s quarterback from being successful via scrambling.
Jalen Hurts has 3 TD passes in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals pic.twitter.com/NM0FJRsieV
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) December 20, 2020
Fields’ ability to scramble along with the ability to complete throws downfield should make Nagy extremely excited to run his RPO this season. Chicago has deep threats in wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin. If Fields doesn’t throw deep, he will have Allen Robinson, Cole Kmet, and Jimmy Graham for intermediate routes with backs David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Damien Williams. Last season with the Eagles, Hurts connected on several deep passes with his wide receivers, while utilizing his tight ends and running backs on underneath routes.
Whenever Nagy decides to make Fields the Bears’ starting quarterback, the game plan will look similar to what was done with Hurts last season. Chicago’s offense could see similar results with their rookie quarterback based on what the Eagles’ quarterback achieved in December of last season. If Chicago’s offense is successful under Fields in 2021, it is more than likely Nagy is retained to build off of any potential success seen.