Justin Fields hasn’t had it easy this season for the Chicago Bears. Consistency issues have dogged his play for most of the year. Some of that is due to his own mistakes but also a mix of suspect protection, receivers that can’t get open, and bad offensive scheming. As a result, he has more interceptions than touchdowns and is already nursing cracked ribs. Yet anybody that has watched the actual games can see the flashes.
The tell-tale signs of a young quarterback that has the building blocks to become a future franchise guy. Not just the size and athleticism. Both of which are impressive. It has more to do with his mental toughness and rapid grasp of how to attack NFL defenses. Attack is exactly what he does too. Through all the criticism, it has been easy to miss just how good Fields has been as an aggressive passer. One of the best in the league this season, as it turns out.
Ian Hartitz of Pro Football Focus displayed a chart of every starting quarterback that included their number of big-time throws and turnover-worthy plays. It might shock people to learn that Fields trailed only Derek Carr and Kyler Murray for the best big-time throw percentage in the NFL as of right now.
Big-time throw rate vs. turnover-worthy play rate (PFF, min. 200 dropbacks)
-Holy hell Kyler Murray
-Jimmy G, Mills, Wilson, Big Ben, Darnold doing bad job taking care of the ball
-Fields has had an encouraging number of "elite" throws
-Mahomes truly hasn't been his usual self pic.twitter.com/pVmNuAkZWd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 6, 2021
The challenge moving forward is obvious.
Working to tone down the number of turnover-worthy plays. It is clear he must get below the 3% line in order to be considered among the best in the league. Doing that while maintaining his rate of big plays is the biggest challenge for any quarterback. Still, it’s nice to see Fields is showcasing exactly what he can do for the Bears offense.
People need to understand that throwing deep with consistent accuracy is difficult. Many quarterbacks can’t do it. Even some of the best. That a rookie can do it better than some of them already despite the situation around him? It bodes well for the future.
Justin Fields must work on his short-to-intermediate game
That in itself is wild to think about. He’s actually a better deep thrower than he is elsewhere. It is almost universally the opposite for every other young quarterback. The trick with Fields is that he sometimes seeks the big play a little too often. He needs to get better about taking the easier throws when they’re available. This will go a long way towards limiting the number of hits his body takes each week.
Part of that is getting a system in place that can actually provide easier throws. Something Nagy and his staff haven’t proven able to do. Not enough screens. Not enough slants. An unwillingness to use more rollouts and bootlegs. This offense leans heavily on slow-developing routes and it can get a young quarterback killed. A big reason why many fans want Justin Fields to stay on the sideline until Nagy is gone.
Knowing the QB himself? That isn’t happening.
He will push to play if he hasn’t already. The question is whether those ribs are healed up enough to do so. Five games remain. Four of them against opponents with records of .500 or worse. This presents a big opportunity for the rookie to finish strong and build some momentum going into an all-important second season.