LAKE FOREST – Regardless of the circumstances, Matt Eberflus is a coach that stays consistent with his message and ultimately what he wants to see from his team.
Right now, he wants to see his team win even if Justin Fields is not at 100 percent, and that is not the right mindset the first-year coach should have with the Bears’ franchise quarterback.
During Eberflus’ Wednesday morning press conference, the coach was asked why it’s important for Fields to play even though he is dealing with “partially torn ligaments” in his left non-throwing shoulder
“That’s a good question,” Eberflus said. “I would just say that if he’s ready to play, he’s going to play. He feels that way, we feel that way. If he’s ready to go, feels good about it, he’s going to play the game. Really, the reason is because we’re trying to win. We want to win the game. There’s a lot of great things to getting the experience of playing a game, every single game we can. That’s an important part to this season.”
The later portion of his statement about the experience is valid. With each game Fields plays, there is an opportunity for growth. And for the 23-year-old quarterback, that is invaluable, especially with him being in his first year in Luke Getsy’s offense.
However, Eberflus’ main reasoning for wanting Fields to play “because we’re trying to win” couldn’t be more off.
Yes, an injured Fields does give the Bears a better chance to win than Trevor Siemian, but that shouldn’t be the focus for a 3-8 football team. Eberflus is missing the potential long-term implications if Fields plays against the Jets on Sunday and worsens the conditions of his shoulder.
Fields’ overall health needs to be in the forefront of his thinking. Not winning games.
As a head coach, Eberflus also needs to protect Fields from himself. Like many other top-level athletes, he wants to be out there no matter what. Fields even played with cracked ribs and a partially torn hip muscle in the national championship game against Clemson.
Fields said in his Wednesday press conference when it comes to a game of that magnitude that “I’ve got to damn near die to not play in that one.”
But he also understands this game against the Jets isn’t for a National Championship and will be smart about how he approaches it.
“Of course I’m not going to sacrifice playing in this game for me risking that I might not be able to play later in games,” Fields said. “I’m not going to have to sacrifice playing in this game and now I get hurt and I have to sit out two or three more weeks after that. Again, just seeing how my body feels, listening to my body and making sure I’m not forcing anything and stuff like that. Just seeing how it goes.”
So for Eberflus, as much as it may pain him to divert from the hard-nosed coach that he is, this week — at least — would be a good one to allow Fields to heal. Fields said certain movements hurt him, like handing the ball off and finishing throws, and that the pain was “pretty high.”
Oh, and also, he wouldn’t be able to play the game if it were on Wednesday.
Plus, even though Eberflus essentially said the opponent doesn’t factor into whether or not Fields will play, it should. The Jets have 32 sacks on the season (tied for fourth in the NFL) and 97 total quarterback pressures (the seventh most). The offensive line couldn’t keep the Falcons defense a week ago from getting to Fields. Atlanta had 17 total pressures – tied for the third-most Fields has faced all season.
Imagine what a Jets defense can do knowing that Fields is hurt. There is absolutely no reason to find out.
Even if it’s just for one week, Eberflus must put winning aside and prioritize the health of his quarterback, who should be the reason the Bears win more games in the near future.