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Hoge's Bears Things: Making sense of the team's 2-1 start

Adam Hoge Avatar
September 28, 2022

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Bears could just have good quarterback play? Come on. You know better by now. Let’s jump into this week’s Bears Things:

The Lead: What to make of the Bears’ 2-1 start

We can’t lose sight of the fact that the Bears are 2-1. No one is getting fooled into the idea this team is capable of even making a run at the NFC North (the Packers’ loss proved that), but if you bet the over on 6.5 wins, you might be encouraged.

Here’s a list of positive developments for this team:

  • The rushing attack ranks No. 2 in the NFL.
  • The defense ranks No. 11 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
  • The offensive line hasn’t been nearly as bad as most expected, and it has been down right good when it comes to run blocking.
  • Eddie Jackson.
  • Equanimeous St. Brown.
  • A strong rookie class.
  • A level of physicality (on both sides of the ball) that wasn’t present in the last four years.

Of course, the problem remains one Bears fans are very familiar with: Despite a very strong rushing attack, the offense still ranks 28th in DVOA. Throwing the ball remains a huge barrier.

Oddly, the strange start to the season actually leaves me somewhat encouraged. While the last two weeks have certainly raised understandable doubt about whether or not Justin Fields will live up to high expectations, there’s already a large enough sample size to suggest he’s at least better than what we saw in the last two games. 

To put things in perspective, Fields has graded out as a “below replacement level” player the last two weeks, according to my grading system. Unfortunately, he also had three games last season in which he fell into that category (at Browns, vs Ravens, vs Vikings) — and yes, it’s concerning there are already five such games this early in his career. That said, his overall grade last year labeled him as mid-level starter, which means the good outweighed the bad in what was a less than ideal developmental situation as a rookie. If you add the first three (not very good) games of 2022 into the picture, his career grade still labels him as a “fringe starter.”

That might not excite you about Fields’ longterm success, but it does suggest he will be better than what we’ve seen of late. And considering the list of positive developments I mentioned earlier, it stands to reason that improved quarterback play could keep the Bears relevant into November and maybe even December, especially considering their manageable schedule

Trubisky all over again?

I’m not surprised the comparisons to Mitchell Trubisky have already started for Fields so I decided to dig into the archives to see if Trubisky had worse games than Fields this early into his career. The answer is yes. The 2017 game in Philadelphia and 2018 game against the Rams both graded out worse than what Fields did the last two weeks. 

Amazingly, in the first three weeks of the 2018 season (Trubisky’s second NFL season) his cumulative grade was the exact same as Fields’ cumulative grade in the first three weeks of this season. And the Bears were also 2-1.

But really, this is all about what Fields does in the future. The stretch that killed Trubisky’s stay in Chicago came in 2019 when he began the season with seven straight “below replacement level” performances to start the year. And that’s exactly why Nick Foles was eventually brought in to replace him. 

That was Trubisky’s third season though and Fields still has time to avoid that path. One key difference that I see on film is that Fields appears to be looking at the right things, he just doesn’t always pull the trigger. I wish I had an answer for why that is happening, but I do believe it’s something he can pull himself out of with more experience and a boost of confidence. With Trubisky, it was often hard to understand what he was seeing. He struggled to read defenses. I think Fields is reading the defense, I’m just not sure he’s trusting himself to make the throws. 

Rewatch observations

(USA Today Sports)

A few nuggets from rewatching both the TV copy of the game and the coaches’ film: 

  • Let’s give Eddie Jackson the credit he deserves. He has been the team’s highest-graded defensive player thru the first three weeks of the season and there’s plenty of reason to believe it will continue. He’s tackling much better and he’s taking the ball away (two interceptions and a forced fumble). 
  • Cody Whitehair was looking for a bounce-back season in 2022 and so far that is happening. He is the team’s highest graded offensive lineman through three games.
  • I think Luke Getsy is still finding his way as a playcaller. There were probably too many naked boots called on Sunday. The Texans had those sniffed out. In the second quarter, after the Bears lost David Montgomery, there was a significant amount of inside-zone called, but Getsy successfully adjusted back to more outside-zone in the third. And there’s definitely a level of trust Fields must earn. I was critical of Getsy for not throwing the ball again after Fields’ dart to Cole Kmet for 24 yards in the second quarter, but upon further review, the next play looked like a run-pass option (RPO) and Fields opted to hand the ball off to Trestan Ebner into an eight-man box. Those are decisions that impact play-calling and it’s obvious Getsy is still getting a feel for his quarterback. It would certainly help if Fields started ripping some of these open throws.

Week 3 Tiers

Here’s how key Bears players graded out this week after watching the coaches’ film. Last week there were too many players in the bottom tier. This week, there was only one (albeit the wrong one):

Blue Chip Tier: Roquan Smith, Khalil Herbert, Cairo Santos, Eddie Jackson, Cody Whitehair, Braxton Jones, Justin Jones.

Long-term starter tier: Cole Kmet, Teven Jenkins, Nicholas Morrow, Khari Blasingame, Equanimeous St. Brown, Angelo Blackson, Larry Borom, David Montgomery, Trent Gill, Jaquan Brisker. 

Bottom tier: Justin Fields.

Next up: New York Giants

The Giants received a dose of reality on Monday night against the Cowboys and lost wide receiver Sterling Shepard to a torn ACL in the process. He was easily the team’s top receiver. Like the Bears, the Giants have struggled to stop the run and this looks like a game that will be heavily decided by Khalil Herbert and Saquon Barkley. 

New Bears general manager Ryan Poles had two interviews with the Giants in January, but New York instead hired Joe Schoen from the Buffalo Bills, who then brought Brian Daboll with him to be the Giants’ head coach. That was a tandem many Bears fans coveted for Justin Fields. Instead, the Bears hired Poles and went with a defensive head coach in Matt Eberflus. It will be interesting to see the direction of these two franchises in the coming years and this will be the first measuring stick between two teams trying to get back on the right track. 

And guess what? Either the Chicago Bears or the New York Giants will be 3-1 by Sunday afternoon. Go figure.

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