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LAKE FOREST — Justin Fields has seven games left to prove to the Bears’ organization that he can still be the franchise’s guy moving forward.
That statement may sound like an exaggeration to some, but it’s definitely a possibility on how the Bears will be monitoring the end of the 2023 regular season.
Why is that the case?
Because, as it stands today, the Bears hold the No. 1 overall pick thanks to the trade with the Panthers and the fifth overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Chicago secured the first pick in the draft after their 3-14 record last season, but general manager Ryan Poles elected to run with Fields in 2023.
Through nine games, the Bears are 2-7 and last in the NFC North. If the Bears end this season with two top 5 picks, including the first overall, then either USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye are definitely options for Chicago.
Fields is now just returning after missing four weeks with a right dislocated thumb, and he will have to show a lot to persuade the Bears’ organization he can still be the team’s quarterback beyond this season.
In the six games Fields has played, he has completed 100 of his 162 pass attempts for 1,201 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also has added 237 yards rushing on 47 attempts.
Inconsistent would be a good way to describe his 2023 season so far.
Now, that’s not all on him. Injuries to the offensive line and overall coaching have also led to inconsistencies on offense, but when there were opportunities for Fields to show growth in his all-important Year 3 in the league, at times, he showed the opposite.
For Bears coach Matt Eberflus, these final seven regular season games can be telling.
“I think seven weeks is enough time to show consistency, you know, and be the high performer that we expect him to be,” Eberflus said. “I know he’s had some good performances along this year, certainly the last few have been solid. We expect consistency out of all our positions.”
It’s important not to confuse consistency with production. Hate to break it to people but Fields will not lead this offense to points or even move the ball enough to secure a first down on every drive. It’s not going to happen.
Also, the third-year quarterback will most likely make some unexplainable mistakes. Nearly every quarterback in the league does, regardless of their experience in the league.
And if the coaching staff doesn’t show some consistency themselves, then it’s going to be a lot more difficult for Fields. Looking at offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and his play calling.
But Fields can still show consistency by demonstrating that he understands each play design, can diagnose what coverages defenses are in, know where the ball should go in the limited seconds after the ball is snapped and, most importantly, take care of the football.
“Yeah, it always starts with taking care of the football, right?,” Getsy said. “I think that’s the starting point for anybody on offense, specifically the quarterback and then just like what I was mentioning before. It’s about getting better and progressing each and every week, right? And so, I think there were really cool parts of this season when we saw that from him, right? And unfortunately, the injury comes. So lets get back on track with that and continue to grow together.”
A quarterback in command of an offense shows consistency.
With Fields back and projected to start this Sunday against the Lions, he isn’t making this NFC North matchup bigger than what it is — the first of seven games left this season.
“Just go out there and win games,” Fields said. “I’m not here to prove anything to anybody. I’m playing for my teammates, I’m playing for the coaches, and that’s it. Everything else will take care of itself. So I’m not necessarily trying to prove anything to anybody. Just go out there with my brothers. And go out there and perform. So yeah.”
For Fields to play to the best of his ability, Getsy will have to design and call plays that accentuate the quarterback’s strengths. Right now that includes throwing the ball deep down field, playing outside the pocket and capitalizing on broken plays and hurting a defense with his legs. Those are all areas of his game that should not only just be present but more frequent in this final stretch of the season.
Fields is a dynamic playmaker. He needs to remind people of that.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fields has the seventh-highest grade (96.3) on passes of 20 yards or more among quarterbacks with a minimum of 20 attempts. He is 13 of 26 for 332 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Fields should get more chances to throw downfield since he will be playing behind, finally, a healthy offensive line. Nate Davis is back at right guard, which moved Teven Jenkins to left guard to take over for Cody Whitehair. And Braxton Jones will be playing in his third consecutive game on Sunday since his neck injury.
In these last seven games, Fields will get an opportunity to play four games against NFC North opponents and play four games on the road. Even though it’s not the most ideal metric, Fields has a 6-25 record as a starting quarterback with the Bears. He’s also 1-10 against the NFC North since 2021 — with Fields’ only win coming in Week 4 against the Lions of the 2021 season.
If Fields can lead his team to some much-needed victories and do so by highlighting his strengths while limiting his flaws, then Poles and the rest of this Bears organization will have some compelling conversations this offseason.
Fields, though, will focus on the now. That starts this Sunday at Ford Field against the NFC North-leading Lions.
“I mean it just starts with Sunday and just taking this day by day,” Fields said. “So yeah that’s my focus right now. I am just focusing on Sunday and getting prepared for that, going out, playing hard and playing to the best of my ability.”
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