Can Justin Fields solidify himself as the future starter? Could he be traded? What was with the 4th-and-1 call? – Boston Herald
Despite a career-best game Sunday against the Denver Broncos, many questions still surround Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields. What could the Bears be planning for his future?
Plus, do the Bears have a clock management issue? And how could the line change upon Teven Jenkins’ return? Brad Biggs answers questions in his weekly Bears mailbag.
Is there a way Justin Fields solidifies himself as the starter for next year if the Bears get out of the first overall pick but the Panthers deliver the No. 1 pick to the Bears? — @tylernipper2792
Personally, I don’t believe so. I think the window has closed on Fields as the team’s starting quarterback in 2024. For something to change, it would require a dramatic series of events. Fields would have to get red hot after what everyone acknowledges was his best game as a passer in the NFL last Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Something very unfortunate would have to happen to USC quarterback Caleb Williams, and the other quarterbacks who are currently highly touted for April draft would have to falter. Yes, there is a lot of football remaining for the Bears with 13 games beginning with Thursday night’s game at FedEx Field against the Washington Commanders, but this offense is in a very deep hole with Fields and I find it difficult to believe that is going to change. He’s had too many struggles for too long for me to believe it’s all going to turn in the second month of Year 3. If it does, that will be one hell of a story to watch unfold.
For Thursday and going forward, do you think the offense will look more like it did against Denver or was that success attributable to the Broncos defense? — @mmesq11
No question the Bears would love to build on a lot of the things that went right against Denver. As I wrote in 10 Thoughts after the game, the Broncos are allowing a staggering 461.5 yards per game, a chunk of that inflated by the beatdown they suffered at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. Still, a previously impotent Bears offense went for 471 yards on Sunday and the Broncos are well ahead of the 2012 New Orleans Saints, who set a league record for defensive futility by allowing 440.1 yards per game.
The positives here are Fields played with rhythm and was on time. He created space in the pocket. He kept his eyes up when he was on the move. All of those are things that need to translate to Thursday night against the Commanders and in the weeks to come. If it does, the offense will have more explosive plays — there were six completions of 20-plus yards against Denver. The one thing offensive coordinator Luke Getsy lamented the week before was missing opportunities in the Week 3 loss at Kansas City. Remember, he said there were seven or eight big play opportunities that, for a variety of reasons, fizzled.
“As you look at the way that game was played, we had 78 snaps instead of 50 that we have had the first couple weeks,” Getsy said. “That part of it. Just showing that we were kind of able to go into the game plan and play the way we wanted to play. We were able to run the ball. We talked about explosives last week, I thought we were able to go get those in the run game. Any time you’re able to do that, that’s going to open up other things for yourself. So, it’s an opportunity for us to go out and we were able to execute a little better in each area and create more explosives and that leads to more points.”
I understand there can be a certain amount of impatience with young QBs, but would you really prefer to roll the dice with another college QB or stick it out with a physically talented kid like Justin Fields? Nothing about Mitch Trubisky was special but this kid can be I think. — @stewart_errol
It doesn’t matter what I would do, I’m not making personnel decisions and that’s probably a good thing. You’re right that teams can have quick triggers when it comes to giving young quarterbacks opportunities and evaluating them. It used to be that rookie quarterbacks usually had to bide their time and teams wanted there to be an acclimation period for them before putting them into action. Those instances are the exception these days. Teams want to see what they have right away and the timeline for a decision about the future is usually three years in length — max. A notable exception, of course, would be the case of Jordan Love in Green Bay where he sat behind Aaron Rodgers for three seasons. If things don’t change dramatically for Fields, there’s no way in my mind the Bears continue to be tantalized by his immense physical talents. If the Bears have the No. 1 overall pick — and they can earn it themselves or potentially land it with the pick they own belonging to the Carolina Panthers — they seem like a slam dunk to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams. It might be difficult to still consider Fields “special” at the end of this season without discussing the issues he struggles with.
On fourth down, with the game on the line, why in the world did they choose to run out of the shotgun? Don’t most teams have a play they save for moments like that? — Marc Beeson, Nashville, Tenn.
A lot of questions about the run from the shotgun formation. The first thing that came to mind was the opener against the Green Bay Packers and the end of the first series of the game. The Bears tried running a sneak with tight end Cole Kmet and then followed with a sneak by Justin Fields on fourth down and neither worked. They turned the ball over on downs and the Packers went on a touchdown drive. If they had run a sneak in that situation — with Fields under center — and it was stuffed, I imagine there would have been a bunch of questions asking why they tried the same play that failed in Week 1.
“That was the fourth time we ran that play probably, third time a similar-type play,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “So the execution, the alignments, the angles, everything was exactly the way we wanted it.
“It’s the play that, when you have the defensive line the way that they were aligned, and we knew what the structure was going to be like, we wanted that run scheme. It still takes us doing the job, and we didn’t necessarily do the job to get that one done.”
A lot of teams are running short-yardage plays out of the shotgun these days and in this instance, it was a zone read for Fields. He had the option to keep the ball. Getsy said Fields made the right read there in handing off to Khalil Herbert. It wasn’t blocked well. Left guard Cody Whitehair got pushed back on the front side and right tackle Darnell Wright missed a charging linebacker on the back side. They needed to execute better.
When Teven Jenkins comes back is the plan to move Cody Whitehair to center? — @therealdberks
When the Bears activate Jenkins to the 53-man roster, and they started the 21-day window to evaluate him for return on Monday, it is my belief he will start at left guard and Whitehair will move back to center. Left tackle Braxton Jones (neck) will miss at least two more games on injured reserve. So, it’s possible the Bears have the offensive line they envisioned for the start of the season in Week 7 against the Las Vegas Raiders at Soldier Field.
We will have to see if the Bears promote Jenkins before Thursday’s game against the Commanders. He’s been sidelined for six weeks with a right calf injury and I have been inclined to think all along they would wait one more week. The schedule released by the team shows a practice Wednesday, but the day before the game that will be very light and short. The team held walk-throughs on Monday and Tuesday. Jenkins has not practiced since before the Aug. 19 preseason game at Indianapolis.
Luke Getsy isn’t the decision-maker here but he didn’t rule out the possibility when he chatted Tuesday.
“Fortunately, he’s not one of the new guys, right?” Getsy said. “So that should comfort him a little bit more. We got some good work in through camp with him on the left side. We’re excited to see him go. We’ll see how far he can go. We’ll see how the next day or two goes and just take it from there.”
So, there is a chance Jenkins lines up against the Commanders?
“I would assume he has a legitimate chance,” Getsy said. “But it’s gonna take another day or two to make sure everybody feels good with it.”
When does the goal of the season switch from winning to guaranteeing first overall pick? — @jedikhan10
You’re not going to find a single member of the coaching staff who will acknowledge that as something that benefits them in any way. They are desperate to end this losing streak with a victory and then try to build a little momentum. Similarly, you will not find a single player in the locker room who is interested in talking about the team’s draft pick status. They don’t grind it out in practice and meetings all week to go out and tank. That’s a stumbling block when you talk about teams trying to line up for the top overall pick. You think Lovie Smith cared about losing in the season finale for the Houston Texans last season at Indianapolis? He’d lose credibility with the players in his locker room if he wasn’t committed to winning that game. I understand the fascination with the idea but coaches and players are not wired that way.
Huge game for the offense against the Broncos for Justin Fields, Khalil Herbert and DJ Moore. I can’t remember the last time they had a trifecta. — Nestor, Madison, Wis.
That was just the fourth time in the last 10 years the Bears have had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver. Fields passed for 335 yards, Hebert ran for 100 yards and Moore had 131 yards receiving. The Bears are only 1-3 in these games where they go 300-100-100.
Dec. 24, 2016, 41-21 loss to Commanders
Matt Barkley: 24 of 40 for 323 yards 2 TDs, 5 INT
Jordan Howard: 18 rushes, 119 yards
Cameron Meredith: 9 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD
Oct. 9, 2016, 29-23 loss at Indianapolis
Brian Hoyer: 33 of 43 for 397 yards 2 TDs, 0 INT
Howard: 16 rushes, 118 yards
Meredith: 9 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD
Nov. 16, 2014, 21-13 win over Minnesota
Jay Cutler: 31 of 43 for 330 yards 3 TDs, 2 INT
Matt Forte: 26 rushes, 117 yards
Alshon Jeffery: 11 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD
Will the head coach and offensive coordinator be fired if the Bears lose on Thursday night? — @gosopo43
I don’t believe so. I understand the timing of the question as a “mini bye” after a Thursday game provides a team with a little more time to shake things up. But the Bears have been in disarray with the odd departure of defensive coordinator Alan Williams and now the Chase Claypool situation. Want to signal to the rest of the NFL that it’s completely dysfunctional? Fire the head coach. I have no idea where President and CEO Kevin Warren is on this situation. There’s no chance he’s pleased with an 0-4 start to the season but as I’ve written before, fire Eberflus and then who runs the defense? Who is promoted to head coach? They’re in a jam right now and unless they start winning, there are no good answers.
What is Justin Fields’ current trade value in general after the Broncos game? Would a team like the Falcons or Jets (would need to be a 2025 pick) be willing to give up a first-round pick? — Sanjay A., Chicago
A first-round pick? That seems like one of those trades where you’re asking yourself, “What is the best-case scenario for the Bears?” It’s my belief that if a trade is to materialize for Fields, it would be in the offseason. But you learn to never say never when you’ve followed this league long enough. If there is a coaching staff somewhere that believes it can bring the best out of his abilities, I would think it would want a full offseason to do work on that project.
If there is a deal to be made in the offseason, one factor you have to consider is Fields will be entering the final year of his contract in 2024. Keep that in mind for an acquiring team. The San Francisco 49ers got a fourth-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys for Trey Lance, in the same draft class as Fields, and I think that surprised a lot of people that the Niners got that much. Dallas got Lance with two years remaining on his contract to serve as the backup to Dak Prescott.
There were teams intrigued by Fields after his rookie season in 2021, teams that wondered if a regime change would lead the Bears to consider trading him. I know of a few clubs that remained relatively upbeat about him after last season. Where the interest level could be now, I can’t speculate.
I think the Bears could do a little better for Fields than the Niners did for Lance but it’s going to depend on how he performs for the remainder of the season. It’s going to depend on what the open market looks like. It’s going to depend on how many teams are more interested in taking a shot on a draft pick. Maybe the career day with 335 yards passing and four touchdowns was the start of something special for Fields. Who knows?
If he’s up and down the remainder of the season, I can’t imagine a trade for Fields would be Plan A or Plan B for any team in the offseason ahead. Lance barely had any tape before his trade. Fields has a lot of it and I’m not sure that will be a big benefit for the Bears if they find themselves considering a trade after the season.
Has the play of Cody Whitehair really dropped off? I’ve noticed that he’s been pushed back on several big plays this year. I understand he focused on center all offseason but left guard is his natural position and the angles/technique should not be that foreign to him. — Olaf S., Memphis, Tenn.
It’s fair to say Whitehair has passed his prime and he’s been a dependable player for the Bears for a long time. He’s in his eighth season and has made 111 starts and has rarely missed time. In five of his previous seven seasons, he started every game. He’s also had the ability to move around and start at all three interior positions. I’m not sure that was always the best thing for Whitehair, but the team obviously felt it was best for the line. I’d agree he is struggling with power this season. Whitehair has one more season remaining on his contract at $10.25 million, so there is a chance this is his final season with the Bears. I will be curious if the coaches find a way to get Ja’Tyre Carter on the field moving forward. He looked decent in two starts but more playing time will be required to get a good evaluation of him when considering future plans in the trenches.
What are the top three things needed for a championship team? — @bourbonace
That’s a good question.
1) An elite quarterback. It’s very difficult to be a perennial contender without a high-level quarterback who has an array of explosive playmakers. The 2006 Bears reached Super Bowl XLI because they had an excellent offensive line, powerful running game, elite defense and elite special teams. Nearly everything else has to be perfect if you don’t have a legitimate star at quarterback.
2) Coaching. High-level leadership is required to not only motivate the entire locker room but also win with sharp game plans on a weekly basis. A staff that knows how to get the best out of every single player is required.
3) A defense that can limit explosive plays. That is what the NFL has become. It’s more important to reduce explosive plays in the current NFL than it is to stop the run. That’s reality. So, a creative pass rush and a good secondary are required. You need defensive players who can make plays on the ball.
I would also add that health is a critical requirement. It’s really difficult to mount a championship run if there are a slew of injuries.
A very disappointing Bears’ loss. Everyone has been talking about the fourth-and-1 call at the end of the game. Something that stuck out to me was the end of the first half. The Bears had the ball with two and some change remaining and three timeouts. I forget the sequence of plays but they didn’t use a single timeout until four or five seconds left and nothing to show. No two-minute drill? — D.P. Allard
I didn’t have a major issue with the clock management there. The Bears took over on their own 16-yard line with 2:29 remaining in the second quarter and, as you said, all three timeouts. They led 21-7 at that point and I think the first thing they wanted to do was not make a mistake deep in their own end and allow the Broncos to cut into the two-touchdown lead.
After a false start, there was a 24-yard pass to Darnell Mooney and then the offense moved quickly to get off another snap prior to the two-minute warning, a 1-yard run by Roschon Johnson. Coming out of the clock stoppage, Justin Fields hit Cole Kmet for an 11-yard gain and, at that point, they are on their own 47-yard line. The clock really isn’t an enemy there. What derailed the possession was a sack on the next play that made it second-and-16 with about a minute to play. It was then that I think the Bears made the decision to see if they could get in range for Cairo Santos but not make some really momentum-altering mistake. I totally understand what you are saying here and I think if they have a positive play instead of the sack on first down at midfield, Matt Eberflus is probably putting his timeouts to use.
With the Bears staring at an 0-5 start if they lose Thursday, it’s pretty apparent that any postseason hopes are long gone. I think it’s time to start evaluating the roster for the future. Do you think the rookie defensive linemen Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens will start to see more significant playing time? I’ve seen them on the field here and there but I think the Bears should have them on the field as much as possible to gain experience and to see what they have in those two. — Corey S.
Neither rookie played a ton against the Broncos but the first factor you have to consider is that Denver ran only 48 offensive plays in the game. Dexter had 10 snaps and Pickens got nine. Justin Jones had 38 and Andrew Billings played 29.
I asked defensive line coach Travis Smith about the distribution of playing time Tuesday.
“I don’t think it was on purpose,” Smith said. “It was kind of the way the game was going. The offense was doing a great job of controlling the time of possession so No. 1, we were getting a ton of rest on our side and we weren’t playing a ton of snaps. Outside of the first (Denver) drive, we were barely on the field. The snap count was not indicative of how they are doing or how they’re not doing. It had nothing to do with that. It was more the situation of how the game played out.
“They’re progressing good. Obviously, what we want is more production from the whole group. But I think from a technique standpoint for rookies right now, if you look at where we were when we came in here after the draft to where we are now, they have progressed a ton. They’re getting better each week.”
Playing time has to be earned and I’ve written at length multiple times about the issues the team has on the defensive line. That is why the development of these two is so critical, not only for how the team will play in the second half of the season but in the future. Dexter has 92 snaps through four games and Pickens has 63. I imagine we will see more of them as the season unfolds.
Seems to me the Bears have really hurt themselves with penalties. Where are they in comparison to the rest of the league? — Alex W., Edwardsville, Ill.
It’s been a little sloppy, no question. The Bears have had 28 penalties counted against them. That is tied for the seventh-most in the NFL. Carolina and Arizona have had 34 penalties marked off against them, tied for the most. Jacksonville is the least penalized team with only 15. How far off are the Bears? If they had four fewer, they’d be in the bottom half of the league. So, I think it’s something that can be cleaned up but with as many issues as they have, it needs to happen quickly. The Bears had 80 penalties counted off against them last season, the third-lowest total in the league. They are on pace for 119.
Regarding the Bears’ pass rush I have the following question: Are the Bears using undersized players on the defensive line? — David S., Addison
Generally speaking, coaches rooted in the Tampa Two scheme go with slightly smaller and more athletic defensive linemen but I have found it interesting that Matt Eberflus tends to prefer relatively stout ends. The Bears’ pass rush issues are not because they are too small up front.
End DeMarcus Walker is 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. Yannick Ngakoue is on the smaller side at 6-2, 246, but you see some very productive edge rushers in that 250-pound range. Ends Rasheem Green (6-4, 279) and Dominique Robinson (6-5, 253) don’t lack for size. Inside, nose tackle Andrew Billings is 6-1, 311, and he is playing well. Justin Jones is 6-3, 309, and the rookies have good size. Gervon Dexter Sr. is 6-6, 312, and Zacch Pickens is 6-4 and an even 300 pounds.
The Bears have been using Velus Jones Jr.on kickoff returns the last couple weeks but I don’t believe he’s brought one out yet. Why not? — James P., Johnsburg
That’s a good question. Jones has been the primary kickoff returner for the last three games and the Bears have had 18 touchbacks and no returns. That’s not off like you might think. The Bears had four kickoff returns in the season opener and there are only seven teams with more kickoff returns through four games. The Saints lead the NFL with 11 kickoff returns and the Packers are next with 10. Seven teams have only one return.
As the weather begins to turn and the leaves start falling, we’re going to see more returns in outdoor stadiums. The decision to return kicks is a function of two factors — depth of the kick and hang time. I think hang time is almost more significant because that determines how far downfield the coverage team can get. We’ll probably see some returns soon but maybe not on Thursday. The Commanders have forced touchbacks on all 17 kickoffs.
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