Before this season began, we posed a hypothetical scenario. It saw the Chicago Bears emulating the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles and finding their way into the playoffs. Ahead of their Week 15 showdown, the Eagles are first in the NFC while the Bears were eliminated from the postseason before going into the bye last week.
Still, the Bears have followed much of the blueprint laid out by the Eagles last season. They turned their campaign around following a mini-bye after Week 7. Head coach Nick Siriani re-vamp the entire offense around dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Chicago used a mini-bye after a Week 6 loss to the Washington Commanders to re-tool their offense around Justin Fields.
As comparisons between the two passers are sure to fly, remember how they got here.
Eagles Jalen Hurts Sends Strong Message on Bears Justin Fields
From Justin Fields to Jalen Hurts
“He’s always been a player that I’ve had a lot of respect for,” Hurts told reporters, “at Georgia, at Ohio State, coming into the Bears and doing what he’s been able to do in a short time…we have to be prepared for him.”
It is important to note that Hurts averaged 245 passing yards with 10 touchdowns to four interceptions through the first seven weeks last season adding another 51 yards per game and five scores on the ground. He averaged 178 passing yards and 52 rushing yards after Siriani’s schematic switch.
Hurts’ quarterback rating actually went down as a result.
Based on the tape, Justin Fields played one of his best games as a pro vs. GB in Week 13.
Deep ball throws. Timing routes. Hitting 2nd level windows. Made some plays off-script, too.
And the QB run game with Fields will continue to create conflict for defenses. pic.twitter.com/ptZJFStSZ6
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) December 6, 2022
Fields’ trend has been more noticeable in part because of where he was at the beginning of the season. He’s gone from 144 passing yards per game with four touchdowns to five picks and 47 rushing yards per game with a score through six weeks, to 171 passing yards per game with nine scores to five picks and 103 rushing yards per game with seven scores in his last six games.
“It is absolutely a possibility, you better believe it is,” Hall of Famer Michael Irvin told ‘Mully and Haugh‘ on 670 The Score. “Justin Fields has shown that this year,” Irvin said. “He has made great strides, now it’s important and imperative to do what the Eagles have done. They did what they needed to do to put who they had to put around him.”
Hurts’ leap this year has come after a full offseason of this no-longer-new system under his belt and a bonafide top wideout at his disposal in A.J. Brown who was acquired in a draft-day trade from the Tennessee Titans. The first part is important. But don’t discount the latter move when trying to chart a path to a Hurts-like ascension for Fields.
What Brown Did for PHI
Brown was coming off his first sub-1000-yard season and has already surpassed that mark this year. He is also on pace to set a new career-best in receiving touchdowns. He is sixth in receiving yards and sits just two scores off the league lead. Not coincidentally, Hurts – a leading MVP candidate in his third season – is sixth in touchdowns and 10th in yards.
The Bears can try to convince themselves that Darnell Mooney is their version of Eagles 2021 first-rounder DeVonta Smith. But they are missing the kind of dynamic impact player of Brown’s ilk even after trading their second-round pick in 2023 for Chase Claypool.
Much was made over Bears head coach Matt Eberflus noting that Claypool didn’t have a full grasp of the offense yet.
The alarm bells may be a bit premature, though.
Bears WR N’Keal Harry Turned Chip on Shoulder Into Production
It should be noted the Bears have had issues with wideouts running the wrong routes all season by players who have been in the playbook since the summer including Equanimeous St. Brown who has more experience in this system than anyone not named Luke Getsy. Claypool was trending for higher usage before getting injured in Week 13 and has had six weeks now.
Protect the Franchise
It will be interesting to see just how much he is utilized now that the team has had this extra time to integrate him into the offense. A Brown-like impact is probably too lofty. The 6-foot-4, 238-pound pass catcher can and should make a big difference for Fields down the stretch. But Philadelphia also boasts the sixth-best offensive line in DVOA, per Football Outsiders. For all of the handwringing, the Bears’ offensive line ranks 10th. Most of that is due to the success of their rushing attack.
It does show that there are more similarities between these two clubs going in different directions this season than initially meets the eye.
Total dropback EPA by coverage ID (via TruMedia/PFF) pic.twitter.com/WRiVFbcfrG
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) December 15, 2022
Keep that in mind even as Sunday’s tilt could get ugly. The Eagles’ back their top-ranked scoring offense with the seventh-ranked scoring defense. The Bears rank 19th and 29th, respectively.
Embed from Getty Images