Justin Fields has been a polarizing NFL player since he joined the league. His struggles as a passer are well-known, but his ability as a runner is undeniably elite. To begin the 2023 season, the Chicago Bears offense is catering to his weaknesses rather than his strengths.
Let Fields Run
Fields had one of the most prolific seasons for a rushing quarterback in NFL history a year ago. He ran for over 1100 yards, averaging seven yards per carry. The only quarterback with more rushing yards than Fields in a season was Lamar Jackson during his MVP campaign.
When Fields is productive on the ground, the offense as a whole looks a lot better. The Bears had eight outings with 20 or more points last season. In those games, Fields averaged over 90 rushing yards and had at least 47 yards in each one.
Just as Chicago’s offense is productive when Fields has success on the ground, they struggle when he doesn’t. The three games in which he failed to top 30 rushing yards resulted in 14 points per game.
The numbers speak for themselves. When Justin Fields has a productive day with his legs, the Bears score more frequently. Many assumed Chicago recognized this and would build their offense around Fields’ skillset. Those people would be wrong.
Fields has had just two designed runs called for him so far this season. For reference, rushing quarterbacks like Jalen Hurts, Daniel Jones, and Anthony Richardson have had at least nine designed runs. A lot of Fields’ production as a runner last season was on scrambles, but this is inexcusable playcalling.
We’re just two weeks into the new NFL season, but it’s already been a massive disappointment for the Bears. They’ve begun the season by losing two games that appeared to be winnable on paper. What might be more concerning is that Fields seems to have stayed stagnant (or even regressed) as a passer.
Let Fields Throw Deep
Fields has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and is still holding on to the ball for too long. He’s second-guessing himself on passing plays which has resulted in 10 sacks in two games. This can’t be ignored, but the blame isn’t entirely on Fields. Similar to his lack of production on the ground, his struggles as a passer are partially because of the scheme.
When Fields has found success as a passer in the NFL, it’s been on deep throws. According to Next Gen Stats, his passer rating was well above league average on intermediate and deep attempts in 2022.
Fast forward to 2023 and only about 5% of his 66 attempts have traveled 20+ yards through the air. Sure enough, both touchdowns Fields has thrown this season were over 20 yards downfield.
The average Justin Fields throw this season is remarkably shallow compared to previous seasons. In 2022, his intended receiver was more than 9 yards downfield on average. That number has been cut in half in 2023. D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, and Chase Claypool are on pace to have the lowest ADOT (Average Depth of Target) of their career as a result.
There’s seemingly a large gap between what Chicago wants Fields to be and who he is. The Bears coaching staff has designed an offense predicated on making quick decisions and short throws. Fields’ best attributes are his ability to extend plays with his legs and his deep ball. Until these two sides can meet in the middle, they’ll both continue to underachieve.
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