On Sept. 18, we here at SB Nation went to Football Court once again, in order to solve the great dilemma: is the Justin Fields era over in Chicago?
This was written after two brutal games to start the season, but we could even stretch it out to Week 4. Through the first four games of the season, Fields threw seven touchdowns, but also threw five interceptions, had an 11.1% sack rate and the Bears were outscored 137-75. With the backdrop of Chicago having two first round picks that could more than likely both be in the top five due thanks to the Carolina Panthers trading their top pick in order to draft Bryce Young in 2023, Photoshopped images of Caleb Williams or Drake Maye in navy blue started popping up all over social media. Folks began to wonder where the next stop for Justin Fields would be. Atlanta? Los Angeles? Las Vegas? The possibilities would be endless for the Bears to send their once-deemed face of the franchise.
Well, Fields and the Bears haven’t heard a bell yet. Since Week 4, Fields has looked promising despite missing five games since with a thumb injury. As he made his his return against the Detroit Lions in Week 11, Fields continued his recent trend of strong play. In the loss to the Lions, Fields threw for 169 yards and ran for 104, but it was the way that he went about it that once again has the Bears front office thinking about their future come April.
One of the first things that stood out about Fields’ day in Detroit was how decisive he was both inside and outside the pocket. Fields was only sacked twice, while showing off a quicker internal clock and more willing to go to the checkdown than in previous weeks.
On this first throw to wide receiver DJ Moore, Fields feels the pressure in the pocket, but instead of drifting backwards or taking his eyes off the field, he keeps his eyes up and makes a decisive move out of the pocket. He finds Moore and moves the chains, which probably looks like a mundane throw but for the Bears, this was a massively positive development.
It's a small thing, but watching Fields be so decisive with his pocket movement compared to where he was early in this season is really good to see pic.twitter.com/uX8EaWWQCV— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 21, 2023
Where the real goods come in is from the end zone angle. Just watch the arm slot Fields gets this ball to Moore in. This is why you can’t quit him, because there are very few QBs who can make this throw.
This throw is a pretty simple concept, spacing to the numbers side with the option to take this hitch to DJ Moore at the top of the screen. If this were the Bears from Week 2, Fields is panicking off the first read and turning that play into a sack. However, he stays calm, gets back around to the spacing side, and finds tight end Cole Kmet to get a first down. It’s those types of simple plays, the ones that used to turn into catastrophes, that Fields has now been able to make that keep the offense on schedule. A welcome sign for Chicago.
Looks left, doesn't want the DJ Moore hitch. Comes back to his right without panicking, gets the ball out and it ends in an 11 yard gain. Good process. pic.twitter.com/TNsGAqZNY2— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 21, 2023
The touchdown to Moore was a really fun sign of development by Fields. The Lions are in Cover 1, and Darnell Mooney runs an over route from the slot. This, combined with DJ Moore running a big post behind it, is designed for a vertical challenge of the single safety, but this is on Fields for him to move the safety. The pressure starts coming in, but instead of taking off and running, Fields steps up and uncorks a rope to Moore for a touchdown. This is the stuff you want to see from Fields and the Bears.
This is the good stuff from Fields. An over + skinny post by DJ Moore vs Cover 1, Fields uses his eyes to influence the deep safety, doesn't panic when moved off his spot, throws a dart for a TD pic.twitter.com/hjkQ88BuYD— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 21, 2023
Finally, I want to throw in some impressive sequencing and play design by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and the Bears off their QB sweep action. Getting Fields on the move where he can use his athleticism and ability to throw off platform is an added advantage in this offense, and Chicago uses it well here.
And now you get the sequencing off of that, showing the same student body left movement up front, but running boot action off of it. Fields rips it to St. Brown for a 1D. Where was this earlier in the year? https://t.co/pEg0VziRFr pic.twitter.com/KulplOpJx3— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 21, 2023
With Fields looking better, the Bears are facing a really interesting conundrum. They can take a swing on one of the top QBs with their first of the two picks, which could presumably be the first overall pick, or trust in Fields’ development and draft to help him in other areas. There are a couple of schools of thought on both sides of this argument.
In terms of drafting a QB first overall, it’s simple: North Carolina’s Drake Maye and USC’s Caleb Williams are a couple of the more physically talented QBs that have entered the draft. They’re both more of a QB 1A and 1B right now, but if I were giving the edge to anyone, it’s probably Maye. He can work both inside and out of structure, and while he tends to zoom through his reads too quickly, he can make literally every throw on the field.
Drake Maye makes some of the hardest throws look like child's play. Has the arm strength to get away with this fadeaway throw off platform, perfectly in stride. pic.twitter.com/MxJRZixld1 https://t.co/ia9gCowBGL— Nick Martin (@themicknartin) November 18, 2023
The microscope on Williams has magnified even his smallest mistakes, but let’s get one thing clear: Williams is a supremely talented QB whose creativity can be his greatest strength and his most glaring weakness. He also can make every throw in the book, and has a bigger frame and arm than a guy like Bryce Young, who shares similar traits to Williams.
Caleb Williams is still absurd pic.twitter.com/pPkchtATQ7— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 18, 2023
The sell here for Bears fans is simple: Fields has shown flashes, but at this point in time, flashes is all they are. It might benefit both Fields and the Bears for a mutual parting of ways so both can begin anew, and by trading Fields, they can recoup some trade value if possible. Plus, if there’s going to be a new coach coming into town, sticking him with a QB he didn’t choose might not be the best option.
However, the other school of thought behind keeping Fields is very valid. While Williams and Maye are both supremely talented, neither are my top player ranked in this year’s upcoming draft class. That would be Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr., who has freakish body control and acceleration at 6’4. Harrison and DJ Moore would give Fields two bonafide stars on the outside to work with. In addition, with many other teams being QB needy, trading out of that top pick might also serve some good for the Bears, to get more draft picks and stockpiling a roster that needs an infusion of talent. Fields would get another shot with a new coach and playcaller, and if it works with a new receiver group and upgraded talent, then great. If not, the 2025 Draft will also be there for you.
Fields has put the Bears in a tricky, but good position. If it were me, I would give it one more year to build around Fields and get more talent at the skill positions and along the offensive line. However, the appeal of getting a new QB and a fresh start could sway general manager Ryan Poles, who hasn’t curried much favor since taking over.
What they end up doing at QB could shape the entire 2024 NFL Draft.