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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Mark Potash

1st-and-10: Why is developing a Bears QB always like pulling teeth?

Bears quarterback Justin Fields completed 8-of-17 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 27.7 passer rating against the Texans on Sunday. The Bears won, 23-20. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)

Waiting for Justin Fields’ footwork to kick in is like waiting for Lonzo Ball to come back — it’s supposed to make a huge difference, but will it ever actually happen? 

Skepticism and impatience are heavy as the Bears’ offense under Luke Getsy and Justin Fields already is giving off an unsettling Nagy/Trubisky vibe after another uninspiring offensive performance in the 23-20 victory over the Texans on Sunday. 

Maybe it was Fields fumbling the first snap of the Bears’ first possession. Or Fields overthrowing an open Cole Kmet with a clean pocket for an interception. Or his second read being even more open than the first read. Or Fields stumbling over David Montgomery’s foot on a drop back and throwing incomplete to Equanimeous St. Brown. Or Fields missing badly on a simple swing pass to running back Trestan Ebner. Or Fields failing to pull the trigger when a receiver is open. Or overthrowing Darnell Mooney for another interception.

It’s still really early — just Week 4 of the first season under Getsy. But even the answers are sounding hauntingly familiar. Like when Matt Eberflus was asked what Fields needs to work on this week. 

“Keep on working on his footwork,” he said. “The footwork and then the timing — when he gets the ball out of his hands.” 

Improving — or correcting — Fields’ footwork was a priority pet project of Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko when they got their hands on Fields in the offseason. By June, it was paying off.

“Luke and Andrew are doing a great job with the footwork and the timing,” Eberflus said during the final week of OTAs. “You can see [the improvement] in the drill work. You can see them taking it from the drill work to the 11-on-11 reps and that’s clearly getting better. So I’m excited about that.” 

Three months later, it’s still not quite there. 

“We need more consistency on it,” Eberflus said. “He’s getting better at that. And that breaks down sometimes when the protection breaks down so that was some of it.” 

Correcting the flaw that never seems to go away and developing consistency that proves elusive is a Bears quarterback tradition. Like Nagy with Trubisky. Or Dowell Loggains with Trubisky. Or Adam Gase with Jay Cutler. Or Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice or Marc Trestman with Cutler. Or Ron Turner with Rex Grossman. Or Gary Crowton with Cade McNown.

These things take time. But even relative to other developing quarterbacks, Fields is lacking — showing more signs or regression than progress. Of the 70 first-round quarterbacks to start in his second season in the last 30 years, Fields’ 50.0 passer rating through three games ranks 66th — the lowest since 2000. 

And many of those quarterbacks were (or are) with new a coordinator like Fields — Trevor Lawrence (103.1), Lamar Jackson (113.9), Justin Herbert (97.9) and Andrew Luck (92.6) among those who looked like they were getting somewhere early in the first year of a transition.

That’s not how it works at Halas Hall. So after three unimpressive performances amid modest expectations, the bar has been set even lower for Fields — just show a glimmer of hope that you’re heading in the right direction. With the Bears and quarterbacks, even baby steps require good footwork.

2. The next stage of the Fields-watch process are comparisons to Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who had very similar footwork and mechanics issues coming out of Wyoming and struggled with accuracy in his first two seasons in the NFL. 

After completing 56.3% of his passes in 2018-19, Allen completed 69.2% in 2020 and 63.3% in 2021 (and is at 71.2% this season). Improved footwork under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll gets much of the credit for Allen’s sudden improvement — which coincided with the acquisition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs in 2020. Hmmm … 

3a. Then again, latching on to the rare example of success while ignoring the multitude of examples of failure in search of hope is yet another ritual of this quarterback-development process. 

When Trubisky was struggling early in 2019, Nagy compared him to Drew Brees’ 0-4 start with a 57.4 rating (one touchdown, nine interceptions) with the Saints in 2007 — his second year in Sean Payton’s offense. 

It didn’t quite work out. Brees recovered to throw 27 touchdowns with only nine interceptions in 2007 and was on his way to the Hall of Fame. Trubisky recovered to throw 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2019 and was on his way to Buffalo and Pittsburgh. 

3b. Here’s the kicker: Even the breakout performance everyone is waiting for isn’t necessarily defining. This week is the fourth anniversary of Trubisky’s six-touchdown game against the Buccaneers. 

Two weeks after Patrick Mahomes had thrown six touchdowns against the Steelers in 2018, Trubisky completed 19-of-26 passes for 354 yards with no interceptions for a career-best 154.6 rating in a 48-10 rout. It was heralded by some as an arrival, but as it turned out, it was Trubisky taking advantage of an inferior opponent — the Buccaneers came in allowing 30.3 points and 473.3 passing yards per game.

4. Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush is 3-0 as a starter, with passer ratings of 92.3 against the Vikings on the road last year, 95.5 against the Bengals in Week 2 — and 98.2 in a road victory over the Giants on Monday night. That seems like a reasonable bar for Fields and Getsy to clear against the Giants on Sunday at the Meadowlands. 

5. Fields’ 27.7 passer rating is the sixth lowest in a Bears victory in the last 30 seasons — behind Rex Grossman vs. the Vikings in 2006 (1.3), Todd Collins vs. the Panthers in 2010 (6.2), Grossman vs. the Cardinals in 2006 (10.2), Craig Krenzel vs. the Titans in 2004 (19.3) and Kyle Orton vs. the Packers in 2005 (23.7). 

6. Of the 10 new head coaches in the NFL this season, the five first-time coaches are a combined 11-4 — the Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel (3-0), the Bears’ Matt Eberflus (2-1), the Giants’ Brian Daboll (2-1), the Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell (2-1) and the Broncos’ Nathaniel Hackett (2-1). 

The five former NFL head coaches are 5-9-1 — the Buccaneers’ Todd Bowles (2-1), the Jaguars’ Doug Peterson (2-1), the Saints’ Dennis Allen (1-2), the Texans’ Lovie Smith (0-2-1) and the Raiders’ Josh McDaniels (0-3).

7. Matt Eberflus’ practice-hard/play-hard philosophy bears watching after the Bears’ injury list increased in Week 3. 

Rookie wide receiver Velus Jones was the only player on the final injury list for the Packers game in Week 2. But five players did not play against the Texans because of injury. And running back David Montgomery (ankle) and wide receiver Byron Pringle (calf) suffered injuries Sunday. Pringle was put on injured reserve Tuesday. 

8. A strong running game is supposed to increase the effectiveness of play-action passes, but that’s not quite happening with the Bears. They rushed for 281 yards against the Texans, but on play-action passes, Fields was 2-of-6 for 38 yards, an interception, a sack and a six-yard scramble. 

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Falcons running back/wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson rushed for 141 yards on 17 carries (8.3 avg.) with a 17-yard touchdown run in a 27-23 road victory over the Seahawks. 

10. Bear-ometer: 7-10 — at NY Giants (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Commanders (W); at Patriots (L); at Cowboys (L); vs. Dolphins (L); vs. Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at NY Jets (W); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (L); vs. Vikings (W). 

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