The Bears not only went through one of the worst seasons in franchise history after winning the NFC North title in 2018, but also had one of the worst seasons ever. If they lose to the Vikings on Sunday, their 3-14 record will be surpassed by their only 1-13 mark in 1969.
Sitting sounds awful, but it isn’t. And that’s because of Justin Fields.
Amid the slog, including a current franchise-worst nine-game losing streak, Fields has been a bright spot. He wasn’t good enough to break them out of the bottom tier of NFL offenses and he finished last in the league in passing yards, but he was electric. Fields is the funniest quarterback the Bears have had since the brash, boisterous Jim McMahon.
Fields’ big-play ability, mostly as a runner, made the season one to watch. The games were worth your attention because there was always the possibility that he would do something amazing.
He became just the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and set a single-game regular-season record for quarterbacks by torching the Dolphins for 178 in November.
He had seven runs of more than 30 yards and seven completions that went for 40 or more.
It seemed improbable that the Bears would end up with a record this poor unless Fields was a disaster, but they’ve gotten there because of so little around them.
Fields still has a way to go, but there’s no denying he’s made progress.
Establishing himself as the NFL’s most forceful runner at the position is just one part of the equation, but it’s a big one. Matt Nagy never wanted to run. Matt Eberfluss and Luke Gatesy were resistant at first, then realized they were shunning power.
Fields said that he does not plan to rush for 1,000 yards every season and that he probably shouldn’t, but declaring him an elite runner shouldn’t have a negative connotation either. This is a great weapon.
However, the next step for him is to make it a secondary weapon. To do that, he needs to become far more prolific as a passer.
Of the seven quarterbacks who rushed for over 400 yards this season, Fields is the only one to have gained more than 26% of his total yardage output on the ground. Of his 3,385 combined yards rushing and passing, 33.8% came as a runner.
In contrast, MVP candidates Jalen Hurts of the Eagles and Josh Allen of the Bills passed and received 82.3% and 84.2% of their totals, respectively. Even in Lamar Jackson’s 2019 MVP season, he averaged 208.5 yards per game passing, and was responsible for 27.8% of his total rushing yardage.
Fields leads all quarterbacks and the Bears’ entire team in rushing with 76.2 yards per game, but sits behind most among NFL starters in passing yards per game at 149.5. His incredible agility and speed are integral, but he should tilt his game toward becoming a far more productive passer.
His passing output was low, but far more efficient than what he showed as a rookie.
After a brutal first four games, Fields posted a 96.9 passer rating over the next 10. In that stretch, he completed 65.7% of his passes, averaged 169.6 yards per game and threw 14 touchdowns versus six interceptions.
It suggests development. It also sparked debate as to how much of his abysmal statistics could be attributed to the Bears’ inadequate offensive line and skill players. An increase in talent in those locations would theoretically increase Fields’ production.
However, this is the last time that growth will be good enough. Starting next season, when the Bears aren’t shredding their roster and prioritizing the future, they just have to be good. If he’s still a thrilling playmaker but can’t do it consistently enough to be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL, he won’t get the Bears where they want to go.
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