Let’s get this out of the way first: Justin Fields was not put in the best position to have success against the Browns on Sunday.
That was the conclusion immediately following the game and hasn’t changed.
With that understood, it can also be true that Fields didn’t play well and was responsible for some of the carnage in Cleveland. In fact, this week’s film review revealed more mistakes from Fields than I initially anticipated immediately following the game.
In last week’s film study, we looked at some of the positive plays that showed Fields’ poise even though the mechanics and accuracy were not perfect. So this week, it’s only fair that we take a look at a few things he needs to work on.
Against the Bengals in Week 2, it seemed like there were some zone-read gives to Montgomery that were probably the right read even though it looked like Fields probably could have beat the read defender to the edge had he kept the ball.
Against the Browns, I wondered if we’d see him keep it more, although trying to beat Myles Garrett to the edge is a different challenge. Still, on the second offensive play of the game for the Bears, Fields should have kept the ball when he handed it off to David Montgomery for just a 1-yard gain.
In this case, Garrett crashed on Montgomery and the play design had both tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Allen Robinson as lead blockers for Fields. This was right after a 16-yard gain for Montgomery on an RPO give and it would have been nice if Fields had strung together back-to-back big gains in the RPO/ZR game.
Later, we saw a sack on an RPO when Fields simply didn’t pull the trigger. The read was correct and but the throw wasn’t made.
This is definitely an example where a screenshot does not due the play justice, because the open window to Darnell Mooney on this play was very brief. But this is an also an example of Sunday speed. Mooney is the first read on this RPO and the ball needs to be out as soon as it pulled out of Montgomery’s gut. The video shows how quick this happens. It's not an easy play, but one that needs to be made. You can’t get sacked by the read defender in this situation.
Get the ball out faster
That wasn’t the only time Fields didn’t get the ball out fast enough, but it was one of the rare times he had a legitimate throw to make. That’s where the scheme issues come in. Still, Fields can only worry about doing his job and at least a few of the nine sacks were on him.
This sack came on a less than ideal 3rd-and-14 in the second quarter, but Fields had over four seconds to make a decision here, which is plenty of time in the NFL. He either had to scoot out the front of the pocket and pick up what he could with his legs or hit one of the two checkdown options available. Neither would have been a first down, but both would have been better than taking another hit from Myles Garrett and risking a fumble.
See the field
As the game went on, Fields’ field vision seemed to get narrower, which isn’t all that surprising considering the beating he was taking. But there are a few things he can take from this film and store in his library.
For one, check out the first play of the second half:
If you didn’t notice it, that’s Browns rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah calling out the running back swing right before the snap. But then he reads Fields’ eyes and sits down on the throw to Cole Kmet.
Sometimes the opponent just makes a better play than you and in this case, a different rookie won this snap. But Fields can now see how his eyes influence the defense. I don’t know the progression on this play, but a look over to Montgomery would have kept the linebacker going that way. Or maybe a pump to Kmet would have opened the swing to Montgomery.
And no, this play wasn’t going anywhere special anyway, which gets into the scheme questions that are completely fair.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Fields had another opportunity to hit Montgomery on a swing pass when two Browns defenders collided. He was locked in on Kmet on the other side though and didn’t see it. This was a third down too, which carries extra importance.
Again, there are many reasons to defend Fields after the position he was put in Sunday in Cleveland, but there also has to be some recognition that the rookie quarterback made mistakes too.
He can — and will be — a lot better.
(As always, for more detail on the grading system, click here.)
— No one on the offensive line was particularly great, but the majority of the issues came on the outside as Jason Peters (-4.00) and Germain Ifedi (-4.00) both struggled. Ifedi is now the team’s lowest graded starter (-1.67) through three games so you have to wonder if the Bears are starting to think about making a change there. My guess is Ifedi still gets the start this week.
— Through three games, the Bears have exactly three offensive players playing at a starting caliber level (2.00 or higher): Montgomery (6.33), Andy Dalton (3.50, which is admittedly inflated by his great opening drive against the Bengals before getting hurt) and Darnell Mooney (2.00). If we're being honest, Montgomery is the only player that legitimately scares a defense right now. Justin Fields should be, but that's up to the coaches to devise a game plan that makes him dangerous. And enough of the short static routes with Allen Robinson.
-- For all the angst regarding the nickelback spot, Duke Shelley (3.00) played well Sunday in Cleveland. Most of that came in run support, but he was more than adequate.
-- For a seventh round rookie, nose tackle Khyiris Tonga (5.00) was outstanding playing 36 percent of the snaps. Like, good enough that Eddie Goldman should be motivated to get back out on the field.