LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Four weeks into the 2022 NFL season, all the talk of a Year 2 leap for Bears quarterback Justin Fields has evaporated.
The Bears' passing attack has been downright dreadful early on.
It has been so bad that Fields' 11 completions and 174 yards Sunday against the New York Giants were both season highs. There have been minor, and I mean minor, flashes from the second-year signal-caller. A bullet throw here, a scramble there.
But all in all, Fields has been one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks through 16 quarters of play, and the Bears' passing attack wouldn't frighten a freshman high school team at the moment.
It's easy to blame the Bears' offensive struggles and Fields' poor play on the quarterback. It's the most demanding position in team sports and the easiest to critique. You see the receivers come open on your couch and think, 'well he's just got to hit that.'
You're not wrong if you saw Fields not hit a wide-open Darnell Mooney down the seam against the Giants and thought he should have delivered a strike for six. He should have.
Fields isn't playing well right now. He knows that. The Bears know it too.
But while it's easy to place the blame for a disappointing, borderline alarm-sounding Year 2 at Fields' feet, I'm here to tell you that there's plenty of finger-pointing to go around.
"I think we've just got to be more consistent," Fields said after the loss to the Giants. "Whether it's me, whether it's O-line, whether it's the receivers. Some plays, we're all on the same page, we're all executing great, and then some plays, we aren't. The biggest thing with that, you know, is just consistency."
He's right. The buck might stop with the man behind center, but everyone deserves blame in this quickly devolving situation.
We knew the offensive line and the receivers were going to be an issue after the Bears finished their free-agency moves. It was going to be up to Fields and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme to elevate everyone around the young quarterback.
So far, no one is pulling their weight.
Let's start with the offensive line.
Fields has been pressured on 49 out of 100 dropbacks through four games, per Pro Football Focus. Forty-nine percent.
There are maybe four quarterbacks on the planet that could survive and thrive being pressured on half of their dropbacks.
Fields is completing 63 percent of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt when given a clean pocket this season. However, Fields completes just 23 percent of his passes for 5.8 yards per completion when pressured.
Fields, when given protection, has shown that he is the quarterback many believed he was coming out of Ohio State. The problem is those opportunities are few and far between. We're talking once or twice a game. At best.
Per PFF, Fields has faced the most dropbacks with pressure this season and had the fewest dropbacks in which a receiver was deemed open or wide-open.
That's a recipe for disaster for a young quarterback.
On Sunday, center Sam Mustipher gave up seven hurries. Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence had eight pressures against Mustipher, Lucas Patrick, Cody Whitehair, and Teven Jenkins.
We haven't even discussed the issues at tackle.
What is Fields supposed to do if he's running for his life on half of his dropbacks?
On the rare occasion that Fields has had a clean pocket, his receivers often aren't separating or are running an incorrect route.
Mooney admitted Monday that he ran the wrong route on a third-and-7 in the red zone. Fields ended up drifting to his left and throwing out of the back of the end zone in the direction of Dante Pettis.
"We probably called like one or two passing plays down there, and one of them I messed up on," Mooney said of the Bears' passing game that contributed to an 0-for-3 day in the red area. "So the play didn't work out as well. It was like the one where Cole [Kmet] was to the flat on the left side.
"I'm like the second option, or the first or the second option. It's (more) how he reads it. It was kind of just stuff like that. Missed assignments and stuff."
Then there was a critical third-down play in the second half where Fields threw a strike to a well-covered Pettis, but the receiver could not come down with the pass. That play was a glaring example of the Bears' need for a true X receiver, a big body who can go up and make contested catches to move the chains for Fields.
Even if you look past the shoddy protection, the receivers who don't separate and don't run the right routes and don't make contested catches, for the most part, you still get to a mediocre offensive game plan from Getsy and head coach Matt Eberflus.
Heading into Sunday, the Bears had run 21 plays in the red zone and only two were passes. On Sunday, they ran nine plays in the red zone and only four were passes. The play-calling has lacked creativity and been unable to find a way to illuminate Fields' strengths while mitigating the Bears' weaknesses.
Wasn't that supposed to be the point of hiring Getsy?
That brings us to general manager Ryan Poles.
Yes, he inherited one of the worst cap situations in the NFL. Almost all of his moves are defensible and make sense for the long-term health of the Bears' rebuild.
But for Poles not to find a veteran left tackle early in the free agency process and a reliable veteran target is pretty inexcusable.
If Poles had taken over without Fields in the picture, then putting all his eggs in the basket of a fifth-round rookie left tackle and a fifth-round second-year right tackle would be understandable. But how can you expect Fields to develop and show growth if he faces pressure on half his dropbacks? How do you evaluate his future with the franchise if he has no one to throw to and isn't seeing his throws because he's under constant pressure?
There's no reason to give up on Justin Fields. The talent is still there. The big arm, the athleticism, the high football IQ. All the ingredients for an elite quarterback.
But Fields landed in a bad situation and the new regime has done little to help him. Unless you count publicly expressing support and belief in him before taking three timeouts into halftime against the Texans as helping his growth.
It's fair to blame Fields for the Bears' offensive struggles. He is the quarterback. The buck stops with him.
But when you're assigning blame for Fields' poor play and the Bears' ineffective offense, go much further than the 23-year-old who was dealt the worst hand of any quarterback in the 2021 class. Look past the quarterback who was given no help from a front office that didn't draft him and whose staff appears to lack faith in his ability.
Everyone deserves a share of the blame for what's transpiring. There's more than enough to go around.