The stat line wasn’t great: 6-for-13, 60 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 27.7 passer rating.
But the stat line didn’t tell the whole story for Justin Fields in his first extended playing time.
In fact, the film suggests a different story. It shows a rookie quarterback that looked inexperienced, but not overwhelmed, which is important. It shows a quarterback who was poised with good footwork.
"I think he’s had some of the calmest feet that I’ve been around with a quarterback," Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. "He’s really calm in the pocket. He feels comfortable in the pocket. But the thing is that’s good for us and the Bears is that he feels comfortable outside the pocket, too."
A look at a few plays from Sunday's 20-17 win over the Bengals shows that comfortability both in and outside the pocket:
First, let’s point out the one negative that was confirmed on the film: Fields was late on a few throws. But that’s not surprising and his timing should speed up with experience and more reps with his starting wide receivers.
The important thing is that Fields read the field well. He did not appear panicked or rushed. That’s the difference between being inexperienced and being overwhelmed. Inexperience is fine. Seeing ghosts and rushing throws are not.
After reviewing the film, there were three plays in particular that stood out to me as positive moments to build on. They weren't necessarily highlight plays or even ones you might remember from the game, but trust me, they matter to the coaching staff.
Play 1: 3rd & 4, 1:23 left in the 2nd quarter
This was Justin Fields’ first third down throw of his career and the ease and simplicity of it is what stands out.
Here’s the route combination against single-high man-coverage:
The footwork on his dropback was good, the timing of the progression looked easy and the throw was perfectly accurate.
Easy pick-up of 11 yards for a first down.
Play 2: 3rd & 13, 3:03 left in the 3rd quarter
This was a really encouraging play for Fields in just his second NFL game.
The Bears had three receivers to the right and Allen Robinson running a short 5-yard comeback route to the left. The Bengals are showing two-high safeties pre-snap, but rotate out of it post-snap as they rush five and send the strong safety to cover Montgomery out of the backfield.
“That play is a one-high, two-high read and they’re going down to one robber on that play and that’s just the read,” Fields said.
In other words, the progression changes based on if it’s a one-high or two-high look and Fields recognized the safeties rotating out of their original two-high look at the snap. That made Robinson his primary read instead of forcing a throw to the trips-side where no one was open. Yes, Robinson was well short of the sticks on 3rd & 13, but Fields made the correct read.
“I’m not going to alter where I go with the ball just because of the down and distance. I’m just going to follow the rules and go through the reads and go where I’m supposed to go with the ball,” Fields said.
It turned out to be the only throw he had and because he made such a quick decision, Robinson was able to make his man miss and pick up the first down with his legs.
Play 3: 2nd & 11, 1:05 left in the 3rd quarter
This is just another early sign of the poise Fields possesses on the field. His offensive line gave him time to make a throw here, but as you can see, no one is open:
The internal clock was ticking here though and Fields could sense that he needed to get out of the pocket. He escaped out to his right and from there it was just a race to the sticks that he’s going to win almost every time. In fact, he was almost able to stay in bounds and score a touchdown here.
(As always, for more detail on the grading system, click here.)
- It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between how Fields (1.00) played overall Sunday and keying into signs/traits that suggest he is going to be just fine. The plays highlighted above were the latter. In reality, he played like a fringe starter against the Bengals. Keep in mind there are going to be ups-and-downs. He’s a rookie.
- It should be no surprise that Roquan Smith (8.00) was the highest graded Bear Sunday, but it might surprise you that running back David Montgomery (8.00) tied him on the offensive side. While Montgomery’s stats didn’t match his strong Week 1 performance, the quality of his runs were slightly better. It’s uncanny how he manages to pickup significant yardage when it doesn’t seem like there’s any space to run.
- The Bears’ front-line of Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Angelo Blackson, Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack AVERAGED a 5.40, which is well into blue-chip territory. Keep in mind that Mack led the team in 2020 with an overall grade of 4.53. If you have five players on your defensive front playing at that level as a unit, you’re going to win a lot of football games.
- At cornerback, you probably know how well Jaylon Johnson (6.00) played, but it is very significant how well Kindle Vildor (5.00) played too.
- Slot corner Duke Shelley (-1.00) wasn’t great, but he was an upgrade over Marqui Christian’s -5.00 in Week 1.
- Tight ends Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Jesse James averaged a -0.66 together. That room simply needs to be better and more involved.