Bears Week 3 overreactions: Justin Fields' struggles cause for panic?

Bears overreactions: Is scheme to blame for Fields' struggles? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears improved to 2-1 with a sloppy, error-filled 23-20 win over the Houston Texans in Week 3.

Honestly, it felt like a loss.

Justin Fields self-proclaimed his performance as “trash” and vowed to be better. But an 8-for-17 performance for a measly 106 yards and two picks against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL caused alarms to be on standby in Chicago.

If not for Roquan Smith’s 16-tackle day that included a game-winning interception, the Bears likely would be 1-2 or, given how Lovie Smith and Matt Eberflus like to coach, 1-1-1.

But the Bears head into a Week 4 date with the sneaky terrible New York Giants at 2-1. Before we turn our full attention to that game, let’s dissect some reactions from whatever that Week 3 performance against the Texans was:

Overreaction? Nope.

I’m right there with you.

Was Fields’ play against a Texans secondary that’s among the worst in the league concerning? Yes. There’s no question. But it’s one data point early in Fields’ career. It’s only his third start in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system, and this Shanahan-style attack normally takes several weeks to fully click.

I’m not saying to ignore it. You can’t. The misses were alarming, and he’s clearly not seeing his throws right now. He failed to see several open receivers during the game, and it looks like the footwork that he worked all offseason to improve is either causing his throws to be off or is coming untangled.

The Bears also need to do a better job of putting him in a position to succeed, especially early in games. They need to run more play-action and dial up more throws that aren’t in traffic to build confidence and mitigate risk.

It’s way too early to bail on a guy as talented as Fields. But he and the Bears are trending in the wrong direction.

Overreaction? No, and … maybe not.

There’s no question getting Fields a true No. 1 receiver would benefit his growth. We’re talking Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase-level star. Those guys make life easier on their quarterbacks. They get open no matter the coverage and can turn short passes into big gains. They also free up the complimentary receivers just with their presence.

No doubt that would help.

But I want to focus on the game plan and scheme causing Fields’ issues.

This is an interesting angle that I hadn’t thought of until I talked with Chris Simms on the latest episode of the Under Center Podcast. The scheme offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has installed is supposed to be quarterback-friendly, dialing up easy throws in the middle of the field with space to run.

But Simms pointed out that a lot of the throws the Bears have schemed up for Fields, the ones over the middle, are into heavily trafficked areas that make it easier for defenses to break up the pass or pick it off if the ball isn’t precise. Fields has made some iffy throws early on into those areas, and that might be why he seems hesitant to pull the trigger on similar throws, even to open receivers.

Simms thinks the Bears would do Fields a great service by dialing up more play-action throws outside the numbers with a bigger margin for error (deep comebacks, outs, etc.) and utilize more of a Lamar Jackson-style run attack like the Ravens do to boost Fields’ confidence and build toward those middle-of-the-field throws.

I don’t know if the scheme has caused what we saw against the Texans, but it’s obvious the Bears need to change something to help Fields.

Overreaction? Yes, but hold that thought

OK, we’re not here yet. Fields has only made 13 starts and the Texans stinker, while concerning, is just one game.

I think the Bears would probably admit they haven’t done enough to help Fields succeed or properly evaluate him this season. The offensive line has had pass protection issues and the receivers can’t separate. Fields shares blame for holding the ball too long, not seeing the field well, and making numerous off-target throws.

But I can’t, at the moment, say it’s time to start #BeingBadForBryce.

Head coach Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles will want to see progress from Fields this season and then, as long as he doesn’t put 10 games like Sunday’s out there, let him prove himself in 2023 with a better line and supporting cast.

As for the part about the Bears winning too many games to have a top-10 pick, slooooow down. The Bears are 2-1 and could very well be 3-1 after Sunday. But this is a very flawed team. The losses will come.

I still think 6-11 is where they end up. They need a pick in the 6-10 range. Badly.

Overreaction? Yes. I think.

Roquan Smith played his ass off against the Texans. There’s no other way to spin 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a game-winning interception.

Did playing the Texans have something to do with it? I can’t say it didn’t. After all, where was this Roquan against Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon?

Now, I’d say that the lack of training camp time has put Smith behind to start the season and he’s finally starting to find his peak. Expect Roquan to fully be Roquan by Week 5.

But if he no shows against the Bears’ better opponents again, we can come back to this.

Overreaction? Yes … and no.

David Montgomery is one of the best running backs in football and showed how dangerous he can be in the wide-zone scheme in Week 2. The Bears’ passing attack is, in theory, supposed to be based off the success of that run game. Montgomery and Khalil Herbert are invaluable assets to Fields in this system.

Trading Montgomery would be a wild decision. Now, they might not re-sign him, but that’s just the way the NFL is trending.

As for your contention that the Bears should throw more because this season is all about Justin Fields’ development, I couldn’t agree more.

The Bears’ game plan in Week 2, no matter what you want to say about the total number of dropbacks, was problematic. They came out in Week 3 wanting to let Fields rip it, and he wasn’t good. That’s an issue.

I think the Bears need to get more inventive in the pass game. It’s all very simple and easy for defenses to diagnose at the moment. The Bears also need to stop taking the ball out of Fields’ hands on third-and-medium/long. Let him play quarterback. Otherwise … what are we doing here?

Overreaction? No.

I think the main point is that Teven Jenkins should stay on the field. He’s one of the Bears’ five best offensive linemen. He has only given up two pressures on the season and is graded as the 17th best run-blocking guard in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Whitehair ranks 16th and has been tremendous this season. He should probably stay at LG.

The Bears would like Patrick’s thumb to be healthy enough for him to play center. For my two cents, I don’t think Patrick has been better than Jenkins or Sam Mustipher through three games.

RELATED: Fields, Bears at risk of speeding toward perilous crossroads

Eberflus said he started Patrick over Jenkins in Week 3 because Jenkins had a bad Wednesday of practice.

The Bears need to stop messing around with the line and pick five. Jenkins needs to be part of it.

Overreaction? Yes, but crazier things have happened (ignoring the last part).

The 2018 49ers got a gift in disguise in Jimmy Garoppolo’s torn ACL. It allowed them to finish 4-12 with a built-in excuse and draft Nick Bosa at No. 2 overall. Bosa was the dominant edge rusher then-defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needed to put with a front that already had Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.

Garoppolo returned healthy in 2019, and the 49ers crushed everyone with a vicious defense and powerful run game en route to a berth in Super Bowl LIV, where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Could the Bears make a similar surprise run in 2023? It depends on several things. Namely, the development of Fields, how the Bears spend their $100 million in cap space next offseason, and what the draft class looks like in 2023.

If the Texans game is a blip and Fields makes a leap, the Bears bolster the offensive line and wide receiving corps, and draft difference-makers in Rounds 1 and 2, then it’s in play.

That’s a lot of boxes to check, though. I maintain that 2024 is the year to circle if this rebuild goes according to plan.

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