It took 17 starts and two Bears regimes, but Justin Fields now looks like he might avoid becoming the latest example of a young quarterback failed by a bad environment.
Though there are plenty of passers whose failures fall squarely on them, it’s a team’s job to make sure it isn’t the reason that a highly drafted quarterback flops, and the Bears are finally doing that by giving Fields an offense catered to his strengths.
For the first six games of the season, Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ decision to tear the roster down before building it back up — the right move for the franchise in the long term — looked like it might traumatize Chicago’s young quarterback thanks to a bad offensive line and a lack of talent at receiver. Fields has taken a league-leading 31 sacks, some of which are on him, but the pressure came so quickly on other plays that he didn’t have a chance. Fields needs to speed up his process going through his progressions, but it’s hard to learn how to do that properly and get beneficial reps when you’re constantly under attack.
A good environment can mitigate some of a young quarterback’s typical growing pains with good protection, weapons and a scheme that makes life easier on him. Until a couple of weeks ago, Fields had none of those things, and the most egregious part of it all was the Bears not taking advantage of one of Fields’ great assets: his legs.
Other than Lamar Jackson, Fields might be the best pure runner in the game. At 6-2, 227 pounds, Fields has 4.4 40 speed. He can make defenders miss in tight spaces and pull away from them downfield. One of the reasons that athleticism is coveted at the quarterback position more than it has been in the past is that it gives quarterbacks a floor. Running the option in the NFL gives young quarterbacks something they can do successfully, and it buys them time to develop as downfield passers.
Under former head coach Matt Nagy last season, Fields had only 18 designed rushes, which tied him with Mac Jones (designed rushes also account for QB sneaks). And before Week 7 of this season, under current offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, Fields had only 12 rushing attempts that weren’t scrambles — two of which were busted plays, and one of which was a quarterback sneak.
You can make the argument that the Bears didn’t want to risk injury to Fields — look what happened to Trey Lance — but there have been plenty of examples of teams that used the option to buy time for their quarterbacks to develop, such as the Ravens with Jackson, the Eagles with Jalen Hurts and the Bills with Josh Allen. Also, there have been many quarterbacks who have had seasons end from brutal hits in the pocket when they had no shot at protecting themselves.