Justin Fields has all the qualities you want to see from a potential franchise quarterback. He combines arm strength, accuracy, swagger, fearlessness, mobility, and a willingness to work to be better in a way that makes it easy to gravitate toward him. Those qualities also makes it pretty dang easy to dream on a bright future ahead … even if his first brush with the Packers didn’t go all too well.
Sure, the Bears lost on Sunday. And in doing so, Fields joined the long list of Bears QBs to fall at the hands of Aaron Rodgers. But Fields was showing signs of growth throughout that game. And he even received some inspiring words and useful notes from the voices that matter. Let’s discuss.
For example, I found one anecdote in this piece from The Athletic’s Adam Jahns particularly illuminating. In short, it features Nagy publicly highlighting a series of plays from Fields that impressed him. Nagy called them “special” plays, which is the highest compliment the Bears coach doles out to his players:
• Play 5: “He took a three-step drop, nice little hitch and ran a corner route, threw (Darnell) Mooney right on time. That was a professional throw, professional play. Great play by the line, everybody.”
• Play 6: “They run a Cover 2 and he hits (Allen Robinson) in the side pocket there down the sideline. Great throw, great catch, great execution.”
• Play 7: “A good chip protection shot play, where the safety’s playing kind of tight, cutting the deep cross. And he goes with the post alert, which is what we teach him.”
A note from Jahns in that piece: That play was a deep shot to receiver Marquise Goodwin, who drew a pass-interference penalty, which moved the ball to the Packers’ 1. Running back Khalil Herbert scored two plays later.
Quarterback is the toughest position to play in sports. And it’s that much tougher in Chicago, where the expectations are through the roof. I imagine being a developing quarterback with the Bears is kin to living in a fishbowl. Everything feels amplified to the next degree. Every throw is under a microscope. Each incompletion gets inspected by a cartoonishly large magnifying glass. All decisions are put through the gauntlet as if the fate of the Bears’ galaxy was depending on it. And that is why a reminder from the coach to the quarterback — a simple “you’re doing good out there, kid” — can mean so much.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Tough love is good and important. Moreover, it’s as important as the positive reinforcement we were discussing above. But balance is key in everything. Strike the right balance, and it will go a long way toward proper development.
While Nagy isn’t one to shy away from handing out praise, John DeFilippo is.
The Bears QBs Coach has something of a “bad cop” reputation (he leans into it). And that’s what makes these particular comments really land: “I think when he cut that post loose yesterday and saw that with the safety cheating over towards the left hash, that was a real, real play,” DeFilippo said, via the Bears’ official website. “I think his second- and third-level progressions have gotten better and better each week. So, that to me is the No. 1 thing that sticks out.”
It’s double-dipping at its finest. Not only is Fields growing as a better passer and processor, he is doing so in games. And not just any old game, either. A game at Soldier Field, with the home team trailing their fiercest rivals, with a potential first-place tie hanging in the balance.
Fields displaying an improved ability to make it through his progressions on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in which the QB went 5-for-5 for 64 yards and a touchdown pass is one of the biggest developments he could’ve made. It’s *EXACTLY* the type of thing you would hope to see from your young quarterback. That it came in a loss is virtually irrelevant. The drive in question was a building block in this developmental story.
An Interesting Confession
Can’t say I saw this coming:
Bears head coach Matt Nagy was quite effusive today about the progress he saw from Justin Fields on the two scoring drives. He admitted they put too much on Fields' plate decision-making wise in Cleveland, have adjusted and Fields impressed them in that facet of the game vs. GB.
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) October 18, 2021
Nagy admitting he put too much on Fields’ plate in his first start is eye-opening. Coaches are stubborn. They don’t like publicly admitting missteps. But that Nagy did so shows that he is willing to grow, too. And like Fields, he’ll need to show more of that week-in, week-out. After all, this head coach has just one more year left on his contract after this season.
It was interesting to hear how Nagy deflected blame from Fields with his explanation of that missed downfield deep shot that could’ve been a splash play for Allen Robinson and the offense:
On the 2nd-and-7 late in the second quarter in which Allen Robinson got open in coverage, Justin Fields was running a designed bootleg wasn't schemed for that unexpected route.
Matt Nagy explained in detail why Fields isn't to blame for missing Robinson downfield… pic.twitter.com/UNSdmST5pn
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 18, 2021
Nagy has a long way to go to deliver on the expectations he created after winning NFL Coach of the Year in 2018. But let’s be reasonable. The best coaches are willing to defend their players at every turn. I mean, who doesn’t want that kind of love from their boss? Seeing Nagy come to Fields’ defense in this manner is good to see. It’s not like coaches and QBs always get along, so cherish these moments while you can.
The Next Step is the Hardest
All that to say whaat comes next is a challenge. Fields has a to do it again. Stack good plays on scoring drives. Bounce back from a 10-point deficit to deliver a touchdown drive that cuts the deficit to three points. Quicker reads. Better throws. Keep building from the foundation that has been put down in prior weeks.
Oh, and this time, it will have to happen on the road against the defending Super Bowl champs. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers coming off a mini-bye will be a whale of a test for these Bears. But I’m looking to see how they respond to the challenge. Especially at quarterback.