After being named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week, Justin Fields’ stock is arguably at an all-time high, but the work is far from over.
Next on the to-do list is getting Fields to mesh with his existing weapons and expand his game through the air. Because while the Bears QB1 has been *stellar* on the ground in recent weeks, the best way to describe his passing attack lately is “safe.”
It’s always nice to see just two interceptions over his last five games, but we’d really love to see him pair that game-changing ground game with a game-changing aerial assault. Let’s discuss some of his options and the progress therein.
The Fields-Mooney Connection is Humming
The connection between Darnell Mooney and Justin Fields is one we’ve talked about plenty. Fields has targeted Mooney 52 times this season, which breaks down to roughly six targets per game. But 36 of those 52 targets have come in the last five games, which is good for 7.2 targets per game.
Those numbers reaffirm a couple of points. Mainly that Fields is becoming more comfortable getting the ball to his favorite target, one that he looked for north of 100 times last season as a rookie.
In the last five contests, Mooney has hauled in 24 of the 36 balls thrown his way — good for a 66.6 percent catch rate — and logged 286 yards and a touchdown.
Seeing the Fields-Mooney connection again thriving is a big plus for the Bears’ offense. But that can’t be the only connection working through the air if Fields is genuinely going to make strides as a passer this season.
But What About Chase Claypool?
The obvious answer to getting it right through the air is getting the newly acquired Chase Claypool involved. A big-bodied physical threat that the Bears see as a downfield weapon should help get Fields going. Claypool was rightfully limited in his first game in a Bears uniform, playing just 26 snaps, or 35 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.
“Obviously, I wish I could have done more for (the fans) and for the team and all that, but I’ll just keep stacking brick and brick,” Claypool said. “I think we’re going to be a super exciting offense, especially with what we showed (against the Dolphins).”
Claypool was playing anywhere from 55-65 snaps for the Steelers this season, a number we should see him get closer to this week against the Detroit Lions. Claypool hauled in two of his six targets against the Dolphins, drew a 28-yard pass interference call, and nearly brought down a deep ball from Fields late in the fourth quarter on what should have been another pass interference call, something we’ll likely see more of moving forward.
Claypool described his first week in Chicago as a “whirlwind” experience and told reporters at Halas Hall this week that he can settle in now with that “crazy experience” in the rearview mirror.
“Now that I’m settled in, I can just take a deep breath and let everything work itself out,” Claypool said.
Seeing how Claypool is deployed by Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy this week will be intriguing. It should include plenty of vertical routes, something he has thrived in and something that suits Fields’ skillset well. For now, we’ll have to wait and see on that front.
Let’s Not Forget About Cole Kmet
While the resurgence of the Fields-Mooney connection continues to hum, and Claypool finds a role in the Bears offense, let’s not forget about the budding rapport between Fields and Cole Kmet.
Kmet caught two of Fields’ three touchdown passes on Sunday against the Dolphins and caught one against the Dallas Cowboys the week prior, giving him three touchdowns in two games. That is one more than he totaled in the previous 46 games in his NFL career.
I said before the season that developing a Fields-Kmet connection may be equally important as nurturing the Fields-Mooney connection. The best quarterbacks in the NFL all have unique connections with their tight end. Whether it be Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, Josh Allen and Dawson Knox, or Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews. The list goes on.
Like Mooney, much of Kmet’s production has come in recent weeks since Getsy changed things in the scheme, catering things to not only what works best for Fields but emphasizing getting the ball into his playmaker’s hands. For Mooney, that means 36 of the 52 targets (69.2%) of his targets coming in his last five games. And for Kmet, it means 18 of his 26 targets (also 69.2%) have come in that same stretch.
Over the last five games, Kmet is averaging 2.8 catches on 3.6 targets and 28.8 yards, as well as 1.6 first downs per contest. So, that rounds out to three catches, 30 yards, two first downs, and a touchdown every other game. That’s not where we want this connection to peak, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
Trending Towards a Breakthrough?
Thanks to Fields’ development in the last month — and particularly during the previous three games — with Getsy’s newfound insistence regarding getting the playmakers the ball at all costs possible, the Bears’ offense is cooking to the tune of 31.3 points per game, second to only the Seattle Seahawks (31.7) in that span.
With Fields getting more comfortable, Getsy is getting more aggressive in his scheme. And with Fields developing and re-establishing connections with his playmakers on offense, we might see the type of air numbers down the stretch that will leave us with a heaping serving of promise after the dust settles this season.
And guess what? The Lions are coming to town this week, providing the Bears with an excellent opportunity to test my theory. Detroit ranks 29th in the NFL in opposing passing yardage (268.5 per game) and 31st in opponent passing yards per completion (11.7). The Lions also allow 1.6 opposing passing touchdowns per game, a 99.8 average opponent passer rating, and generate just 1.5 sacks per contest, which ranks 29th.
Getsy and the offense should be licking their chops this week as they imagine the passing concepts they can run against Detroit, and we may have a huge game through the air for Fields on tap.