A Chicago Bears offense that boasts the NFL’s reigning Ground Player of the Week (Justin Fields) and a running back with a 1,000-yard season under his belt (David Montgomery) will need to think more creatively to find yards and points this week without a ball carrier averaging 6.0 yards per carry this season who is currently on IR (Khalil Herbert).
Yesterday, we discussed options the Bears could use to replace Herbert’s production. And while giving rookie Trestan Ebner a shot, elevating Darrynton Evans from the practice squad, or rolling out the red carpet for a Velus Jones Jr. comeback tour are feasible options, there is one alternative the Bears could explore.
HOW ABOUT THROWING THE FREAKING BALL MORE!?
Sorry not sorry about the all caps there. But the Bears have thrown just 208 pass attempts this season. That’s the fewest in the NFL. Their 123 completions are also the fewest in the league. Yards per game? You guessed it! Fewest in the league (by 20 yards per game!) at 128.1 yards. But that 7.2 yards per attempt average is the 12th best in football. I’d consider that number to be respectable. And even though an 86.5 passer rating ranks 20th, the Bears moving toward the middle of the pack is encouraging. All things considered, perhaps Chicago’s football team should give the forward pass a try. It seems to be all the rage these days.
And one NFL analyst is banging the drum for more passes, as retired quarterback Trent Dilfer believes the Bears should air it out more:
“It leads me to what I think the bigger conversation is – when do you go away from the 20 to 26 throws a game to the 30 to 36 throws a game?” Dilfer said, via 670 The Score. “When do you start lowering the volume of runs – they’re an unbelievable run team, and they’ve done a really nice job, so some are going to say, ‘What are you talking about, Trent? Look, we’re making historic rushing numbers, 30 points a game.’ I get all that. I totally get all that. But if you’re trying to win a Super Bowl next year or the year after, at some point, we need to add 100 to 150 throws to Justin’s season this year, so that he can have more learning moments.”
Given how Fields is trending as a passer, it makes sense why the Bears might explore that option. But I’m not wholly convinced that is the best thing for the Bears (or Fields’ development) right now.
Don’t get me wrong. From purely an aesthetics standpoint, I’d love it if Fields was slinging it 30+ times per game. The NFL is arguably at its most fun when teams are pushing the ball vertically through the air. Line ’em up, spread ’em out, and let the big dawg eat. But these Bears aren’t equipped for it. And that’s really at the crux of this issue. Want to throw the ball? Who doesn’t? But do you want to do it with these linemen? Because I don’t want Fields dropping back 30+ times with this collection of offensive linemen. Or this group of pass catchers. And even with Fields’ arrow pointing up, he still isn’t fully developed as a passer. In other words, we should probably give up the idea of Fields throwing for 300+ yards any time soon. At least, based on the data at hand.
But maybe that time will come. And maybe it will be THIS YEAR.
For what it’s worth, ESPN’s advanced metrics have the Bears’ offensive line owning the fourth-best team pass block win rate. Left guard Cody Whitehair has the second-highest pass-blocking win rate among guards. He also ranks 28th of 82 guards in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking grade. Michael Schofield’s 75.6 pass-blocking grade is the 13th-best among guards. That is worth keeping in mind while Teven Jenkins is on the shelf with a hip injury. Right tackle Riley Reiff is 30th among the 80 qualifying tackles in PFF’s pass-blocking grade. Meanwhile, Larry Borom – whose job Reiff took in recent weeks – checks in with the 24th-best pass-blocking grade from PFF. Borom also owns ESPN’s seventh-best pass block win rate among tackles.
Given these metrics, part of me wants to see Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy create a game plan that lets Fields turn it loose through the air. After all, the numbers never lie … right? But the eye test sees an offensive line that isn’t ready for it. This line has veterans with a pro track record (Whitehair, Reiff) and young players with upside (Jenkins, Braxton Jones). But, as a whole, it has been a group of inconsistent pass-blockers whose clear strength as a collective unit is in run-blocking. Knowing Fields has taken take a league-high 36 sacks has me holding my breath with every straight drop-back.
In the end, I’m not sure if asking Fields to air it out just to get him reps in doing so is worth it. We’re finally getting what we’ve been asking for as fans — an offense built around a quarterback that plays to his strengths and is tailored to the talent assembled on the current roster. Why stray too far from that now when it is working (to the tune of 30+ PPG since the mini-bye) and simultaneously developing Fields? But the allure of an aerial assault in Atlanta could quiet those who doubt Fields’ progress as a passer. There is so much to consider here. And I’m not sure what the “right” answer is. But I’m glad Dilfer brought it up for us to have this discussion.