The first half of last night’s primetime game between the Washington Commanders and Chicago Bears was horrendously boring. The snooze fest that was Thursday Night Football Week 5 crept over into the first half of Week 6. Three points, seven punts, and ugly play from Bears quarterback Justin Fields.
Fields was especially bad in the first half, and it wasn’t just one particular aspect of his game. On the very first drive, Fields got sacked twice on the final three plays. The first sack was entirely his fault. He held onto the ball for far too long. Kirk Herbstreit even took the time to display how Fields had a receiver open. Darnell Mooney had inside leverage on an in route and had about a step on the corner defending him. That’s open in the NFL. Herbstreit claimed that it was evident Fields “didn’t trust his receivers” enough to make that throw. However, the rest of the first half was full of pass attempts where Fields trusted his receivers too much, blindly tossing the ball downfield without any thought regarding the situation.
He made some good throws, as every quarterback does. The play-action boot where Fields stopped in his tracks while rolling to his weak side to avoid a tackler and then fit the ball in between two Commanders defenders to find Cole Kmet for 15 yards? Beautiful. The throw to Mooney with eight minutes left in the second quarter was on a rope! It looked wonderful. Those plays, however, had little company.
In general, Fields was too quick to leave the pocket, yet still found a way to hold onto the ball too long (fourth-highest mark in that category this season among qualified QBs), and refused to look through his reads in short-yardage passing situations. Fields did a phenomenal job getting away from pressure after play-action failed him, but when he was forced to pass, he looked about as good as 10-day-old lamb chops to a vegan. Whether it was the errant throw to Ryan Griffin on second-and-goal, or the overthrow of Mooney on third-and-short with six minutes left in the second quarter, Fields needed to be sharper in the second half if the Bears were going to put up any points moving forward.
And maaaaaan, was he?!
While his stats may not read that he was better, a flurry of drops and poor protection led to a lower completion percentage. However, while watching the game it was evident that he made some adjustments in the locker room. He was sitting in the pocket more, going through his receivers on each dropback, and while he was still definitely leaning on play-action on half-field reads to push the ball downfield, when he was forced into obvious passing situations, he showed poise and confidence that was only halted by his teammates’ inability to finish.
While it would be obvious to praise his touchdown pass to Dante Pettis, which was dropped in the bread basket from 40 yards out, the two plays that defined Fields’ second half the most were first-and-10 from the Chicago 25 with 7:21 left in the fourth quarter and fourth-and-16 from the Washington 48 with 2:28 left in the game.
The former was a broken play that kicked off the Bears’ second drive of the fourth quarter. Left guard Lucas Patrick failed to stop Jonathan Allen at all. Allen immediately broke into the Bears’ backfield and while David Montgomery was able to slow him down after the missed block, the pocket had collapsed. Fields needed to improvise right away, but where Fields likely would’ve immediately tucked and run in the first half, he kept his eyes downfield. He kept the ball in his throwing hand, which gave the threat that he could still pass. While Fields did eventually commit to the run, which gained five yards, the threat of the pass allowed him to shake the first defender beyond the line of scrimmage for a solid gain. That’s the type of awareness you’d expect out of a veteran QB.
The second play resulted in an incompletion and more or less gave the game to Washington, until Commanders kicker Joey Slye hooked the field goal that would’ve iced it. However, the incompletion wasn’t Fields’ fault. The protection from the O-line was good, but more importantly, Fields showed situational awareness. First-half Fields would’ve spent all day waiting for the routes to develop on his right side. It was a deep route that looked like an inside fade coupled with a deep curl, but obviously, I can’t be sure since I don’t have the all-22 footage. Second-half Fields understood that since the Commanders were running Cover 2 man with a QB spy and the Bears were running a play with only one in-breaking route, the middle of the field was going to be wide open for Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Smith-Marsette even got inside leverage on his defender off the release. Even with only a step-and-a-half on the corner, covering this was a sure bet unless the left-side safety Darrick Forrest came up, but Forrest was so far back, Smith-Marsette would’ve had tons of open field to get the first.
Smith-Marsette dropped the pass. You could tell he was frustrated with himself. It was a perfect read from Fields, who made the throw the moment after Smith-Marsette cut inside. Fields diagnosed the defense at the snap, and dropped a dot. Unfortunately, nothing came of it.
The Bears are obviously a very run-heavy team. However, if Fields can continue to show the type of maturity he displayed in the second half of last night’s game (and most of last week’s game against Minnesota), I wouldn’t be shocked if Chicago starts relying on him more. Mooney became much more involved in the offense, recording twelve targets, double his previous season-high. Fields also set a new high for pass attempts in a game with 27. The Bears are getting that passing game going, and finally, we’ll be able to tell if Fields is the franchise guy the Bears hoped he could be.