Bear Down, Nerd Up: QB Justin Fields took his time, and it worked

Fields led NFL in Next Gen Stats’ time to throw metric in Week 1

New head coach Matt Eberflus became the fifth Chicago Bears head coach to win his debut when his team came from behind to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 19-10, on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Eberflus joins George Halas (1920), Neill Armstrong (1978), Dick Jauron (1999) and Marc Trestman (2013) among coaches who won their Bears’ debut.

Sunday also marked the Bears’ first opening day win at home since 2013. They had been 1-7 in their previous eight season openers, with only a road victory over Detroit in 2020 to show for it.

Take your time: Among all quarterbacks in the NFL who played in Week 1, Justin Fields took more time to throw the football than anyone else. His 3.27-second average between the snap and his throw (excluding sacks) was the highest of any QB, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Commanders QB Carson Wentz (3.14 seconds) and Chargers QB Justin Herbert (3.04) were the next longest. For a quarterback such as Fields, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s likely a factor of his mobility inside and outside the pocket.

Take, for example, his 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dante Pettis. He escaped pressure and ran for his life before looking up and finding Pettis. It ate up several seconds. Other mobile quarterbacks finished with slow time to throw, too. Lamar Jackson, Marcus Mariota and Trey Lance also were in the bottom 10. Last season, Fields was among the slowest. He ranked seventh-slowest at 2.91 seconds per throw in 2021.

On his touchdown catch, Pettis had 16 yards of separation from the nearest defender. It was the third-most separation on any touchdown pass in the NFL during the past three seasons.

Sunday was only the second time in Fields’ career (in 11 starts) that he threw two touchdowns in a game. His only previous two-touchdown game was against the Packers in December last year at Lambeau Field.

Fields’ eight completions Sunday marked his fewest completions in a start (excluding last year’s game against the Ravens when he broke his ribs and left the game) since his first career start against the Browns. He completed only six passes in that game against Cleveland.

His 17 pass attempts Sunday tied his fewest (again excluding the Ravens game) in a start, joining his 17 attempts against Detroit on Oct. 3 of last season.

Rushing struggles: The Bears’ run game struggled to get moving throughout the game. David Montgomery struggled, rushing for 26 yards on 17 carries. It wasn’t all his fault, however. The offensive line had issues early in the game, and Montgomery faced a lot of pressure.

He faced eight or more defenders in the box on 47% of his rushing attempts, according to Next Gen Stats. That was second-highest among running backs throughout the league in Week 1. Only Kansas City’s Isiah Pacheco saw more stacked boxes (67%).

Backup running back Khalil Herbert didn’t have enough carries to qualify on Next Gen Stats. Herbert led the team with 45 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

Not surprisingly, given the pressure he faced, Montgomery was not particularly efficient. He rated dead last in Week 1 among qualified backs in Next Gen Stats’ efficiency rating, which essentially tracks whether a running back is a north-south runner. Montgomery spent a lot of time moving side to side to avoid pressure early in his runs.

On his 17 carries, Montgomery made it 5 yards or more past the line of scrimmage only once.

Rookie highlights: When rookie left tackle Braxton Jones stepped onto the field as the starter Sunday, he became the sixth rookie drafted in the fifth round or later to start a game at left tackle since 1991.

Jones joined Russell Freeman (Denver, 1992), Everett Lindsay (Minnesota, 1993), Shar Pourdanesh (Washington, 1996), Mike Harris (San Diego, 2012) and Desmond Harrison (Cleveland, 2018) in achieving that feat, according to STATS.

Jones handled himself well, for the most part. He was soundly beaten only once on a bull rush from 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa early in the game.

Rookie debut: Rookie pass rusher Dominique Robinson had 1.5 sacks in Sunday’s win. He became the first Bears rookie to record a sack in his first career regular-season game since Roquan Smith had one in his debut Sept. 9, 2018, against the Green Bay Packers.

Snap counts: Although they didn’t catch many passes, tight end Cole Kmet and receiver Darnell Mooney were on the field more than any other Bears skill position players. Mooney was on the field for 90% of offensive snaps, while Kmet was on the field for 83% of snaps. The two combined for one catch and 8 yards.

Teven Jenkins (53%) and Lucas Patrick (47%) saw almost equal snap shares at right guard. Jenkins also played four snaps on special teams.

Defensively, rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon never came off the field. Both played 100% of defensive snaps. Gordon played outside corner in the base 4-3 defense but moved to the slot when the Bears used five defensive backs.

Another rookie, Robinson (41%), out-snapped third-year pro pass rusher Trevis Gipson (38%).

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.