Bear Down, Nerd Up: Even after progress, Chicago Bears’ passing attack still has a long way to go

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields works in the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Atlanta.

The Bears might finally have run their quarterback into the ground. We’ll learn more about the status of his ailing left shoulder later this week. Justin Fields is a resilient young player and it would surprise nobody if he plays through some shoulder pain in his non-throwing shoulder this week.

Sunday’s loss to the Falcons was a little bit humbling for the Bears offense, not just because Fields’ shoulder injury put a damper on everything. Atlanta seemed to, relatively, bottle up Fields, though he still found a way to run for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Compared to the rapid pace he was on the two games prior, that feels like nothing.

While Fields has been running like a madman, the passing game hasn’t come close to matching the magic he has created with his legs. There have been some great moments and some high-level throws from the QB, but there have also been some bad mistakes along the way.

What the numbers say: The Bears are the most exciting 3-8 team in the NFL. Fields has been thoroughly enjoyable for fans to watch. He has made some unbelievable throws. The toss to running David Montgomery on Sunday was a high-level throw.

But as a whole, this Bears’ passing attack still leaves a lot to be desired. Even with Fields’ recent success, the Bears are on pace to potentially be the worst NFL passing attack in more than a decade.

Through 11 games, they are averaging 128.1 passing yards per game, which ranks dead last among 32 teams and more than 25 yards per game behind 31st-ranked Atlanta. No NFL team has finished a full season with fewer than 140 passing yards per game since the 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars, who averaged 136.2 passing yards per game.

For comparison’s sake, the worst passing attack in the league last season, the New Orleans Saints, averaged 187.4 passing yards per game. The 2021 Bears finished just 1.2 yards per game away from the bottom of the league.

The Bears have yet to throw for 200 net yards in a game (passing yards minus sack yards). Fields has totaled 200 passing yards or more just once this season. He still hasn’t attempted 30 passes in any game this season.

At this rate, the 2022 Bears could be the worst Chicago Bears passing attack in 17 years. The Bears haven’t averaged 128.1 passing yards or worse since 2005, when they averaged 125.1 passing yards with quarterback Kyle Orton starting 15 games.

Can anybody sack the QB?: Through 11 games, the Bears have only 15 sacks on the season. Only the Las Vegas Raiders’ 13 sacks (in 10 games) is worse. The Bears are creating sacks on just 5.07% of opponents’ passing attempts, which ranks 27th among defenses. The Dallas Cowboys currently lead the NFL with 42 sacks in 10 games.

No Bears defensive lineman has more than two sacks. Safety Jaquan Brisker leads the team with three sacks, followed by 2.5 sacks from a linebacker who no longer plays for the team – Roquan Smith.

The Bears haven’t finished dead last in the NFL in sacks since 2013, when they totaled just 31 sacks in 16 games and tied with Jacksonville at the bottom of the league.

Draft order update: This will probably become a weekly check in at this point. With the Bears sitting at 3-8, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. If the season ended last week, the Bears would’ve picked sixth overall in the draft.

With another loss, they have moved up to third, according to Tankathon. Houston, at 1-8-1, remains the favorite to land the No. 1 overall pick. Carolina and Chicago are tied at 3-8, but Carolina’s strength of schedule is much worse, so they would pick second. Both teams, however, have winnable games remaining on the schedule.

Don’t get too excited yet, though, because the Bears still have their bye week coming up and there is a cluster of six teams sitting at 3-7 that could draw even with the Bears and Panthers to make things more complicated.

The Bears currently have the second-hardest strength of schedule in the league (based on opponents’ records), so they aren’t likely to win any tiebreakers. It still seems most likely the Bears will end up anywhere from fifth to 10th, or thereabout. Last week (prior to the loss to Atlanta), ESPN’s Football Power Index model gave the Bears’ a 47.5% chance of landing a top-five pick.

Patterson’s return: Cordarrelle Patterson’s 103-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Bears Sunday marked an NFL record nine kickoff return touchdowns for Patterson.

Of his nine return touchdowns, the Bears have been involved in five of them. Four of the nine have been at Soldier Field.

His first career return touchdown in 2013 came as a member of the Vikings against the Bears. Five years later in 2018 with New England, he returned one against the Bears. Patterson returned two as a member of the Bears, one in 2019 against the Saints at Soldier Field and another in 2020 against the Vikings in Chicago. Then, of course, Sunday’s game against the Bears.

Oddly, whether or not Patterson was a member of the Bears or playing against them, the Bears lost all five of those games.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.