Bears Down, Nerd Up: What to make of Justin Fields’ performance in Week 1

Fields threw only 4 passes that went more than 10 yards down field

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields scrambles against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Chicago.

Sunday was an incredible let down for Bears fans. The 38-20 loss to the Packers was as demoralizing as any Week 1 loss can be.

It was supposed to be the time for Justin Fields and the Bears to shine now that Aaron Rodgers is gone. Instead, the better, deeper organization showed that it still owns this rivalry, even with a new QB.

Every game in the NFL is unique. Here’s a look at the numbers that made this one memorable – or not – for Bears fans.

Domination: This is the part that will be hardest for Bears fans to read, so I’ll keep it brief.

The Packers have won nine consecutive games against the Bears. They have won 14 of the past 15 and 24 of the past 27 matchups. The Packers extended their lead in this rivalry to 106-95-6, dating back to 1921. Since 1992, when Brett Favre became the starting QB, the Packers lead the series 49-15, including one playoff game.

Maybe most disappointing: Jordan Love is now 1-0 against the Bears. Fields is 0-5 against Green Bay.

The Bears’ offense: There’s a lot that has to improve for the Bears on offense. Pretty much everything. The game plan has to be better and more cohesive, the quarterback has to make better decisions, the run game and the blocking must improve.

But it wasn’t just your eyes telling you that Fields threw the ball short. The numbers back it up. His passes averaged 3.3 air yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The only quarterback with a shorter average in Week 1 was Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder.

Next Gen Stats also tracks aggressiveness, which is shown as a percentage of passes thrown into tight windows (where the defender is one yard or fewer away from the target). Only 2.7% of Fields pass attempts were into a tight window. That’s just one of 37 pass attempts and that must’ve been the interception that Quay Walker returned for a touchdown.

By this metric, Fields was the least aggressive quarterback in the NFL last season. He threw into tight windows on just 9.1% of passes in 2022. That was way down from the 17% he threw in his lone year with Matt Nagy in 2021.

Here’s the thing though, this could actually be a positive thing. Many of the QBs near the bottom of the league in aggressiveness last season won a lot of games. Just above Fields at 9.1% was Brock Purdy (9.4%), Patrick Mahomes (10.2%), Trevor Lawrence (10.8%), Lamar Jackson (11%) and Josh Allen (12.3%).

Fields made a fair share of smart throws on Sunday given the situations he faced. The bigger question feels like the game plan and the lack of downfield. While there were certainly plays where Fields could’ve made more aggressive plays, it doesn’t feel like the QB’s decision making is what killed the Bears in this game – outside of the one interception.

“We always want him to look downfield,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “That’s an important piece to it. Certainly, before he scrambles and runs, we want him to take a look downfield to see open receivers if they are. We’ve got to continue to work our scramble drill, which we work a lot of, because that’s where our explosive plays come from.”

We always want him to look downfield. That’s an important piece to it. Certainly, before he scrambles and runs, we want him to take a look downfield to see open receivers if they are.”

—  Matt Eberflus, Bears head coach

Aaron Jones steals show: Football can be simple sometimes. Two of the best plays the Packers made all day Sunday were passes to running back Aaron Jones. When Packers coach Matt LaFleur needed a big play, he dialed up a play for his best playmaker. That’s something the Bears will need to do more of with receiver DJ Moore.

Jones caught a screen pass and took it 51 yards, nearly scoring a touchdown on the play. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jones traveled 56 yards after making the catch. He reached a top speed of 20.39 miles per hour.

Later, Love completed a pass to Jones on a slant route that Jones took 35 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Jones caught the pass at about the 30-yard line and outran everyone.

Need more YAC: The Bears simply have to give Moore the ball. He was the clear best playmaker during training camp and he showed it several times in the preseason. Like Jones for the Packers, Moore is a yards after the catch machine. The Bears need to put the ball in his hands and let him make plays.

Per Next Gen Stats, Moore generated the third most yards after the catch over expected among receivers aligned out wide since 2018 (prior to the start of the 2023 season). He totaled 374 yards after the catch over expected during that period. Only A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel totaled more between 2018 and 2022.

The fact that the Bears targeted Moore just twice, on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, then never threw him the ball again is one of the biggest surprises of the game. This is a player who the Bears traded the No. 1 overall draft pick in order to acquire.

Top receivers in the league need to be seeing eight, nine, 10 targets per game. Two simply isn’t cutting it.

Snap notes: Rookie Roschon Johnson wound up leading all Bears running backs with 29 offensive snaps. Khalil Herbert was on the field for 27 snaps and D’Onta Foreman for 21 snaps.

Receiver Chase Claypool played 58 snaps (78% of offensive snaps), but didn’t make a single catch. Bears tight end Robert Tonyan, who was dealing with a back injury, played only four snaps for the offense.

Defensive end DeMarcus Walker (47 snaps) and Yannick Ngakoue (41 snaps) led all defensive linemen. Rookie tackles Gervon Dexter (23 snaps) and Zacch Pickens (12 snaps) were both on the field less than 40% of the time.

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.