January 24, 2022


Analysis

Bear Down, Nerd Up: Sacks continue to pile up at an ominous clip for Justin Fields, Bears

Justin Fields has been sacked 22 times this season, most in the NFL

Since 2014, rookie quarterbacks have not won a game against Tom Brady. Justin Fields added to that total in Sunday’s 38-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rookie QBs have lost 10 consecutive against the GOAT. The last rookie to beat Brady was former Jets quarterback Geno Smith in 2013.

Sunday’s game was also the widest gap in age between two opposing quarterbacks since at least 1950. Fields, 22, is 21 years and 214 days younger than Brady, 44.

Fields allowed five turnovers (two fumbles and three interceptions). Per ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first five-turnover game by a Bears quarterback since Matt Barkley on Dec. 24, 2016, against Washington.

Sack attack (again): Sacks continue to be an issue. With four more on Sunday, Fields leads NFL quarterbacks with 22 sacks. The three other QBs who have been sacked at least 20 times (Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Jackson and Sam Darnold, who are all at 21 sacks) have each attempted nearly 100 more passes than Fields.

Anybody who watched Sunday’s game knows that the sacks were definitely not always the rookie quarterback’s fault. The protection was awful and the Bucs did a nice job confusing the Bears’ offensive line.

How bad was it for the offensive line? Bad enough that two of the Bucs’ four sacks from Sunday’s game are now on the top 20 list in NFL Next Gen Stats’ fastest sack metric. Jason Pierre-Paul’s strip sack of Fields ranks as the seventh-fastest sack of the season through seven weeks (2.5 seconds). Shaq Barrett’s strip sack was right behind it at 2.6 seconds, good enough for 13th-fastest.

Both sacks came against right tackle Lachavious Simmons, who was overmatched. Simmons was thrust into the starting role after Elijah Wilkinson went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday morning, just hours before the game. After the early debacles, the Bears benched Simmons in favor of Alex Bars.

Maybe not surprisingly based off the results, Bears left tackle Jason Peters said Tuesday that Simmons didn’t have much practice time at right tackle during the week.

“We had a guy step in, L.C., that didn’t get no practice at right tackle and, bless his heart, he came out there and struggled a little bit,” Peters said. “So, I mean, with the COVID, you never know, a guy catches it, he’s going to be down, next man up.”

It’s easy to look solely at this Bucs game and say the Bears offensive line is awful, but more context is always needed. Sacks are a combination of the protection and the quarterback’s decision-making. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other. When it’s happening this frequently, it’s usually both.

As I discussed last week in Bear Down, Nerd Up, Fields is holding onto the ball longer than the average NFL quarterback. That’s not helping, but it’s also part of a rookie quarterback’s maturation. He’s still learning when to tuck it and run. It’s a challenge the Bears knew they would face when they named Fields the permanent starter.

Coach Matt Nagy was unusually excited Sunday when Fields threw a red zone pass out of the end zone in the second half. Nagy ran down to the 20-yard line to give Fields a tap on the back and an attaboy. Considering his team was trailing by multiple touchdowns, it was a weird look, but it did represent real development for Fields.

“I know like hell he wanted to throw the ball into the end zone and wanted to try to make a play and throw a touchdown,” Nagy said after the game.

That’s all fine and well, but it’s not going to solve the bigger sack issue. Per Next Gen Stats, Fields has been sacked on 14.4% of his dropbacks. He is the only QB over 10%.

For the season, including Dalton’s playing time, the Bears have allowed sacks on 14.36% of pass attempts. That ranks 32nd in the league. For context, the last-place team in this category in 2020 was the Philadelphia Eagles at 10.87%. For further context, the best teams in the league allow sacks fewer than 3% of the time (the Rams lead the NFL at 2.88% and Tampa’s right there at 2.91%).

The last team to have a sack rate worse than 14% over the course of a full season was the 2006 Oakland Raiders, who allowed sacks on 14.91% of pass attempts. That Raiders team went 2-14 and earned the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Speaking of sacks: The Bears defense was held without a sack for the first time all season. It snapped an 11-game regular season sack streak for the Bears. Their last game without a sack was their Nov. 29, 2020, loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

Sunday was the first time all season that neither Robert Quinn nor Khalil Mack recorded a sack. Quinn didn’t play because he’s on the COVID-19 list.

Running left: Once again Bears running back Khalil Herbert found more success running left than right.

Per Next Gen Stats, 79 of his 100 yards occurred when he ran left of the left tackle. With the disaster at right tackle, it’s hardly surprising that the Bears ran Herbert right of the right tackle only three times (which yielded nine yards).

Wrappin’ up: A week after facing criticism for poor tackling, Bears safety Eddie Jackson matched his career high with 11 tackles on Sunday. He had previously recorded 11 tackles against Minnesota on Dec. 31, 2017, and against Philadelphia on Nov. 3, 2019.

Fellow safety DeAndre Houston-Carson also set a career high with 11 tackles Sunday. Houston-Carson was starting in place of injured Tashaun Gipson.

Former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs criticized Jackson last week for missing a tackle against Packers receiver Davante Adams. Jackson responded by tweeting a 10-year-old story about Briggs leading the NFL in missed tackles. The tweet was quickly deleted, but the damage was done.

Jackson said Tuesday that he had no regrets about the tweet.

“I know I have to make that tackle,” Jackson said. “Nobody goes out there and want to miss a tackle.”

Jackson said he was more upset that his effort was questioned.

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.