December 09, 2022

Bears Analysis

Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields is holding onto the football too long. Who is to blame?

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields takes off on a run against the Washington Commanders on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022 at Soldier Field.

LAKE FOREST – Through six weeks, the Bears offense ranks near the bottom of the league in just about every major category except rushing.

Last in passing yards, last in interception rate, last in sack rate, 31st in first downs per game, 28th in red-zone conversions, 24th on third-down conversions. The Bears’ offense stinks right now.

The microscope, as ever, is on quarterback Justin Fields. He nearly led the Bears to a comeback victory against the Commanders last week, coming up inches short on the final play. New Bears general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus have watched as Fields has been sacked 23 times in six games. Only nine times has a QB been sacked 60 or more times in an NFL season. Fields’ current pace might make him the 10th.

Whose fault is that? Well, kind of everyone’s.

Fields currently ranks 36th out of 37 qualified quarterbacks in NFL Next Gen Stats’ “time to throw” metric. He is releasing the ball on average in 3.03 seconds. Only the Jets’ Zach Wilson (3.2) is slower. Releasing the football quickly doesn’t necessarily equal good football. Tons of things factor into this. The two quickest right now are Tom Brady (2.42 seconds) and Aaron Rodgers (2.5), both of whom are in the latter stages of their careers and are doing everything they can to avoid taking hits. Those offenses get the ball out quick, but they are also struggling right now.

Ideally, you probably want your quarterback somewhere in the middle, but it all depends on the scheme your team runs and your trust in the QB. Patrick Mahomes (2.82) and Lamar Jackson (3.02) are both in the bottom third of the league right now in time to throw, but the Chiefs and Ravens have total trust in their former MVP quarterbacks.

“You’d have to pick out the plays and we have to go through the plays on that,” Eberflus said this week when asked about Fields’ time to throw. “But getting the ball out of your hands fast puts pressure on the defense. It does.”

Two-time MVP Kurt Warner does tremendous QB breakdowns on his YouTube channel. There’s a million film breakdowns on the internet, but if anyone knows what he’s talking about, it’s a QB who won a Super Bowl and helped usher in the era of the pass-happy offense.

Warner published two videos this week looking at Fields, which totaled more than 45 minutes in length. Warner broke down about 30 plays from Thursday’s loss to the Commanders. The overall theme was that Fields isn’t trusting what he sees and is, therefore, hesitant to throw the football even when the play design works.

“He had the option, he’s looking right at it, but for some reason he’s hesitating instead of pulling the trigger,” Warner said when looking at one fourth-quarter play where Fields allowed a strip sack.

It’s likely a combination of not trusting his receivers – who have had their share of bad drops – and not trusting what his eyes see from the defense.

Watching that tape back, it’s impossible to ignore the pressure that Washington created, repeatedly. Is Fields too slow right now? Sure. Is that the offense’s sole problem? Absolutely not. Everything is related.

According to its metrics, ESPN Analytics currently ranks the Bears as the No. 2 offensive line in pass blocking “win rate.” ESPN measures a win or a loss in 2.5-second increments. The Bears O-line is “winning” the first 2.5 seconds of a pass play on 68% of pass plays.

But if the O-line is “winning” at such a high rate and the QB still leads the league in sacks, there’s a clear disconnect between the metric and reality.

One problem is the QB is holding onto the football for three seconds on average. For the Bears, specifically, it would be more beneficial to look at where they rank in that metric at 3.5 seconds. To go back to the comparison with the Chiefs and Ravens, the Bears are slightly ahead of Kansas City and Baltimore in ESPN’s pass block win rate. Both are tied for third-best at 67%.

Their quarterbacks, though, have been sacked much less than Fields. Mahomes and Jackson have been sacked 11 times each. Fields leads the NFL with 23 sacks allowed.

Pro Football Focus has its own metrics for analyzing both the QB and the offensive line in regards to pressures. PFF looks at the entire arc of the play, not just the first 2.5 seconds (the methodology is explained here). The results are much tougher on the Bears’ O-line, as illustrated by a chart shared on Twitter from PFF’s Kevin Cole. The Bears are far and away the worst in the league when factoring in both the QB and the line.

The issue is not only a Fields issue or only an O-line issue. It’s both. Throw in the lack of playmakers at receiver, and it’s everyone’s fault.

“Pass protection is everybody, right?” Eberflus said Tuesday. “It’s not only the offense line, it’s the tight ends, it’s the running backs, it’s the quarterback. You know, it’s everybody. Pass protection is always going to be all 11 of them and we will improve on that.”

As Warner said in his video breakdown, when the QB has all these different things working against him, it becomes really difficult to play good football.

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.