Justin Fields

Bears' simple Justin Fields directive might be key to deciphering QB future

The Bears gave Justin Fields a benchmark to meet upon returning, and it's something to bookmark as they decide their QB future

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and Luke Getsy haven't set many concrete benchmarks for quarterback Justin Fields since they took over last year. The regime has harped on daily, incremental improvement that would eventually lead to the leaps required for the quarterback to go from theoretical star to concrete game-changer.

The Bears have maintained that focus on small steps, but they also gave Fields a mandate as he was preparing to return from a dislocated right thumb that cost him four games.

"He gave me a thing that said, ‘200,’ which is two touchdowns, no sacks, no turnovers," Fields said Wednesday at Halas Hall. "That’s pretty much my goal every game. Sacks, they put us behind the sticks, of course, and you never want to turn the ball over to give the other team a short field. So definitely trying to avoid the turnovers and sacks."

In the five games since returning from injury, Fields has been efficient and has led the Bears to a 3-2 record in that span. Only two fourth-quarter meltdowns have kept them from being 5-0. He didn't throw an interception in his first three games back, and the two he threw in Cleveland -- both on Hail Mary attempts -- don't belong as a negative on his ledger. Fields' sack percentage has also dropped precipitously since his return. In his six starts before the injury, Fields had only two games where his sack percentage was under 10 percent. It has been under nine percent in all five of his starts since the return.

According to Pro Football Focus, Fields' pressure-to-sack percentage in the first six weeks was 20.0 percent. It has dropped to 16.0 percent since his return.

'With him, it’s just about being consistent, about the good things he has done," Eberflus said Wednesday of Fields. "What has he done the last five or six games is, the sack total has been cut in half. That’s been really good. Interceptions are down. He has one. If you take out the two end-of-half, end-of-game interceptions that he had in Cleveland. So that’s really good, too. And then him being able to evade the rush and look down the field to create some momentum plays going forward. His rhythm and timing is improving, too. So those are the tangible numbers we can look at. Just more consistency that way."

While Fields has improved in those areas since returning, he hasn't completed a "200" in the last five games.

The Bears' "200" directive for Fields says more about what Eberflus wants out of quarterback than it does Fields' ability or trajectory. Given how well the Bears' defense is playing, it's unsurprising for the defensive-minded Eberflus to want his young quarterback to focus on avoiding the negative plays and manage the game until the Bears need him to rescue them.

There are three tiers of quarterbacks: Those you win because of, those you win with, and those you win despite.

This directive has the Bears putting Fields in the middle bucket. It's a bucket Cam Newton refers to as game-managers, with the understanding that few quarterbacks are in the top tier.

There's nothing wrong with that bucket, and there's nothing that says Fields won't ascend out of that bucket and into the top level, be that in Chicago or elsewhere.

But while Chicago and the NFL world debate his future, the Bears' third-year quarterback is just focused on the daily improvements that will hopefully lead to a successful "200" on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons and another Bears win.

"I've got too much to focus on today to worry about tomorrow," Fields said. "I've got to worry about this new game plan I've got, the play calls, and like I always say, we don't know if we're going to get it tomorrow. So there's no point in stressing about tomorrow if we don't know it's going to be here yet."

Tomorrow could bring a multitude of things for Fields. It could see him grow from quarterback the Bears win with to quarterback they win because of, or it could see him ascend for another franchise.

The "200" directive should be bookmarked as the Bears enter an offseason with big decisions ahead.

If that's all Eberflus and his staff believe is required to win consistently with the roster they are building, then is there a need to move on from Fields? He's capable of executing that plan and has the potential to grow out of the middle tier and join the top level if checkpoints are reached.

But if that directive is only based on what they believe Fields is capable of, and they actually require someone whose star potential as a passer is higher, then the decision is easy.

Either way, Fields will potentially spend his final weeks as the Bears' quarterback continuing to hammer away at the rock, believing the work will pay off no matter where he finds himself in 2024.

"Like I’ve always said, I can always improve in areas. I’m not perfect at anything," Fields said. "To be honest, I have a lot of work to do. That work’s gonna be put in. It’s gonna be done."

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