LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In the two days following the Bears' 27-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the prevailing question has been: What's wrong with quarterback Justin Fields?
The speculation can end after Fields stepped to the podium Wednesday at Halas Hall and laid bare why he is struggling, how he plans to fix it, and how the Bears' coaching staff has played a role in his Year 3 issues.
"I wasn’t necessarily playing my game," Fields said Wednesday about his play vs. the Bucs. "Felt like I was kind of robotic and not playing like myself. My goal this week is just to say eff it and go out there and play football how I know to play football. That includes thinking less and just going out there and playing off of instincts rather than so much say, info in my head, data in my head. Just literally going out there and playing football. Going back to it’s a game and that’s it. That’s when I play my best, when I’m just out there playing free and being myself, so I’m going to say kind of bump all the what I should do, this and that, like pocket stuff. I’m going to go out there and be me.”
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When asked what led to him playing "robotic" Sunday in Tampa, Fields softly pointed the finger at a coaching staff that is so focused on its coaching points that it bogs him down on Sundays. Fields appreciates the game-week information but needs to trust his prep and cut loose on gameday instead of spending so much time trying to do things exactly how the staff wants.
“You know, could be coaching, I think," Fields said. "At the end of the day, they are doing their job when they are giving me what to look at, but at the end of the day, I can’t be thinking about that when the game comes. I prepare myself throughout the week, and then when the game comes, it’s time to play free at that point—thinking less and playing more.
"I think there’s been times where I just try to be a perfectionist and nothing in this world is perfect," Fields later added, referring to the information overload. "So like I said, stop thinking more and just go out there and play."
The third-year quarterback wouldn't divulge the details of his conversations with head coach Matt Eberflus, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and the rest of the staff but did say they were "receptive" to his critiques.
Fields said it's not an issue of "too many voices" but rather that all the information is bogging his process down on Sundays as he tries to do everything precisely how the staff wants. Fields said if he were playing free Sunday, the Bears would have had more positive plays and been better on third down. The 24-year-old was adamant he will get back to being Justin Fields.
"The biggest thing for me is playing the game how I know how to play and how I’ve been playing my whole life," Fields said. "That’s what I got to get back to doing.”
While Fields was critical of the staff, he did say that he doesn't believe Getsy is trying to force him to be something he's not. He took onus of the situation and said he needs to be better. He knows he hasn't played his type of game so far, and he plans for that to change.
“I think Luke knows I’m my own self, I’m my own person," Fields said. "I think it’s more me just making sure I don’t think about it as much as, like, ‘we want to do it a specific way.’ In the big scheme of things, I have to continue to be me and play the game how I play it. I think when sometimes I’m coached, I think that I’ve had times where I’m like ‘OK, they want me to do it like this’ so I have to kind of change it. It’s probably more of a me thing than a coach thing. When they tell me things, of course, I correct it.
"But in the grand scheme of things, I have to still be the person and the player [that’s] got me up to this point. Rather than changing my whole game, just implement it in my game and make those little corrections. But don’t allow that to change me as a whole player.”
So far this season, Fields is completing just 60.6 percent of his passes despite having the league's lowest average air yards per target (5.0). Despite the short, easy throws, Fields is last in the league in Completion Percentage Above Expectation at -11.1 percent, per Next Gen Stats. That means Fields is completing 11.1 percent fewer passes than the stats suggest he should based on depth, separation, etc.
Through two games, Fields has a passer rating of 70.7 and a QBR of 22.2. Both numbers are lower than during his nightmare rookie season with then-head coach Matt Nagy.
The Bears have only called four quarterback-designed runs for Fields. They have rarely got him outside the pocket and have used the vertical passing game sparingly.
To Fields, the strip sack late in the second quarter in Tampa is a perfect example of how the information overload and desire to do everything how he is coached led to him playing not like Justin Fields. Fields said his internal clock had gone off, and he should have got out of trouble, but he tried to hang in the pocket because that's what the Bears prefer.
"Exactly. I’m leaving. I’m gone. Time clock, I’m gone out of the pocket," Fields said. "That’s why that happened because they wanted me to work on staying in the pocket during the offseason, which, there’s times where you do, but when that internal clock goes off, that’s when you need to get out and extend the play, make a play. So yeah, it’s just kind of like taking their coaching, and then there’s always going to be...you don’t always have to...it’s not going to work out perfectly every time.
"Yes, there’s times where I could have stayed in the pocket, but in that play specifically, I was in the pocket for a long time. I’ve got to extend the play, get out of the pocket, extend the play, and do something with it. Make something shake. That’s kind of what I’m talking about, though, in getting back into my game and becoming more of a football player than such a thinker on the field."
Eberflus said he had a good conversation with Fields and wants him to "play free."
When asked if the strip sack was due to the coaching points, Eberflus said it's both that and Fields not seeing things downfield.
"I would say it's probably a mixture," Eberflus said. "I think he wants to be able to let it flow, let it go, let him be himself and play free. I think that's where he's at right now. And that's what we want. We want him to do that. He feels that presence in the pocket where he's got pressure, and he sees a place where he can work to either do a scramble drill, throw the ball down the field, or take off and go."
After practice Wednesday, Fields called the media around his locker and issued a clarification that he was not blaming the staff or his teammates, but just wanted to be detailed in his answer as to why he is struggling. He placed the blame on himself.
“I’m not blaming anything on the coaches," Fields said after practice. "I’m never going to blame anything on the coaches or my teammates. Whatever happens in the game, I will take everything. If it’s a dropped pass, it should have been a pass. It’s on me. Put it on me. Never will you hear anything come out of my mouth to where I will blame it on someone else, this organization, my teammates, never will you hear that. Just wanted to clear that up. I need to play better. That’s what I should have said in the first place. I was trying to give detail. I appreciate you all for what you do.”
Fields understands that it's his career on the line, and he has to take control of the situation. He knows he can play and be effective when allowed to let loose and play the way that got him to this point.
In a clear-as-day presser, Fields said the way the Bears are coaching him doesn't align with who he is as a quarterback, and he wants that to change. Fields also put some of the blame on himself. Knows he can and will play better.
When asked what it looks like when he's playing free and thinking less, Fields was short and to the point.
“You’ll see soon.”