Expectations for Justin Fields this season were sky high. The Bears got him a legit WR1 in DJ Moore and drafted a new right tackle to help in protection. He was supposed to be more comfortable in Year Three as a starter and people on social media started talking “MVP.” Obviously, all of that optimism was misguided. Through four games, Fields played spectacularly in one– last week against the Broncos’ atrocious defense. Over the other three games, Fields was playing at a level that made it seem certain the Bears would be drafting a new QB in 2024.
There’s been lots of debate over how much blame should fall at Fields’ feet compared to how much blame the coaches deserve. NFC North reporter for Fox Sports Carmen Vitali joined the “Under Center” podcast this week to share her thoughts, and suggested the NFL world may have misevaluated how much the offseason moves would really lead to an uptick in production for Fields without other changes.
“The Bears got rid of Justin Fields’ excuses, I don’t know that they helped him, though,” Vitali said on the “Under Center” podcast. “We saw the first three weeks of the season they were helping out an offense that wasn’t fit to him. Those were two different things. Taking away Justin’s excuses and helping him are two different things. I think that’s what we were seeing. Justin was trying to fit into a system that wasn’t tailored to him, which exacerbated the issues that he’s had.”
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There was a concerted effort to turn Fields into a pocket passer who could execute a timing-based offense over the offseason, but the team may have overcorrected too much. There were hardly any bootlegs or moving pockets to get Fields on the run over the first three weeks of the season, and those were concepts that Fields executed at a high level in 2022. Finally in Week 4 the Bears started leaning on those concepts more, and Fields responded with one of the best performances of his career. Vitali believes running that type of offense is sustainable for the Bears.
Going back to the offseason Fields hype, many thought that with Aaron Rodgers leaving the NFC North that Fields could be ready to take over as the best quarterback in the division. After all, he has the rare ability to score from anywhere on the field. But even with last week’s breakout against the Broncos, Vitali thinks Fields ranks near the bottom of the division rather than the top, and she needs to see more before pulling him up her rankings.
“I think he’s got maybe the lowest floor of any of these (NFC North) quarterbacks, because that’s what we’re seeing,” Vitali said. “He’s only really been playing at his floor. I don't know the ceiling for Jordan Love yet, I don’t know if that’s comparable to Justin Fields’ ceiling. You’re also talking about guys like Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins, who are veterans in this league.
“I know there have been narratives around Kirk Cousins, I know there have been narratives around Jared Goff, but with an offensive coordinator like Ben Johnson, Jared Goff has been flourishing for the Lions, and he has been since last year. They weren’t losing last because of Jared Goff or the offense, it was the defense that was giving up points. Now they’ve balanced it out. Kirk Cousins, we’ve seen a lot of turnovers, a lot of them have come from him, himself, but at the same time he bounces back, he’s able to come in clutch. We saw that all last season in the one-score games the Vikings won.
“So far, we need to see more out of Justin Fields, again, in that two-, three-dimensional offense where his skillset is being utilized, but he’s also making those NFL throws that we really haven’t seen out of him, even in this last game.”
The “Under Center” podcast airs every Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago at 5:30 p.m. In addition, you can listen to postgame recaps after every game and preview shows the Friday before every game. If you forgot to set your DVR to catch Vitali’s full episode on NBC Sports Chicago, you can watch the entire episode either on our YouTube page, or wherever you listen to podcasts.