Last Thursday Night, the Chicago Bears offense was only able to muster 7 points while going 0-3 on red zone trips inside the 5-yard line. It was honestly hard to watch and many fans are curious if this offense can be freed from the stranglehold of ineptitude. Offense starts with the quarterback and throughout the night, Justin Fields delivered a mixed bag of results in terms of his individual play. He made some big plays in the second half to keep the Bears in contention, but ultimately there seemed to be more bad than good. After the game, TNF on Amazon Prime analyst and former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told the listening audience that Justin Fields is “not a pocket passer, but an elite runner of the football”. This caused some spark on the Bears Twitter, for obvious reasons.
From Thursday night’s game, Fields made two plays that would sum up the first half of Fitzpatrick’s quote. On the 3rd possession of the game, the offense was able to drive down inside the Washington 5 yard line and were faced with a 2nd and 3. Getsy drew up a spectacular play-action call, enabling TE Ryan Griffin to slip up the field into the end-zone. What should have been a simple completion, turned into an overthrow and the Bears were not able to get out of that drive with points. Some would say Griffin had stopped running on the play, but after the game Fields summed it up perfectly saying, “NFL quarterbacks make that throw”. One more pass play we’ll analyze came during the 2nd quarter on a 3rd and 3 on the Washington 44 yard line. Getsy called up a spread concept and basically had Mooney running a deep corner to the pylon and crossing routes to the other side of the field. As the play developed, Pettis came wide open on the short crosser but Fields decided to take a deep shot to Mooney on the corner. That is a prime example of a play that a true pocket passer would make, being able to see a defense.
Looking at the other half of the comment, Fitzpatrick is not wrong at all. During the Bear’s final drive of the game, the offense was facing a 1st and 10 at the Washington 44. Fields didn’t like his options down field and decided to take off scrambling. He showed off his elite running skills and was able to get all the way down to the Washington 5 yard line. From that point, it seemed to be game-over. But the Bear’s for the third time that night failed to convert on 4th down. Fields had his most impressive rushing performance of his sophomore season. He finished the night totaling 88 yards on 12 carries. If one thing is true, it is the fact that Fields is a top-5 scrambling QB in the league.
Looking deeper into the Justin Fields pocket passer debate, it has been hard to see if he can truly be one. In my opinion, a pocket passer’s three best attributes are accuracy, seeing the field, and making the correct decision. For the most part of the season, Fields has displayed wonderful accuracy from the pocket, as evidenced by deep throws on the money to Mooney and Pettis in consecutive weeks. Where Fields has been struggling this year is in the seeing the field and decision making category. Too many times this year it seems Field’s has had wide open receivers, but has not been able to recognize them. Part of that can be blamed on pressure, as he simply can’t focus on the field while being blitzed. In terms of the decision making category, Fields simply needs to get rid of the ball in certain situations. Yes, the offense line is shoddy and gives up pressure, but Fields has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long and takes unnecessary sacks.
Fitzpatrick was not wrong in what he said, as it is clearly evident at this point Fields is struggling from the pocket. But I do believe that Fields can develop as the season goes along. It’s still a long season to go, and Fields will have plenty more opportunities to improve his skills as a pocket passer. In the meantime, just sit back and enjoy the scrambling ability of QB1.