1st-and-10: Bears owe Justin Fields a second startMark Potashon September 28, 2021 at 7:58 pm

Starting Justin Fields against the Lions on Sunday should be a no-brainer.

Not only does Fields need to get back on the horse after getting sacked nine times in a miserable starting debut against the Browns last week, but the Lions have been Matt Nagy’s lone punching bag in his first three seasons as the Bears head coach.

The Bears’ passer rating against the Lions under Nagy is a gaudy 118.4 (15 touchdowns, one interception). That’s easily their best against any opponent they’ve played more the twice under Nagy — ahead of the Saints (90.9), Vikings (78.5), Packers (77.1) and Rams (60.6).

Statistically, you couldn’t handpick a better spot for a quarterback to build up his confidence than against the Lions at Soldier Field. In the Lions’ last nine games, quarterbacks have averaged a 133.4 passer rating against their defense (24 touchdowns, one interception), including eight straight 100-plus ratings before the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson was held to 81.0 on Sunday.

Cornerback Amani Oruwariye’s fourth-quarter interception of Jackson in a 19-17 loss at Ford Field was the Lions’ first pick since Week 11 of last season against the Panthers and first-time starter Phillip Walker. It ended a string of 265 consecutive passes without an interception.

The Lions’ defense might not be the easy touch they’ve been for the Bears and Nagy. Sunday’s game was the most tangible sign of improvement under first-year coordinator Aaron Glenn. And as bad as the Lions have been, they’ve been better against quarterbacks with Fields’ skill-set — Jackson this year and Kyler Murray (72.3 rating, three interceptions) last season.

The Lions still are last in the NFL in passer rating defense — 123.2 (seven touchdowns, one interception. But they’re seventh in sacks per pass play with eight sacks to 84 pass attempts — they were 27th last season — and sacked sacked Jackson four times Sunday. And veteran coordinator Dom Capers — a Bears nemesis with the Packers — is a senior adviser to Glenn, which figures to further help get that defense off the mat.

After subjecting Fields to an onslaught in Cleveland, Nagy has an increased responsibility to avoid getting his prized quarterback prospect injured. But the timing against the Lions at Soldier Field couldn’t be much better. It’s up to Nagy and offensive line coach Juan Castillo to find a way to give the kid a chance.

2. Here’s how it’s done: A week after Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked five times and intercepted three times against the Bears, Burrow was not sacked and had a 122.9 passer rating (three touchdowns, one interception) against the Steelers at Heinz Field. Burrow threw just 18 passes in the game — 14-for-18, 172 yards — and won, 24-10.

3. It’s rarely a good sign when the best things about a quarterback’s performance is that he didn’t flinch or point fingers. “One of the things I was most proud of was his temperament,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. “Not only after the game, but during the game.”

But DeFilippo also pointed to one positive Fields statistic that had particular merit — Fields had no turnovers (or concussions) despite getting sacked nine times and being under siege throughout.

“You didn’t see Justin throwing the ball into double-coverage,” DeFilippo said. “You didn’t see him putting the ball on the ground. To me, those are good things. There were no sack/fumbles. I didn’t think he put the ball in harm’s way very often. Those are things you can point at where you just don’t pile it on a guy and say ‘This, this and this.’ Part of the deal is it’s a learning curve.”

4. Fields got a huge break that kept his giveaway ledger clean when Browns safety John Johnson’s interception on a deep pass was nullified by a really tacky-tack pass interference penalty that the Bears would have been howling about had it happened to them.

That play captured the Fields first-game experience like no other. It was one of the few times Fields moved the pocket while not under pressure — and he had Darnell Mooney open downfield for a big play. But he missed the moment of opportunity, which gave Johnson time to make the play. It took an Aaron Rodgers kind of fortuitous call to bail him out. Not bad for a rookie.

5. Fields’ 41.2 passer rating is the third-worst for a first-round pick in his first NFL start in the last 10 years, behind the Browns’ Brandon Weeden (5.1) in 2012 and the Browns’ Johnny Manziel (27.3) in 2014. All three of those dubious first starts happened at Cleveland Browns/FirstEnergy Stadium.

6. What does it say that the best performance for a Bears back-up quarterback in his first start under Nagy is by Chase Daniel in a short week? In 2018, Daniel replaced an injured Mitch Trubisky against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day and had a 106.8 passer rating (27-of-37, 230 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) in a 23-6 victory at Ford Field. With 10 days to prepare for his next start, he was worse (75.3 in a loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands).

The other back-ups to start were Daniel against the Raiders in London in 2019 (89.7), Nick Foles against the Colts in 2020 (76.4), and Trubisky against the Packers in 2020 (74.7).

7. An additionally disconcerting aspect of Fields’ disastrous first start is that the Bears are supposed to be so much better equipped to manage a young quarterback with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and DeFilippo on the staff.

The Bears had much less NFL experience when Dowell Loggains and Dave Ragone were in charge of Trubisky’s development in his rookie year in 2017. And while it’s still Nagy’s show, Lazor and DeFilippo have significant input. “He’s one of the best head coaches I’ve been around in terms of taking new ideas,” DeFilippo said.

8. Bits & Pieces: The Bears’ 20-point loss to the Browns was the largest for a team with five sacks since 2015, when the Cowboys sacked Tom Brady five times and lost to the Patriots 30-6. … NFL teams that get five sacks are 133-41-1 (.763) since 2015. … Fields’ 41.2 passer rating was the second-lowest without an interception in a complete game since the Lions’ Joey Harrington in 2004 (39.6 — the lowest rating possible without an interception). … Cairo Santos has made 31 consecutive field goals (32 including the postseason) after connecting from 47 and 22 against the Browns. With two more he would tie the 49ers’ Robbie Gould and the Ravens’ Justin Tucker for 10th on the NFL’s all-time list. … The Bears have had no three-and-outs in Andy Dalton’s 11 drives. They have eight in Fields’ 15 drives.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Texans wide receiver Anthony Miller caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Davis Mills that gave the Texans a 7-6 lead in a 24-9 loss to the Panthers. Miller, active for the first time this season, had four receptions for 20 yards in the game.

10. Bear-ometer: 4-13 — vs. Lions (W); at Raiders (L); vs. Packers (L); at Buccaneers (L); vs. 49ers (L); at Steelers (L); vs. Ravens (L); at Lions (L); vs. Cardinals (L); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Seahawks (L); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (L).

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