Bears coach Matt Eberflus needs Justin Fields to produce

Justin Fields needs to have a good passing performance Sunday after being both the least-used and least-effective starting quarterback in the NFL the first three weeks of the season.

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus needs it, too. Even if he won’t say it out loud.

Eberflus can talk about Fields experiencing growth over the first three games, as he did Friday, but that growth needs to show up in the box score for all the world to see. That would take the pressure off of coach and quarterback alike.

“It’s good for anybody,” Eberflus said Friday.

Eberflus compared Fields’ struggles to that of Roquan Smith over the first two weeks. The Bears insisted the linebacker was getting better — but recording 16 tackles and a game-saving interception Sunday declared it.

“That certainly puts you in the right direction and says, ‘Hey, do you know what? I can see it visibly on the stat sheet, I can see it in my play,'” Eberflus said.

As long as Fields struggles, there will be questions about Eberflus’ fit as an NFL rarity — a defense-minded, first-time head coach paired with a young quarterback.

Any head coach with serious playoff aspirations knows he needs a quarterback to get there. That hasn’t been Fields, whose passer rating of 50 is No. 32 in the NFL — and light years away from No. 31, Mac Jones, at 76.2.

That raises major questions about Fields and first-time NFL play-caller Luke Getsy, whose passing attack is getting upstaged by his run game. But it ultimately falls on the head coach.

Bears fans won’t have to look far Sunday for what might have been. In January, the team interviewed Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll, both Bills employees, for their GM and head coaching jobs. Both landed with the Giants. Daboll, a former offensive coordinator, is the play-caller for an offense that is third-worst in the NFL with 162.3 passing yards per game. That’s still more than double the Bears’ average.

In an alternate universe, Fields would be the Giants quarterback. In 2021, they traded the No. 11 pick to the Bears and drafted mercurial receiver Kadarius Toney and struggling tackle Evan Neal with the Bears’ 2021 and 2022 first-round selections. Not that Fields has put any stock into his first-ever meeting with the Giants.

“No– not at all,” Fields said.

The Giants are still in quarterback purgatory, with Daniel Jones playing the final year of his rookie deal with little chance of an extension. They figure to draft a quarterback next year and go the conventional rebuilding route, pairing a young offensive-minded head coach with a young passer.

No Big Blue fan leaving MetLife Stadium will regret their team passing on Fields on Sunday if the most notable thing he does is audible the Bears into effective run plays, the way coaches said he did last week when he had a 27.7 passer rating.

In the short-term, the Bears are right to lean on Khalil Herbert, who ranks second among running backs with 7.3 yards per carry and is coming off a career-high 157 yards on 20 carries against the Texans. A strong showing from the second-year player will, as the Bears have implied, give them the best chance to win Sunday.

There are victories, though, and there is progress.

The Bears are 2-1 in one category this season, and 0-3 in the other.

If Fields can be half as dynamic through the air as Herbert has been on the ground, they’ll make gains in both regards Sunday.

“[Fields] has been positive, upbeat,” Eberflus said. “He’s been taking charge of the offense and working on his footwork, working on his timing, working with his receivers with the timing.

“We’re excited to see progress this week.”

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