It’s far too early to declare a breakthrough for quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense, but there’s no denying that things are getting better.
Forget that Fields put up fantastic numbers and delivered three touchdown passes in the preseason finale against the Browns. Take the results out of it and just pay attention to how it looked.
Even with poor protection, Fields seemed comfortable. In his NFL career, that’s new.
He rolled out often, making the most of his speed by drawing defenders’ eyes toward him and away from targets like tight end Cole Kmet. Fields doesn’t actually have to run; the threat is enough to put a defense on high alert.
He took the easy, short passes and was able to use play action because offensive coordinator Luke Getsy stayed committed to the run even when it was inching along.
It all looked drastically different from last season, when Fields made his starting debut in the same stadium and Matt Nagy had him stand in the pocket for the Browns to sack at will.
Those harrowing memories crept in when Fields walked out for warm-ups.
“For sure, I was thinking about that,” he said.
Then he laughed and added, “I’m glad that No. 95 wasn’t playing today.”
That’s the catch. Fields saw that number up close all day last September as all-pro defensive end Myles Garrett flattened him 4 1/2 times. Garrett and five other Browns starters sat out Saturday, which dilutes his stellar performance.
So how does anyone truly evaluate that?
“You just go with what you’ve got on tape,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “It’s just what you see on tape, what he’s executing… But this was a good step forward.”
Fields thought so, too, calling it “a turning point” rather than just another meaningless preseason outing. He believed it was a promising soft launch for his second season, which begins next weekend against the 49ers.
He has settled in with Getsy and an offense that finally fits, and his final play illustrated that more clearly than any other: a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kmet, wide open in the end zone.
Set aside the outcome, though, and focus on how everything unfolded.
On first-and-10, Fields faked a handoff to running back Khalil Herbert going left, then rolled right on a bootleg. As he turned, he had everything available to him. He could’ve hit fullback Khari Blasingame for a couple yards, he had tight end Ryan Griffin open for about eight and he probably would’ve gotten a short gain by tucking and running.
Any of those options would’ve kept the drive moving, but Fields processed it all rapidly and even had time to direct Kmet on the fly.
“I was just telling him to get a little bit wider because I didn’t want that corner to fall off and take away his route,” Fields said. “We have so many different route combinations with the [bootlegs], so you can manipulate them pretty good.”
And how did it feel running that offense compared to what he was thrust into last time he appeared in Cleveland?
“It just feels normal,” he said.
Only with the Bears does running a “normal” offense bring relief. He also could’ve used words like intuitive, sensible or functional, but no matter how he put it, it’s an upgrade from the Nagy offense.
Anything would’ve been.
A big piece of general manager Ryan Poles’ plan was to clear out everything that “clouded” his assessment of Fields. And regardless of it being a preseason game, there was hard evidence Saturday that he’s done that with the coaching staff and scheme.
The offense looks like it has the framework for Fields to succeed, and he gave a strong endorsement of his offensive line and receivers Saturday. There’s enough in this “normal” offense for Fields to play his game, and soon we’ll see if he can.