When a wide-open Cole Kmet hauled in a 50-yard touchdown reception against Detroit on Sunday, the idea, the promise and the threat of Bears quarterback Justin Fields coalesced, at least for one play. At that moment, a coaching staff’s and fan base’s most earnest desire could have been summed up in one sentence: More of that, please!
It doesn’t matter whether Lions safety Kerby Joseph simply forgot about Kmet or whether he was so worried Fields was going to run with the ball that he decided to ignore the tight end. What matters is the lesson from the play that needs to be embraced: Fields’ legs should lead to more opportunities for his arm.
The benefit of all this running should be more big pass plays.
To date, that hasn’t happened nearly enough.
If I were on the Bears coaching staff (looks at phone, still not ringing), I would press for more throws from Fields, specifically more deep throws. Everybody is in love with the running game these days. The Bears’ track club of Fields, Khalil Herbert (now on injured reserve) and David Montgomery has pushed the team to the top of the NFL in rushing attempts (360), rushing yards (2,017) and yards per carry (5.6). And it’s not just the Bears who are running more. Other teams seem to be falling in love with the running game again.
But let’s assume it’s a fad. Until notified otherwise, let’s stick to a much older trend, the one that says that teams, in order to be successful, have to be able to stretch the field. If you’ve been watching the Bears’ games, you know it’s not breaking news that they’re last in the league in passing attempts (208) and completions (123); second from last in passing yards (1,494); and tied for fourth from last in completions of 20 yards or more (21).
One passing stat is reason for optimism. Fields has four completions of 40 yards or more, which is tied for 12th in the league. It suggests that opponents are worried to distraction about his ability to tuck the ball under his arm and take off. It means receivers get some alone time. To reiterate: More of that, please!
It would be nice if offensive coordinator Luke Getsy would open up the passing game in the final seven games of the season, starting Sunday in Atlanta.
I know: If only it were that easy. The Bears’ offensive line knows how to run-block. It struggles in pass blocking. It’s a big reason why Getsy and head coach Matt Eberflus have embraced the idea of Fields as a running quarterback. If he’s going to get pulverized, let it be by a linebacker or safety, not a defensive tackle who has trouble keeping the pounds off.
To make matters worse, it’s not as if the Bears have receivers who have shown the ability to get open consistently. But before we put the linemen and receivers in stocks on Michigan Avenue, where they can be properly ridiculed, it’s important to know that Fields bears some of the responsibility for the offense’s lack of a legitimate passing attack. Even when he does have blocking, he tends to lock in on one receiver instead of going through his progressions. His accuracy has been suspect (58.9%, near the bottom of the league). And sometimes he gives up too quickly on a pass play and takes off.
But running is good, right? We all agree it’s been tons of fun watching him tear up defenses, right? Absolutely. Somehow, the Bears have made 3-7 entertaining. Who thought that possible?
Yet the biggest goal of the season is for Fields to make progress as a passer. So far, the progress has been slow. There certainly have been flashes. A few of his passes have been so perfectly thrown they could have produced a poetry anthology. But there have been head-scratchers, too, like the pick-6 he threw against the Lions. Mostly, the sample size has been as big as an hors d’oeuvre tray.
The Bears’ run-first offensive approach gives them the best chance to win, even though they’ve lost six of their last seven games. But winning should be secondary to Fields’ development.
Given the size and speed of NFL players, it’s hard to imagine a running quarterback holding up over time. At some point, the Bears are going to have to find out if the kid can throw. He’s thrown for more than 200 yards in just one game this season. His backers will view that as criticism or a lack of belief. It’s neither. It’s more a matter of eyesight. It’s hard to believe in something you haven’t seen yet.