With Bears' losing streak at 12, focus is on Justin Fields' lack of progress

Stephen A.: The Bears are impeding Justin Fields' growth (2:01)

Stephen A. Smith blames the Chicago Bears organization for its early struggles and Justin Fields' lack of development. (2:01)

TAMPA, Fla. – Chicago Bears wide receiver DJ Moore was open, and not just slightly open. There wasn't a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defender within five yards of Moore until he reached the top of his route with 13:36 to go in the second quarter Sunday and his team holding onto a four-point lead.

Moore clapped his hands as he crossed the left hash on Tampa Bay's 40-yard line to get the attention of quarterback Justin Fields, who had a clean pocket. His pass protection was strong, and he had ample time to throw. Yet this gotta-have-it moment for the Bears' offense resulted in a sack for an 11-yard loss, one of six Fields sacks in the 27-17 defeat.

The Bears' offense is struggling to find answers amid an 0-2 start that raises questions about Fields' development, which has looked more like a regression after an offseason that was designed to set him up for success with new personnel around him and the same playcaller in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

"I think he did a lot of good things in the game," Bears coach Matt Eberflus said of Fields. "You could see that. You could see his operation is better with the offense, you could feel that.

"But again, we're just searching for consistency, to be able to create those explosive plays, get the ball to [Moore], get the ball to [Chase Claypool]."

Fields was 16-of-29 for 211 yards, one touchdown pass, two interceptions and a 23 QBR. Two strong drives that resulted in touchdowns -- on Chicago's first and eighth possessions -- were muddied by problems that helped extend the Bears' losing streak to 12 straight.

Time to throw: The first thing general manager Ryan Poles said he wanted to see from Fields this season to determine the QB's growth was to get "those sack numbers to come down."

Fields has been sacked 101 times since entering the league in 2021. The Bears currently rank last in the NFL in sack percentage, which is indicative of poor pass protection and the quarterback holding onto the ball too long. According to ESPN Stats and Information, nine of the 10 sacks Fields has taken this season have come after four-plus seconds. Since 2021, 79 of Fields' sacks came after four-plus seconds, which is 16 more than any other quarterback.

On the third-and-13 play from Chicago's own 47-yard line with Moore open, Fields had 4.63 seconds to throw, but he was sacked. Through two games, Fields is averaging the fifth-slowest time to throw at 2.98 seconds.

Later in the second quarter, another instance when Fields had 4.9 seconds to throw resulted in a sack just outside of Tampa Bay's red zone. Fields hesitated, according to Eberflus, to hit Roschon Johnson, who was open on a seam route, because the spacing of his receivers threw off his timing.

"We got to do a better job with our spacing there, with our receiver spacing," Eberflus said. "There was a little bit of an issue there with the spacing part of it, and we've got to do a better job executing there."

Fields was strip-sacked two plays later when he had 5.19 seconds to throw. Bears center Lucas Patrick saved the drive by diving onto the ball. A promising drive ended with a 52-yard field goal.

Downfield passing: Fields is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. His 5.0 air yards per target were the lowest of any quarterback in Week 2, according to Next Gen Stats. The Bears are last in the league in completion percentage over expectation (11.1), and only 26% of Fields' throws have gone past the sticks.

Coming off an opening loss to the Packers, Fields aimed to be less conservative and throw the ball down field more. There were moments when that happened:

  • A 33-yard strike to Moore on the first play of Chicago's opening drive when the Bears reached the end zone.

  • A 20-yard tight-window throw to Claypool in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter.

  • A dose of play-action designed to put Fields on the run in the second quarter yielded a great deep ball to Cole Kmet, but a defensive play broke up the reception.

"When you have good protection, it makes my job easier, and we of course were able to throw down field," Fields said.

Unfortunately for the Bears, between Chicago's two touchdown drives, the Bears averaged 2.1 yards per play and only gained 72 yards.

Playcalling: Aside from Johnson's 29-yard run against the Bucs, Chicago's once dominant rushing attack -- it led the league last season -- fell flat for a second straight week. Fields' running has been non-existent, with only four designed runs. Fields rushed for 1,143 yards last season, nearly breaking Lamar Jackson's single-season rushing record for a QB of 1,206.

Some of that has to do with how defenses are taking away Fields' running lanes with zone coverage. The quarterback has faced zone on 74% of his dropbacks, which is the third-highest rate among QBs. As a passer, Fields' efficiency has dropped facing zone through two games compared to last year (69 QBR vs. 17).

The lack of run support and plays called to utilize Fields' strongest asset -- his legs -- have put him in uncomfortable situations. Fields has dropped back to pass 66 times in two games. On 43 dropbacks where he's had three-plus seconds to throw, 23 have resulted in incompletions or sacks.

The final series for the Bears' offense put Fields and the offense in a bind. Getsy dialed up screen passes to the same side of the field on back-to-back plays. Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said "everybody knew what was coming" when Fields threw an inside screen that resulted in a pick-six by Shaquil Barrett.

"In that situation it’s tough," Fields said. "If you call a deeper pass, you don't want to drop back into the end zone and have a potential to take a safety. I think that's a tough spot regarding playcalls for Luke in that position. He went with his gut and seven ended up making a good play. It is what it is."