I will try to list everything that’s wrong with the Chicago Bears offense right now. It would be far, far easier to list everything that’s right with the Bears offense right now, but it would not be nearly as illuminating or depressing. There is no order here—just a running list from my notes while watching Bears film. Here we go.
- Justin Fields is terrible through his progressions. He is comfortable with neither open first reads nor open second reads. He is either way too fast or way too slow through his reads, with no rhyme or reason as to why.
- This scheme makes no sense. They’ll run a play that implies they have no faith in Fields at all—like one with only one viable option or a gadget play—and then on the very next play, there will be a full-field progression from the pocket. Neither works.
- The Bears also stopped doing the stuff that worked last season, which is inexplicable. From Week 7 on last season, Fields averaged 7.78 designed quarterback runs (i.e., not scrambles, but called runs) a game. He’s had five total through the first two games of the season.
- Chase Claypool does not want to be playing football. He runs the wrong routes. He doesn’t adjust routes to coverage. He doesn’t fight for tough catches. He doesn’t give consistent effort as a blocker.
- Fields is uncomfortable in the pocket. He drifts away from even the slightest pressure. He often runs into defenders on the few plays on which his pass protection holds up.
- The absences of starting guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis thrust Ja’Tyre Carter and Lucas Patrick into action. Neither can win against average defensive tackles.
- While we’re on the offensive line: Braxton Jones is better than expected for a 2022 fifth-round selection, but he is a below-average starting left tackle.
- Also while we’re on the offensive line: Cody Whitehair is playing some rough football. Remember, this is a five-year, $51 million player. Whitehair is 31 years old and, theoretically, the steadying veteran presence on an otherwise young line. He’s playing out of position right now, taking snaps at guard so Patrick can play center, but he is playing below-average football. On Sunday against the Bucs, every single starting offensive lineman was below average.
- And hey, while we’re on the offensive line: They don’t communicate at all. Blitzes and stunts have a 100 percent success rate against them (not a real stat, but it very well could be).
- Cole Kmet is a fine player, but he really is not a needle mover at tight end. He doesn’t run great routes, he doesn’t provide anything after the catch, and he isn’t even a reliable pass catcher. He’s also been guilty of running the incorrect routes.
- Why do you keep running in-breakers if Fields has shown you he won’t throw them? Sometimes it feels like the Bears are calling plays to make a point about how much Fields limits them.
- The Bears spent a 2022 third-round pick on wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. He was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and took four offensive snaps in Week 2.
- I don’t think I’ve seen the Bears run an option route this year.
- Fields has extremely slow feet in the pocket. He cannot snap to new targets or make off-platform throws the way 95 percent of starting quarterbacks can. This gives defenders time to react to his every move, which makes his margins for error very thin.
- Fields has three or four throws a game on which the ball just comes out wrong. Wobbling, nose up, nose down. No consistency.
- Remember Darnell Mooney? Zero targets in Week 2. Also: He’s often guilty of running the wrong route.
- The receivers and Fields are literally never on the same page. When he’s ready to throw, nobody is ready to break. Next play: Receivers are breaking, and he isn’t ready to throw. They regularly disagree on landmarks, which leads to inaccurate passes. No other team has issues like this.
- I think Khalil Herbert is still good, but it is hard to tell, because at least five runs are dead on arrival in each game due to offensive line issues.
- Thirty-seven percent of Fields’s pass attempts are at or behind the line of scrimmage. That leads the league. Fifty percent of Fields’s pass attempts that are behind the line of scrimmage are completed. That’s the worst in the league.
I think that’s it.
Despite the onerous list you just read, this is not a “what’s wrong with the Bears offense” piece. I don’t even think I’m capable of writing a “what’s wrong with the Bears offense” piece. Not because I don’t know what’s wrong with the Bears offense—it’s that big list up there—but because I wouldn’t even know where to start or end. I can’t figure out what’s a symptom and what’s a cause. Fields is playing so poorly that there’s no way the offense could ever work; the offense is so poorly schemed and coached that there’s no way Fields could ever look good; the offensive line prohibits any sort of offensive scheme anyway; the wide receiver play prohibits a successful passing offense. The Bears offense is a four-sided chicken-or-egg conundrum.
Here’s what I find most repellent: This is not new. In September 2021, I wrote a piece about how then–Bears head coach and offensive designer Matt Nagy failed Fields. This was after Fields’s first career start, an appalling offensive performance in all facets. The Bears ran an offense predicated on the shotgun formation and quick-game passing, devoid of play-action passes, designed quarterback runs, shot plays, and rollouts. At the time, they had poor wide receiver play, poor offensive line play, and issues in execution.
Fields was blameless only because he was so young. Now, he is anything but. Fields has made the exact same mistakes on open reads, pocket footwork, accurate passes, and risk management over and over and over again for two straight seasons. There has been nothing in the NFL more frustrating to watch than that: such an electric talent slamming his head into the same wall.
That Fields and the Bears are suffering the same fate almost two years later is infuriating and damning. But fairly assigning blame is a headache. How is it possible that Fields has not gotten better at managing the pocket and getting through his reads? How is it possible that his offensive line play has not improved? How is it possible his receiver play has barely improved? How is it possible his play-calling and schematic hand-holding have not improved?
So that’s where I am. Totally stuck. I don’t know what to do with this. I have nothing helpful to say.
In these situations, we have to take a “buck stops at the top” approach. Doling out blame in the NFL is very easy, but actually giving it to the right people in the right proportions is usually hard, and it is particularly difficult here. So: With whom does the buck stop? It stops with head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles.
Let’s start with Poles and personnel. The Bears’ past two drafts have produced lots of starters—Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, Braxton Jones, Darnell Wright, Tyrique Stevenson—but that is a function of a thin roster, not an encouraging hit rate. Gordon, Jones, and Stevenson have all been liabilities when out on the field; Wright and Brisker look like promising young players.
In trades, Poles has been similarly hot and cold. Last year’s trade deadline was about as bad of a face-plant as a general manager can have. Poles got a second-round pick from the Ravens for Roquan Smith, who had an All-Pro season. He gave up a second-rounder (which became pick no. 32) for Claypool, who simply does not belong on a football field right now. The Smith trade is made even more frustrating by the fact that Poles turned around and paid two linebackers in the offseason—Tremaine Edmunds, who is making only $2 million less per season than Smith, and T.J. Edwards. Neither player holds a candle to Smith.
The D.J. Moore trade will perhaps be Poles’s saving grace. It was a fine deal at the time. The Bears got two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and Moore, the WR1 this team so desperately needed. It could be made even better by a terrible Panthers season, as Carolina’s 0-2 start brings hope that the team will convey a top-10 selection to Chicago in the upcoming draft.
Of course, to trade the first selection was to surrender the chance to draft a top quarterback to replace Fields. This seemed like a good idea at the time, when we all thought the Bears would keep doing the stuff on offense that helped Fields succeed and thought that Fields would develop accordingly. Nobody knows who QB1 was on the Bears board, but the early-season play of Anthony Richardson and C.J. Stroud has surpassed the play of Fields. That has to be hard for the Bears to see.
But would Stroud and Richardson even have looked as good in Chicago as they do in their respective landing spots? Houston and Indianapolis have rosters that are far from perfect, but they are running offenses that maximize their quarterbacks’ abilities—that’s not something Chicago has done. Perhaps it was wise to wait on selecting a quarterback for another season, to see whether Fields could take the leap and all the while improve the roster so that the next guy wouldn’t suffer the same fate that Fields did: never developing over three long seasons.
I am willing to give Poles the benefit of the doubt. Most general managers get the chance to draft at least one first-round quarterback, and Poles has not done that yet—he and Eberflus both inherited Fields from Ryan Pace, along with the devastated roster that Poles has been trying to quickly resurrect.
On Eberflus: The Bears have lost their past 12 consecutive games. Leaguewide, this is the 20th streak of 12-plus losses since 1990, and the head coaches on this list are not encouraging. Doug Marrone into Urban Meyer for the Jaguars. Hue Jackson’s Browns and Mike Pettine’s Browns, on separate occasions. Rod Marinelli’s Lions. Adam Gase’s Jets. Dennis Allen’s Raiders. Some of these teams springboarded off of terrible seasons and leaped into national relevance—but usually with a different coach. Chip Kelly’s 2016 49ers got turned over to Kyle Shanahan. Jim Caldwell’s 2011 Colts got turned over to Chuck Pagano.
It is hard to figure out what Eberflus brings to the team. He’s a defensive coach, and the Bears defense was 32nd in defensive DVOA last year; through two games this season, it is 26th. Eberflus was responsible for assembling the offensive staff, underneath and including offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and that offensive staff has failed to develop talent or coach around weakness. The Bears are rife with mental errors and mismanaged details; they have a couple of players with effort concerns. Those are not the hallmarks of a well-coached team.
Eberflus should have the rest of the season to coach for his job. Getsy might have less time if Eberflus decides the way to save his own job is to scapegoat Getsy and bring in a new coordinator midseason. Fields should have the rest of the season to play for his job.
But what do we really expect at this point? Something to actually work? I’d like to see all 11 players on the offense look like they actually heard the play call in the huddle and knew what the words were telling them to do. I’d like for some young player to look like a cornerstone piece that Chicago can build around for the future—I don’t care if it’s Fields, Wright, Brisker, Roschon Johnson, Tyson Bagent, or Trenton Gill. I’d like for the offense to use Fields the way he has always, obviously, been best used: the way he was used at Ohio State, when he looked like a knockout quarterback prospect. I’d like for Fields to look at an open receiver and then throw him the football. And I don’t think that this is even really asking for much.
I don’t think any of this will happen. Why should I have any faith? All of this is basic stuff. It should have been cleared up and handled by mid-August. The fact that it is persisting into September tells me that all of the Bears’ pillars—their coaching staff, their front office, and their quarterback—are on entirely different pages. Nobody—not Eberflus, Getsy, Fields, or Poles—seems to be able to get what they want out of anyone else in the building. There’s no harmony, no synergy. No clear organizational thrust. This is a discordant operation. There’s nothing about it that doesn’t stink, and that kind of rot won’t go away in a week.
It is this discord that leads me, naive as ever, to believe that something can still work for Fields. If he just got into a system that worked for him, with playmakers that worked for him, we could find that he still has talent worth nurturing. It almost leads me to believe that something can still work for Eberflus. That, if he got players like he had in Indianapolis, the defense could be legitimately impactful. And that something could work for Poles, if he just had the right quarterback and good coaching. That’s why a blame tornado is so uniquely maddening. With so much blame swirling around, it’s easy to convince yourself that every single piece of the organization is still redeemable—if everything else would just stop being so awful.
But I’ve reached the end of my rope. I’m done watching the two cool throws Fields has in every game and pretending like they’ll suddenly multiply next week. I’m done reenacting the Leonardo DiCaprio meme every time the Bears run a play that actually makes sense. I will update you when anything changes. Otherwise, you can catch me streaming 2020 Ohio State highlights, and I’ll see you in April, when the Bears draft their new quarterback of the future and start this whole mess all over again.