The 2023 season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the Bears.
After being embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers in the season opener, the Bears arrived in Tampa in Week 2 and had all sorts of problems with the Buccaneers in a 27-17 loss.
Quarterback Justin Fields struggled mightily, the offensive scheme was once again confusing, there were mental lapses across the board and the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down.
Other than that, everything went well.
The Bears have now lost 12 straight games dating back to last season. Fields’ struggles are particularly concerning and have caused a once hopeful fan base to question the young quarterback and the decisions made around him.
An 0-2 start filled with offensive disappointments, limited adjustments and more defensive issues has the weekly mailbag overflowing with overreactions. Let’s go:
Tuesday’s column shed light on the blame for Justin Fields’ struggles and why everyone owns a piece of it.
But I think the important part of all of this is general manager Ryan Poles’ decision to hire a first-time defensive-minded head coach in Matt Eberflus and a first-time offensive signal-caller in the no one from Luke Getsy to team up with a young, developing quarterback. in the fields.
This is not a recipe that generally succeeds.
The Poles didn’t draft Fields, so he wasn’t obligated at the time to hire a team with the young quarterback in mind. It was a no-brainer for him as a general manager — a no-risk shot against a first-round quarterback he hadn’t drafted.
But having a dynamic quarterback is the only way to win in the NFL, and the Poles found themselves in a situation where a quarterback was potentially already in place. But he needed to hire the right kind of coaches to give Fields the best chance to develop and his reboot the quickest path to success.
I’m not here to criticize the hiring of Eberflus. I think Eberflus did a good job last year, keeping the locker room bought and making adjustments in the game.
But if you’re hiring a defensive-minded head coach, I think you need to make sure the OC hire is an experienced player with a history of developing quarterbacks.
Getsy was in the room with Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur in Green Bay. He believes in his system. But there’s a lot more to being a successful OC in the NFL, and having a new player learning on the job with a quarterback who needs a program built around his strengths was probably a mistake.
Let’s focus on the Poles’ offseason plan and his assessment of which players to bring into the building.
It’s true that the Bears weren’t going to fix everything in one offseason. But the Poles looking at things from the perspective of the best player available instead of focusing on strengthening the offensive and defensive lines was not the right way to go.
The Poles focused heavily on the suitability and value of the project. He was disciplined in his spending, refusing to exceed his figure. It’s great to a certain extent.
But there were players — Orlando Brown Jr. and Javon Hargrave come to mind — who would have been worth the overpayment or perceived scheme problems.
The Bears needed an effective three-man technique and a rock-solid left tackle in pass protection. Braxton Jones was able to start in year two, but the Bears needed to fully secure Fields’ blindside to give him the best chance to succeed. Paying Hargrave could have allowed them to change their approach on the second day of the draft and potentially take center John Michael Schmitz to solidify the interior of the line.
Instead, the Poles considered Brown an unsuitable project and did not want to overpay for Hargrave. To be fair, Hargrave probably still would have taken the 49ers deal, given his age and desire to win now.
But I think it’s fair to look at the state of the Bears’ lines and criticize the approach. The offensive line is injured, so maybe once it’s complete, things will be different. The defensive line still struggles to hold up against the run, and the lack of a reliable, penetrating three-man technique remains an issue.
It’s just a good question. We’ll come back to overreacting in a second.
I think the first thing the Bears need to do is go to Fields and ask him what he’s comfortable running on, as well as what throws and concepts he likes. Build around that and the QB designed running game. Trying to make Fields an Aaron Rodgers-style right-handed quarterback with this new footwork isn’t working.
It’s not a question of talent, but he clearly doesn’t trust what he sees.
The Bears need to put Fields on the boundary and spread the field vertically. It’s no coincidence that the only two Bears offensive drives that seemed functional in Tampa were when they were pushing the ball down the field with DJ Moore and Chase Claypool. The first touchdown? A great starting run QB to utilize Fields’ athleticism.
I don’t know what happened in the offseason that led the Bears to throw away the only good part of their offense last season. But the complete QB running game needs to return, and the Bears should build the passing game to work in concert with it.
Getsy needs to structure the offense around what Fields does best and what Moore, Claypool, Darnell Mooney, Tyler Scott and Cole Kmet do best.
If the Bears don’t do this, things won’t get better.
As I said above, I disagree with Matt Eberflus, the head coach. Now the hiring manager, Matt Eberflus? Him, I perhaps have questions about him.
But if the Bears end up with a top-two pick and decide to move on from Fields, I think it’s OK to give Eberflus a rookie quarterback if the offensive coordinator is a proven developer and veteran player.
They would also need to bring in a respected veteran quarterback who can still run an offense in the NFL to help them.
If things go badly this season and it ends with the Bears leaving Fields or without a proper evaluation of him, Getsy is unlikely to survive, and the Poles will certainly have more say in the second pick of CO.
But Eberflus will almost certainly still be there in 2024, with Fields or whoever he chooses at quarterback.
Overreaction? Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.
I know things are dark right now. I saw the statistics, all of them. Every time I see a new one, it gets worse.
I love the Tyson Bagent story. There is potential for development there.
But there is no scenario in which the Bears should make Fields healthy for Bagent.
Bagent made quick decisions in the preseason against the substitutes. The ball comes out quickly and he has courage. I like his stuff.
But Fields is more talented and has a ceiling in another stratosphere.
The Brock Purdy composition is nice, but it doesn’t grow on trees. Purdy also has Kyle Shanahan and a whole nuclear arsenal of weapons, as well as the best left tackle in football.
It will not arrive.
Now for our weekly Colorado mailer.
Shedeur Sanders is a lot better than I thought he would be when the college football season started three weeks ago.
He’s tough as hell, has good ball placement and showed good balance in the pocket.
But he’s still at a very early stage in his development as a quarterback. He holds the ball too long and doesn’t always throw it with anticipation. Decision-making is sometimes uneven. It’s understandable. He is a young quarterback who is still learning.
But right now, I think the only quarterbacks the Bears should want to draft — if they end up in the top five — are Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. These are currently the only “sure things”. (These don’t actually exist in the draft.)
Otherwise, stock up on blue-chip talent at other key positions and give Fields a fourth year with a new offensive coordinator and live to play the quarterback game another day.
However, this position could change by the end of the season.
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