Justin Fields is the talk of the town in the Chicagoland area.
His dynamic playmaking ability has been on full display over the last few weeks, and his dual-threat value has led the Bears to three straight outings with 29 or more points scored. Defenses are struggling with defending his rare athletic skill set for the quarterback position, and that has resulted in Chicago’s being one of the most efficient offenses in the league recently.
Over those last three games, though, the Bears are 0-3. The Lions overcame them at Soldier Field on Sunday, and a major catalyst towards their 21-point fourth quarter was a pick-6 that Fields threw to Jeff Okudah. The Bears got the ball back with a little over 2 minutes left in regulation while down by just 1, and they gained just 2 net yards on the drive before failing on a fourth-down conversion.
Going back to the week prior, the Bears had two chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins and failed both times. The latter drive was especially controversial — which we’ll get to later — but the end result was a loss for the Bears.
Fields’ dynamic stat line, especially running the ball, has naturally made him a major talking point around national and local media. After all, quarterback is the most important position in football, and when a young quarterback makes special plays, people are bound to take notice.
The general reception of Fields’ performances these last few weeks have been mostly positive, but with such highs have come hyperbolic statements of grandiose praise being thrown his way. The same goes for the negatives, with some pointing to Fields’ lack of late-game success and his occasional errors throwing the ball as the main issue. Whether they actually believe those flaws are the biggest takeaway is another discussion, but by incessantly hammering home those points amidst vocal criticism, it certainly comes off that way.
I will preface this story by saying I hold no personal ill will towards the people whose receipts I will be revealing. In some cases, I hold a particularly positive opinion of these individuals. However, this is my best attempt to try and put personal biases aside to point out the extremes that have been reached when discussing Fields over the last few weeks.
I’ll also mention that I do not believe that I am the only voice of reason in these Fields debates, nor do I mean to come off that way in this article. I’m not saying that “everybody else is wrong and I am right”, because Fields is still a young quarterback whose future, while bright, is not set in stone. That said, I have noted things I perceive to be issues with how the Bears’ signal-caller has been analyzed, and I have a platform, so why not talk about it?
This is my opinion. This is what I believe to be true. It’s up to you to determine whether or not you agree with me.
It’s hard not to be caught up in the flashy play of Fields in the months of October and November.
After a slow start to the season, Fields has absolutely come alive and evolved into a dual-threat quarterback with a running ability that makes him on pace to break the single-season quarterback rushing record. The Bears are scoring points despite having by far the least amount of monetary investment on offense heading into the season. Fields has been a big reason behind that.
I’d argue that the majority of Bears fans — as well as NFL fans who have watched him play and not relied solely on fantasy box scores — have a reasonable understanding of where Fields stands right now. The hype surrounding the second-year quarterback is obvious, and it’s fair to say most of that hype is warranted.
That said, there has been a bit of hyperbole thrown out when discussing Fields’ recent stretch of games. I recommend watching the entirety of this video clip of Dan Orlovsky on ESPN’s Get Up below, because he does make a handful of very good points.
.@danorlovsky7 says he believes Justin Fields could play himself into the MVP conversation— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) November 14, 2022
"I honestly believe Justin's play is going to warrant him getting into [the MVP] conversation. ... He has been so remarkable over this last month." pic.twitter.com/aEHBEEAaey
Fields’ progression as a pocket passer, the mentality of “run if I have to” as opposed to “run if I can” is evident in his game, and he is elevating a subpar offense. Orlovsky is spot on with that assessment.
That said, I do think throwing Fields’ name in the MVP conversation is premature to this point. While I don’t disagree with Orlovsky’s analysis of Fields, that quote was ripe for a headline and was perfect for social media quotes to be used out of context. As the data I have listed later in the article will indicate, Fields has been very good, but there is still room for him to improve. This is obviously okay, given that he’s a second-year quarterback, but it’s worth noting.
Plus, no MVP winner since 2000 has been a part of a team that has had fewer than 10 wins in that given season. Quarterback wins certainly aren’t everything, and it’s unfair to Fields to an extent given his surroundings, but unless the Bears win the rest of their 7 remaining games, Fields would be a major outlier and unlikely to be a serious candidate.
This next tweet is more lighthearted, and I’ll admit that some of my tweets can fall under the “lighthearted, not 100% serious and thought-provoking” category. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of content as a concept, and it’s honestly pretty fun to make!
It hurts, but losing because of bad reffing is the perfect scenario for the Bears— Max Markham (@MaxMarkhamNFL) November 6, 2022
Justin Fields continues to prove that he is elite.
Coaching did enough to win the game.
Zebras said “it’s not your year so let me improve that draft pick for you.” pic.twitter.com/kynM66qPNB
That said, Fields is not an elite quarterback by essentially any metric outside of his rushing ability. Even over the last few weeks, I’d argue he has ranged in the “very good” or “great” categories but not in an elite category. This is a smaller takeaway in the grand scheme of things, but Markham is a notable member of Bears Twitter with a strong following, so his word — regardless of the intention — could be taken seriously and influence the minds of other fans to fuel a narrative that is statistically not true.
It feels like a lot of Bears Twitter is discussing the general narrative floating around local media that seems to downplay Fields’ accomplishments.
In all actuality, a lot of the criticism that has been thrown Fields’ way is factually not incorrect! From a pure numbers perspective, he has struggled in the fourth quarter and is still a work in progress.
I feel as though this infographic from Kevin Fishbain is a good example of acknowledging the positives and negatives of a situation with an objective lense.
I'm a big "two things can be true" guy (which is *not* to be confused with being a "both sides" guy, just to clarify).— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) November 14, 2022
Justin Fields is doing incredible things. He's lifting the Bears' offense.
The end-of-game stats are bad!
Bears Rewind⤵️ https://t.co/IrtFoNdwlE pic.twitter.com/3LSuhObIL8
That type of criticism that’s rooted in truth. Readers cannot dispute that it is incorrect because, well, it isn’t, but what they can dispute is the context and the importance placed on that information compared to Fields’ overall performance.
I can’t claim to say what the true intention of this headline from the Chicago Sun-Times was, nor will I definitively do so. That said, the way the headline is phrased, a reader can infer that Fields’ play in the fourth quarter was the biggest reason the Bears lost to the Lions on Sunday.
I get that it’s a short headline, and the entirety of a story cannot be told in that small amount of space. That said, the headline is what most people will read when they pick up a newspaper or read a tweet. This one comes off that it was Fields, who scored 4 touchdowns and had 314 all-purpose yards, who cost the Bears the game. It does not acknowledge the defense, who gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter, looked porous in coverage and generated little to no pressure on Detroit quarterback Jared Goff.
If you want to make the argument that such an inference is a matter of my own opinion, read the replies to that tweet above. I’m clearly not alone, which indicates part of the issue.
This tweet is another statistic that is factually correct. However, the timing and context behind it makes for either a tone-deaf tidbit of information or a concerning way to manipulate statistics to fit a narrative, depending on how you choose to look at it.
Bears with 49 net passing yards in the first half.— Dan Wiederer (@danwiederer) November 13, 2022
For a bit of context regarding the timing, I tweeted this just 2 minutes before Wiederer sent the aforementioned tweet:
HOW THE HELL DID JUSTIN FIELDS STAY UP AND SCORE THERE LMAO— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) November 13, 2022
That was right after Fields led the Bears to a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The quarterback accounted of 51 of those yards, whether it be through the air or on the ground, and the drive was capped off by him making this rushing touchdown:
I don’t know exactly what was going through Wiederer’s head when he sent that tweet, so I won’t make declarative statements. In fact, I could be totally wrong in all of this, and if proven incorrect, I will gladly admit that my perception of things wasn’t true. To me, however, it comes off in one of two ways:
- He was dismissing what was an impressive touchdown run by Fields
- He did not have any snark towards Fields by making that tweet, but he did not have the awareness to understand how the tweet would come off to a majority of his audience
Neither one looks all that great.
What do the numbers say?
Again, it’s worth mentioning I’m not attacking the aforementioned writers, analysts or personalities as people. There are just certain aspects of their opinions I disagree with. There’s a difference between constructive criticism — or just commentary in general — and full-on bashing someone.
Anyway, using advanced analytics from the last four weeks, you will see that Fields has been one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the NFL recently.
When looking at all of the information available, here’s where Fields ranks in those categories, among the 34 quarterbacks who have played at least 50 snaps from Weeks 7-10:
- 0.149 EPA + CPOE composite (8th)
- 0.253 adjusted EPA per play (7th)
- 0.237 regular EPA per play (8th)
- 55.2% success rate (6th)
- 1.9 completion percentage over expected (12th)
If we narrow it down to just the last three weeks among the 36 quarterbacks with at least 30 snaps, Fields looks even better in most metrics.
- 0.157 EPA + CPOE composite (6th)
- 0.259 adjusted EPA per play (7th)
- 0.239 regular EPA per play (8th)
- 53.2% success rate (10th)
- 2.9 completion percentage over expected (10th)
It’s also worth noting that, in Weeks 7 through 9 — the data for Week 10 not being available as of this writing — Fields is 8th with a passer rating of 104.7. The SIS DataHub IQR considers “the value of a quarterback independent of results outside of the his control such as dropped passes, dropped interceptions, throwaways, etc.” and is a helpful statistic to identify what generally goes wrong for an offense. Fields has an IQR of 114.3, which is fourth in the NFL.
Generally speaking, that means he is elevating the offensive unit around him.
That’s not even including his statistics as a runner in that time frame, for which Fields is the league leader in the following categories:
- Points earned
- Points earned per rush
- Points above average
- Points above average per rush
- Total EPA
- First downs
Now, look: as a passer, his numbers do generally trail MVP candidates like Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa in recent weeks. To say he’s an elite passer right away is certainly no guarantee, and there are still concerns like pocket awareness that need to be ironed out. To say that he is an MVP candidate this season, all things considered, is quite premature.
But the fact that we’re even having that discussion says a lot.
The proof is in the pudding that Fields is elevating the talent around him. He has faced the highest pressure rate of any full-time starting quarterback in the NFL, per SIS DataHub. From a blown block percentage, all of Braxton Jones (4th), Larry Borom (T-8th), Lucas Patrick (3rd) and Sam Mustipher (6th) have some of the highest rates of blown assignments at their respective positions.
It’s also worth noting that, in spite of Fields’ success, the same analytics that glorify Fields do not do the same for his weapons. Since Week 7, Darnell Mooney is a respectable 0.055 points earned per route and 0.034 points above average per route, placing him 31st and 29th among wide receivers, respectively. However, that’s Chicago’s WR1, and while that makes Mooney a solid starter in the grand scheme of things, it places him near the bottom in terms of the league’s WR1s.
In those aforementioned statistics, Cole Kmet is 17th and 14th among tight ends, respectively, making him a league average starter at his position. Granted, this is a bit flawed since it doesn’t account for Kmet’s 2-touchdown performance on Sunday, so his rankings in reality are likely a bit higher. However, one game is likely enough to propel Kmet just into above-average starting territory, but not much else of a jump.
The rest of the Bears’ receiving room is a liability. The likes of N’Keal Harry, Dante Pettis and Equanimeous St. Brown all fail to crack the top 70 out of the 100 receivers eligible in terms of both points above average per route and points earned per route. Chase Claypool is 65th and 67th in the respective categories, and even then, most of his snaps in that tenure came as a Steeler.
Generally speaking, an unbiased form of analytics indicates that Fields has been a very good quarterback who has elevated a subpar supporting cast into becoming a high-scoring offense over each of the last few weeks. This argument doesn’t even include the film element, through which you could argue Fields has looked more decisive and confident as a passer.
The addition of more designed QB runs has been crucial for the Bears’ offense, as opposing defenses have come around to respect Fields’ passing ability more that it can leave them more prone to big runs. Even then, good luck trying to stop a 4.4 athlete who’s 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds.
The bottom line is, don’t go crowning Fields as an elite quarterback just yet. In the grand scheme of things, his sample size is still fairly small, and it will take a few more games of strong play to entirely wipe away the stigma of his slow start. He has clear weaknesses as a passer
However, that stigma is most certainly going away. Fields is playing football at a high level right now, higher than a second-year quarterback has any right to be playing. Factor in what he has around him, and you have a player who deserves to be considered as one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the NFL today.
This illustrates the issue with how Fields has been covered in recent weeks. A small sample size in a full season that has so far had its ups and downs should not be enough to crown him as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL or one of the league’s elite. But he has been a difference maker in the last month or so, and in my mind, to emphasize a narrative of disappointing play is irresponsible and, quite frankly, incorrect.