It’s fair to wonder at this point if Justin Fields is too far gone for the Chicago Bears to fix him.
But perhaps it’s just as plausible to wonder if a rather simple adjustment could change the course of his season — maybe even his career.
Former NFL quarterback-turned-analyst Tim Jenkins, who has become a rising star in a budding industry of tape analysts and runs the coaching clinic Jenkins Elite, has dropped multiple dissertations, including on 670 the Score, in the last few days on the biggest problem he has with the way Luke Getsy and the Bears have coached Fields: his footwork.
Specifically, Jenkins ties the decision to change Fields’ footwork from starting with his left foot back in shotgun as a rookie putting to his right foot back last year with the arrival of Getsy, who watched Aaron Rodgers play that way in Green Bay. Prior to last year, Fields had played with his left foot back in shotgun going back to his college days at Ohio State.
Getsy’s reasoning for changing the footwork was to better mirror the offense he ran with Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, which featured Rodgers with his right foot back. It’s worth noting Rodgers has always played with his right foot back in the gun in the NFL, but he was almost exclusively under center in college and therefore didn’t have to unlearn footwork.
Similarly, Jenkins references Tom Brady, who largely played with his right foot back from the start of his NFL career after playing mostly under center before that, as an example people use to promote that footwork without context.
Whatever the reasons for making the switch, there appears to be a clear difference in the way Fields took his drops as a rookie to now. Perhaps even all the difference.
Take this throw from Fields’ game against Tampa Bay as a rookie in 2021 for example. Ignore the fact that the pass is off-target and incomplete and simply look at when it’s thrown — before Darnell Mooney has even completed his break.
One wonders if it’s too late to help Justin Fields in this situation.— Khari Thompson (@kdthompson5) September 20, 2023
But IMO he clearly threw with better timing and anticipation as a rookie (when he had left foot back) despite being very inexperienced. This throw doesn’t exist in Fields’ tape now. But it did at one point. https://t.co/EyEpKnAB6y pic.twitter.com/6YxcNsmalz
You don’t see this level of anticipation in Fields’ film anymore, and the crispness of his footwork stands out here.
Here’s another one from J.T. O’Sullivan’s breakdown of Fields’ Week 15 game against the Vikings in 2021 as he delivers a strike with pressure bearing down on him (at 9:08). Again, note when he’s releasing the football: before Damiere Byrd (10) breaks to the sideline.
Contrast that with Fields’ tape against the Bucs last weekend, and you’ll note that even his completions aren’t fully on time. Part of that might be the passing concepts themselves and Fields simply not being comfortable with them, but the methodical way he takes his drops has seemingly led him to be early or late to reads on several occasions.
For example, Jenkins points to the missed touchdown to running back Roschon Johnson out of the backfield as a point where Fields clearly saw the play developing but came to it at the wrong point because his footwork wasn’t married to the route development. That, in turn, led to Fields apparently holstering the throw because he saw poor route spacing at the time he wanted to throw.
It’s hard to say whether simply switching his feet back to their original position would immediately yield better results, especially given how much time he’s spent practicing this new footwork under Getsy. But it’s clear something is very wrong here and that Fields’ comfort level has diminished rather than grown in this offense. At this point, any potential solution should be on the table.
Though Fields has frequently been criticized for “not seeing the field” or “not being able to read defenses,” that may be too simplistic. The better and certainly most accurate critique of his game is that his timing has been extremely off because the Bears are asking him to see the field differently than he always has.
Fields’ old footwork yielded many more reps of him playing on time and within structure than what he’s doing now despite the fact he wasn’t always seeing the defense well as a rookie. What if – just what if – that was all it took to get some life out of Fields as a passer?
He’s made it clear he wants to get back to playing more like himself from here on out this season, even going so far as to call out some of the over-coaching many have speculated he’s received from Getsy and company. We’ll see if this is one of the changes Fields makes.