Lake Forest, Ill. — Two days after the Bears’ 27-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the lingering question is: What’s wrong with quarterback Justin Fields?
The speculation could end after Fields took the stage at Hollas Hall on Wednesday to reveal why he’s struggling, how he plans to fix it and how the Bears’ coaching staff played a role in his 3rd year issues.
“I didn’t necessarily play my game,” Fields said of the Bucs against his play on Wednesday. “I felt kind of robotic and not playing like myself. My goal this week is to say that and go out and play football the way I want to play football. That includes thinking less and going out and playing. The information in my head, the data in my head. Intuition rather than saying. To actually go out and play football. It’s a game to go back and that’s it. That’s when I play better when I’m out there. I’m free to play and be myself, so what do I have to do, this and that, pocket stuff, etc. I’m going to go out and be myself.
When asked what led to his “robotic” play Sunday in Tampa, Fields gently pointed the finger at a coaching staff that scares him on Sundays. Fields appreciates the game-week information, but instead of spending too much time trying to do exactly what the staff wants, he needs to be relaxed on gameday, relying on his production.
“You know, maybe the coach, I guess,” Fields said. “At the end of the day, they’re doing their job when they give me what to watch, but at the end of the day, I can’t think about it when the game comes. I prepare myself all week, and then when the game comes, it’s time to play free—less. I think and play more.
“I think there were times when I was trying to be a perfectionist, and nothing in this world is perfect,” Fields later said, referring to information overload. “So like I said, stop overthinking and go out and play.”
Third-year quarterback head coach Matt Eberflus did not release details of his conversations with offensive coordinator Luke Kedzie and the rest of the staff, but said they were “receptive” to his criticism.
Fields says it’s not an issue of “too many voices,” but rather that all the information hinders his process as he tries to do exactly what employees want on Sundays. Fields said if he had played free Sunday, the Bears would have had more positive plays and played better on third down. The 24-year-old was determined to be Justin Fields again.
“The biggest thing for me is how I know how to play and how I’ve been playing my whole career,” Fields said. “That’s what I want to do again.”
While Fields was critical of the staff, he said he didn’t believe Kedzie was trying to force him into something he wasn’t. He took charge of the situation and said he had to be better. He knows he hasn’t played his kind of game yet, and he plans to change that.
“I think Luke knows that I’m on my own, I’m my own person,” Fields said. “I think it’s more for me to make sure I don’t think about it as much as we want to do. It’s a certain way. In the grand scheme of things, I just have to continue to be myself and play how I play. Sometimes when I coach, I’m like, ‘Okay. There were times when I thought, ‘They want me to do this,’ so I have to change it. It’s more of a coach thing for me. If they tell me things, of course I fix it.
“But in the grand scheme of things, I still have to be the person and the player [that’s] Raised me to this point. Instead of changing my whole game, implement it in my game and make those little tweaks. But don’t let me turn you into a complete player.
So far this season, Fields has completed just 60.6 percent of his passes, despite averaging the league’s lowest average air yards on target (5.0). Despite the short, easy throws, Fields is last in the league in above-expectation completion percentage at -11.1 percent, according to Next Generation Stats. That means Fields is completing 11.1 percent fewer passes than he should statistically in terms of depth, separation, etc.
Through two games, Fields has a 70.7 passer rating and a 22.2 QBR. Both numbers are down from his nightmare rookie season with then-head coach Matt Nagy.
Bears called only four quarterback-designed runs for Fields. They have rarely taken him outside the pocket and used the vertical passing game sparingly.
For Fields, the strip sack late in the second quarter in Tampa is a prime example of how information overload and the desire to do everything he’s been coached to do has led him to not play like Justin Fields. Fields said his internal clock was off and he should have stayed out of trouble, but he tried to hang in the pocket because the Bears love it.
“Exactly. I’m leaving. I’m gone. Time clock, I’m out of pocket,” Fields said. “That’s why it happened, because they wanted me to stay in the pocket and work during the offseason, and there are times when you do that, but when that internal clock goes off, you have to go out and extend the play. Play, yeah, it’s like getting their practice, And then there’s always… you don’t always have to… it’s not going to work out right every time.
“Yeah, there are times where I can stay in the pocket, but on that play, I stayed in the pocket a long time. I’ve got to extend the play, get out of the pocket, extend the play, and do something with it.
Eberfluss said he had a good conversation with Fields and said he wanted to “play for free.”
When asked if the strip sack was due to coaching points, Eberfluss said it was both and that Fields didn’t see things downfield.
“I would say it’s probably a combination,” Eberflus said. “I think he’s got to let it flow, let it go, be himself and play freely. I think he’s there right now. That’s what we want. We want him to do that. He feels it. He’s got pressure in the pocket. , and he sees where he can work to do a scramble drill, throw the ball down the field, or carry.”
After Wednesday’s practice, Fields called the media around his locker and issued a clarification that he wasn’t blaming the staff or his teammates, but wanted to be specific in his response about why he was struggling. He took the blame on himself.
“I don’t blame anything on the coaches,” Fields said after practice. “I’m never going to blame anything on the coaches or my teammates. Whatever happens in the game, I take everything. If it’s a dropped pass, it should have been a pass. That’s on me. Put it on me. Nothing out of my mouth that I’m going to blame somebody else for.” You’ll never hear that coming, this organization, my teammates, you’ll never hear that. I just wanted to make that clear. I’ve got to play better. That’s what I should’ve said in the beginning. I tried to detail it. I appreciate all of you for what you did.”
Fields understands that this is his career and he needs to take control of the situation. He knows he can play and be effective when he lets him play the way that got him to this point.
On a clear-day presser, Fields said the way the Bears are coaching him doesn’t match who he is as a quarterback and that needs to change. Fields also takes some of the blame. Knows he can and will play well.
When asked what it’s like when he plays freely and thinks less, Fields was short and to the point.
“You’ll see soon.”