Most of what the Bears have seen since the arrival of Justin Fields, and the eventual resumption of the starting quarterback, has been promising.
There is one concern, however: he threw interceptions more frequently than almost any NFL quarterback. His eight picks are double his number of touchdown passes. He’s been intercepted on 4.3% of his passes, or about one in 23 shots, and that’s only passed by Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Mike White.
For context, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are all under 2%, and Mitch Trubisky threw picks on just 2.3% of his passes while with the Bears.
But all is not bad. Some of Fields’ interceptions were hit and miss, like the one he infamous in what he believed was free play against the Packers, and many were the result of his ultra-aggressive approach to position. He’s shown an inclination – and a knack – for hitting well-covered receivers since training camp, and that’s what top quarterbacks do.
Advanced NFL stats rank him the third most aggressive passer, with tight coverage 19.3% of the time. As long as it doesn’t turn into utter recklessness, the Bears would rather work with an ambitious passer rather than an overly cautious one.
“It’s very difficult to convince a guy to lose caution,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Thursday. “If he’s careful he’s going to have a hard time getting a ton of production in the NFL. But if he’s aggressive, smart, and eager to be coached, then you’re like, “OK, we can help him find the right area. “”
The challenge is to steer Fields to that perfect spot. The Bears need to minimize the risk of turnovers while maintaining his brave, big-game mindset.
It’s a new way of thinking about quarterbacks in the NFL highscore era. Few teams thrive in the old-fashioned, field-centric philosophy. The top seven teams in terms of scoring are all in the top 10 in terms of records.
“You have a better chance of winning the game if you don’t have any sales, [but] if you go the year without turnovers, you probably don’t have enough big plays, ”Lazor said, explaining precisely why the Bears don’t want to overreact to Fields’ picks.
“You want an aggressive player, you can’t play safe. When you start to coach a guy, you have to find where he fits on this spectrum of being aggressive and being overly careful. Then you edit it and work with it.
Fields showed the Bears the bright side of this risk-reward proposition by rallying them to a late lead against the Steelers last week.
He opened the fourth quarter with a 28-yard strike to tight end Jimmy Graham, despite two Steelers closing in with one eye on the interception.
“That’s what I am,” Fields said emphatically.
On the touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney in the final two minutes, Fields threw the ball when Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet actually had both hands on Mooney.
Fields won’t make those kinds of shots if he’s too worried about interceptions. Quite frankly, sometimes passes like that are going to be chosen. But that’s a price the Bears pay well in return for the huge earning potential.
“I’m encouraged that he’ll be doing the throws, that he’s not hesitating, that he understands what it will be like when it’s time to pull the trigger,” Lazor said. “And I think it will only get better.”