Justin Fields, Bears' struggling passing game looking for answers

Justin Fields showed some signs of improvement against the Giants, but the Bears' passing game still ranks at the bottom of most major categories. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Bears prepare to travel to face the division-leading Minnesota Vikings on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), quarterback Justin Fields just wants to find a way to win.

It doesn't matter how or what the stastitics say, "as long as we win, that's all I care about," he said after Sunday’s ugly 20-12 loss to the New York Giants in MetLife Stadium.

The problem is it’s hard to see how the Bears can win many games unless their statistics -- especially with the passing game -- improve.

The Bears rank last in the NFL in the following categories:

  • Total passing yards

  • Passing yards per game

  • Completions

  • Attempts

And Fields’ 22.9 QBR is ahead of only Baker Mayfield's 15.3.

This was supposed to be a season in which Fields showed progress, as other QBs have done in their second years. But some of the same problems that plagued Fields and the Bears during his rookie season have returned, including inconsistent offensive line play and Fields holding on to the ball too long. On average, Fields' dropbacks last 3.12 seconds, the third longest in the league. And his 16 sacks are tied for second most in the league and are the most for a Bears QB through four games since Jay Cutler in 2010.

Fields has been pressured on 48% of his dropbacks this season, which is the highest rate in the league. But the Bears rank 10th in pass block win rate, sustaining their blocks for at least 2.5 seconds 64% of the time, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Fields also has the lowest completion percentage over expectation this season at minus-13.1%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

The Bears’ struggles led Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to dial up blitzes on 54% of Fields’ dropbacks -- the highest rate he has seen in a start in his career. Through four games, Fields has seen a blitz on 37% of his dropbacks, which is the highest rate among qualified quarterbacks, pointing to a quarterback who is challenged to make plays when pressured -- or even when he’s not.

On plays in which the opposing defense had zero pass rush wins this season, Fields’ completion rate is 13% below expected, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Under those same circumstances, Fields has taken 11 sacks (most in the NFL) and has a 39% off-target percentage (highest in the NFL).

An indication of how bad things were before Week 4 is that Sunday's game was actually an improvement in some areas, despite going 0-for-3 in the red zone. Fields had season highs in completions (11), attempts (20) and passing yards (174).

“I thought it improved,” coach Matt Eberflus said of Chicago’s passing offense. “We were playing a blitz team, so I thought [Fields] handled that relatively well. I love the way he was throwing the ball down the field. That’s going to open up so many more things for us.”

Since 1990, only three teams have recorded fewer than 80 pass attempts through four games of a season: the 2022 Bears, 2004 Falcons and 1990 Raiders, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Another common denominator is all three of those teams had solid rushing attacks. The Bears are third in the league at 177.3 rushing yards per game.

Last week, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy dismissed the idea that the Bears lack confidence in Fields to throw the ball and pointed to “matchups” that dictated how and when Chicago dialed up specific plays.

“We've opened up the passing game,” Getsy said. “It's not like we haven't called pass plays, or that we've been intimidated to call a play by any means.”

Of Chicago’s 60 plays against the Giants, 35 were pass plays. The results were 11 completions, 11 incompletions, seven scrambles -- four of which led to first downs -- and six sacks.

One of Fields’ best moments in Week 4 came on a 56-yard strike to receiver Darnell Mooney on Chicago’s second drive. Strong protection up front gave Fields 3.47 seconds to complete the play. But the Bears settled for a field goal after their offense stalled inside the 5-yard line, which was the closest they would get to the end zone.

Mistakes across the board are the reason Chicago’s offense is stuck in a rut, ranking 31st in yards per game. And the pass protection might only get worse with left guard Cody Whitehair expected to miss several games because of a knee injury.

And while some point to a wide receiver room lacking a top playmaker as part of the problem, Bears receivers are averaging the fifth-most separation on targets (3.3 yards) this season.

"We know how special we can be,” Mooney said. “It's just all about doing this thing in the game, executing and scoring points.

“Like I said, the defense gave us 20 points [to beat]. You just gotta put the points on the board."