Bears' Matt Nagy reflects on Justin Fields' growth this season

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How Fields has grown as QB1, halfway through season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

We’re halfway through the Bears season, staring down the bye week, so it’s a perfect time to reflect on Justin Fields and his journey from No. 11 overall draft pick, to engineering exciting go-ahead fourth quarter drives. There have been ups, like his incredible 4th-and-2 touchdown scramble against the 49ers. There have been downs, like the historically bad offensive performance in his first career start against the Browns. But lately, Fields has built on his successes, and every week looks more and more like the legitimate franchise quarterback the Bears have been looking for, for years.

“The last two weeks his decision-making and timing has been really really good,” said Matt Nagy. “He’s taking shots downfield, which is great. We’re not hitting on all of them, but when you still take those downfield they can’t sit on ya all the time. But then you get to these moments, these critical parts of the game that you’ve seen in back to back weeks now that he’s making plays. I think what you’re seeing and feeling is a guy who’s getting more and more confident, not just by every game but by every play. The game is getting a little slower for him on defense. He’s seeing things.”

The elevated play in critical moments is most encouraging when projecting Fields as a quarterback who can put a team on his shoulders for a win. Those moments separate great quarterbacks from elite quarterbacks, and Fields is now starting to stack them.

In Week 9, his 39-yard fade to Allen Robinson, and following 16-yard touchdown strike to Darnell Mooney will get all the highlight replays, since they gave the Bears their short-lived lead. But it was a different play that impressed Nagy the most.

“That throw he made to Jimmy Graham, just so we’re real clear, that’s probably a top-three throw in the NFL this season,” Nagy said. “With who he had in his face, the way he threw it, the accuracy, the timing, etc., that’s a special, rare throw. When you see those throws you get excited.”

Take a look:

This was another critical moment as well. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Bears were down two touchdowns and needed to score fast. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor dialed up a deep shot down the seam for Graham, Fields executed the perfect throw, and the Bears created an instant red zone opportunity. One play later, they cashed on a 15-yard Mooney rush out of the wildcat.

Part of Fields' growth has been tied to the coaches’ growth this season too. Earlier this year the Bears were taking almost no deep shots, and barely stretching the fields with their routes. But as Nagy and Lazor have gotten more comfortable with Fields too, they’ve lengthened his leash a bit. The results have been more explosive plays, which has helped the team score more points.

Nagy reflected on that growth from a coaching perspective, by comparing their preparation for Week 3’s game against the Browns to now.

“Building and formulating a game plan for him, not necessarily knowing exactly what was gonna be his strengths heading into that game, we feel a lot different now,” Nagy said. “We feel better as to the types of plays we’re putting in that fit him, fit our offense. Trying to find that match and that balance.”

None of this is to say Fields is playing perfect ball right now, or that he’s developed into his final form as an NFL starter. That is obviously not the case. There are still rookie hiccups, like some trouble getting in and out of the huddle quickly. He probably shares some blame for the illegal formation and delay of game penalties that have set the offense behind the sticks at times, too. But overall he continues to look better week after week.

“I think right now, these past two games, he kind of feels that ball rolling the right way,” Nagy said. “You know what I mean? Like he's got some momentum going. He feels that so now he's going to be super excited to get right back at it and get going.”

Unfortunately Fields won’t be able to “get right back at it” because the Bears have now entered their bye week. But that doesn’t mean Fields’ development will come to a grinding halt for five days.

“He's not going to want to get away from the game, which I love about him,” Nagy said. “With Flip, we discussed this morning putting together a plan for how we want him to attack (the week)… we'll probably have him watch self-scout of where we're at, his growth of where he's at, be able to watch some defenses. Obviously he'll be prepping a lot on Baltimore which is great too to be able to get a good feel for that really great defense. But coach Flip and coach Lazor will have some nice stuff for him. I think he'll be excited to really attack it.

“He’s showing right now to all of us what he’s about as a rookie.”

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