What we learned as Fields carves up Browns in Bears' 21-20 win originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
CLEVELAND – The Bears got exactly what they wanted out of their preseason finale Saturday against the Cleveland Browns.
Head coach Matt Eberflus chose to sit his key veteran defensive starters – Robert Quinn, Eddie Jackson, and Jaylon Johnson – but gave Justin Fields and the offense five series of real work in their final tune-up for the regular season.
The Bears held Roquan Smith out after the linebacker felt tightness during warmups.
Despite Smith's absence, the Bears' last preseason game couldn't have gone much better. Fields and the offense looked sharp, the defensive starters that did play stymied Jacoby Brissett, and the Bears appeared to avoid significant injuries.
Now, the games count.
Here's what we learned from the Bears' 21-20 win in their preseason finale against the Browns:
Progress meets production?
The Bears' offense has been slowly putting things together in training camp. There have been good days and bad days. With only 27 snaps through two preseason games, Eberflus needed to let Fields and the first-team offense get significant work Saturday in Cleveland to gauge where the unit is at with the regular season two weeks away.
He had to love what he saw at FirstEnergy Stadium.
After a dud of an opening drive plagued by poor blocking, Fields and the offense carved up the Browns.
The second-year quarterback led scoring drives of 80, 52, and 62 yards while tossing touchdown passes to Ryan Griffin (22 yards), Dante Pettis (12 yards), and Cole Kmet (24 yards).
On the night, Fields was 14-for-16 for 156 yards, three touchdowns, and a 146.9 passer rating.
Pretty, pretty good.
The offensive line still has to clean things up, but it performed better after the opening series.
It's important to note that neither Myles Garrett nor Jadeveon Clowney suited up for the Browns, so the huge test we expected for Braxton Jones never materialized.
Still, it's important for Fields and the offense to show that their work installing and mastering offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's system might be starting to pay off.
Fight for a spot
With roster cut down coming Tuesday, several players entered Saturday night looking to make their final case for a spot on the 53.
Things were already trending in the right direction for Pettis, but the veteran receiver almost certainly locked up his spot. The Washington product caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown while adding a solid 14-yard punt return.
Given the unknown status of Tajae Sharpe, Velus Jones Jr., and Byron Pringle, I feel confident that Pettis has earned a spot.
On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Greg Stroman had an up-and-down night in his fight for a job.
With Johnson out, Stroman got some run with the first-team defense opposite Kindle Vildor. He had excellent coverage on a third down throw to Anthony Schwartz to force a punt and later picked off Brissett. Stroman did get Mossed during the second half by Javon Wims, but a holding call negated the completion. Wims later beat Stroman on a go route but quarterback Josh Rosen overthrew him. Late in the game, Stroman broke up a potential game-tying touchdown pass to Wims on fourth-and-goal. He also sealed the win by breaking up a two-point conversion pass to Wims that would have given the Browns the lead with 2:30 left.
Elsewhere in the secondary, cornerback Davontae Harris recorded a pass breakup and made a first-down-saving tackle on second-and-6. He also later gave up a completion against Wims. Harris is a special teams ace, but showing his value on defense could go a long way to him earning one of the final spots.
With the preseason finished, roster decisions now loom for Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles.
The Bears' offensive line situation has solidified over the past 10 days. The insertion of Teven Jenkins at right guard and Larry Borom's ability to hold on to the starting right tackle spot have allowed the Bears to run with the same first-team line for the last week and a half.
But that unit got off to a rough start Saturday night in Cleveland.
Jenkins got beat on the first play of the game as the defender ripped past him and dropped David Montgomery for a loss of 1. Two players later, Borom got beat to the inside by Alex Wright, who pressured Fields into throwing the ball away.
It was an ugly opening act for one of the Bears' most significant question marks.
But they responded.
After that opening flop, the offensive line kept Fields clean and gave him a nice pocket to throw from, which was a catalyst for three sharp touchdown drives.
Depending on Lucas Patrick's status, Jenkins and Borom likely will be the starters at right guard and right tackle in two weeks against the 49ers.
The 24-year-old Jenkins has adjusted quickly to life on the interior offensive line. He's the Bears' most physically gifted offensive lineman, and his physicality and nasty should be an asset at guard.
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