Justin Fields laments taking ‘conservative' approach that played role in Bears' loss vs. Packers

Justin Fields laments taking ‘conservative' approach that played role in Bears' loss vs. Packers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Justin Fields is not absolved of blame for what happened in the 38-20 shellacking the Green Bay Packers handed the Bears in Week 1.

Yes, the offensive game plan was poor, and the play-calling didn't give the young quarterback a lot of opportunities for downfield success. But there were also a number of throws Fields either didn't see or turned down during the loss.

On Wednesday, Fields admitted he played too conservative against the Packers and could've taken more shots. He just has to let it fly.

"That’s one thing I talked to Luke and coach about," Fields said Wednesday. "I felt like I was a little bit too conservative at times during the game. Definitely, with guys like DJ and Chase on the outside, if we do have one-on-one on the outside, potentially throwing it up and seeing what happens. With them, they’re great playmakers, and they can most likely come up with a 50-50 ball. Definitely want to give them more chances deep down the field."

The Packers' defense played almost exclusively zone on Sunday. Per PFF, Green Bay played man coverage on only one snap.

Fields wasn't surprised by the zone-heavy approach. That's the Packers' M.O. Fields isn't sure why he played it more conservatively vs. the Packers, but the zone-heavy looks he faced were a contributing factor.

"I think so," Fields said when asked if zone coverage made him play conservative. "That’s how Green Bay’s defense is built. Their defense is built for the leads where they make the quarterback take those checkdowns and make you drive down the field. And that’s probably how most defenses are built nowadays in the NFL. They want to protect against explosives, take away the deep plays, and stuff like that. So, of course, we want to be able to take calculated shots throughout the game. And when we call those plays, you just got to take ‘em up and throw it up there. A receiver might have to make a contested catch to make a big play. But I mean, yeah, their defense is built for that, to make you go and drive down the field."

Fields is correct when it comes to defenses adjusting to the long ball.

In 2022, 3,146 pass attempts traveled 15 or more air yards. That's the lowest since 2006. That's because defenses are making a concerted effort to combat the big play from top quarterbacks by making them drive the ball down the field with short passes.

According to a piece from ESPN's Brooke Pryor, this trend continued during Week 1, with only 9.2 percent of passes going deep. The average air yard per target in Week 1 was 7.1. Fields' was 4.1.

The Packers' plan definitely played into Fields' conservative approach, but the Bears need the third-year quarterback to rip it when he has the opportunity.

Fields knows he must give star wide receiver DJ Moore many more chances than he did in Week 1 (two catches on two targets).

"I would say you could do that if it’s like one-on-one matchups to the outside and it’s one one-on-one," Fields said. "But you never want to force it with multiple defenders around him. Definitely one-on-ones to the outside, and when the safety is in the middle of the field, I definitely can throw it up."

The Bears have also talked to Fields about being better at keeping his eyes downfield when the scramble drill is activated. The runs are nice, but sometimes there are bigger plays available.

"I would just say opportunity." head coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday about the line between running in the scramble drill and buying time to look downfield. "You gotta look for the opportunity, and then if it’s not there, then you go. If it is there, then you take your shot. That’s really it.

"We’ll continue to work on that."

Fields said there was only one play Sunday where he felt he missed a big play passing while in scramble mode. That play ended up in Fields throwing short to Khalil Herbert instead of ripping it to Moore over the middle.

Outside of that, Fields felt there were few opportunities for big plays on scramble drills.

“I think there was one to DJ, that I scrambled to the right later in the game," Fields said. "He was running across the field. That was one to him. But other than that I don’t think there were any more. I know you talked about maybe the blitz to Jaire, like stuff like that, when it’s a single blitz, you don’t know where the defender is behind you. He’s a fast guy, he’s still on his feet, so the last thing you want is you looking downfield and a guy chasing you behind and he gets a sack/fumble. That’s the last thing you want in that situation. So you just pick and choose, and it’s kind of an instinct thing where you always want to get away from the defenders and make sure you’re clean on the backside and of course if you have time to make a throw downfield, then that’s what you do.”

Fields and the Bears will head to Tampa on Sunday to face head coach Todd Bowles and a veteran-laden Bucs defense that will send all sorts of exotic blitzes at Fields.

The Bears will need a smart but aggressive version of Fields to take the field Sunday to leave Week 2 at 1-1.

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