Schrock's Bears Report Card: Grading Justin Fields, Matt Eberflus for 2023 season

Schrock's Bears Report Card: Grading Justin Fields, Matt Eberflus for 2023 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

GREEN BAY Wis. -- The 2023 season came to an end for the Bears on Sunday much in the same way it began. Same opponent, same helpless feeling. Only the location was different.

Final score: Packers 17, Bears 9

The Bears opened their 2023 campaign four months ago with a 38-20 faceplant against their rivals at Soldier Field.

What followed was an 18-week soul-searching mission that saw the Bears claw their way out of an 0-4 hole, develop a semi-elite defense, and finish the season with the same questions they needed to answer when the journey started.

Is Justin Fields a franchise quarterback? Does Matt Eberflus have what it takes to be a winning head coach? Can Luke Getsy develop as a play-caller and game-planner? Will Ryan Poles' roster-building strategy lead to long-term success?

The answer to that final one is at least trending toward yes. The others? The jury is out, but we'll find out quickly what Poles thinks about Eberflus and Getsy as the Bears enter a critical offseason for their rebuild.

As for Fields, the third-year quarterback said goodbye to the Bears and their fans after Sunday's loss to the Packers just in case it was his final ride with the organization.

With the Bears' 7-10 2023 campaign in the books, it's time to hand out season grades for Fields, Eberflus, Getsy, and the rest of the team:

Justin Fields and passing offense

Fields got off to a horrendous start to the 2023 season.

Through three games, Fields had thrown for just 526 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions. That included a 99-yard outing against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game in which the Bears trailed by three scores throughout.

Fields and the passing game got right in Week 4 as the quarterback threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns against the Denver Broncos. He followed that up with a 282-yard, four-touchdown game against the Commanders.

A dislocated right thumb injury suffered in Week 6 cost him four games, but Fields returned and played efficient football down the homestretch. He showed better pocket presence and scrambled with a passer's mentality, something the Bears have spent two years working with him on.

In his final seven games, Fields threw for 1,361 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions while adding 420 on the ground and three scores.

He showed growth as a passer, but the consistency never materialized. The downfield passing game came and went without rhyme or reason. Getsy deserves some blame for the issues with the passing game (we'll get there), but Fields and the offense finished the season ranked in the bottom third in the league in passing yards, passer rating, EPA per dropback, and success rate.

Growth is good. But more was needed from everyone, not just Fields.

Fields finished the season with 2,562 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.

Wide receiver DJ Moore was as advertised in 2023, giving the Bears an elite, big-play receiver to rely on when things broke down.

When healthy, the offensive line was solid in pass protection. Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright looked like he belonged, and left guard Teven Jenkins was, for the most part, dominant. Left tackle Braxton Jones struggled after an early neck injury, and the Bears need a long-term answer at center.

Justin Fields GRADE: C+
DJ Moore GRADE: A-
O-Line GRADE: C+
Team GRADE: D+

Rushing offense

The Bears followed up their league-leading 2022 rushing campaign with another good effort on the ground in 2023.

The Bears finished the season in the top three in rushing, but the ground game was bottled up in their season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Chicago went with a running-back-by-committee approach, and Fields led all rushers with 657 yards.

Khalil Herbert paced the backs with 611 yards in 12 games, while veteran D'Onta Foreman racked up 425 in nine games. Rookie Roschon Johnson rushed for 352 in 15 games.

The Bears' ground game struggled early on, but they found their footing as the calendar flipped to October and were able to punish teams no matter the ball carrier.

Teven Jenkins (72.6), Braxton Jones (71.1), and Darnell Wright (64.8) all received solid run-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus, but right guard Nate Davis had a season to forget with a 55.3 mark.


Passing defense

Despite a defensive surge in the final six weeks, the Bears still finished the season in the bottom third of the league in passing yards allowed per game.

The Bears gave up 300 or more yards five times this season, including the 316 they surrendered to Jordan Love on Sunday. But the Bears also had six games where they held opponents to under 200 yards passing.

The Bears' pass defense was excellent against subpar quarterbacks but struggled against above-average and top-level throwers. They suffocated Brian Hoyer, Josh Dobbs, and Taylor Heinicke but were picked apart by Love, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Flacco, and Baker Mayfield.

The midseason addition of Montez Sweat greatly improved a pass rush that lacked teeth through the first eight weeks. Sweat arrived in Week 9, and the Bears forced 19 turnovers in the final seven games. Sweat finished the season leading the Bears and Washington Commanders in sacks.

Sweat was dominant, but the Bears must find another pass rusher to put opposite him. Sweat's arrival also helped lead to increased ball production from cornerback Jaylon Johnson and rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

Johnson had a Pro Bowl season, leading the NFL in passer rating against at 33.3.

Sweat GRADE: A
Johnson GRADE: A
Team Grade: B- (Final seven weeks A-)

Run defense

There's not much to say here.

The Bears' run defense couldn't stop anything in 2022. It was normally 5 yards before a Bears defender even breathed on an opposing running back.

That changed in 2023 as the Bears finished with the NFL's best run defense, giving up just 86.4 yards per game.

Defensive tackle Andrew Billings made a massive impact and earned a midseason extension because of it. Linebacker T.J. Edwards was among the best in football this season, and his second-level mate Tremaine Edmunds found his groove in the second-half surge.

The Bears' linebacking corps is set. If they choose not to bring back Justin Jones, the Bears will need to find another reliable interior lineman.

Overall, it was a strong effort from a unit that went from worst to first.



Eberflus is going to grade out pretty well, considering he kept the season on the rails after it started 0-4. Several defensive players credited Eberflus for turning their season around after he took over defensive play-calling in Week 2. The turnaround wasn't instantaneous, but eventually, Eberflus' impact showed up, and the Bears were a near-elite unit toward the end of the year.

As a head coach, Eberflus still has a lot of growing to do. But a lot of teams would have headed for Cancun after starting 0-4. The Bears never packed it in. On the flip side, the Bears did blow three double-digit, fourth-quarter leads that ended up keeping them from punching a playoff ticket. Those fall on coaching.

As for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, the second-ranked rushing attack deserves a lot of praise. As do the early-season adjustments that got the offense back on track in Week 4.

But the 26th-ranked passing attack isn't going to get it done. Getsy too often strayed from what was working, and his in-game adjustments were too few and far between.

Eberflus consistently called for the Bears to take more shot plays, but those explosive chunk plays never consistently materialized.

The way the Bears started the season offensively was a red flag. The stuff that worked in 2022 didn't show up until Week 4, and the Bears were fighting an uphill battle all season because of it. The Bears also struggled in short-yardage situations as Getsy often got too cute with his play calls instead of finding a simple, reliable attack to lean on in short-yardage situations.

The Bears' offense left a lot to be desired in 2023.

Eberflus GRADE: C+
Getsy GRADE: D

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