LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- You can cite whatever statistic or metric you want. You can rely on the eye test.There is nothing that says the 0-3 Bears, who have been outscored 106-47 through three games, are anywhere near where they thought they'd be or should be.
The Bears rank dead last or near the bottom of every statistical defensive category. Through the first 10 quarters of the season, their defense had notched just one sack and forced zero turnovers. Had it not been for Kansas City Chiefs backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert giving out two interceptions during garbage time Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, that number would still be at zero.
Offensively, quarterback Justin Fields has played poorly and gotten zero help from offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, a banged-up offensive line, and a borderline non-existent running game.
On the season, Fields is completing just 58.0 percent of his passes. He has thrown for just 526 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions while being sacked 13 times.
Fields ranks 32nd in completion percentage, 32nd in sack percentage, 32nd in passer rating, 34th in QBR, and 33rd in EPA per play.
After the Bears' 41-10 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday, Fields seemed almost resigned to the fact that things aren't going to work out how many hoped when the season began.
"I'm looking at it like the big picture, life in general to be honest with you," Fields said when asked how he refocuses once the team falls behind by 31. "I think this past week has had me kind of look at it like what are the important things in life? Because you know when things are going good, you feel me, not say whatever. I think these past couple of weeks have made me appreciate the little things in life like being able to play this game. Every opportunity I get to go out there and play, I'm going to have fun. I'm going to play my hardest and, you know, just thank god for giving me the ability to play. So, no matter what the scoreboard is, I'm going to keep doing the same mindset and just pushing to keep moving forward."
The Bears have 14 more games this season. Perhaps they'll find a magic elixir that helps them execute at a high level and rip off a chunk of wins starting Sunday against the Denver Broncos. But conventional wisdom says they are who they have shown us through the first three games. If things keep on this trajectory, the Bears likely will finish the season with a top-three pick, which would bring into question Fields and head coach Matt Eberflus' future with the franchise.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Eberflus believes Fields and the Bears are on the brink of a breakthrough. That the lopsided defeats are not indicative of where they are at the moment.
“I do. I think we’re real close. I really do," Eberflus said Monday, when asked if the Bears were close to unlocking Fields. "I know a lot of people say it’s a far way away. I don’t believe that. I think we’re close. I think it’s more about the details of the individual person. If we just keep doing that right, right things are going to happen.”
Eberflus, as is custom, put Sunday's poor performance on lack of execution and poor attention to detail. The Bears head coach said he believes that having each player focus on and perfect the "micro" of their job will allow the Bears to right the ship.
In terms of Fields, that focus has to come with sharper play in the pocket. Fields continues to hold onto the ball too long, gets locked on receivers, and needs to move through his progressions quicker.He ran the ball more Sunday in Kansas City, but the result was the same: he threw for just 99 yards in a game the Bears were chasing for more than 45 minutes.
Despite all of that, Eberflus believes Fields is on the cusp. Everything they have spent months working to finetune will eventually come together.
“Yeah, he’s been doing it, right?" Eberflus said when asked what Fields has to focus on doing better in games. "He’s been doing it in terms of the work and now we’re going to see the fruits of the labor. He’s just got to keep doing the things – the platform, the rhythm and timing, the things we’ve been discussing. I thought we did a good job of moving him out of the pocket yesterday. Had a couple quarterback designed runs, couple run-pass options, took those shots down the field. I thought those were really good. We got to capitalize on those. He did some things in Sunday’s game, OK, that looked how we wanted it to look. It’s getting better.”
On Sunday, Fields recorded his fourth career game that he started and finished with under 100 yards passing.
He's not the Bears' biggest issue, but he needs to be the guy who can negate the bad execution, poor scheme, and patchwork offensive line. Through three games, Fields hasn't been.
To be frank, every part of the 2023 Bears has been an abject disaster.
The loss to the Chiefs can be summed up in two numbers, courtesy of Sumer Sports. On Sunday, the Bears had a negative play rate of 17.6 and a success rate of just 37.3. Fields had an EPA per dropback and EPA per pass of -0.64, both of which ranked dead last.
Eberflus has nothing tangible to hang his belief on, but he is adamant these Bears are right there.
“Because I’ve seen it before," Eberflus said when asked why he thinks the Bears are close. "Like I said, back when I was with the Colts, when I was the DC at Missouri the first two years, we weren’t very good and that was hard. It was hard business. At the Colts, we were losing to teams we probably shouldn’t have lost to to begin. Same thing when I was back at Missouri. All of a sudden, if you just keep doing right, OK, and keep your head down and focus on what matters. Good things happen.”
Nothing has gone right for the Bears through three games. Fields was supposed to be the franchise savior, but the leap many anticipated has not materialized.
Fields needs to be better in the pocket. There's no doubt. But the Bears can't force him to play exclusively from the pocket. They have to get him on the move and allow him to play free. That's the only way he might break out of this downward spiral.
A lot has been placed on Fields' shoulders. He's a 24-year-old kid who many believed was the franchise signal-caller the Bears had spent decades searching to find. The excitement and hype were overflowing entering the season, but all those expectations have turned to dust through three games.
While Fields seemed deflated after the loss to the Chiefs, running back Roschon Johnson hasn't seen it impact the quarterback at all on a daily basis.
"I think he's been poised about it," Johnson said Monday. "I haven't really seen him change up or act different about it. I feel like he's gone to work every day and has put his best foot forward. I know he gets a lot of heat and you know hate from a lot of different outlets.
"But what I've seen, I haven't seen him flinch in any sense. You know, we're going to do our best to make sure he's supported and make sure he can go out and play ball."
The Bears seemed lost for answers Sunday in Kansas City. In fairness, there's not much to say after a 41-10 defeat. The shocking thing is that everyone from Fields and Eberflus on down has been worse than they were last year.
Eberflus' stance that the Bears are close reminded me of professional golfer Billy Horschel's emotional press conference after shooting an 84 at The Memorial this summer.
“So it's funny, as low as it feels, it feels like I'm not that far off at the same time," Horschel said. "Which is insane to say when you see me shoot 84 today. It doesn't, it wouldn't make sense to a lot of people. But I don't think I'm that far off.”
Like golf, winning and losing in the NFL is often about success on the margins. A fix here, an execution here, a correct assignment in the right place, and things flip.
Fields and the Bears seem worlds away right now, but there's hope that honing in on the "micro" of each individual's job will lead to the desired results.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Eberflus is steadfast in his belief that Fields and the Bears are close. It doesn't register on the logic scale, but after three straight duds to open the season, faith is all the Bears have left.