Lombardi: What will the Chicago Bears do at quarterback?


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NFL Combine week always reminds me of the HBO series, The Sopranos—well, in all honestly, almost everything in my life has a way of referencing the show. During the second season, before Tony Soprano was about to kill his best friend Big Pussy for confessing to being a turncoat, Pussy attempted to explain that he was not turning on his family. Rather, he was providing the Federal Agents misinformation.  As Puss said, “I’m telling you, this disinformation stuff is an effective technique.”  The misinformation technique didn’t work well for Puss. However, it can for NFL Teams as their decision makers head to Indianapolis to take in the combine, meet with college players and agents, as well as frame trades and spread their misinformation.  The news will grab headlines, and even when it doesn’t make sense when framed against the games played last season, the wildfire of perceptions when started is hard to contain—like the one blowing in from the windy city, of Chicago. 

What cannot be disputed is the facts from the games played last season and the real reasons for teams winning and losing.  The Bears have the number one pick overall in the draft—well earned.  They want everyone to believe they will trade down to acquire a defensive player, gain more draft picks, and continue the Justin Fields experiment at quarterback.  Why not, right?  The national media is all aboard the Fields train. Hell, even Femi on the GM Shuffle offers a million excuses of why Fields can turn it all around sooner rather than later.  The excuses range from Fields needing a better supporting cast, to needing more offensive weapons around him, to needing more time because he is on a bad team.  The Fields supporters contend Fields is a playmaker (which is true as a runner), having a wonderful game on Monday night against the Patriots and that he is growing into the job of a Franchise player.  Everything is in front of Fields—all he needs is more time—and like Jalen Hurts, who struggled in his second season, Fields will take the same leap in year three and improve. It’s that easy. 

So, why should we believe the Bears’ front office when they offer their love of Fields?  The current regime at Halas Hall didn’t draft Fields—general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus have no skin in the Fields game, so why would they be willing to continue along with his development, particularly since they attended every Bears game last season?  They watched their offense throw for less than 166 yards passing in 15 of their 17 games.  For 12 of those games, they were under 150 yards passing, and the Bears had a -137 point differential in games last year. That means they got behind, and their opponents were more than willing to allow them to pass the ball, since the clock, not the Bears, was their opponent, and yet the Bears couldn’t amass yards in the air.  

With Fields under center, the Bears had no passing game. They could run boots, nakeds and hard play actions, but once the game became a passing game, simple completions were difficult, even though they led the league in throwing the least amount of incompletions per game with 9.1.  The low incompletion percentage sounds promising, right?  Sounds like something Fields supporters would indicate as a positive.  But it’s not a positive, it’s a negative because the Bears didn’t attempt to throw the ball. They knew the more they incorporated Fields passing and straying from the run, the more negative plays would mount.  The most passes attempted in any game was 28; they averaged 22.17 per game, which is strange for a team with three wins.  Most losing teams are forced to throw.  The Bears finished tied for last in the NFL in point/differential margin with the Colts at a -8.1 per game, and the Colts averaged 35.5 passes per game.  The Colts behaved like many bad teams, constantly throwing the ball. Meanwhile, the Bears, even when playing from behind with passing as the only option, refused. 

If you are Poles and Eberflus, besides attending every game, you also watched every practice, have been in meetings and have a great sense of the skills and work habits of Fields.  With the cumulative knowledge obtained over the last nine months, the question each must ask themselves is this:  Can Fields throw the ball well enough for us to win?  Does he execute the required skills for the position to win?  And the most important question to address:  Can Fields be a top 15 player at his position?  Those observing the advancement of Hurts from year two to three to provide answers to those questions might want to consider some facts.  In his second season, Hurts had two 300 yards passing games—both losses.  He had five games over 220 yards—winning three, losing two. He also had four games under 150 yards—winning two, losing two.  After the fifth game of the season, the Eagles limited his throws and crafted an offense around his running skills (the 6-back attack), but he still threw the ball more effectively than Fields.  From watching the tape, Hurts is a better thrower of the ball than Fields in mechanics, accuracy, timing and feel. 

To provide a non-biased answer to the above questions, teams need to rely on their grading system for clarity.  A comprehensive team grading system is critical to any organization because it allows you to compare through descriptive words, instead of predicting where the player might be selected. By doing so, it then compares players from one draft year to another and keeps teams from duplication.  Once you grade the college players, you then compare those grades to players you currently have on your roster, which then starts to formulate the team needs chart.  If a player on the roster is comparable to a player on the team, then why waste an asset (draft pick) to duplicate the player currently on the depth team?   If the player is graded higher, with more upside, then the answer is easy—make the exchange.  If the Bears have Bryce Young graded higher than their grades on Justin Fields, from the draft and after two seasons, then the answer is easy to obtain.  If it’s close, then once again there’s an easy answer—don’t duplicate. 

Investing more time into Fields isn’t the solution.   Time isn’t a friend to any NFL team.  With a head coaching turnover rate averaging above seven per year, it’s important to fix the main problem as soon as possible.  All more time does is allow their opponents to get a better understanding of how to best play Fields as a runner by containing him in the pocket and making him a passer.  Defensive coaches will scream to their players—make him beat us with his arm, not legs.  The Bears believe their offensive coaching is solid. They understand how to systematically throw the football.  So, if the problem isn’t with the scheme, then it must be with the player, and that leads back to their decision moving forward with Fields. 

There are two words when combined in a sentence that best describes teams that fail to recognize their problems: too late.  Too late to make the decision, too late to react, too late to make the right move—even if unpopular.  Being too late is the downfall of most team builders.  They know the issues, but they are too late to make the move.  Often in the NFL, because there are so many layers of people without knowledge involved in critical decisions, being patient is the recommendation.  However, being well-versed in the game of football, watching all the practices and games, and understanding what matters most for the position at hand is why a team executive cannot be “too late.”  Once you know for certain, you must act. 

When Tony knew for certain Pussy was the rat, he acted. The Bears need to do the same.