Most of what the Bears have seen since Justin Fields’ arrival, and eventual takeover of the starting quarterback job, has been promising.
There’s one concern, though: He has thrown interceptions more frequently than almost any quarterback in the NFL. His eight picks are double his number of touchdown passes. He has been intercepted on 4.3% of his passes, which is about one per 23 throws, and that’s exceeded only by Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Mike White.
For context, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are all under 2%, and Mitch Trubisky threw picks on just 2.3% of his passes while with the Bears.
But it’s not all bad. Some of Fields’ interceptions were fluky, like the one he infamously hurled on what he believed to be a free play against the Packers, and many have been the result of his ultra-aggressive approach to the position. He has shown an inclination — and a talent — for hitting well-covered receivers since training camp, and that’s what the best quarterbacks do.
The NFL’s advanced stats rank him as the third-most aggressive passer, throwing into tight coverage 19.3% of the time. As long as that doesn’t veer into total recklessness, the Bears would prefer to work with an ambitious passer than an overly careful one.
“It’s very hard to talk a guy into losing caution,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Thursday. “If he’s cautious, he’s going to have a hard time getting a ton of production in the NFL. But if he’s aggressive and smart and willing to be coached, then you feel like, ‘OK, we can help him find just that right area.’ ”
Steering Fields into that sweet spot is the challenge. The Bears must minimize the risk of turnovers while maintaining his gutsy, big-play mindset.
That’s a newer way of thinking about quarterback play in the NFL’s highest-scoring era. Few teams are thriving in the old-school, field-position-centric philosophy. The top seven teams in scoring are all among the top 10 record-wise.
“You have a better chance of winning the game if you have zero turnovers, [but] if you go the year with zero turnovers, you probably don’t have enough big plays,” Lazor said, articulating precisely why the Bears don’t want to overreact to Fields throwing picks.
“You want an aggressive player, you can’t play cautious. When you first start coaching a guy, you have to find where he is on that spectrum of being aggressive and being too cautious. Then you tweak it and you work with him.”
Fields showed the Bears the upside of that risk-reward proposition as he rallied them to a late lead against the Steelers last week.
He opened the fourth quarter with a 28-yard strike to tight end Jimmy Graham, despite two Steelers closing in with an eye on the interception.
“That’s who I am,” Fields said flatly.
On the go-ahead touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney in the final two minutes, Fields threw the ball when Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet actually had both hands on Mooney.
Fields isn’t going to make those types of throws if he’s too worried about interceptions. Quite frankly, passes like that are going to be picked sometimes. But that’s a price the Bears are fine paying in exchange for the potential of huge gains.
“I’m encouraged that he’ll make the throws, that he’s not hesitant, that he understands what it’s going to look like when it’s time to pull the trigger,” Lazor said. “And I think it’s only going to get better.”