Whenever rookie Justin Fields returns from cracked ribs — be it Sunday against the Cardinals or later — the Bears need to get an honest evaluation of his performance. There’s no more important task for the franchise in the last six games of what has become a lost season.
The best way to evaluate Fields’ future is to surround him with a functioning offense. Here are things coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor can do with the players surrounding Fields to get the best look at their quarterback:
Run the ball
In Weeks 1-10, the Bears averaged 4.62 yards per carry, the seventh-best mark in the NFL. In the two weeks since, the Bears have averaged only 3.27.
On Thursday, the Bears couldn’t get going on the ground against the Lions, who entered Sunday allowing the second-most rushing yards per game in the league. David Montgomery averaged only 2.7 yards per carry and, according to Pro Football Focus, broke only four tackles.
Early in the game, the Lions tried to put seven defenders in the box while playing cover-2. Nagy decided the best way to counterpunch was to throw.
“We were able to get that going and get some chunks,” he said. “You saw the two-play drive for a touchdown — pass-pass. . . . But you’ve gotta still stay honest and stay persistent with the run.
“It was just one of those days. We would’ve loved to be able to get the run game going a little bit more for the averages that we had, but we can’t get away from that.”
Get healthy at WR
During his rookie year, Mitch Trubisky’s wide receivers were the worst in the NFL. After Cam Meredith tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the 2017 preseason, the Bears leaned on slot receiver Kendall Wright, special-teamer Josh Bellamy and kick returner Deonte Thompson at the position. Near the trade deadline, they added the Chargers’ Dontrelle Inman just to give Trubisky a capable veteran.
Fields’ receiving corps hasn’t sunk to that level, but he still needs improved health from two of the Bears’ top three receivers.
Allen Robinson — who put together two of the six best receiving seasons in Bears history in 2019 and 2020 — hasn’t practiced since hurting his hamstring on his long fourth-quarter catch against the Steelers. Marquise Goodwin, who had eight catches for 104 yards in Robinson’s place against the Ravens, hurt his foot Thursday in Detroit.
Behind Darnell Mooney, who has emerged as Fields’ favorite target, the following wide receivers were targeted Thursday: Damiere Byrd, who had five catches for 32 yards entering the game; Jakeem Grant, who had caught one pass as a member of the Bears before Thursday; and Isaiah Coulter, whose next NFL catch will be his first.
Fields needs Robinson — and Goodwin, too — back.
Make sure Teven Jenkins is ready
The Bears have one more week before they must decide whether to promote offensive tackle Teven Jenkins from injured reserve or lose him for the rest of the season. After having back surgery, the second-round pick is eager to return.
The team, though, needs to be careful. On the left side, Jason Peters, 39, has been fairly solid protecting Fields’ blind side. Right tackle Larry Borom, a rookie, has looked promising.
The Bears figure to use the last month or so of the season to evaluate young players — and Jenkins’ future will have an outsized impact on the trajectory of the franchise.
They need to be careful, however: If they play Jenkins before he’s ready — or when he’s markedly worse than Peters or Borom — they run the risk of hurting the offense. And, in the worst-case scenario, their quarterback.