Some troubling trends for rookie quarterback Justin Fields continued in the Bears’ 17-9 loss to the Vikings on Monday night:
No quarterback has fumbled more
About 13 minutes into the game, Fields ran a read-option, faking the handoff up the middle to David Montgomery and running to the right. He took one step outside the numbers at the Vikings’ 47, planted his right foot and turned upfield — only for cornerback Cameron Dantzler to pop the ball from the crook of Fields’ right elbow. The forced fumble was unusual in that it was a glancing blow — Dantzler and Fields wound up about five yards apart when the ball was recovered by the Vikings.
“Shooting ourselves in the foot — I think we did that starting with me, with the fumble in the first quarter,” Fields said. “I think we just have to correct those things, correct the self-made mistakes and get rid of them, and I think we win the ballgame.”
Despite starting only 10 games, Fields leads the NFL with 12 fumbles. That’s one more fumble than last year’s leader — the Raiders’ Derek Carr — and as many as the top number in the league in 2018.
Fields has lost five fumbles. Only Lions quarterback Jared Goff has lost more.
“Justin understands ball security,” coach Matt Nagy said after the game. “He’s smart with that, and he’s going to continue to learn. He is a weapon at times with being able to use him in the zone run game, which that play was. He was reading the end, and he pulled it.
“Then those guys are going to come for the football, so we’ve just got to be smart. He’s the first guy that knows it. He knew it when he was coming off the sideline.”
No QB has been sacked more frequently
On the first play after the two-minute warning in the second quarter, Fields took a shotgun snap and looked to throw a screen pass left to running back Damien Williams. He jumped to try to arc the ball over a leaping D.J. Wonnum but held on to it. When Fields landed, he was hit by Wonnum. With the ball in his right hand, Fields fumbled and was lucky to recover the ball.
On screen passes, Bears quarterbacks have two options, Nagy said — to throw a “dart” or a “free throw.” Fields tried the “free throw” but changed his mind. Because he jumped, he couldn’t just throw the ball at Williams’ feet for an incompletion — a common out when a screen is covered.
“He made a good decision of . . . in his eyes, he felt like it was gonna get tipped,” Nagy said Tuesday. “He pulled it back down. The problem is he got caught in midair and wasn’t able to ‘dirt’ it.”
It was the first of three sacks of Fields — and the latest evidence that he’s the most battered quarterback in the NFL. Fields has been sacked 11.8% of the time, by far the largest clip in the league. No one else has a number in double digits.
Not all the sacks are Fields’ fault. But he needs to stop making things worse. About two minutes into the second half, Fields faked a handoff to Montgomery and, seeing no one open, rolled left. Wonnum shed tight end Cole Kmet’s block and ran Fields down.
Fields’ decision to turn his back and try to run away from Wonnum was deadly — he lost an extra nine yards. The Bears lost 14, then faced third-and-25.
Fields’ sack on the screen set up a second-and-24, which soon became a third-and-24. The Bears had three third-down plays in which they needed 17 to 25 yards for a first down.
“Just, worse case, throw the ball away,” Nagy said.
Few offenses are more disorganized
The Bears have 24 offensive pre-snap penalties — only the Saints and Lions claim more.
They’ve had 18 false starts — the league average is just above 15, according to NFLPenalties.com — three delays of game, two illegal shifts and one illegal formation.
Against the Vikings, the Bears were called for an offensive offside penalty that was declined. Rookie tackle Teven Jenkins was flagged for a false start, and the Bears were popped for an illegal shift on the last drive of the game that cost them a 10—second runoff.
“It’s frustrating at this point, especially with the false starts and just everything,” Fields said. “We’re going to have to come up with something, a punishment during practice, run a lap or something. That’s what we did at Ohio State. If you jumped offside, you ran the whole lap. I don’t care who you are. They even had me running laps if I would do something wrong.
“We’re going to have to do something to fix that. And I know whatever that is, I know everybody is going to be on board with it, and we’re going to get it fixed.”
It’s damning of Nagy when Fields looks toward his college team as a paradigm of discipline.
Nagy, though, said Bears linemen do remove themselves from practice plays after pre-snap penalties and do push-ups as a “reminder that you can’t do that.” He said staying persistent is important, given the penalties the Bears have had at the wrong times. He claimed he didn’t mind Fields’ statement.
“That’s what I love about Justin,” Nagy said. “There’s an accountability there from a player’s perspective.”