Bill Belichick is Justin Fields’ biggest challenge yet

He’s perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history not because of any loyalty to one way of doing things. Rather, the scouting report on Belichick is that there is no scouting report.

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick needs one win to pass George Halas on the all-time list.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick needs one win to pass George Halas on the all-time list.

David Richard/AP

The hooded man on the opposite sideline Monday night is not who Bears quarterback Justin Fields wants to see.

Bill Belichick is perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history not because of any loyalty to one way of doing things. Rather, the scouting report on Belichick is that there is no scouting report. From week to week, no one is better at fine-tuning his game plan to beat you.

“He’s able to do what he’s done over the course of the length of his career,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said this week. “Take away a guy’s strength and make him play left-handed.”

Fields hasn’t been very good right-handed. Through six games, he ranks 29th in passing yards, 32nd in passer rating and, among passers with at least 100 throws, 31st in completion percentage. Now he has to face one of the great schematic wizards in league history.

“We’ve seen it in the Super Bowls and seen him in playoff games do it,” Eberflus said. “Even when he was [defensive] coordinator of the Giants, you saw him do it there. It’s been a stellar career and he’s been able to do that over the long haul.”

Few, if any, have done it better. With a win Monday night, Belichick will pass Bears legend George Halas for sole possession of second place on the all-time NFL wins list, with 325. Don Shula’s record of 347 will be in reach soon enough.

In 23 seasons with the Patriots, Belichick has won six Super Bowls and lost in three more. He has had two losing seasons, the most recent coming in 2020, his first year without star quarterback Tom Brady. Since then, he has gone 11-9 with Mac Jones at quarterback, 2-0 with rookie Bailey Zappe, and 0-1 with veteran Brian Hoyer. Belichick wouldn’t bite Wednesday when asked whether Jones could return from his ankle injury in time to face the Bears; if not, Zappe will try to continue his hot streak, which has been one of the most surprising developments in the league this year.

The Bears, of course, can blame their own quarterback issues for decades of struggle. Since Belichick was named the Patriots’ head coach in 2000, the Bears have employed six different head coaches — and 26 different starting quarterbacks. In his six games against the Bears, Belichick has faced five different starters.

Fields, the latest quarterback contestant, is in the middle of a seasonlong tryout to be the face of the franchise. He hasn’t progressed quickly enough. Some mistakes have been of his own making, while others have been exacerbated by poor pass-blocking and a second-rate receiving corps.

Belichick, though, spent 7½ minutes Wednesday giving Patriots reporters a scouting report on the Bears so thorough that he mentioned everyone from receiver Darnell Mooney to special-teams coverage players Josh Blackwell and Dane Cruikshank. He praised running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert for being “hard to tackle,” and even commented on rookie punter Trenton Gill’s performance.

Belichick highlighted Fields, though, calling him “a major threat every time he touches the ball,” and saying his speed contributed to the Bears’ potential for explosive plays.

“He gets out of a lot of trouble with his athleticism, his speed, his size, his balance,” Belichick said. “He runs well. He can see the field.

“Like any quarterback coming into the NFL, it’s a big change from the system they ran in college and new coverages and different type plays . . . But you can see him getting better every week and making plays consistently game after game, throwing the ball running the ball, throwing on the run.”

The Patriots’ defense — which is coordinated by Belichick’s son Steve but, like everything else in New England, is a collaborative effort — will be ready. The last two weeks, they’ve held the Lions and Browns — who rank second and fourth in the league, respectively, in yards per game — to a combined 15 points.

Finding trends with the Patriots is typically a fool’s errand, but here it goes: they play man defense 52.1% of the time, per Pro Football Focus. Leaguewide, teams only play it on 29.8% of snaps. That could change Monday, though — if Belichick is worried about Fields scrambling, he could switch to zone so his defensive backs and linebackers don’t have their backs turned to Fields as often. If not, he could have a linebacker spy Fields.

The Patriots blitz often — their 29.3% rate this season is ninth in the league — but they could be tempted to ratchet up their attack on a quarterback who has been pressured a league-high 16.7% of the time.

With Belichick, you just never know.

“You’ve got to prepare for the different packages that they might bring on offense, and certainly on defense they have a lot of personnel that they bring at you, and they put a lot of different guys on the field at certain times,” Eberflus said. “They have a lot of different packages, so you’ve just got to be ready for everything.”

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