Eagles loom as monumental test for Bears QB Justin Fields

No quarterback has a good day against this defense, and it’s a clear step up from anything Fields has faced this season.

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Justin Fields has a 94.9 passer rating over his last eight games.

Justin Fields has a 94.9 passer rating over his last eight games.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Despite throwing two interceptions as the Bears’ comeback bid crumbled against the Packers in his last game, quarterback Justin Fields felt great about his overall passing performance.

Apart from those two misfires, he completed 20 of 23 passes for 254 yards — a season high by far and the third-best total of his young career. It was another in a string of performances in which the bad had to be filtered out to see the good.

It’ll be clear Fields has truly arrived when that’s no longer necessary. The Bears can’t indefinitely dig for positives and unquantifiable progress. At some point, Fields needs to deliver indisputably strong performances without qualifiers and explanations. The top quarterbacks either play well or don’t.

Coming out of their bye week, the Bears’ final four games present Fields with an opportunity to make his closing argument that he’s their answer. However, it’s going to be extremely difficult against the Eagles and Bills — two Super Bowl contenders with top-10 defenses and MVP-candidate quarterbacks who have the firepower to put a game out of reach quickly.

The Bears’ harrowing back-to-back begins Sunday at Soldier Field against the Eagles, who have the NFL’s best record at 12-1 — two games ahead of anyone else. Not only are the Eagles giving up just 19.1 points per game, they’re the hardest defense in the league to throw against.

Fields’ first concern will be a defensive line in which every starter has at least six sacks (for context, the Bears’ leader is safety Jaquan Brisker with three). The Eagles are so loaded that likely Hall of Famer Ndamukong Suh comes off the bench for them.

They lead the NFL with 49 sacks, led by linebacker Haason Reddick with 10, putting them on pace for the highest season total since 2000. They’re also No. 1 in opponent passer rating (76.3), interceptions (15) and takeaways (24).

Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson leads the NFL with six picks, but he’s on injured reserve. Nonetheless, starting cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry have three each.

No quarterback has a good day against this defense, and it’s a clear step up from anything Fields has faced this season.

“These are the tests that you want,” center Sam Mustipher said after practice Monday. “You want to see what you’re made of. We’ve been hearing, ‘The offense is doing this and the offense is doing that,’ but this is a great challenge for us.”

They’ll surely find that what they’re made of on the offensive line and at wide receiver isn’t enough to compete with an elite opponent like the Eagles, and Fields has been outmanned at every turn this season. But he has managed to overcome that personnel deficit, and being good enough to elevate teammates is one of the job requirements.

He’ll need the offensive line — which likely was reconfigured during the bye, especially with right tackle Alex Leatherwood progressing — to protect him like it did against the Packers. That was the first game without being sacked in Fields’ career.

He also will need wide receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet to spearhead the passing attack. Those are two players, like Fields, with much to prove down the stretch.

While the Eagles look like far more than Fields and the Bears can handle at this stage, they’re the type of team he’ll one day have to topple. And he has shown signs that he’s capable of doing it.

After a dismal first four games, Fields has completed 65.6% of his passes, thrown 11 touchdowns and six interceptions and averaged 178.1 yards passing per game for a 94.9 rating. He also has averaged 94.8 yards rushing and run for seven touchdowns.

He has been passing tests all season. Now comes the toughest one.

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