Another prove-it game for Justin Fields, this time against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles

How will the Bears quarterback stack up against the talented Hurts, who brings a similar skill set to Sunday’s matchup?

SHARE Another prove-it game for Justin Fields, this time against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles
Bears quarterback Justin Fields looking over the Packers’ defense.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields looks over the Packers’ defense during a Dec. 4 game at Soldier Field.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Some of us (who, me?) seem to be constantly erecting challenges for Justin Fields. He runs the ball like few quarterbacks ever have, and we want to know if he can pass. He completes 70% of his passes in a game, and we want to know if he’s ever going to go deep. He sets the NFL on fire with his talent, and we say, “Is it too much to ask for the kid to lead a fourth-quarter comeback?’’

Completely unfair, totally unrealistic and . . . well, sure, Fields had a strong game against Miami star Tua Tagovailoa last month, but can he keep up with Jalen Hurts on Sunday?

It’s not what you would call a level playing field, with the running-and-passing Hurts leading the 12-1 Eagles and the running-and-passing Fields leading the 3-10 Bears. The Eagles have a great defense, the Bears don’t. The Eagles lead the NFL in points, the Bears are 19th.

And, yet, the question is on its knees, begging to be asked: Is this a prove-it game for Fields?

Hurts is what Fields wants to be when he grows up in a hurry. The conventional thinking is that all he needs is a team around him to do it. But that’s an injustice to Hurts, who is one of the leading candidates for league MVP. In his third season in the league, he has thrown 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. Fields’ numbers in his second season are 13 and 10. Touchdown-to-interception ratio mostly falls on a quarterback, not on whom he has around him.

For Fields to take the next step, a step closer to Hurts, he needs to become a better passer. It’s why Sunday at Soldier Field has such a feeling of possibility to it. If he can go toe to toe and arm to arm with Hurts, it would be a huge leap for the 23-year-old quarterback.

He obviously has the running part down. He has been a gift to a city that had no reason to expect one this season. It feels greedy to want more after you’ve seen what he can do with his legs, but unless we’re witnessing a revolution at the quarterback position, Fields is going to have to improve his passing.

Hurts has completed 68% of his passes this season and is averaging 8.1 yards per attempt. Fields is at 61.7% and 7.5 yards per attempt. There’s a big disparity in accuracy. Now, you’ll argue that Hurts completed 61.3% of his passes last season, his second in the league, but it doesn’t logically follow that Fields will reach Hurts’ level next year. If we’re playing that game, you can argue that because John Elway struggled in his second season, Fields will become a Hall of Famer. And all of Chicago shouts back: Exactly!!!

The converse to my initial assertion, that some of us are constantly raising the bar for Fields without taking the time to fully appreciate him, is that others are in a major hurry to turn him into the best quarterback in the league. Maybe he will be someday, but as of right now, a flag would be thrown for piling on with the expectations.

That’s why we pay particular attention to games like Sunday’s. That’s why it’s a prove-it game for Fields, no matter what Bears coach Matt Eberflus might be tempted to say about quarterbacks not actually playing against quarterbacks. Fields has proven he can run the ball. I wish he would stop proving it so much, both to prevent injury and to force him to keep progressing as a passer.

That might be like taking the paint brush from Michelangelo and handing him a violin. But Fields eventually will have to do both things well if he’s to become what so many people already think he is. I don’t think that’s putting up an unreasonable challenge for the him, nor do I think it’s missing the point of the sensation that he already is. We can ooh and aah over his running (a league-leading 7.1 yards a carry) and still expect a lot more out of his passing. By the way, Hurts has rushed for 10 touchdowns this season, Fields eight.

A column for another day is whether Hurts, Fields and Lamar Jackson are what quarterbacking will look like in 20 years or whether the brutality of football makes a long career for a running quarterback impossible.

For now, let’s put Fields up against Hurts and see what happens. Let’s see if he can take that next step, a big one. His fan club thinks he already has.

Let’s see him prove it.

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