Startling contrast in Bengals’ plan for QB Joe Burrow, Bears’ handling of Justin Fields
The Bengals empowered Burrow as their franchise quarterback from the day they drafted him, and look where they are now. The Bears, meanwhile, are looking at 2022 as a do-over for Fields.
LOS ANGELES — From the day they drafted Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, the Bengals treated him like the franchise quarterback they hoped he’d become.
They didn’t wait to see it. They presumed it.
After practice Friday at UCLA, coach Zac Taylor explained how they approached bringing Burrow in as a rookie. Notice how different it sounds from the way the Bears handled Justin Fields last season.
“We wanted to make sure that we built this thing around him and how he’d feel most comfortable,” Taylor said. “He should be involved in everything we do. That includes opinions on other players that we’re adding to the team, scheme, game plan and adjustments over the course of the game.
“I want him to feel comfortable on game day, because when he feels comfortable, he plays at a special level.”
The contrast between the Bengals and Bears is jaw-dropping, and everyone can see whose philosophy worked better.
Burrow had a promising rookie year despite it ending abruptly when he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in Week 11. He then returned with a spectacular second-year performance to take the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI. If he leads them to victory against the Rams on Sunday, he’ll be just the fifth quarterback to win a Super Bowl within his first two seasons.
Fields didn’t get that rookie head start as he tried to sort through the clutter of coach Matt Nagy’s offense and the Bears’ mis-guided plan to sit him behind veteran Andy Dalton the entire season.
(It was Dalton’s mediocrity in Cincinnati, by the way, that led the Bengals to burn it down and start over with Burrow.)
While Burrow was the higher-rated and more accomplished prospect, Fields was hardly a project after what he did at Ohio State. And a team’s commitment level isn’t any different when it drafts a quarterback at No. 1 versus No. 11 — especially in Fields’ case, since the Bears gave up their 2022 first-round pick to get him.
Yet, Fields’ rookie season was mostly a wreck, with occasional bright spots that offered big-time hope. His 2021 numbers reflect the dysfunction of working in an offense that wasn’t tailored to his skills, playing with limited personnel and spending the whole offseason as a second-stringer.
It’s no wonder he performed so choppily. He played in 12 games, starting 10, and finished with seven touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, an average of 239 yards in his starts and a wince-worthy final passer rating of 72.3.
The situation Burrow walked into was nearly the complete opposite, and the benefit is undeniable.
“That was huge,” Burrow said. “As a young quarterback, you just need to get reps and get out there and play. If I had gone into camp with the mindset that I had to compete for a job, it would’ve limited my ability to figure out what works on an NFL level.
“I was able to make mistakes and make throws that I probably wouldn’t have made if I was competing for a job. I was able to feel out those mistakes because I knew I was gonna be the starter.”
Cringe. The Bears should have hired this guy as a consultant.
Burrow had his fair share of stinkers over his 10 starts as a rookie, but the overall results were solid: 13 touchdowns, five interceptions, 89.8 rating. More important, he took the necessary steps to set up what he did in Year 2. He accelerated from good to great with a late surge of 11 touchdowns and no picks over his final four games and has been irrepressible in the playoffs, taking sacks constantly because the Bengals still have work to do on their offensive line but operating the offense as if it belongs to him.
The more Burrow talks about everything the Bengals did to ensure his success, the more stomach-turning it is to recall how the Bears mismanaged Fields. New coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy are intent on doing it right and treating 2022 as a do-over. Eberflus said in his opening news conference that they’d be “building this offense around [Fields] and his strengths.” Getsy describes it as a collaboration with Fields — a quarterback-driven scheme.
That’ll give them the best shot at unlocking Fields’ potential.
Who knows if he can be as good as Burrow? No, seriously, who actually knows? Because after Fields’ chaotic rookie season, it’s hard for anyone to be certain about anything with him. He needs a reset badly and has embraced the arrival of Eberflus and Getsy. Now it’s up to them to give him the full Burrow treatment and see how far he can go.