Bears QB Justin Fields, starting offense have much to prove against Browns

Fields and the starters punted three times in three possessions against the Chiefs, then had first-down mishaps against the Seahawks. They’re looking for a smooth performance Saturday in Cleveland.

SHARE Bears QB Justin Fields, starting offense have much to prove against Browns
Justin Fields played 12 games as a rookie, starting 10.

Justin Fields played 12 games as a rookie, starting 10.

Chris Unger/Getty Images

If everything was already clicking and the Bears were headed toward the start of the regular season with no concerns, it would be prudent to hold their best players out of the preseason finale Saturday.

But with a long way to go before this team establishes that kind of confidence, it needs the work.

Coach Matt Eberflus said he ‘‘absolutely’’ will play his starters against the Browns, with many staying in for the entire first half — including quarterback Justin Fields.

Fields wasn’t alarmingly bad or convincingly good during training-camp practices and the first two preseason games, and the Bears could use a little more certainty with less than three weeks until their season opener.

Eberflus said he’s looking for the offense to give a conclusive effort in terms of ‘‘the style of what we’re looking for, the way we finish plays, the way we run the ball’’ and improvement on third downs.

Fields and the first-team offense went 2-for-7 on third downs against the Chiefs and Seahawks the last two weeks. Against the Seahawks, a breakdown in blocking led Fields to scramble for one yard on third-and-three. A few plays later, he threw to running back Khalil Herbert for a two-yard loss on third-and-two.

‘‘We have to improve there from last game,’’ said Eberflus, who also is eager to see the starting offense run a two-minute drill after working on it extensively in the last month.

Fields’ performance will be central to how everyone feels about the offense in its final live-action work before facing the 49ers on Sept. 11. And he’s returning to the site of his disastrous starting debut last season, when the Browns sacked him nine times and held the Bears to their lowest total yardage (47) since 1981.

The same questions that were asked about him and around him going into camp remain unanswered:

• Can the Bears’ makeshift offensive line give him enough time to get past his first read?

• Can a stripped-down receiver group provide him with viable options beyond Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet?

• Most of all, can Fields progress from mere flashes of brilliance to drive the offense consistently?

Fields has to rise above whatever deficiencies surround him in the offense and steer it to points. If everything else has to be perfect for him to thrive, as was the case for Mitch Trubisky in 2018, that doesn’t distinguish him from pedestrian quarterbacks.

Fields survived playing in former coach Matt Nagy’s dysfunctional offense — it’s a credit to him that he made it out of that game against the Browns intact and didn’t let it sink him mentally — and is now in a scheme that is customized to his strengths under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. That should clear the way for him to show what he can do.

‘‘I felt like I had to be a certain type of quarterback [last season] rather than play my game,’’ Fields told the Sun-Times. ‘‘I felt like I was trying to be a little bit robotic, whereas Luke tries to follow some rules, but . . . you have to feel it out. You have to be a player on the field. You can’t really overthink on the field. That’s my biggest mindset change from last year to this year: Just get the job done.’’

That’s what needs to happen Saturday.

The Bears punted on all three of Fields’ possessions against the Chiefs. Then they got a field goal out of his one drive against the Seahawks, leaving points on the table after earning a first-and-10 at the Seahawks’ 21-yard line.

Nearly seven months after the new staff took over at Halas Hall and gave Fields the reset he badly needed, it’s time for him to show some results.

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