Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’ll be off tomorrow, but the intrepid Kevin Sweeney will have the newsletter covered.
In today’s SI:AM:
The Bears are still a mess
Bears fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about over the past few years, and it’s starting to look like they won’t have much to cheer about this year, either.
Chicago is 0–2 this year—and it’s an ugly 0–2. (The two losses were 38–20 to the Packers and 27–17 to the Buccaneers.) The defense has allowed 65 points (second worst in the NFL) and a whopping 6.0 yards per play (also second worst), but it’s the offense that’s drawing the most scrutiny. That’s because the Bears opted during the offseason to stand by quarterback Justin Fields, rather than trade him away and select a new quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Instead, Chicago traded the pick to the Panthers, who took Bryce Young.
Fields’s stats over the first two games don’t jump off the page as being particularly terrible (60.6% completion rate, 213.5 passing yards per game, two passing touchdowns, one rushing TD and three interceptions), but what jumps off the screen is his failure to make the right decisions.
Former NFL quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan posted an informative video on YouTube breaking down Fields’s performance against the Bucs in great detail. He points out several issues with Fields, such as his lack of urgency in the drop-back and his inability to quickly recognize where the ball should go. But it isn’t all Fields’s fault. O’Sullivan also noted how the coaching staff set the offense up to fail with poorly designed plays.
O’Sullivan’s video is really long. If you don’t want to sit through the whole thing, just watch this one play from Sunday’s game where Fields didn’t throw to either of two wide-open receivers, one of whom could have walked into the end zone, and instead held the ball for an eternity until he was sacked. That’s his issue in a nutshell.
So why is Fields not making the right decisions? O’Sullivan thinks it could be that he’s overthinking things. He turned heads yesterday when he said in a press conference that he felt “robotic” at times during the loss in Tampa, and when asked why that might be bluntly said, “could be coaching.”
“They’re doing their job when they’re giving me what to look at, stuff like that,” Fields said of the coaching staff. “But at the end of the day, I can’t be thinking about that when the game comes.
“My goal this week is just to say, ‘F it’ and go out there and play football how I know to play football. That includes thinking less and just going out there and playing off of instincts rather than so much ... info in my head, data in my head.”
The comment about coaching is what’s drawing the most attention, but it’s just not that. Michael Rosenberg writes that Fields’s comments were “a quarterback acknowledging that he can’t play the way NFL teams have traditionally wanted their quarterbacks to play.” But Rosenberg believes that Fields acknowledging his limitations isn’t a reason for the Bears to give up on him.
Fields’s mobility makes him an incredibly dynamic player. There has to be a way to build a successful offense that amplifies his strengths as a runner and minimizes his deficiencies as a pocket passer. The offense Chicago is running now certainly isn’t that. Astonishingly, the Bears have called only five designed runs for Fields this season after he averaged nearly eight per game for much of last season, according to The Ringer. This is a guy who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. Declining to take advantage of his biggest skill is baffling.
The disconnect between Fields and the coaching staff is illustrative of a serious problem. If Fields would prefer to play outside the pocket, then Chicago should have surrounded him with a coaching staff capable of making that style of play work. If the coaching staff would rather have a quarterback who feels more comfortable in the pocket, then the Bears had an opportunity to select one in the draft last spring. The Chicago front office, then, decided to try to put a square peg in a round hole by giving neither the quarterback nor the coaching staff what it needed to succeed.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- Stephanie Apstein got to the bottom of the story I’m most interested in this week: Yusei Kikuchi’s sleep schedule.
- Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman and Ohio State’s Ryan Day have followed similar career paths, Pat Forde points out. The two are set to meet Saturday in one of the biggest games of both men’s careers.
- The Braves’ bullpen just got a big boost with the return of a 40-year-old journeyman. Emma Baccellieri has more on Jesse Chavez, who’s as good as anybody at getting out of jams.
- As she prepares to play her final game in a USWNT uniform, Julie Ertz is going out on her own terms, Clare Brennan writes.
- Albert Breer’s mailbag opens with a question about why people misjudged the quarterbacks in the 2022 draft class.
- The Sun took care of business against the Lynx to advance to the WNBA semifinals. They’ll face the Liberty as all four top seeds advance to the next round.
- Boston College has suspended its swimming programs amid allegations of hazing.
The top five...
… things I saw last night:
5. The reception Eddie Kingston got in his hometown of New York after winning the ROH world championship at AEW Grand Slam.
4. This wacky golf shot out of a ditch.
3. Two great throws in the same inning by Mets right fielder Jeff McNeil.
2. Dodgers center fielder James Outman’s diving catch.
1. Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos’s game-saving throw.
On this day in 1980, which quarterback became the first player to complete 40 passes in a single game?
- Dan Fouts
- Jim Zorn
- Terry Bradshaw
- Richard Todd
Yesterday’s SIQ: The Giants and 49ers will renew one of the great NFL rivalries of yesteryear tonight on Thursday Night Football. Can you name the Hall of Fame quarterback who played for both teams?
Answer: Y.A. Tittle. He began his career with the Baltimore Colts of the AAFC before joining the 49ers in 1951. He played 10 years for San Francisco and closed out his career with four years in New York. Tittle ranks seventh in Giants franchise history with 10,439 passing yards and fifth in Niners history with 16,016.
Tittle was routinely on the wrong side of the rivalry between the Giants and Niners. He went 1–4 in five games with New York against San Francisco and 1–5 in a Niners uniform against the Giants.
As two of the NFL’s oldest franchises, the two teams trace the rivalry back to 1952. They’ve met 34 times in the regular season and eight times in the playoffs. Remarkably, the all-time record is split perfectly evenly: 17–17 in the regular season and 4–4 in the playoffs, making tonight’s game in Santa Clara quite the rubber match.