Reviewing Justin Fields’ Game Against Denver

| October 3rd, 2023

Below is an honest review of Justin Fields’ game against the Broncos:
Fields looked like a dynamo early, doing nearly everything Bears fans have begged him to all year — he hit throws over the middle, he hit long balls down the sideline, and he did it all on-time & within the structure of the offense. Banner day.
But why did it happen on Sunday? In my opinion, Fields’ success was largely due to a bizarre Broncos’ first half gameplan — for some reason, despite knowing Fields struggles against zone coverage, Vance Joseph called man coverage with a ridiculous 10-yard cushion all the way through halftime.
Knowing this, Fields & Getsy dialed up every WR pick play & isolation play they had in the playbook. Everything worked, and Fields never needed to look past Read #2 — usually, read #1 was open, but if not #2 absolutely was. Bootlegs worked great too because the cross-field chaos created natural picks & generated WRs in space with a linebackers in pursuit.
All of this meant that while Fields had to make plenty of physically demanding throws (like the strike to Moore over the middle rolling out or the corner TD throw), more often than not Fields knew where he was throwing the ball before each play started. He could laser-lock on the target he wanted, and the Broncos defense would reward him for it.

Fields finished the half with phenomenal statistics that attested to his great day. 3 strong drives, 3 TDs, and only 1 incompletion — the Hail Mary Chicago attempted at the end of the half.
But then, beginning in the first drive of the 2nd half, Vance Joseph started calling more and more spot-drop zones & Fields started checking the ball down. The deeper shots within the offense disappeared while Herbert & Kmet got peppered with backfield targets — some targets picked up yards, some didn’t. Slowly, the Broncos got more stops.

This is because spot-drop zone attacks one of the biggest weaknesses in Fields’ game — his sense of timing when throwing into the gaps (or ‘soft spots’) within 7-man zone coverages. Fields wants to see his man cleanly break open, and in the NFL that’s often too late. Thus, Fields would check it down.

This defensive game plan & result may sound familiar to you, because it’s exactly what Green Bay did in Week 1. It’s also what Todd Bowles’ Buccaneers team pivoted towards in Week 2 after their blitz-heavy approach led to a gashing on the opening drive. These defenses sat back in zones, fenced Fields into the pocket, and waited for him to come to them. In those games, he did.
The Broncos used spot-drop zones to force the Bears’ first 3 & out of the game. Then, on the next drive, Denver caught Chicago leaning on one-too-many bootlegs and forced a nasty fumble that just can’t happen, regardless of who you want to blame. Suddenly, the game was tied.
On the ensuing Bears possession, Denver used spot-drop on 2 of it’s first 3 plays — Fields hit his checkdown in both. Marcedes Lewis got flagged for holding on the first play & Fields threw too high for Herbert on the 2nd. Suddenly, after a Larry Borom false start, it was 3rd & 10.
Vance Joseph just couldn’t help himself and called Man/Match coverage one more time. Fields scrambled for 20 yards himself. A huge play! And, apparently, the last passing play the Bears’ coaches felt like they needed to attempt on the most important drive of the game. Ultimately, they turned the ball over on downs (which leads to a separate conversation about the coaching, but we’ll save that for another time)
Thus, down 31-28, Fields had the opportunity to tie (or win) the game and knew exactly what coverage he was going to see — some variation of spot-drop zone.
Fields threw an interception to end the game. Cole Kmet says he recognized match coverage & adjusted his route accordingly, but thinks Fields read zone on the play. Ultimately, the Bears lost.
Ignore the tweet writing on this, I needed the videos:

To wrap this up, I think Fields played well, especially early. He looked like he was playing comfortable and free, and that’s always a fun thing to watch. And against the Broncos’ Man and Match coverages, Fields & the Bears were nearly unstoppable.
But if Fields can’t consistently beat zone coverage, especially spot-drop zone (one of the easier zone defenses to implement within any defensive structure), Justin is going to have major issues that won’t go away.
Luke Getsy and the offense need to work with him to find zone-beating passing concepts that Fields likes, but at some point the QB needs to show he can throw into the windows of a zone defense. There’s no way to just avoid this.
Justin Fields has a lot to prove against Washington on Thursday — no doubt Ron Rivera, a Lovie Smith Cover 2/Tampa 2 acolyte, has seen the Week 1, Week 2, and Week 4 tape. They’ve got a ferocious Defensive Line & a strong group of DBs. It’s another huge test for Chicago’s signal-caller, and one I hope to see him pass. We’ll see.
Your Turn: How are you feeling about the Bears’ QB heading into Thursday?

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