The book isn’t written yet on Justin Fields. Nothing is predictable in the NFL. He could bust as so many already predict him to, or he could morph into an All-Pro at the drop of a hat. So much of this depends on the uncertain nature of the human mind. Right now, that seems to be what is holding Fields back. It became evident in Week 2 against the Packers and fully manifested last Sunday against Houston. It wasn’t only that Fields was missing open receivers and throwing bad interceptions. It was the lack of conviction in his throws.
He didn’t look comfortable or confident in what he was trying to do. That isn’t something anybody wants to see. Fields admitted after the game how frustrating the struggles have been. He’s been working extra hard to correct the mistakes with more time in the film room and after practice. Nothing has worked thus far. He is the lowest-rated starting quarterback in the NFL. When searching for explanations, there was one interesting thing I’d yet to note. It came in the form of a question.
Did the coaching change set Fields back more than expected?
I did some research on this. Since 1980, a total of 99 quarterbacks have been taken in the 1st round of the draft. No fewer than 21 saw the head coach that drafted them get replaced after that first year together. Here is the list. It won’t take long to notice a rather disturbing correlation.
- Ryan Leaf
- Chad Pennington*
- Joey Harrington
- Rex Grossman
- Matt Leinart
- Tim Tebow
- Blaine Gabbert
- Brandon Weeden
- Marcus Mariota
- Jameis Winston
- Paxton Lynch
- Jared Goff*
- Mitch Trubisky
- Josh Rosen
- Sam Darnold
- Baker Mayfield
- Dwayne Haskins
- Daniel Jones
- Justin Herbert*
- Justin Fields
- Trevor Lawrence
Of those 21 names, only three have had or are having a solid NFL career. Chad Pennington in New York, Jared Goff in Los Angeles, and Justin Herbert in Los Angeles. Of those three, only Herbert has emerged as a legitimate franchise guy. Steady run-first offenses aided both Pennington and Goff for most of their careers. Is it possible all the other quarterbacks on this list were just bad, or could the coaching changes have hampered them during a crucial stage of development?
Matt Eberflus was hired to fix the Bears. Not Justin Fields.
Yes, Fields is part of the Chicago Bears, but it’s an important point. Eberflus agreed to take the job because he wanted to coach this team, not this quarterback. He agreed to accept the challenge of developing Fields as best as possible. However, there is one underlying issue that shouldn’t be ignored. Eberflus didn’t draft the quarterback. As gamblers would say, he has no skin in the game. Fields is Matt Nagy’s guy. He is Ryan Pace’s guy.
That kind of thing matters. For all their flaws, Justin Fields felt complete support from both the head coach and GM. He knew he was part of their grand plan. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have traded up to get him. Conversely, people forget that Nagy soured on Mitch Trubisky pretty quickly. After a solid first year together in 2018, things began falling apart early the following season. It led to speculation that Nagy was never all in on Trubisky as many first assumed.
The same might be true of Eberflus, and it’s possible Fields senses that.
That would go a long way towards exploring the QB’s sudden loss of confidence. He is tentative in everything he does, desperately trying to avoid mistakes. He isn’t playing like somebody who knows he’s the guy. Fields is playing like somebody trying desperately to prove he’s the guy. Too often, when that happens, you get a young player struggling.
Now, this is not an epitaph on Fields’ tombstone. Eberflus made it clear that the team would stick with him this season. Nothing has indicated that will change. There are still 14 games left to play. That is plenty of time to get back on track. Fields has to stop worrying about what he can’t control and focus on playing his best football.
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