UA-59049186-1 Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview: Quarterback - Good if it Goes

Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview: Quarterback

Happier times. [Photo: Chicago Bears on Twitter]

While I encourage you to continue reading beyond this section of the team preview because significant work went into the rest of it, this is the part that determines the course not only of the 2023 season for the Chicago Bears, but also the next decade. Justin Fields is the man behind center for your Chicago Bears and he enters a pivotal year in his career. A third-year man out of Ohio State via Georgia, Fields has been largely squandered in his first two. He has yet to look like a franchise QB, but he’s also yet to be in a situation that wasn’t a total mess. There can be no such excuses this year, as you will see in the coming sections, which is why you should read them. 

This space a year ago predicted a leap from Fields that did not come. Alas, we know little more about him now than we did when I wrote this piece last year. We saw some highlight reel plays last season, but most of them were runs. We always knew he was fast; this sheds no new light on who he is. We saw a handful of really nice passes, but we always knew he had that in him. The key is being able to do that consistently, which has not happened thus far. Fields has made strides (no pun intended) in his footwork and mechanics, but the mental side of the position remains a lingering problem. He still has yet to show an ability to understand that NFL open is not college open or get through his progression quickly. Playing quarterback in the NFL is significantly more complicated than “find Chris Olave and throw it there after he dusts a future H&R Block employee.” Fields has yet to make that adjustment. 

He has, however, made positive adjustments the last two offseasons. Last year, he grew his hair into braids and no longer resembles Lori Lightfoot. This year, he gave up being vegan. It wasn’t much of a step as he’s now a pescatarian and fish meat is practically a vegetable anyway, but it’s at least a step in the right direction. Now, if he can find a way to retroactively transfer somewhere else that has actually produced a quality NFL QB or could have at least taught him how to be one, then we’re really cooking with gas. Seriously, the best decision Joe Burrow ever made was leaving that craphole. They would’ve ruined him. Dwayne Haskins was one of the most obvious busts in recent memory (may he rest in peace). C.J. Stroud has all of Fields’ problems, isn’t as athletic, isn’t as willing to use his legs, and never beat Michigan. The second of his two attempts was particularly hilarious as he lead the Buckeye offense to three (3) points the entire second half and threw two (2) hideous picks in the process. That’s what you get for firing our good friend Lovie, Houston. (Yes, I know we fired him once, too. We’ve paid for it and then some.)

After a reasonable performance given the elements against San Francisco to start the season, Fields stunk it up in Green Bay, then barely cracked 100 passing yards against Houston while throwing a pair of picks. His efforts earned him a 27.7 passer rating. If every pass he threw was incomplete, he would’ve gotten a 39.6. The Bears went on to lose their next three, with one quality Fields performance being sandwiched between lousy games against the Giants and whatever Washington’s calling themselves this week. The Bears then lit up the Pats on Monday night with a frankly meh performance by Fields. Then the bottom fell out. The team didn’t win another game. Fields cracked 200 yards exactly once – a 254-yard game at home against Green Bay that the Bears had every chance to win, but a bad route by Equanimeous St. Brown and a bad decision by Fields and Green Bay’s got the ball and they put it away. His last outing of the season, a week 17 drubbing in Detroit, was appalling. Fields also got banged up a couple times.

Interspersed with the garbage were some highlight reel plays, most of which were on the ground, as Fields rushed for over 1000 yards and finished the season in second place behind Lamar Jackson’s 2019 campaign for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. And thus, Fields’ season was labeled a success by folks who still haven’t figured out that running quarterbacks don’t win anything and that there’s a very hard ceiling on your team’s potential if the quarterback can’t beat you through the air. Philadelphia goes nowhere last year if Jalen Hurts doesn’t become a serious threat through the air. He did, therefore, it can be done. Now Fields needs to do it. 

Backing up Fields this year is former XFL standout P.J. Walker. After spending time on the Colts’ practice squad over three yards, Walker was signed by the reborn XFL, where he led the Houston Roughnecks to a 5-0 record while throwing 15 touchdowns to only 4 picks before the league suspended operations and then shut down entirely. His XFL performance was enough to earn him a shot with the Carolina Panthers where he had a pair of eerily similar seasons in 2020 and 2021. Both years, he started one game. In 2020, he appeared in 3 more, in 2021, 4. In 2020, he completed 57 percent of his 56 attempts for 368 yards, with a touchdown and 5 picks. The following year, he completed 54.5 percent of his 66 attempts and threw for six fewer yards, but two fewer picks. Last year, he started 5 games for Carolina and appeared in one more. He turned in a quality performance against the Buccaneers, going 16 of 22 for 177 yards and a touchdown. The following week, he cracked the 300-yard mark against Atlanta in a game where he connected with our new buddy D.J. Moore for what should have been the game-winning TD, but Moore drew a 15-yard penalty for taking his helmet off in celebration. Our old buddy Eddy Piniero missed what was now a 47-yard extra point and the game went to overtime, where the Falcons won. Other than those two games, Walker kind of stunk. In his three other starts, he went 23 of 42 for 177 yards and two picks. Total. That’s what he did over the course of three games. His athleticism lets you do the same kinds of things you want to do with Fields, so I understand why he’s here, but the Bears may have a better backup option on the roster already. 

That’s Tyson Bagent. The NCAA’s all-time passing touchdowns leader among all divisions, Bagent was an undrafted free agent out of D-II Shepherd. After winning the Harlon Hill trophy as the MVP of Division-II in 2021, Bagent entered the transfer portal and looked at a couple D-I schools before deciding to return to Shepherd to finish his career. Bagent looked solid at the combine and just missed a spot on your author’s 2023 big board. He was someone that yours truly had an eye on as a UDFA, though, and lucky for us, we got him. Early returns from camp have been promising. Caveats apply as he’s mostly been going up against third and fourth stringers, but what’s truly impressive about Bagent is his processing ability. He knows where he wants to go with the ball and has shown an ability to throw to a spot and throw guys open. Your author was so impressed during a trip to camp that he decided Bagent should already be QB2. 

Nathan Peterman is still here. He shouldn’t be. Here’s what I wrote about him last year:

NFL punchline Nathan Peterman is a warm body in case of disaster. A 5th-round pick out of Pittsburgh by the Bills in 2017, Peterman has been mostly awful. He possesses a career 3/12 TD/INT ratio and his best known for his horrific first NFL start where he completed six passes to his own team and five to the Chargers and then got benched at halftime.

Nothing much has changed. He now has both another TD and another pick. The pick came in mop-up duty with the Bears getting blown out by Buffalo. The TD came in his lone start of the year, a week 18 outing against the Vikings where he was lousy, but not his usual terrible. He understood the assignment; the Bears lost that game and stayed in contention for the #1 overall pick. Since the team hopefully won’t need to do that this year, the roster spot should go to someone who isn’t a laughing stock.

UPDATE: Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus apparently agreed with me that Tyson Bagent should be the backup QB. He won the job and PJ Walker is no longer here. Walker still appears in the team preview because these are mostly written before rosters are cut down, so sometimes this happens, as some guesswork is required on the final roster. Anyway, congratulations to New Ryan and New Matt for doing something that I’m not sure Old Ryan and Old Matt would’ve had the cojones to do. Also, congratulations to Tyson Bagent – you earned it, kid. Also also, there’s the possibility that New Ryan and New Matt were afraid that if Tyson didn’t win the job, his father, champion arm wrestler Travis Bagent, would crush them into a fine powder. Don’t get me wrong, Tyson 100% earned the job all on his own, but it is nice to have the ability to call for a crushing in your back pocket.

Whatever Elmo’s calling it nowThreads: @312sportsguy

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