Trust issues can impact us all.
However, it can be more difficult to sort through them on a national stage, when large men are trying to cause you physical harm.
The Chicago Bears are 2-1 through three weeks of the NFL season, which is a good thing. But the wins might have come in spite of their passing game, and second-year quarterback Justin Fields. Chicago’s win over the San Francisco 49ers came in difficult weather conditions, and on Sunday against the Houston Texans, the Bears racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground.
While Fields completed 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards and a pair of interceptions.
Right now, the second-year quarterback is dealing with some trust issues, issues that were on display Sunday against the Texans. Fields is struggling to trust what is happening in front of him, what is happening in the secondary and ultimately, what is happening within himself.
The issues popped up early in the game. On Chicago’s first drive of the game, the Bears faced a 3rd and 9 at their own 36-yard line. They empty the formation with Fields in the shotgun, and dial up a Smash concept to the right side of the formation. Dante Pettis runs the quick hitch route, while Equanimeous St. Brown runs the deep corner route:
Now, the Bears pick up 29 yards on this third down, as Fields makes an incredibly athletic play to move the chains with his legs. But in terms of his process from the pocket, he has both the hitch route and the deeper corner route open.
But he pulls the ball down:
As you can see here, as Fields hits his drop depth in the pocket and starts to climb, he is looking in that direction. Both routes are open. He can be aggressive and target the deeper corner route, or he can throw underneath to Pettis and trust him to make a play:
Instead, he trusts his legs, and creates as a runner. It goes for a 29-yard gain, but these are the kinds of moments where you would love to see Fields trust himself to make this throw.
Later in the drive, Fields deals with trust issues of another sort.
In the protection in front of him.
The Bears call for a play-action design, but as Fields comes out of the run fake and starts to throw, he resets in the pocket, and the window closes on him:
There is a window for Fields to hit St. Brown early in the down, as the receiver runs a dig route from the right side of the field. But Fields senses the blitz on the left side, and instead of stepping into the throw, he steps out of his throwing stance, sliding and resetting in the pocket.
That delay allows the underneath linebacker, who had come downhill in response to the run action, to retreat into the throwing lane. Now Fields has to wait on St. Brown to cross the field, allowing the cornerback in man coverage to recover and close on St. Brown. It becomes a tougher throw, and it ultimately falls incomplete.
Fields’ first interception might be an example of him trying to do too much with a throw. Chicago looks to attack downfield, with St. Brown running a vertical route on the left side of the field while Pettis goes deep along the right sideline. Tight end Cole Kmet attacks the middle of the field:
With the safeties dropping into a two-deep coverage — looking like Quarter-Quarter-Half with the Quarters side of the field towards Pettis — attacking between the safeties with Kmet is the first option, as Fields stated after the game. But instead of putting the throw on him, he tries to make the perfect throw, and it sails directly to safety Jalen Pitre:
Making matters worse is the fact that if you look along the left side of the field, St. Brown is open.
After the game, Fields discussed this play and said he just missed the throw. “The Cole Kmet pass, I just sailed it, it was there … he (St. Brown) was one of my reads but Cole Kmet was my first option and I just missed it.”
The trust issues continued into the second quarter. The Bears opened the quarter facing a 2nd and 10, and they emptied the backfield with Fields in the shotgun. He took the snap and opened to the left side, where the Bears offered him a dig route with a little curl route underneath it. With Houston dropping into zone coverage, the curl route is available to him.
Instead, even with time in the pocket, Fields looks at it and then pulls the ball down, before he is eventually sacked:
Here, the trust issue might again be with what is happening up front. The left side of the offensive line is starting to crack and pressure is coming off that edge, but there is a window for Fields to step into this throw, take the short option, and get Chicago into a manageable third-down situation.
Instead he runs into the sack. and the Bears would ultimately punt at the end of the possession.
In the second half, the Bears looked to throw just nine times.
But the trust issues remain.
Take the second interception from Fields, which comes on a mirrored Smash concept with Darnell Mooney attacking the middle of the field on a seam route:
While the Texans show pressure up front, they rush just four, dropping into a two-deep zone coverage. With a pair of safeties deep, and linebacker Christian Kirksey trying to cover Mooney and carry his route vertically, targeting Mooney is the right decision.
But Fields needs to just trust his eyes, his receiver, and the situation. Instead, he tries to make the perfect throw, and Pitre gets his second easy interception of the game:
This is a great example of what some term a “monument defender.” Kirksey is that defender, trying to cover Mooney while his back is to the quarterback. All Kirksey can truly defend in this situation is the frame of his body, so what Fields needs to do is just put this throw right over his head and onto Mooney’s frame.
Instead, he tries to be too perfect with the throw, and it sails over Mooney, and into Pitre’s waiting arms.
Now, Bears fans might say that there are reasons for the lack of trust Fields has right now. Watching this game, there are moments when Fields faced some free rushers off the edge, or route concepts failed to materialize properly, or whatever the heck this is:
Complicating matters further is that this is Fields’ third offense in three years. Which is never a recipe for positive quarterback development.
But learning to trust those around him — and to trust himself — is the biggest step Fields can make right now. He can trust his protection more and step into throws, rather than looking to pull the ball down. He can trust in his receivers to make plays downfield, such as on the interception intended for Mooney.
Ultimately, he can trust in himself more.
The sooner he does, the better this passing game will be.