Bears overreactions: Mooney’s injury should end Fields’ season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
After eight losses in nine weeks, the 2022 Bears season has officially entered “focus on the future” mode.
That starts with quarterback Justin Fields, who missed the Week 12 loss to the New York Jets with a separated left shoulder. His status for the Bears’ Week 13 date with the Green Bay Packers is up in the air.
The loss to the Jets was a costly one for the Bears. Darnell Mooney (ankle) and Eddie Jackson (lisfranc) both suffered season-ending injuries, further pointing the Bears’ focus on the critical upcoming offseason.
As we start to shift our gaze to the next stage of the rebuild, let’s sift through the rubble from the past two weeks as the season hits the homestretch:
The loss of Mooney is a blow to the Bears on the field and in the locker room. It also takes away Fields’ most trusted receiver.
But Mooney going on injured reserve shouldn’t impact Fields’ availability for the rest of the season.
To be honest, I’m more concerned about the picture at right tackle than I am Mooney’s absence. If Riley Reiff (back/shoulder) and Larry Borom (ankle/knee) aren’t available, I would take an even more cautious approach with Fields. The idea of Michael Schofield or Alex Leatherwood starting at right tackle in front of a compromised Fields doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies.
I think the best course of action is for Fields to sit this week and the bye before returning against the Philadelphia Eagles if he’s healthy.
Even with Mooney out, it’s important for Fields to continue to get game reps with Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet, and Velus Jones Jr. as they build their chemistry for 2023. But everything depends on Fields’ health and if he can protect himself with a banged-up left shoulder.
I think it’s fair to laud Fields for his playmaking ability this season while also pointing out that he needs to continue to develop as a pure passer. Getting a stable offensive line and a more reliable group of pass-catchers will undoubtedly help.
Trevor Lawrence’s game-winning drive against the Baltimore Ravens was full of pinpoint, big-boy throws. The type of throws that generational prospects make.
We’ve seen glimpses of these throws from Fields. There were a few last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I thought his throw to David Montgomery down the sideline in Atlanta might have been the best pass of his young career.
But young quarterbacks are often scared to attempt tight-window throws. Coaches preach ball security and often ask them to make sure they don’t hurt the team. I think it’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of jump-balls from Fields to Claypool.
Fields is doing exactly what the coaching staff asks him to do. He tries to get through his progressions quickly, take the high percentage throw or take off if it’s not there. He has been mostly risk-averse (pick-six vs. the Lions notwithstanding) during his second-half surge.
Fields said Wednesday he wants to be more of a pocket quarterback, but he’s willing to do whatever the Bears ask him to do to help the team win. At the moment, that’s making safe throws and not turning the ball over.
Where Doug Pederson has much more “YOLO” in him when it comes to Lawrence, Matt Eberflus wants to control the game and win the turnover battle.
There are very few capable backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Look at the Los Angeles Rams. There are even fewer who have a Fields-like skill set.
Trevor Siemian is a competent veteran quarterback. But Fields’ mobility and play-making ability with his legs have given the Bears a chance to win the last month. Without that element, the Bears’ offense has little chance of finding constant success against good defenses.
Given how much the Bears have run Fields and the hits he takes, it would be smart for Ryan Poles to try and find a mobile backup in the offseason. You can never be too careful.
Overreaction? Too early to call, but leaning no.
The Space Titan always fills the overreactions mailbag with good fodder.
It’s too early to say the Bears whiffed on Velus Jones Jr. But it’s going to get late real quick if he can’t find a way to make an impact over the final month of the season.
It was a questionable selection at the time, and the play of Abraham Lucas has made it look even worse.
It’s mildly concerning that Poles and Ian Cunningham, two offensive linemen by trade, couldn’t identify what the Seahawks saw in Lucas.
After drafting Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, it seems like the Bears felt they had to reach for a wide receiver in Round 3 and might have missed on Jones.
Getsy deserves all the praise he got for tinkering with the offense during the mini-bye week and setting Fields up for his four-week explosion.
He also should get criticism for not doing it sooner and for not continuing to evolve the offense. After four weeks of the same game plan, the Falcons caught on and found a way to contain the Fields-led ground game. Getsy didn’t appear to have a counter.
Overall, I have been impressed with how Eberflus has kept everyone together during a long losing streak. But you are only as good as your talent suggests. On defense, Alan Williams is basically coaching with one hand tied behind his back.
But it’s fair to criticize Getsy for some of the playcalling. That comes with the coordinator gig.
Let’s end with Jack Sanborn.
The undrafted rookie linebacker has been a tackling machine since being inserted into the starting lineup following Roquan Smith’s departure. He is always in the right spot and, for the most part, has been a sure tackler.
The knock on Sanborn coming out of Wisconsin was the lack of speed and NFL-caliber athleticism. There’s a clear difference between game speed and combine speed. Sanborn plays faster than he tested.
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But I’m not ready to say the Bears have found a long-term defensive starter just yet. Sanborn is undoubtedly an NFL player. But he might be more of a depth linebacker than a surefire starter.
The Bears’ front seven needs a complete overhaul. I don’t think there’s any doubt Sanborn will be on the roster in 2023. He’ll probably enter training camp competing for the starting MIKE spot. But I expect the Bears to bring in quality veterans to help bolster the front seven.
Let’s hold off on crowning Jack Sanborn as the Bears’ starting MIKE for the next five years.