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Do the coaches doubt Justin Fields as a passer? What is with Kyler Gordon’s rookie struggles? – Boston Herald


After the Chicago Bears threw the ball only 11 times in a 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, readers want to know if the coaches doubt quarterback Justin Fields’ ability in the passing game — as well as questions about Kyler Gordon’s rookie struggles and whether Week 3 against the Houston Texans is a “must-win.” Brad Biggs answers those questions and more in his weekly mailbag.

Aaron Rodgers seemed to target receivers matched up against rookie Kyler Gordon. He was also ineffective in run support. What was his performance grading in the game? How long will this coaching staff be patient with a rookie CB that needs development? — Ryan Y., Libertyville

There were a handful of questions about Gordon, the second-round pick from Washington, this week and that wasn’t surprising because he had a rough go Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Gordon also made some nice plays in the game and no one asked about some of the better snaps he had, such as the pass breakup in the corner of the end zone when Rodgers was trying to connect with Allen Lazard.

The Packers ran four vertical routes on the play from the Bears’ 18-yard line. That concept is designed to stress a Cover-2 look from the secondary. Gordon was able to jam Lazard at the line of scrimmage and then sink. He could have been a little more aggressive with his jam and forced Lazard inside because he had some help from the interior. But Gordon did a great job of flipping his hips, tracking Lazard downfield and attacking the football for a pass deflection. That was a veteran-level play.

The bad outweighed the good, and Gordon let Lazard get inside on an RPO near the goal line that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown pass. He also had some poor fits against a well-oiled Packers ground game that rolled up 203 rushing yards. That’s a big total, and in four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, Matt Eberflus’ defense allowed that many only once — Nov. 29, 2020, when the Tennessee Titans ran for 229 yards.

After the game, I asked Gordon about the play at the goal line.

“We’re playing with leverage and we have help in a certain area,” Gordon said. “I guess just being able to read keys faster and see it beforehand, have that accelerated vision.”

With more experience, Gordon is going to have better pre-snap recognition and understanding of where the receiver is aligned, what routes should be keyed when considering the down and distance and where his teammates are in the scheme.

The Bears have put a lot on Gordon — having him play on the outside in the base defense, which the Bears were in 31% of the time against Green Bay — and in the slot in the nickel package. So, Gordon is learning two positions and that should not be overlooked when considering his development.

Looking specifically at this game, what did you think was going to happen? As a four-time NFL MVP, Rodgers knows where the inexperienced players are on the field on every snap. He knows the matchups and how to exploit them, and he’s going to challenge younger players. If he thinks he and his wide receivers have an edge, he’s going to keep going that direction.

There are going to be growing pains for a young cornerback. Gordon is going to get beat. He’s going to be out of position at times. There are going to be ups and downs. I think everyone — the coaches included — expected that. The Bears are not going to have to defend against Rodgers every week.

“It’s everything I say to every young player … that’s gone through these moments,” Eberflus said Monday. “There’s going to be ebb and flow over the course of a rookie season and that’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a guy that’s rookie of the year or not, there’s going to be those things. What you tell them is, ‘Take one experience at a time and put it in your file.’ You have to learn from that.

“So go back and look at all the plays that you made, all the plays that you want to correct and then put them in a file and say, ‘What would I have done?’ Put those to memory. Making sure you study those things and visualize those things as you go during the course of this week coming up so you can make those corrections. Because a good pro doesn’t make the same mistake twice. They get better and they improve and that’s how they become a better pro in Year 4, Year 5 and then become an All-Pro.”

I wouldn’t be overly concerned about Gordon’ right now. The sample size is incredibly small and he has the kind of athletic traits that the Bears cannot coach. He has excellent change of direction. He has really good size at 6-foot, 200 pounds for a slot corner and he’s a willing tackler.

I understand frustration with Gordon through two games, but I believe he has a bright future and think a lot of the mistakes he’s making will be things he can quickly correct. He’s a little aggressive at times keeping his eyes in the backfield and that’s a pitfall nearly every young cornerback experiences. The Bears are better off having Gordon learn as he goes than considering a replacement.

How impressed were you with David Montgomery’s performance Sunday night? He had the hot hand. — @just_acy

The eighth 100-yard game of Montgomery’s career has to be one his best. He ran for 122 yards on 15 carries and has topped that yardage total only twice (146 at Minnesota in 2020 and 135 against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019).

All of Montgomery’s strengths were on display. He ran with great contact balance, he was physical and he finished every carry. He also ran with excellent vision and was more decisive than he was in the opener against the 49ers in the slop at Soldier Field. It was fair to wonder if Khalil Herbert was a better fit in the offense after Week 1. You don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions after one game, but it was a legitimate discussion, in my mind. Questions about Montgomery’s fit, however, were definitively answered at Lambeau Field.

As you said, he had the hot hand and that is not taking anything away from Herbert, who also ran well with 38 yards on four attempts. Interestingly, the Bears are 4-4 in games in which Montgomery has topped 100 yards.

Non-sarcastic question: Given how little the team has allowed Justin Fields to play football, is it fair to wonder if Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus are tanking in order to have a higher draft pick? Everyone has conceded the season long ago. Is draft position factoring into game plans? — @jickbaggins

You are not the only one who has wondered about the Bears angling for draft position this season. Personally, I think that is a reach and not accurate. As you know, the Bears have turned over the roster under Poles, going from the second-oldest on kickoff weekend in 2021 to the eighth-youngest this season. Nothing is going to develop young players more quickly than success. As Poles and Eberflus work to develop the nucleus of a team that can compete, they want to find building blocks for the future — 2023, 2024 and beyond. Building a championship roster isn’t something that happens overnight and they are not going to find positive answers in their search for players on both sides of the ball without them stepping forward and playing well.

Sure, Poles and his staff would love to have a high draft pick come April. You know what they would prefer? To see a bunch of the young players on the roster really develop and gain a foothold on positions they can hold for seasons to come. If they don’t find those answers as they go through this season, they’re going to get to the end of the year with a ton of young players and nearly as many questions as they began the new era with. Where would that leave them knowing the high draft picks in Rounds 1 and 2 are going to answer maybe two of those questions?

Moreover, the idea that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is holding back Fields because he wants the Bears to tank is way off. If the Bears offense can take a major step forward — and early returns from a very small sample size are not encouraging — Getsy is going to be on the radar as a candidate to become a head coach. So, do you really believe Getsy is considering draft ramifications when crafting a gameplan during the week and calling plays on a Sunday? I don’t. In my mind, Getsy is making decisions he believes gives the team the best chance to win each week and on each play. That is the only way he can approach his job.

I know it’s a small sample size, but having thrown so little in the first two games makes me wonder if the coaches have any confidence in Justin Fields as a passer. Is Fields the future? — @skerr24

The Bears managed to do something that hasn’t been done in 44 years in the NFL: attempt only 28 passes through the first two games. Yes, there is a mitigating circumstance when considering the heavy downpour during the opener against the 49ers at Soldier Field. Yes, the Bears ran the ball very effectively Sunday night at Green Bay, but they also trailed by two or more scores for the final 34 minutes. As many have accurately pointed out, the success on the ground could have opened up opportunities in the play-action passing game.

You raise a valid question about the confidence level of Eberflus and Getsy in Fields’ ability as a passer and probably more importantly their belief in the unit as a whole to operate effectively throwing the ball. You’re not going to win a lot of games in the NFL when the quarterback attempts only 17 passes as Fields did against the 49ers, and it’s really difficult to win with 48 net passing yards as the Bears had at Green Bay. Since 2000, NFL teams are 17-55 (23.6%) when totaling 48 net passing yards or less and 1-13 (7.1%) since the start of the 2013 season.

That is why you heard Eberflus say Monday the Bears need to have greater balance in terms of the run/pass ratio.

“At the end of the day, we’d like to be 50/50 in a game,” he said. “It keeps the defense honest.”

As far as Fields being the future, I don’t know. Fields is the present and how he develops remains to be seen. There is an immense rush to judgment for young quarterbacks, who are forced onto the field almost immediately. Most times, highly-drafted quarterbacks are dropped into rosters in which much improvement is needed across the board. It’s OK to say we don’t know what Fields’ career arc will be after 12 starts. There is nothing wrong with that.

What we can do is take a sober look at where he is right now, and that is where the folks who have declared the quarterback and the new offense have turned a corner at various points have erred. Fields and the offense need to be significantly better.

Why abandon the run game? It was going great and the Bears could have used play-action. Why throw jump balls to Darnell Mooney? I think Dante Pettis should be used more. The Bears have some very good running backs and an O-line committed to run blocking. — @bigten5151

You can attempt more than 11 passes without abandoning the run game. As I detailed above, it’s extremely difficult to win in the NFL when you cannot challenge an opposing defense with a passing game when there isn’t a legitimate downfield threat. That is a simple and clear-cut answer to your first question.

I don’t know that anyone is advocating for the Bears to call jump balls to Mooney. That isn’t his strength as a 5-foot-11, 173-pound wide receiver. Mooney’s best attribute isn’t as a contested catch guy downfield. He has excellent speed, he’s a very good route runner and he can take the top off a defense. He needs far more than five targets through two games. Pettis had 23 snaps against the Packers and has been on the field for 46.4% of the offensive snaps. It’s fair to say all of the wide receivers need to be used more when the Bears have not been throwing the ball enough.

What’s the long-term benefit of rotating Teven Jenkins and Lucas Patrick? I don’t understand what short-term purpose it serves or how it helps the team. — @lgparlay

I don’t see this as a long-term move by the coaching staff. This is a short-term arrangement that has been made with a couple factors in play.

First, Jenkins is new to the guard position, a move that was made late in training camp, so he needs all the experience he can get. Patrick missed a little more than a month following surgery on his right thumb, so he needs action too. As long as Patrick is playing with a club to protect the thumb, playing center and snapping the ball is not possible. The Bears are able to get two players experience, one that the team inherited from the former regime and the other signed to a two-year, $8 million contract by the current regime.

The question facing the coaching staff is what will the line look like when Patrick is fully healthy and able to snap the ball? Will he be inserted at center? Will he stay at right guard? One thing we have consistently heard from the coaches since the spring is a goal of getting the best five players on the field. So the short-term goal is pretty clear to me. They want both players to get some experience to evaluate them. I don’t know if it serves a “long-term” plan but it does inform the coaches as they determine who will play in the near future.

I’ve seen a lot written about Justin Fields, Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet from Sunday. The problem is there was so much we couldn’t see on that telecast it’s difficult to know what’s true. Was Fields standing back there and indecisively missing open receivers? Were Mooney and Kmet unable to get open? Bad combination of both? — Marc B., Nashville, Tenn.

The passing game failed as a whole. There were openings for Fields to get rid of the ball quickly with decisive reads. That’s apparent when you go back and rewatch the game. Of course, we’re talking about a super small sample size with 11 pass attempts and three sacks.

The idea that the receivers were blanketed throughout and Fields had nowhere to go with the ball is not true. But it takes a combination of the quarterback making accurate pre- and post-snap reads, the receivers winning their routes and the protection holding up. The Bears didn’t have enough of all of the above and blame should be spread around.

For it to click, Fields will have to see it faster and get the ball out in rhythm more regularly. It’s a process. It’s a new offense. We’ll see how the next couple months shake out.

Lots of opportunities to critique an O-Line that starts several young players players. It sure seems like Sam Mustipher is a good kid, and he probably has overachieved to this point in his career, but he gets “blown up” pretty regularly, especially when pass blocking. Any idea when Lucas Patrick will be cleared to play center and will it make a positive impact? — Jeff Z., Washington, Ill.

I think Mustipher has played pretty well this season and my hunch is the coaching staff feels the same way. Does that mean he remains at center when Patrick is cleared to snap the ball again? I don’t know the answer to that. But Mustipher is off to a good start this season and he has improved from a year ago.

Yes, Mustipher got beat badly on one play by Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who used the old Reggie White “hump” move to get into the backfield. That was one snap and Clark is probably among the top three at his position in the league. He’s an elite interior defender and he’s going to beat centers from time to time. That’s one bad-looking snap through two games.

The anti-Mustipher crowd has latched on to one player and laid an overwhelming amount of blame on him. Basically, everyone that wanted Charles Leno run out of town switched to blaming Mustipher for everything that was wrong with the offensive line. Mustipher is improved this season and the coaching staff is evaluating him based on what he has done since they arrived. We’ll see who is playing center when Patrick is fully healthy.

Facing the 49ers and the Packers defenses is a tough way to start the season, but the first two weeks haven’t instilled much optimism in the Bears offense or the quarterback. Is this week’s game against the Houston Texans something of a must win? Not just on the scoreboard, but for Fields facing off with another draft selection in Davis Mills? — Jacob, Chicago

Must win in Week 3 of Year 1 for a new coaching staff? No such thing exists. What the Bears need this week is gradual improvement throughout the season. It’s not going to come in leaps and bounds even if it looks like it.

Remember the excitement after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in Week 4 of the 2018 season? It was the 16th career start for Mitch Trubisky and the offense exploded in a 48-10 victory at Soldier Field. Trubisky completed 19 of 26 passes for 354 yards and six touchdown passes. The offensive bonanza came against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

My point is that you’re looking for improvement by Fields but it has to be steady growth, not blips here and there. Poles and Eberflus aren’t going to make some definitive decision about the quarterback based off Sunday’s game against the Texans. They’ve got an entire season to see him play.

I’ll paraphrase what I said above about the quarterback: It’s OK to say we don’t know what Fields’ career is going to become right now and we sure as heck don’t need to have an answer — one way or the other — by Monday morning.



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