TAMPA — He didn’t complement his designed runs with downfield heaves, at least not enough. The way Bears quarterback Justin Fields sees it, he didn’t quite leave it all on the field Sunday against the Packers.
There was a reserve of deep shots remaining in his right arm.
“I felt like I was a little bit too conservative at times during the game,” Fields told reporters Wednesday.
Metrics corroborate that sentiment. Fields’ intended air yards per pass attempt (3.1) in his team’s 38-20 home loss to the Packers was the lowest of any NFL starter in Week 1. Moreover, he targeted three-time 1,000-yard receiver D.J. Moore — acquired by the Bears in the trade that gave Carolina this past spring’s No. 1 overall draft pick — only twice.
“Definitely with guys like D.J. and Chase (Claypool) on the outside, if we do have one-on-one on the outside, potentially throwing it up and seeing what happens,” added Fields, who threw for 216 yards but had no completion longer than 23. “With them, they’re great playmakers and they can most likely come up with a 50-50 ball. Definitely want to give them more chances deep down the field.”
Logic, if not the law of averages, suggests Fields will attempt to stretch things a bit more Sunday against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium. But even if that presumption becomes reality, Tampa Bay’s primary worry about the former No. 11 overall draft pick won’t change.
Todd Bowles remains far more concerned about Fields’ sprinting than his slinging.
“Everybody has tried (to keep him in the pocket),” said the Bucs’ second-year coach, whose defense sacked Fields four times and intercepted him three times in his fifth career start (a 38-3 Tampa Bay romp in 2021). “He’s probably faster than everybody we have in the front seven. It’s going to be a team effort — we’re going to have to rally to him.”
An 1,100-yard rusher in 2022, Fields poses the most dangerous dual-threat dimension to Bowles’ unit since it faced Lamar Jackson and the Ravens late last October. Though his team went 3-14 last season, Fields finished only 63 yards shy of Jackson’s single-season NFL rushing record for quarterbacks (1,206).
“It is very scary,” Bucs run-game coordinator/defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said.
“We were just looking at the scrambles (Thursday) and just trying to make it an emphasis. It’s hard, because you’ve got to rush him, but then you rush him, and you get out of your lane and now he is taking off. Then if you don’t rush him, you can’t give the receivers that kind of time. It poses so many problems, and now you’re playing a chess match — when you rush, when you don’t.”
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Compounding the concern are the chess pieces behind Fields. In Week 1, the trio of Khalil Herbert (5-feet-9, 212 pounds), Roschon Johnson (6-2, 222) and former University of Texas workhorse (and Doak Walker Award winner) D’Onta Foreman (6-1, 236) had a combined 63 yards on 19 carries. Toss in Fields’ numbers (nine carries, 59 yards), and the group averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
“The biggest thing is all three of (the tailbacks) can break tackles,” Bowles said.
“They’re not just bruiser runners; they have great agility. They all can block on third down and pass-block, they can catch the ball out of the backfield and they’re very stout in protection. Depending on which one is in there, it isn’t going to make much of a difference — they keep all of them fresh. We’ve got to make sure we rally to the ball.”
Of course, the objective Sunday will be to keep the Bears one-dimensional: congesting the box, perhaps keeping a spy on Fields and forcing the 24-year-old to win the game with his arm. Such an approach, however, becomes a bit riskier with Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis (turf toe) sidelined.
But if the Bears establish the run early, their play-action — spawning design runs or downfield throws by their quarterback — becomes all the more potent.
“You say you want to keep him in the pocket and contain him,” Bowles said. “But if your (defensive) line runs a 4.9(-second 40-yard dash) and he runs a 4.4, there’s going to be a problem at some point. We’ve just got to make sure we have enough eyes on him that we can go get him.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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