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5 questions with Windy City Gridiron: What’s going on with Justin Fields?

Related: Patriots vs. Bears preview: Get to know New England’s Week 7 opponent

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings

After winning their Week 6 contest in Cleveland in decisive fashion, the New England Patriots will return home for their first primetime matchup of the season: they will welcome the Chicago Bears to Gillette Stadium.

In order to get a better understanding of New England’s Week 7 opponent, we exchanged questions with Patti Curl of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Windy City Gridiron — the SB Nation community for all things Bears.

Here is what Patti told us about the team, and here are the odds for this week’s game from our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

1. What’s the deal with Justin Fields? Is it coaching? Scheme? Processing? The curse of Walter Payton not getting a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

Excellent guesses. There’s certainly a component of all of those things. The story of Fields’ season is not as bad as the box score shows, but last Thursday night’s game is a pretty good microcosm. Fields consistently shows the ability to make explosive plays but falls short in executing the short chain-moving plays that keep an offense on the field.

The missed wide-open pass to Ryan Griffin in the end zone is an example of the type of lay-up Fields can miss. Rumor is Griffin didn’t run his route right, and he probably should have been where Fields threw to, but Griffin is not invisible and he was wide open and Fields still threw to where he was planning to throw. My best guess there (and other similar plays) is that Fields is too focused on executing the plays correctly to react or improvise in the first few seconds of a play.

The next issue is trust — in his receivers and his offensive line. He’s not throwing into tight windows, which may be partly a slow adjustment to “NFL open” vs the separation he was accustomed to at Ohio State, but his receiving corps also hasn’t given him a lot of reason to trust they will catch a contested ball. He’s also anticipating pressure and sometimes leaving the pocket more than necessary, then other times overcorrecting and staying into the pocket too long, both situations have led to sacks although the former sometimes leads to huge runs.

The scheme intermittently helps Fields, but [offensive coordinator] Luke Getsy is still trying to install the offense he knows — which better quarterbacks have taken as long to adjust to. The surrounding talent is obviously not what we want it to be.

And of course, Payton’s curse occasionally souring an otherwise positive play doesn’t help. Overall, I’m more optimistic than most that Fields’ problems are things that will improve with comfort in the offense and eventually better surrounding talent. I just hope the insane sack rate doesn’t break his body and the Bears repeatedly losing doesn’t break his heart before he gets there.

2. The Bears’ offensive line is a ton of fun to watch when they’re run blocking, but their pressure numbers are off the charts. How much of that is on Fields and how much improvement is needed in the trenches?

This has been a hot topic the last week because somebody posted the Bears O line apparently scores highly in ESPN’s pass block win rate and implied that everything is on Fields. Bears fans naturally pointed out how bad our line has actually been at pass blocking. The truth as always is somewhere in the middle. Our editor, Lester Wiltfong, Jr. does a weekly sackwatch article which assigns responsibility for every sack.

His current tally is 7.5 on Fields, 11 on line/blocking, and 4.5 on “sacks happen.” That’s definitely too many on Fields, but some of his sacks are also due to him not trusting a line even when it blocks well (e.g. scrambling too early and missing an open receiver).

I think Fields will always be an above-average sack taker, but the biggest adjustment he needs to make is pulling the trigger early when he says an open-enough receiver in his progression.

3. Why isn’t Darnell Mooney getting the ball downfield more? And who on this Bears offense are people sleeping on?

The short answer is that the Bears aren’t running enough plays. I think the percentage of downfield shots to Mooney isn’t actually that low, the Bears are just not having long enough drives and too many pass plays are breaking down due to pressure and converting to Fields runs (which actually works pretty well and I’m hoping will end up punishing the man coverage I’m sure Billy will throw at the young pigslinger).

Also, Mooney is the Bears’ biggest receiving threat but he’s not quite good enough to consistently get open against that type of attention. You’ll probably see a lot more deep balls to Mooney next year when defenses are distracted by Jaxon-Smith Njigba and Jakobi Meyers. [Note from the editor: How dare you?!]

4. How are the Bears’ rookie defenders looking? I was hyped for Bears fans when they were drafted last summer.

Finally a question that’s fun to answer!

Jaquan Brisker has plugged in nicely as an above-average safety who I think will be a staple on this defense for years to come. Kyler Gordon was given a ton of trust by the coaching staff and put into a position to play in the slot on nickel plays and outside in base packages. This was a bit much for him and he made a lot of mistakes in early games but has been slowly improving and I’m finally optimistic about him again.

Fifth-round pass rusher Dominique Robinson has flashed frequently considering limited snaps and the biggest frustration I have with him is his lack of playing time.

5. So the Bears are 8-point underdogs heading into Foxborough. How do they make it a sad day for Patriots fans/betters?

I’m worried about the Bears struggling offense facing a good defense that will be better coached. My hope is that the defense keeps the score low and when things get messy on offense, Justin does some crazy athletic stuff that works out for him. N’Keal Harry being essentially guaranteed to go for at least 10/100/2 in his revenge game should definitely help.