There’s a persistent perception in the NFL among those who have played or coached the game. That notion is that there is no such thing as an ugly win.
For players and coaches, that makes perfect sense. These guys put in more than a 40-hour work week and then the players bang heads and endure pseudo car crashes for 60 minutes per Sunday.
But for the fans, sometimes wins can still leave a lot to be desired.
That was the case on Sunday following the Bears’ 23-20 victory over the Houston Texans. The victory positioned the Bears in a tie atop the NFC North division with a 2-1 record, but there were some major concerns about the development of one Justin Fields, the single most important person in the Bears organization.
Fields failed to top 20 pass attempts for the third time this season and completed less than 9 throws also in as many games. In fairness to him, the Bears did rush for 281 yards on 40 attempts, negating the need for Fields to air out the ball.
Still, it was the way Fields completed his 8 passes while also throwing two interceptions and finishing with a 27.7 passer rating that left fans hungering for something more.
If Fields wasn’t completing passes because his receivers were terrible and his offensive line didn’t give him enough time to make his throws — two things that have proven to be true, no doubt — we’d all give him a little more leniency. But right now, Fields is missing reads and throwing some inaccurate balls, and I am growing concerned about that.
Give credit to the Bears coaching staff for playing to their strengths. Right now, the offensive line run blocks well and the Bears have two good running backs — one of whom, David Montgomery, suffered an ankle injury and left Sunday’s game early. So the Bears exposed what the Texans can’t defend and racked up an obscene amount of rushing yards while helping to control the clock.
Now, I worry about an injury to Herbert because third-stringer Trestan Ebner doesn’t appear to have a first gear, let alone a second one (and is less than ideal as a kickoff returner, but that’s a story for another day). But hopefully Montgomery’s injury isn’t serious and the Bears can get back to that 1-2 punch I predicted before the season began.
Cole Kmet finally stepped up and made some plays — two of them, to be exact — and led the team with a whopping 40 receiving yards. Darnell Mooney, again, struggled to be relevant, catching just 2 of 6 targets. Equanimeous St. Brown had one catch of 20 yards and two carries for 43, proving he might just have some value beyond his run blocking ability.
The player of the game, beyond Herbert, had to have been Roquan Smith. A week after getting eviscerated for his poor performance against the Packers, he led the team with 16 tackles, including two for loss, and a game-altering interception that set up Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal.
Why Smith had played subpar up to Sunday, I don’t know. Was he out of football shape after “holding in” from training camp? Was he still trying to learn a new position in a new scheme? Was he taking a measured approach to his job so as not to sustain a major injury in a contract year? I don’t know. But for a guy wanting to be paid the big bucks, Smith certainly rebounded in a way you need him to.
My biggest takeaways from the game are twofold. First, I was pleased to see Smith’s performance and I’m encouraged that this could be a turning point to a more consistent Roquan that we’ve seen in the past. Second, I was discouraged to see what looked like a major step back in Fields’ development. My hope is that it is just one hiccup and a “growing pain” from which he can learn and overcome.
However, if this continues to be a trend for Fields, this could be a bad sign for the franchise’s ongoing, never-ending search for the right man for the most important job in sports.
Up next for the Bears is a road game against a Giants team who, like the Bears, is a bad team that has thus far been overachieving. They have a Monday night game against the Cowboys (another future Bears opponent) so we can get a good look at both of them tonight.
This will certainly be a winnable game for the Bears. But like with all road games, they have to play disciplined, not turn the ball over, and do a helluva lot better at stopping the run than they have thus far this season.