Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) was sacked six times for 61 yards in a 25-20 loss to the Eagles on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Nam Y. Huh, AP Photos
Even at 3-11 with no playoff hopes, the Bears still have some goals in the final three games of the season. But one goal should stand at the top of the list:
Protect your quarterback.
Even if Justin Fields doesn’t finish a game-winning drive or throw for more than 200 yards against the Bills, Lions or Vikings, at this point there’s only thing that can turn the arrow pointing down heading into the 2023 offseason — an injury to Fields that impacts his offseason or beyond.
It’s a legitimate concern after Fields was sacked six times for 61 yards in losses in a 25-20 loss to the Eagles on Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears have allowed 48 sacks this season and are 32nd and last in sacks allowed per pass play.
“I’m always concerned about Fields,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “That’s the franchise quarterback, this is always a big issue. So we’re always looking to protect him and do a better job of that. And certainly we need to do a better job than we did yesterday.”
Sunday’s game was close to a worst-case scenario for the Bears. The Eagles have the best defensive front in the NFL and came in with a league-leading 49 sacks. The Bears’ offensive line, which has been in flux all season, suffered another blow when guard Teven Jenkins was carried off on a stretcher with a neck injury four plays into the game.
Not only that, but the Bears inserted Alex Leatherwood at right tackle in a rotation with veteran Riley Reiff. So for most of the game, the Bears had players at right guard and tackle — Michael Schofield and Leatherwood — who had never played together.
Leatherwood was beaten by linebacker Haason Reddick for a sack and allowed three other pressures in 10 pass-blocking snaps. He did not play in the second half.
“He has some good moments going against some good pass rushers,” Eberflus said. “So I think he learned some as well. He had some adversity. That is always going to happen when you play some good rushers. He just has to build upon that and learn from that experience.”
It remains to be seen if that will happen. Eberflus would not commit to continuing Leatherwood’s audition Saturday against the Bills. While Leatherwood, a 2021 first-round draft pick by the Raiders, is a potential starter in 2023, it might not be worth the risk to see any more. That’s one reason why the Bears acquired Reiff in the first place — he’s a proven veteran with enough experience to hold his own.
“We’ll see what happens as we go,” Eberflus said.
Jenkins’ status is in doubt after the injury and it’s likely Schofield will start against the Bills. That at least would give the Bears two veterans on the right side of the line in Reiff and Schofield.
The Bears also won’t be facing the Eagles again. The Bills also are one of the NFL’s best defenses — second in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed — but 13th in sacks per pass play. The Lions are 26th in sacks per play. The Vikings are 22nd.
Fields has been pretty sturdy this season and he recovers quickly. He did not play against the Jets because of a separated shoulder, but returned the next week against the Packers.
Fields missed one snap against the Eagles on Sunday, when he cramped up prior to a key third-and-14 play in the fourth quarter. Nathan Peterman replaced him and threw an incompletion intended for Nsimba Webster.
“Yeah, that was a little stressful,” Eberflus said.
And that was just one play. Fields said he’ll do a better job of hydrating pre-game to avoid the cramping problem in the future. But Fields taking care of himself is one issue. The Bears taking care of Fields is a much bigger one.