5 Takeaways: What Fields, Bears can learn from blowout loss to Lions
Even for a rebuilding season filled with challenges along the way, there’s no excusing this effort from the Bears on Sunday at Ford Field.
The Bears were blown out by the Lions, 41-10, marking a franchise record nine-game losing streak and 3-13 mark on the season. Chicago allowed 504 total yards of offense to Detroit, its most in a regulation game since Week 16 of 2013 in a 54-11 loss to the Eagles. What’s most notable and disappointing was the significant step back from second-year quarterback Justin Fields.
The lone silver lining of this game for the Bears is that Fields was able to walk off Ford Field under his own power after taking a beating from the Lions.
Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ ninth consecutive loss.
1. No gains for Fields
Absolutely not, said Bears head coach Matt Eberflus when asked if the team would consider shutting down its promising young quarterback for these final two games.
The belief from Eberflus and the Bears is that Fields can could gain quite a bit towards his development with these opportunities, first coming Sunday in Detroit and then next Sunday when the Vikings come to Soldier Field for the season finale.
“We want to get better,” Eberflus said of the decision to play Fields. “We want to improve.”
Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy expounded a bit more on the team’s decision to keep playing Fields.
“There’s a tremendous amount that he can grow,” Getsy said. “Division games, going into a playoff atmosphere this week. I think just a lot to grow. And then obviously we’ve talked about it in here, one of the most important things that we’re trying to get done this year was create as many experiences and opportunities to expose him to, and so we’re going against two really good opponents to finish this thing off. We’re excited about him having the opportunity to go out there and do it again.
“Every opportunity and every experience we can get him, expose him to, will create a better version of him.”
There was little productive for Fields in this loss to the Lions, one that seemed to show a major step back in his second season. Fields finished 7-of-21 for 75 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, and he was sacked 7 times. All of this came against a Detroit defense that ranked last in the NFL in opponents’ yardage and had struggled to rush the passer entering Sunday’s game.
Fields produced another highlight-reel run as he carried for 60 yards in the first quarter, and finished with 10 carries for 132 yards. But Fields’ improvisation in the running game was the Bears’ lone positive mark for either side of the football.
Fields was evaluated for a concussion late in the first half after taking a shot towards the helmet — removed to the injury tent by an independent neurologist — but was cleared to return. He was seen on the sidelines being stretched out for hip discomfort. And the Lions stayed steady in their pass rush and continued to put Fields under pressure.
Eberflus and the Bears will continue to point out that every snap is valuable in building a foundation for growth, and there’s no arguing against that. Even the struggles Fields endures this season can play a part in improving.
But this was a bad day for Fields and the Bears, and it’s worth reconsidering whether he should play again this season.
2. Run over
Last season, the Bears’ defensive front included mainstays like Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. All of those players are now gone.
The Bears’ defensive front was torn down by first-year general manager Ryan Poles but not yet rebuilt. That group has proven to be a liability this season and failed to allow Eberflus’ defensive identity to take shape.
The Bears struggled once again to generate any pass rush, and Lions quarterback Jared Goff finished 21-of-29 for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns. Chicago’s run defense was nonexistent, allowing 265 net rushing yards to the Lions. Lead back Jamaal Williams carried 22 times for 144 yards and a touchdown. DeAndre Swift added 11 carries for 78 yards and a score.
The Bears allowed 504 yards of offense, their worst defensive output against since that embarrassing 54-11 loss to the Eagles late in head coach Marc Trestman’s first season.
There are glaring needs all across this Bears roster that Poles inherited — of course with a hope to build better around Fields and the offense — but the defensive front is still the top priority for this offseason. Star defensive lineman Jalen Carter (Georgia) or linebacker Will Anderson (Alabama) could help transform Chicago’s defense at the top of the NFL Draft.
But much of the Bears’ $120 million in projected salary cap space must go to veteran additions on defense.
3. Rookie mistakes
Just last week, Bears rookie left tackle Braxton Jones spoke of his hope to stick at this position for the long term. It’s a goal of his heading into this offseason.
A fifth-round pick to the Bears in last April’s NFL Draft, Jones arrived to Chicago from Southern Utah and has started every game this season and played every one of the snaps on offense.
“I want to put in the work in the offseason to be that guy, a cornerstone for this organization,” Jones said Monday. “Obviously, I got a lot of work to do.
“I want to be here as long as possible, and I feel like I can be a cornerstone for that left tackle position.”
While Jones had inspired hope this season that he could indeed be a cornerstone, Sunday’s loss to the Lions brought some struggles in protection. Jones appeared responsible for multiple sacks allowed and showed his need to add some strength this offseason.
The Bears can be proud of the work that allowed Jones to emerge as a starter this rookie season, a Day 3 success story in the draft. But they also must evaluate him carefully and cannot curve the grade because he was indeed a fifth-round pick.
Jones could offer stability moving forward at left tackle, but there’s plenty he must improve to become that cornerstone.
4. Claypool’s quiet return
Part of why the Bears were attracted to a trade for wide receiver Chase Claypool ahead of the Nov. 1 trade deadline was because of the possibility for him to get established in this offense.
Claypool faced the opportunity to grow along with Fields this season and build for the future. Those hopes haven’t been fulfilled and this abbreviated campaign with the Bears has marked disappointment for Claypool.
On Sunday, Claypool finished without a catch on just one target — that coming on an incomplete pass late in the fourth quarter. The 24-year-old Claypool was facing a snap count following a two-game absence with a knee injury, but there still hasn’t been any showing of promise.
Claypool has 12 receptions for 111 yards and no touchdowns over six games with the Bears. As Fields struggles to trust his wide receivers — seeking great separation in coverage that’s rare from this group — he isn’t forcing opportunities to Claypool. The two must work diligently this offseason to build a rapport, something Claypool said he intends to do.
Claypool is entering a contract season in 2023. He hasn’t lived up to the second-round pick dealt by the Bears to the Steelers. The deal has been a bust for Chicago, but it’s still early.
The Bears have to hope Claypool rewards their belief.
5. Leatherwood takes a seat
There’s a perception that by making second-year offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood a healthy scratch Sunday, the Bears aren’t giving him a fair chance to prove himself. That would be a misconception.
The Bears have given Leatherwood all the opportunity with hopes he could emerge as a long-term fit on their offensive line. He just hasn’t taken advantage. The chance to play in games must be earned in practice, and the 23-year-old Leatherwood hasn’t made any type of impression on the Bears’ coaching staff. It’s not clear what exactly has gone wrong but there’s a clear disconnect and Leatherwood hasn’t been able to earn a place with this struggling offensive line that’s desperate for options.
A first-round pick to the Raiders in the 2021 NFL Draft, Leatherwood was cut loose from Las Vegas this preseason and claimed off waivers to Chicago. It’s rare to see a former top pick pushed aside by the team that drafted him, but the Raiders underwent a regime change this offseason.
Poles scouted Leatherwood when he was executive director of personnel with the Chiefs in 2021. Poles was willing to take a flyer on him. It hasn’t worked out.