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Better Running a Key Sign for Justin Fields

Analysis: The Bears need about anything Justin Fields can give them on the ground or air until they can better execute the passing game.

It probably wasn't the positive statistic anyone wants to hear about with Justin Fields, but he gained more yards on the ground and had a higher rushing average than any game this season during Sunday's loss.

Passing is the focus, but Fields' legs are a weapon with his 4.4-second speed in the 40. And until last week he really hadn't used them as effectively as he did at some points last season.

In fact, there was a direct correlation last year between his effectiveness as a passer and a runner.

So far this season, he has followed the path he had in his first five starts as a rookie rather than the last five starts, and that also applies to running the ball.

Fields sees scrambles as isolated occurrences.

"I think every play is different," he said. "Just evaluating each play, if it's a certain play and guys aren't there, of course I'm going to have to get out of the pocket."

However, his effectiveness as both a passer and runner last year came all at once. They did in Sunday's loss, as well. 

Last year Fields averaged 4.6 yards a carry in his first five starts, when he also was completing 57.8% of passes, had two touchdown throws to five interceptions and owned a 64.8 passer rating.

In his final five starts, Fields' rushing average vaulted to 7.6 yards an attempt while his passer rating climbed almost 20 points to 84.0 and he had five TD passes to four interceptions.

Against the Giants he had seven runs for 52 yards, much of that as he ran for his life with New York's pass rush suddenly finding its footing against the Bears offensive line after a season of struggles.

"I just think that’s on a clock," coach Matt Eberflus said. "You're back there on a clock and you know when the timing and the rhythm is of that particular pass play. And then when it's not there, he just uses his legs if he has it and he's done that good. He's done that really well."

Actually, until Sunday he hadn't done it well—or at least as well as last year.

Fields has averaged 8.5 rushes per game but until Sunday he had averaged only 3.5 yards per attempt. Then he averaged 7.43 against the Giants.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Fields threw for a season-high 174 yards on 11 of 22. Again, it was the legs and the arm together, as in his last five games last season when he showed improvement.

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The theory here is the more comfortable he becomes with the offense, the more likely he'll do both run and pass with efficiency.

The Bears just would like to see a little more of his arm than his legs, but they have to give him protection for this to happen. Sunday's pass blocking was easily the worst this season.

The real fear for a quarterback who has the ball is what happened to Tua Tagovailoa against Cincinnati and Buffalo with concussion issues.

"Certainly, we're always concerned when he gets on the edge and making sure he protects himself," Eberflus said. "But It's always an issue."

It must be pointed out Tagovailoa's first concussion against Buffalo and then the incident last week against Cincinnati both occurred while he was passing and not acting as a runner.

The real solution for the Bears is simply protecting Fields properly in the pocket so he doesn't need to run as much or is in danger. 

He's been sacked 16 times, the second most in the league.

Then he could pass more without a problem. His rushing numbers could become far less important if passing efficiency increases. 

For now, though, until his passing production amps up the Bears really need whatever he can generate both passing and running, and it may mean being at risk.

The idea is for what happened last week with his rushing and passing to become a trend rather than an isolated occurrence, much the way it did in the last half of his starts in 2021.

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