(670 The Score) The Bears lost their fourth straight game Sunday, falling 27-24 to the Falcons in Atlanta. What was worse than the setback for the Bears was quarterback Justin Fields suffering a left shoulder injury that could require him to miss time. Here are the observations as Chicago dropped to 3-8.
Time to prioritize Fields’ health
Let’s start with the obvious: Fields needs to be shut down for as long as is necessary for him to reach full health, whether that’s several games or even the remainder of the season. The Bears need to prioritize Fields' health and their future above all else.
Fields first dealt with this left shoulder injury after the Bears’ loss to the Commanders on Oct. 13 at Soldier Field. He didn't miss a game, practice or even any snaps while dealing with the ailment. Fields pressed on through the injury and appears to have reaggravated it late in Chicago's loss Sunday.
In the aftermath of that loss to the Commanders, Fields went on a historic run and showcased considerable growth that bodes well for his future. There’s no denying the significance of what he has accomplished in recent weeks, even as he played at less than 100%.
But a health concern like this felt inevitable as Fields has taken hit after hit behind a porous offensive line and increased his rushing production. He has been sacked on 14.9% of his drop-backs this season, by far the highest mark of any NFL quarterback.
Far too often, the Bears have spoken of Fields’ toughness. Now, they need to focus on protecting him better.
Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was wrong to dial up a pair of designed runs for Fields late in the fourth quarter Sunday with Chicago trailing 27-24. Doing so failed to protect an ailing quarterback and also didn't give the Bears their best chance to drive for the tie or win. Favoring his left shoulder and wincing in pain, Fields attempted his first pass of that series on third down and overshot running back David Montgomery on a short throw over the middle. It went for an interception that sealed the Falcons' victory.
It too often seems like the Bears are oblivious to the health of Fields, who continues to fight through pain during an increasingly lost season that’s taking a toll on him. Fields faces great risk behind this Bears offensive line, which is a blatant problem the team failed to address last offseason.
While the Bears’ goal is to build for the future, general manager Ryan Poles still could’ve done more in the present to stabilize an offensive line that has been problematic over the last several seasons. The Bears' most lucrative investment on the offensive line last spring was signing center Lucas Patrick to a two-year, $8-million deal. He has played in just seven games, making five starts, while dealing with injury woes this season. Patrick has also played poorly when healthy.
Fields will undergo further testing to determine the extent of his injury, and it remained unclear what the next steps were as of early Monday afternoon.
Whatever the results are, the Bears need to better prioritize Fields' health and do a better job of protecting him.
New Bears receiver Chase Claypool had two catches for 11 yards against the Falcons, giving him five receptions in three games in a Chicago uniform. He at least had an increased workload, playing 29 of his team’s 69 snaps on offense, but the ball hasn’t gone Claypool’s way enough.
It seems the most ambitious effort to maximize Claypool came during the Bears' loss to the Dolphins on Nov. 6, when Fields heaved a deep ball his way down the left sideline late in the game. It was an incompletion that probably should've been defensive pass interference. At the least, the play showcased how Claypool’s 6-foot-4 frame can create a mismatch.
In addressing Claypool's lack of usage, Getsy recently explained that his scheme doesn't cater to a single receiver.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Getsy said last Thursday. “And we include a lot of people in what we do. I think it’s just not as simple as like if you’re watching some teams. Like, I’ll just use my past history of like in 2014, (the Packers) lined up in (four-receiver sets) and you lined up Davante (Adams), Jordy (Nelson) and Randall (Cobb) and Aaron (Rodgers) is your quarterback, and that’s it. So, if someone popped in that offense, it would probably be a little easier because you just plug in place. Where we just have a lot more moving parts as far as specifically one guy with the way we’re going right now to isolate.”
Getsy should re-evaluate that notion and do more to get Claypool more involved in the Bears’ plans.
Slight improvement on defense
The Bears' defense gave Chicago a better chance to win Sunday than it had in recent weeks, when it allowed an average of 38.3 points across its previous three games.
The Bears held the Falcons to 280 yards of offense, regrouping well after Atlanta’s opening 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The game flipped on a special teams play as the Falcons' Cordarrelle Patterson ran back a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Despite the slight improvement, the Chicago defense is struggling to generate pressure. The Bears failed to sack Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota once (a sack initially credited to cornerback Kyler Gordon was later reversed to be a tackle) and recorded only one hurry.
The Bears are making some strides on defense, but the next step is getting home on the quarterback.
-- Bears rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. understood why he had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff in recent weeks. He wasn’t providing any value for the Bears on game day, which is why he was a healthy scratch in the two games prior to Sunday. Jones used that as motivation in practice, regained his role as the team’s kickoff returner and capitalized Sunday by producing a 55-yard kick return. That’s how to provide value.
-- The Bears have tried seven different offensive line combinations in 11 games this season. None have included Alex Leatherwood, the 2021 first-round pick of the Raiders whom the Bears claimed off waivers in September. The experiment has been a failure so far, as Leatherwood just hasn’t done anything to earn a role after initially dealing with health problems.
-- There perhaps isn’t a more underappreciated player on the Bears’ roster than DeAndre Houston-Carson, the seventh-year safety and special teams standout who’s a steady presence. Houston-Carson forced a fumble Sunday because he didn't quit on the play and punched the football loose.
-- Speaking of forced fumbles, Bears rookie safety Jaquan Brisker punched the ball away from Patterson in the second quarter. He saw that Patterson was loose with the football as he carried it with one hand, then chased him down from behind to knock it free.
-- It was odd that Bears right guard Teven Jenkins was active but didn't start or play, as the coaching staff used Michael Schofield instead. I don’t understand the rationale behind the decision at all, as coach Matt Eberflus explained that Jenkins would only be used in the case of an emergency.
-- The Bears (3-8) are currently positioned to have the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Only the Texans (1-8-1) and Panthers (3-8 while owning a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker) are ahead of the Bears. Adjust your mock drafts accordingly.
-- What did Falcons senior personnel executive Ryan Pace think while watching that game?
-- What did Falcons senior personnel executive Phil Emery think while watching that game?
-- What did Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone think while watching that game?
-- What did the dozens of other ex-Bears in Atlanta think while watching that game?
-- Congratulations to everybody rooting for draft positioning. That was a loss made just for you.
-- There are six more games left in this Bears season.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.