Six months of offseason excitement has turned into grand expectations fueling a swirling wind of uncontrollable hype pushing the Bears — yes, the Bears that went 3-14 just nine months ago — toward the start of a pivotal 2023 season.
Quarterback Justin Fields excited with his legs last season. There’s no doubt half the city of Chicago can close its eyes and still see Fields leaving the Miami Dolphins in the dust or running past the Detroit Lions en route to a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Fields’ super-human playmaking ability allowed Bears fans to dream about what might come next. General manager Ryan Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus, and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy see the possibility and the potential. They know what Fields can be when fully actualized.
Those beliefs, combined with the hopes of a quarterback-starved fan base, the offseason acquisition of star wide receiver DJ Moore, and a supposed revamped offensive line, have thrust great expectations on the Bears’ third-year quarterback.
Fields will enter the season among the top 10 MVP favorites on the oddsboard. Fields was beyond spectacular with the ball in his hands last season. When he sees daylight, everyone holds their breath. But he also averaged 12 completions and 149 passing yards per game last season.
The 2022 Bears attempted the third-fewest passes of any NFL team since 1980. They did this despite trailing in a large portion of their games. Fields’ greatness aside, the Bears told you what they thought of his ability to win with his arm. Part of that comes down to a horrific offensive line and a decidedly unelectric group of skill guys, but if the Bears thought Fields could throw them back into games, they would have let him try.
MVP hopes are great. I believe Fields has that kind of ability both in his arms and legs. If he fails in the NFL, it won’t be because he doesn’t have the talent. It will be because he found himself in the worst possible situation to start an NFL career, and sometimes even the most elite talent can’t dig you out of the hole fate put you in.
Dread it. Run from it. Reality arrives all the same.
For the Fields and the 2023 Bears, the reality is that this campaign likely won’t come with a giant leap toward greatness. That goes for the hopeful franchise quarterback and a roster in what really amounts to Year 1 of a rebuild after a teardown campaign.
Can Fields be great? Can he become an MVP-level quarterback? He has it in him, yes. The athleticism is elite. Sometimes, he throws a laser or drops a 50-yard dime in a bucket, and your jaw drops. You can see a reality where it all comes together, but we’re still at the beginning of that road, not near the end.
The Bears need Fields to take one or two steps forward as a passer. The expectations outside might be hovering near the International Space Station. There’s excitement inside Halas Hall about the command Fields has of the offense in Year 2 and the jump he can take. But expectations are measured. You can’t run before you walk.
“Just to continue to improve,” general manager Ryan Poles said when asked what his expectations are for Fields. “Want those sack numbers to come down, interceptions to come down, make good reads, protect himself, just see him take that next step.”
Fields threw for 2,242 yards last season while completing 60.4 percent of his passes. He has said he can throw for 4,000 yards this season. That would be a massive jump. If Fields can get his completion percentage up near 65, get better at taking the easy throws, and throw for between 3,000 and 3,400 yards, that would be a great sign that the Bears have found their long-term solution under center.
Throwing for 3,000 or 3,5000 yards is a good target before shooting for over 4,000. Fields must show better pocket presence, make quicker decisions, and trust what he sees to let it fly.
There’s been a lot of talk about Fields following the Jalen Hurts trajectory. Broadly, that’s right. But in 2021, Hurts threw for 3,144 yards while completing 61.3 percent of his passes. Those numbers jumped to 3,701 and 66.5 in a Super Bowl runner-up season. Hurts entered into a better situation, but Fields has more innate talent. Asking Fields to go from 2,200 passing yards to over 4,000 is a Herculean ask.
It’s OK to have MVP dreams for Fields. There’s a reality where it all comes together, and he takes off. But going from below average as a passer to good is a needed step before ascending to top 10 in the NFL.
The 2023 Bears find themselves in the same position as a team.
Poles injected loads of talent into a roster he stripped down to the studs. Only 11 players from the previous regime remain. The rest are Poles guys. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards are in. So are defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker. Right guard Nate Davis and first-round right tackle Darnell Wright make up a new-look right side of the Bears’ offensive line that fits Poles’ “nasty” mold.
There’s talk of the Bears earning a wild-card berth or winning the NFC North.
A defense that can be kindly described as dog food in 2022 is proclaiming it will be dominant in 2023.
Once again, going from putrid to respectable is a needed step before leaping to pristine.
The 2023 Bears roster is night and day compared to what was trotted out at Soldier Field in the opener in 2022.
These Bears will be better.
The division is the goal every year. Yes, the NFC North is open with Rodgers now a New Jersey resident. But the Detroit Lions have a better overall roster, the Green Bay Packers just need Jordan Love to be adequate, and the Minnesota Vikings still have more than enough firepower.
The Bears are a seven- or eight-win team. A massive leap from Fields can get them to nine wins. But what this rebuild needs is competency on both sides of the ball. This team filled with guys Poles selected because of their scheme and attitude fit has to fit together and show that the grand vision, based on his evaluation, will work.
We must see that these players — Edmunds, Wright, Tyrique Stevenson, Davis, Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, etc., — are winning players this staff can elevate to the next level and, in doing so, hoist the Bears to the land of the perennial contender.
Perhaps the Bears gel quickly, take advantage of a softer schedule, and surprise everyone en route to a six-game turnaround. It has happened before.
However, such lofty expectations can lead to unnecessary disappointment.
The Bears will win more games in 2023. Of that, there should be little doubt.
But the end number in the win column isn’t what’s most important. The group that Poles assembled should take the field every Sunday and give you the feeling that things make sense and that, while a few pieces are needed, the man pressing the buttons is hitting the right ones.
The run defense likely will still be a work in progress. The offensive line might need more facelifting. But the pieces should make sense. The big swings on Edmunds, Wright, Stevenson, Davis, and Gervon Dexter should mostly pay off and not make you question the reasoning that led the Bears to those moves.
Having grand expectations isn’t a negative. Hope means that you can feel change coming. But that doesn’t mean it will arrive tomorrow.
Wins. Dominance. MVP.
All of that might come for Fields and the Bears in the future. But they have to walk before they can run or fly.
For Justin Fields and the 2023 Bears, don’t let expectations cloud the success of necessary forward progress. Because if the Bears take those unspectacular steps in 2023, then it’s fair to let those lofty expectations run rampant in 2024.