Future front and center as Panthers visit Bears
Posted on: 07 Nov, 2023 at 11:41 PM
Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
When the opportunity to start over with Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud at quarterback presented itself, the Chicago Bears surrendered the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft to the Carolina Panthers.
Young and the Panthers (1-7) visit the Bears (2-7) on Thursday night, and once again draft ramifications are of greater significance than the playoff picture.
The Bears in effect put their chips behind quarterback Justin Fields for a make-or-break 2023 season with the safety net, courtesy of the trade with Carolina, of having multiple first-round picks in 2024 to potentially re-address the position. If the season ended Thursday, the Bears would draft No. 2 and No. 3 overall, the higher pick by way of Carolina. The Arizona Cardinals (1-8) are the only team ahead of Chicago in the draft order nine weeks into the season.
"When you find your quarterback, you've got to go all in. You can't look back. When you find the quarterback that you want, you have to be willing to make that deal," Panthers coach Frank Reich said Tuesday, lamenting the deal did cost Carolina No. 1 wide receiver DJ Moore.
Fields might have earned no better than an incomplete for his season to date. He had two four-TD games in a row before being sidelined in a loss to the Vikings on Oct. 15. Chicago started undrafted rookie backup Tyson Bagent the past three games with Fields recovering from a dislocated right thumb. Fields has practiced in a limited capacity since last Friday.
Fields also has six interceptions and two fumbles, and has been sacked three-plus times in every game he's played this season.
He is far from the only reason the Bears are coming up short. Chicago had zero sacks and zero takeaways at New Orleans last week and lost 24-17 to the Saints. General manager Ryan Poles is confident newly acquired defensive end Montez Sweat can be a building block as the Bears search for more pillars.
Every decision likely feels critical right now for head coach Matt Eberflus, who is 5-21 with the Bears and 1-9 in games decided by eight or fewer points. It hasn't helped his cause that Bears quarterbacks rank 32nd in the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating.
Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said he'll have a plan that suits Fields in the event the team clears him for Thursday. Getsy said Bagent had a "solid game" against the Saints and has the confidence of his teammates.
"That's the cool part about how we put this thing together at the very beginning. We felt like we put it all out there for our guys and can take this thing in a few directions," Getsy said. "From everybody else's perspective in that room other than the two quarterbacks, it's not going to feel like it's a different game plan by any means if we go one direction or another (at quarterback)."
Tight end Cole Kmet has 16 receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games and is a player the Panthers are circling on the scouting report along with Moore, a very familiar threat.
"I just know from the tape -- big-time playmaker," Reich said of Moore, whom he never coached. "Truly one of those guys who can do it all. There's nothing he can't do. Really great player. Then of course, you hear about the person. He made quite an impression in this building on the type of person he was."
Getsy said "accuracy was easy" for Young when the Bears scouted his pro day at Alabama, calling him a natural passer.
Young has experienced a rough introduction to the NFL as a rookie with two pick-6s in last week's loss to the Colts. He also has 20-plus completions in all seven of his starts. He was sacked four times last week, and said he's focused on "making sure I get the ball out of my hands."
"We all take ownership in it," Young said. "One thing I love about this team, players and coaches, we're all looking at ways to get better and it starts with me."
Edge rusher Brian Burns (concussion) was ruled out Wednesday and wide receivers DJ Chark (elbow) and Laviska Shenault Jr. (ankle) are doubtful.
The Bears' biggest concern outside Fields is linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who sat out and could miss his second straight game with a knee injury.
--Field Level Media