CHICAGO — Justin Fields is a hot mess, and so are the Chicago Bears, but when it comes to blame for an 0-2 start, the buck stops with coaching and scheme before any one player’s performance.
“We’re just searching for consistency,” said Matt Eberflus at a press conference Monday. “It’s about consistency, doing it right.”
It certainly feels familiar, doesn’t it Bears fans?
I, like most of you, spent my Sunday yelling at a TV – with Chicago’s almost total ineptitude on offense, save for two possessions, driving me up a wall.
In honor of the lucky few who missed the Bears’ performance, here are the Spark Notes.
Chicago got off to a hot start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — scoring on their opening drive — only to regress so much as the game went on, that gouging an eye out seemed more enjoyable than watching Bears football.
In similar fashion to a week before, it appeared the once vaunted Monsters of the Midway salvaged momentum in hopes of making a comeback, only to squander it in grand fashion.
Against the Packers, the momentum swing was a 20-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Darnell Mooney with under a minute to go in the third quarter.
Sunday, it also was a 20-yard touchdown pass – this time from Fields to Chase Claypool – near the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
After the 20-yard touchdown to Mooney, Green Bay reeled off 14 points in under a minute to kick off the fourth. Seven were courtesy of Jordan Love to Romeo Dobbs, and another seven came courtesy of a Quay Walker pick-six, putting the game well out of Chicago’s reach.
After the 20-yard TD to Claypool, the Bears’ defense got a stop with a little over two minutes to spare and gave their offense an opportunity to put together a game-winning drive.
The rest is history.
Chicago offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called the exact same screen play twice in a row. The first iteration went for double digit yards before being called back on a hold, and the second iteration was snuffed out by Tampa Bay’s defense, leading to a Shaq Barrett pick-six that iced the game in the Buccaneers’ favor.
Here is the breakdown from ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
After taking the time to process my thoughts, and listening to those who know football, my gut tells me the Bears don’t have any sort of developed offensive game plan, much less one that caters to the strengths of their weapons on offense – most prominently, Justin Fields – and that falls squarely on the coaching staff, more so than any specific player.
Look, Fields isn’t blameless in the ongoing conundrum that is Chicago’s offense. But when the system is this defunct, his margin of error becomes minuscule – and when he makes a mistake – it becomes magnified.
I keep going back to a tweet from SB Nation’s JP Acosta during the game Sunday.
“Either Justin Fields has got to throw the ball quicker,” Acosta said. “Or the offense needs to actually have some quick game/intermediate offense built into it because none of this is good.”
Getsy’s play calling has lacked depth and creativity, and even basic concepts at its worse.
Like Acosta pointed out, Fields stands to benefit from the implementation of something besides screen plays and the occasional deep throw to DJ Moore, but when it looks as bad as this, it begs the question, can Getsy figure it out?
All three receivers on the right side of the formation ended up on the same plane with no layering of routes to different depths, and the result was about as expected – two guys within feet of each other, and no one knew who was supposed to be on the receiving end of that ball from Fields. Incomplete pass.
Going back to the pick-six against Tampa Bay, a Buccaneers’ linebacker put it succinctly how obvious it was that another screen pass was coming.
“I mean, they called a screen. It was the same formation, everyone knew what was coming,” said Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David after the game.
If everyone knew what was coming, it should have been simple for Getsy to call anything else but the same exact play they just ran.
In an interview with ESPN 1000 Monday, Eberflus defended Getsy’s call to run the same screen twice in a row. Eberflus said it was a good call, Chicago just has to execute better.
Eberflus also mentioned Fields is allowed to audible out of a play if he doesn’t like what he sees.
No euphemism on how the coaching staff needs to do better in that situation. In fact, they did “good,” as Eberflus put it.
And then, instead of taking responsibility for the play call (or placing it on Getsy), he deferred responsibility to his quarterback.
At the same Bears press conference Monday, Eberflus was asked if there was a morale issue at this point in the season, having started 0-2.
“There’s nothing there. We are steadfast, we are straight forward, and we are all in this together,” Eberflus responded to the question. “So, as coaches, players, we’re looking at a great Wednesday practice, and then looking into Kansas City. That’s what we’re looking at.”
Eberflus isn’t the man in the proverbial crosshairs here, but the exchange on ESPN radio followed by a team morale question at a separate press conference, puts the writing on the wall, and the clock is ticking.
Those invested in the team need to see something, and it’s not like that something can’t be based around Justin Fields.
Kanye West confidant and multi-platinum rapper Pusha T once said on the song Infrared, “He see what I see when you see Wayne on tour. Flash without the fire.”
In this case, Fields is Lil Wayne on tour. We’ve all seen ‘the flash’ – those dazzling runs and deep completions rolling out on play action – but ‘the fire,’ aka the foundation that sustains the flash, is missing.
It’s plain to see in Fields’ body language on and off the field. Take it from one of Chicago’s Very Own, and Momma Payton for that matter too.
“That’s what breaks my heart,” said Connie Norwood-Payton, mother to WGN Sports Anchor and Reporter Jarrett Payton. “Something’s missing. I don’t see the fight. I don’t see the excitement in his eyes.”
The fight and excitement in Fields’ eyes will return with the help of another ‘F’ word.
Getsy has to get back to what makes Justin Fields, Justin Fields. And what makes Justin Fields, Justin Fields, is what put a smile on his face last year – designed runs, roll outs and play-action passes.
According to Zack Pearson from Bearsreport.com, Chicago has called exactly four (yes, four) designed runs for Fields through their first two games of the season. This is a guy that had the second-most single season rushing yards by a quarterback (1,143) in NFL history last year, all while leading the league in yards-per-carry (7.1).
He can run the ball, if that wasn’t already blatantly clear.
Fields’ 2022 stats were also above-league average in a pair of categories when it came to passing out of play-action, despite posting a below average yards-per-attempt and completion % last year.
According to Pro Football Focus, among NFL quarterbacks with at least half the maximum number of drop-backs during the 2022 regular season, Fields finished second in average depth of target (11.1 yards) and tied for ninth in touchdown passes (7) off play-action, despite posting the 15th-best yards-per-attempt (7.9) and 21st-best completion % (60.7) on play-action passes, out of 25 qualified quarterbacks.
If Getsy can design a system that accentuates Fields’ strengths through implementing more designed runs, while also incorporating quarterback-friendly play-action passes and other designed roll outs to help improve his accuracy, there’s no reason this Bears offense can’t take a jump toward legitimacy.
So far this season, a small sample size suggests Fields has been better on play-action passes compared to last year’s numbers too. On 14 drop-backs through two games, Fields has completed five of seven passes in play-action, good for 79 yards and 11.3 YPA.
The problem though, once again comes back to Getsy.
This year compared to last, Fields’ % of drop-backs into play-action passes has been cut nearly in half – down from 32.7% in 2022, to 16.5% so far in 2023.
Getsy needs to reverse course and go back to what works with Justin Fields before it’s too late. Otherwise, Chicago will just continue to be what it has always been.
A place where quarterbacks go to die.
This piece is the introduction to a weekly column that will be published on Monday evenings following each Bears game for the rest of the NFL season. For more on the Bears and other Chicago sports from WGN News, you can follow Eli Ong, Larry Hawley and Jarrett Payton on X.