Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy isn’t scheduled to speak with reporters until Thursday at Halas Hall.
That leaves a couple more days for Getsy’s harshest critics — and Justin Fields’ staunchest defenders — to continue catapulting tomatoes at will, firing on Getsy’s play-calling and an offensive approach that some have deemed too conservative to unlock the Bears’ bottom-tier attack.
But the knee-jerk outrage in the wake of Sunday’s 20-12 road loss to the New York Giants might not have ample supporting evidence, even after the Bears settled for four field goals in 12 possessions.
The truth is accountability must be spread all around as the Bears seek stimulants to enliven their 32nd-ranked passing offense. Fields isn’t playing well by any stretch of the imagination. His ordinary and depleted receiving corps hasn’t stepped up. The offensive line has been inconsistent at best in pass protection and now figures to be without guard Cody Whitehair for the rest of October.
And, yes, Getsy also should be held responsible for his role in overseeing an offense that has an NFL-low five touchdowns through four games and ranks 26th in third-down efficiency (34%).
A deeper dive into Sunday’s video, however, revealed an overwhelming number of execution errors that proved far more detrimental to the Bears’ stumbles than play-calling.
On 60 offensive snaps, the Bears ran 34 pass plays. Eleven resulted in completions. Eleven were incomplete. Six went down as quarterback scrambles for positive yards. Another six resulted in sacks, including a poorly blocked second-quarter play that ended with Fields losing a fumble.
Folded into the game video is evidence that the Bears had plenty of opportunities to make plays in the passing game and had shrewd calls to help that cause. They just faltered. Then they lost, touching a city’s raw nerve.
You can bet the upbeat rhetoric from inside Halas Hall won’t land quite right this week.
“I love the way (Justin) was throwing the ball down the field,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said immediately after the game. “That’s going to open up more things for us.”
Fields did finish with season highs in completions and passing yards. It’s all relative, but statistically, that’s progress, right? Eberflus saw it as such.
Still, when an 11-completion, 174-yard performance without a touchdown pass registers as a step forward worthy of a fist pump, the problems remain sizable.
Here’s your comprehensive Week 4 QB rewind.
On third-and-10 from the Giants 35-yard line late in the first half, Fields missed his biggest opportunity to break his three-week slump without a touchdown pass. Getsy sent in a “four verticals” concept against a Cover-2 look, giving Fields a well-timed chance to take a shot.
“That’s a very basic play,” Eberflus said.
Yet the Bears couldn’t pull it off.
Receiver Darnell Mooney made a mental error in the huddle, confusing the call with a like-named play from Matt Nagy’s 2021 library and mixing up the details of his route. Even so, the way things developed, Fields had a grooved fastball hanging over the plate and a chance to swing for the fences like he did on the team field trip to Wrigley Field over the summer.
A bit of a coverage bust by the Giants left Mooney streaking uncovered up the seam toward the end zone. And while, by his own admission, Mooney was supposed to bend his route toward the right hash instead of running straight upfield, there’s no excuse for Fields not seeing that big play waiting or pulling the trigger to capitalize.
“He certainly had time on that,” Eberflus said. “He certainly had time and could’ve rode the pocket a little bit more.”
Against a four-man rush, the Bears protection held up. It was the cleanest pocket Fields had all day. Yet for some reason, the moment he hit the top of his five-step drop, he tucked the football, dropped his eyes and scrambled forward through the pocket.
Eberflus theorized Monday that Fields was responding to a coaching point to either look for his check-down or run on that play against that coverage. Thus he gained 12 yards to convert on third-and-long and move the Bears inside the Giants 25.
But here’s why, at this stage of Fields’ development, it’s critical to separate play results from processes and decision-making.
Fields did too much wrong during that sequence, perhaps indicating that bad habits are starting to form amid the offense’s struggles. Or at the very least, good habits haven’t solidified. For one thing, while Fields might not have seen what he expected to see, he had to recognize the big break that presented itself.
“There’s no doubt,” Eberflus said Monday. “Get your eyes downfield and see what you see and take what they give you. You certainly have to do that. For sure.”
While Mooney acknowledged running the wrong route, he was reminded that the route he did run would have gone for a touchdown had Fields shown proper recognition.
“True,” he said. “True. And then we’re not talking about this as well. But I just have to be in the right spot.”
Fields’ lack of pocket awareness combined with his eagerness to take off running proved disappointing. To top it all off, his run was far from careful as he missed an opportunity to bounce outside and get out of bounds after picking up the first down and instead ran into a significant hit from linebacker Tae Crowder.
Again, the Bears picked up a first down on the play. But they left a potential game-changing touchdown on the table.
The second quarter was full of examples where the Bears had chances to produce in the passing game but failed during an ugly four-possession stretch in which the offense again made even the basics of football look difficult.
A sampling from that menu:
- On a first-down play-action pass near midfield, Fields rolled right for a seemingly easy completion to rookie running back Trestan Ebner. Yet confronted with moderate pressure from outside linebacker Tomon Fox, Fields threw high and missed Ebner badly. Incomplete.
- Five plays later, after converting on third-and-20 with a beautifully executed screen pass to Khalil Herbert for 24 yards, the Bears were in field-goal range with a first down at the Giants 27. Getsy sent in a pick play in which tight end Cole Kmet helped to free Equanimeous St. Brown coming across the middle, right to left, for what Fields was certain would be a big gain. But center Sam Mustipher was beaten up the middle by defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, and left tackle Braxton Jones was beaten worse by defensive end Azeez Olujari. Ojulari’s helmet hit Fields’ right triceps as he threw, and the ball popped up for an unorthodox fumble the Giants recovered.
- On the next possession, Fields bit off a big chunk with a play-action completion to Mooney: 21 yards up the left sideline on an out route. The pocket wasn’t entirely clean on that play, but it was more than friendly enough and Fields didn’t get enough mustard on his pass. It was about a foot and a half short and short-hopped the turf as Mooney dived to grab it. The big gain was overturned on a Giants challenge. Instead of a first down at midfield, the Bears had third-and-6 at their 29 and Fields took a 9-yard sack on the next snap when Lawrence pushed Lucas Patrick backward.
- The Bears forced a turnover on the subsequent punt. But a second-down slant pass to Dante Pettis was knocked down when defensive lineman Nick Williams detached from Mustipher’s block to get his left hand in the passing lane. Then came the missed home run pitch with Mooney all alone deep.
- Finally, with an aggressive attempt to squeeze points out of their final first-half possession, the Bears ran three pass plays in the final 36 seconds before halftime. But that resulted in a pair of 2-yard Fields scrambles and a half-ending sack.
And that was just a one-quarter sampling of the constant malfunctioning.
Four games into the season, Bears fans find themselves in a familiar place. Their starting quarterback is struggling. His supporting cast isn’t doing much supporting. The offensive coordinator is under fire. And the defense and special teams are making enough mistakes to get them beat.
With 13 games remaining, the debate is intensifying as to who deserves how much blame for all that’s going wrong, particularly with the passing offense.
Fields’ surface-level diagnosis?
“We’ve just got to be more consistent,” he said. “Whether it’s me, whether it’s O-line, whether it’s the receivers. On some plays we’re all on the same page and we’re all executing great. And then (on) some plays we aren’t.”
Back to the grind.
On the bright side
Fields’ deep ball to Mooney on the first play of the Bears’ second possession was a thing of a beauty, a 56-yard connection that required a strong throw on a gusty New Jersey afternoon and a pretty catch by Fields’ favorite receiver.
In all, Mooney had a season-high 94 yards and was on the receiving end of Fields’ best three throws. In addition to that first-quarter deep ball, he added a pair of 18-yard receptions.
The first, on the Bears’ second offensive snap, came on play action with Fields’ footwork and timing crisp. In the third quarter, Mooney worked out of the left slot and settled into a window in the Giants zone. Fields calmly dropped a pretty touch pass into his hands for a big gain.
The only other shot the Bears hit down the field was a play-action rollout dart to tight end Trevon Wesco for a gain of 23.
Yet Eberflus seemed almost giddy that a passing attack that averaged 78.3 net yards in September showed even the smallest signs of life.
“We got the ball down the field in the passing game,” Eberflus emphasized Monday. “So that was a good thing to see. That’s a good start for us. (There’s) some good confidence to be built from that.”
It was the latest evidence that the Bears still are making — and celebrating — baby steps in the evolution of their passing game.
Odds and ends
- Eberflus said Sunday he would have to look at the game video to see what went wrong with the Bears’ lackluster effort in trying to recover Fields’ second-quarter fumble. By Monday afternoon, he had a full report. St. Brown, Cody Whitehair, Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom were docked for “loafs” for their lack of urgency in getting after the football. Eberflus made it clear he wouldn’t condone that kind of focus lapse. He did, though, offer some sympathy because the loose ball came from behind those players and outside their vision when it popped free. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m in pass pro and then all of a sudden this thing drops from the sky over my head and then it’s (right) there,’” Eberflus said. “So I think Cody was caught off guard. As all the linemen were. You’ve got to be ready for it and jump on it and have some reaction there.”
- The Bears’ ability to convert on third-and-20 and beat a blitz with a well-timed and sharply executed screen pass to Herbert was impressive. The Giants sent a five-man rush, but the Bears were synced up nicely and, with key blocking out in front from Mustipher, Whitehair and Jenkins, Herbert took Fields’ pass 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and rumbled 4 yards beyond the line to gain. For those who sat through four seasons of clunky screen attempts in the Nagy era, that 24-yard pickup was refreshing.
- The Bears went 0-for-3 inside the red zone and have converted only 50% of their red-zone trips into touchdowns this season. That’s tied for 24th in the league. With nine plays inside the red zone against the Giants, the Bears called four pass plays and five runs. Ultimately they settled for three Michael Badgley field goals. Getsy is taking heat from fans for not being more aggressive and calling a higher volume of passing plays inside the red zone, particularly on third-and-3 from the Giants 5 in the first quarter. But the running game has been the Bears’ offensive strength through four games. Leaning on a strength in a scoring opportunity seemed logical, especially given the consistent execution breakdowns on passing plays.
- On the Bears’ second red-zone trip, Fields took a sack on first down from the Giants 12 when it appeared he had Kmet open in his line of vision for what would have been a short gain to the left. Fields instead scurried into a loss and was taken down by defensive end Jihad Ward. Fields indicated after the game he had anticipated Ward would follow Kmet. Given a chance for a redo, he insinuated he would have thrown to Kmet. Mooney expanded on that sequence Monday, noting he contributed to the play’s sloppiness with a misinterpretation of his responsibilities based on the formation he heard called for in the huddle. Mooney said he was supposed to run a corner route but mistakenly stayed in to chip in pass protection based on the huddle call. That eliminated one of Fields’ primary targets. “I thought I heard something else (called) and some guys heard something else as well,” Mooney said.