Welcome to Third Down Thursdays' first two-person article. Jack Gaffney and I worked together for one of our most significant projects yet, given the recent developments with the Chicago Bears. Justin Fields is far from the projected massive third-year breakout season in a two-game sample size. Between the 10 sacks he’s taken already, the horrible scheming and play calling by Luke Getsy, and the roster mismanagement by GM Ryan Poles, there's a ton to go over.
Buckle up, TDT Nation, cause this one is going to be a bumpy ride.
Justin Fields vs. The Scheme/Play Calling
Jackson: Despite being known as an avid Fields defender, I cannot go through this article without lumping some of the blame at the feet of Fields. The play calling and the scheme have been questionable at best, but one of FIelds’ biggest issues is being exposed right now: holding on to the ball too long. He's already taken 10 sacks through two games, most of which are on him for holding onto the ball for too long.
Let's start with Week 1 against the Packers:
In one of the worst play designs I have ever seen (more on this play later), Fields takes a horrible sack from Packers' rookie edge rusher Lukas Van Ness. Instead of throwing the ball away here, Fields nearly runs out of bounds before getting dragged to the ground. You must get rid of the ball and protect your body, not to mention the distance for a potential touchdown.
Aside from the sack, it is one of the worst play designs I have ever seen. On this play, receiver(s) Tyler Scott runs a fade route away from Fields, Claypool runs a stick to the goal line, and Darnell Mooney also runs a fade. The issue comes where it appears tight end Cole Kmet is run-blocking (or doing whatever), and the offensive line is pass-blocking. J.T. O’Sullivan’s breakdown is beyond sad and hilarious because he doesn’t even know what the play is or the purpose of it. Just awful play all around.
Week 1 was awful all the way around for the Bears. The letdown of losing to the Packers again stings, and the offense looked as disjointed as ever. Bad play calling, bad scheme, and bad decisions by Justin Fields got the season off to a horrible start. Despite that, I don't think Bears fans were ready for what they saw in Week 2 against Tampa Bay.
A Meltdown in the Florida Heat
After taking a sack on 1st and 10 at the 50 via some bad play and blocking from Cole Kmet (more on this later), Fields had a chance to pick up a first down on 3rd and 13; with the Bears running a scissor play with Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool running a corner route and post route, respectively, and D.J. Moore running a backside dig.
As the play develops, Moore gets wide open on the dig for a first down within 2-3 seconds of the ball being snapped. Besides the fact this play ends in a sack is the fact that the defensive back is five yards away from Moore, and with Fields' arm strength, he could have easily zipped it in there for a first down. He could have potentially had a touchdown if Moore had broken away.
Instead, the play ends up like this.
Now, let's go to the play that everyone is talking about on Twitter: the Roschon Johnson seam route that is wide open for a touchdown.
Before I rip into the play, I will say this is a creative concept from Getsy in these route combos. Having a wheel route, an in route, and a seam, creates some interesting matchups against a zone coverage look. The problem is the personnel on the field and who’s running what.
In this play, Tyler Scott is running the in at the bottom of the screen, Trent Taylor is running a flat route for the check down, Roschon Johnson is running the seam, and Cole Kmet is running the wheel. The problem comes in when you realize that Cole Kmet is slow as a snail, which makes the wheel route ineffective, and when it looks like Scott is running the route to just clear the area, not get open, which he actually was.
From what it looks like, this play is designed to get Roschon open in the seam, which it actually does here. The middle safety takes the in, and the other safety goes to the wheel route over the top, leaving Roschon wide open.
However, from what I can tell (and people more versed in play design than me), it looks like the read is the wheel to Kmet, the dig to Scott, and then the check down to Taylor. So either Fields read this play incorrectly, or Luke Getsy is unbelievably stupid. If it was man coverage with two high safeties, i get it, but this play is designed to move the safeties in zone with a zone look to open up the middle of the field. The read should be wheel, seam, then checkdown. Instead, Fields gets sacked twice in this series, forcing the Bears to take a field goal, putting the game at 10-10 with 1:55 left in the first half.
Even on the next play, Fields misses a wide-open Claypool on a sit route to at least make the third down a third and manageable.
There is something wrong with Justin Fields; no rationale Bears fan or analyst will deny that. He has had several opportunities to make quality NFL reads on open throws. While some of that has been on the scheming of the plays, Fields needs to see these routes and players. It’s essential for him to follow the reads, and he also has to let his instincts take over (unless those instincts have been coached out of him by this staff).
On the Outside Looking In
Jack: As someone on the outside looking in on the Chicago Bears, watching how they've managed to fail Justin Fields at each and every avenue over the last 2.5 years has been fascinating. Whether that be not surrounding him with the protection up front or the wrong weapons by Ryan Poles, bad play calling and not playing to his strengths by OC Luke Getsy or a variety of other factors, the Bears have no one to blame but themselves for the position they find themselves in. This is not to say Fields hasn't had his struggles two games into 2023, far from it in fact. But if you watch this team and say Justin Fields is the problem for the Bears, you are incorrect.
The writing was on the wall for this team as a whole, specifically, this offense, for months at least and a year and a half at most before Chicago fans packed the desecrated remains of what was once Soldier Field proper to see them lose yet again to the Green Bay Packers.
Jack: As the 2022 season ended, and entering the 2022 season if you want to go there, the Bears had three gigantic issues they needed to address on both sides of the ball. Their offensive line was one of the worst overall units in the league, with no impact players. They had no one on the edge who could generate pressure and no one on the inside who could affect things in the pass or run game. Finally, Justin Fields had one consistent target to throw to, and that was Darnell Mooney.
Sticking with the first and final points mainly, GM Ryan Poles' first major mistake came at the trade deadline a year ago when he acquired Chase Claypool for what was, in essence, a first-round pick in all but name (that turned into Joey Porter Jr.). I had stated before that if Claypool was ever traded Steeler’s GM Omar Khan should walk into the Hall of Fame should he pull that kind of compensation for someone like Claypool, and that wasn't an accident. His maturity on the field was a massive issue in his Pittsburgh stint, and now his effort has been (correctly) put into question in 2023. Let alone the fact that he's yet to make any notable impact since arriving in Chicago. How does 17 catches on 39 targets, 176 yards, and 1 (one) touchdown in nine games sound? This is who you give up the 32nd overall pick in the draft for? Now imagine if Poles had not caught the Panthers in a desperate spot and gotten the chance to get D.J. Moore.
Keeping up with Notre Dame guys who haven't lived up to the hype, a common trend for pass catchers out of South Bend, we move on to Cole Kmet. Earlier this year, Poles gave him a four-year $50,000,000 extension (guaranteed salary dries up after year two), with the $12,500,000 AAV bringing him on level with New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry. There was not a single receiving statistic where Kmet was better than Henry through their first 50 games, and in some cases, it wasn’t even close. Although Kmet brings more to the table as a blocker, the early returns on that extension aren’t looking too good. He had several rough snaps against the Buccaneers last Sunday.
Onto the offensive line now. This is where Poles really cooked this offseason. And by cooked, I mean broke out the old Ryan Grigson playbook of not giving your franchise QB any semblance of protection. This was a bad offensive line last year, and Poles only made two moves to shore things up. Drafting Darnell Wright in the top 10 of this year’s draft. Great move. Poles also brought in guard Nate Davis from the Tennessee Titans on a three-year deal worth $10,000,000 annually, with just south of $20,000,000 in guarantees. Not a great move. That was nowhere near enough, and that’s inexcusable on the part of Poles. Now the Bears have the worst interior offensive line in football, and Braxton Jones, who had a solid rookie season, is going on IR with a neck injury. Injuries are one thing, but Poles doing this little to fix a wretched offensive line is a borderline fireable offense, never mind some of these offensive guys he’s brought in.
Getsy Hanging Fields out to Dry
Jack: Fields went out of his way to call out the coaching staff on Wednesday and specifically mentioned having to process too much information. Normally I’d say that is a bad sign, but if you go back and watch things against Tampa, he’s well within his rights to say that.
This play here was on the opening offensive drive of the game and should never be run again. Getsy is asking Fields to take this snap with his eyes already shifted to the right to look for the bubble screen, then back to his center and left to determine whether he’s handing this ball off or taking it himself. This is all happening in the span of about 1.5 seconds by the way. There’s not a quarterback alive who is pulling this off routinely, much less with the kind of protection Fields has.
Speaking of the protection, we move further on in the first half to this disaster of a play. While this sack goes against Darnell Wright’s record, this is 100 percent on Cole Kmet. Wright is giving up outside leverage here because Kmet was probably supposed to chip Shaq Barrett’s outside shoulder before going to the flat. As you can see, he does everything but that, which puts Wright in a no-win situation because he can't get deep enough in his set in time. Had Fields had any extra time, he probably had Claypool deep on that stop and go to his left side.
Now, onto the final set of plays where Getsy and the Bears gave Fields no chance. Under three minutes left, down three points, and you just got saved from a game losing pick six due to an offsides by Barrett. What does Getsy call up? Back-to-back screens, of course, two-minute drill football the way God intended. Screen No. 1 would have been a good drive starter had Claypool not decided to block about 15 yards downfield. Then, moments later, the blocking fails upfront; Fields has no option other than to either take a safety or try to get off a throw with heavy traffic right in front of him and give credit to Barrett because this is an excellent play. Wildly unserious playcalling by Getsy, however.
Brian Baldinger also had a video on the Bears issues in Week 1, but there are some serious problems here. Nothing going on is sustainable, and Fields was well within his right to call out the coaching, even if it got him some internal heat. I’d rather him do it publicly than through ‘sources close to Justin Fields’ talking to the Bears media core. Even if the Bears decide to move on, do you really think this will be sustainable for a guy like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, etc.?
How the Bears Fix Things
Jackson: While I don’t believe everyone should go, I think there are some glaring outliers. I'm more willing to give a GM some leeway, considering the turnover Ryan Poles had to to deal with since he arrived in Chicago, but coaches have a much shorter leash. The offensive staff, especially the OC, needs to realize that Justin Fields is not Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was mobile but never reached the heights of mobility Fields has in his short three-year career. Use that to your advantage. Getsy needs to pack up his bags and find a new NFL team to work for. He and the rest of the offensive staff do not know how to use Fields or refuse to do what he does best.
It feels like Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky all over again, with Nagy seemingly refusing to play to his quarterback's strengths and forcing his system down his throat. After seemingly learning what Fields did best last year, Getsy has seemingly ignored that. I know defenses will adjust to what the Bears will try to do, but that’s where you show your metal as a coach by adjusting back.
I remember writing an article near the end of last year talking about how the Bears had exceeded expectations despite a 3-14 record. Part of that was because of the offensive strides they made at the end of last year. Fields running and making big throws when called upon, and simply being a playmaker. He even said at the time that they had borrowed some run plays from the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. That’s the type of quarterback Fields is a dynamic running quarterback. While Fields hasn’t had near the success as Jackson, part of that comes from good coaching by the offensive staff and John Harbaugh in Baltimore in knowing what they have while trying to improve Lamar’s ability as a pocket passer. Jackson already has 18 rushing attempts to Fields’ 13, and most came on scrambles against the Packers, where he had seven scrambles, one QB sneak, and one zone read play.
Greg Olsen said it best to ESPN 1000 the other day that the stuff that Fields needs to work on should not negate what he is good at. There should be a mix of designed runs, rollouts, RPOs, drop-back, zone reads, along with the straight drop-back passing game.
I think unless things change rapidly, Fields will be looking at his third offensive coordinator in three or four seasons, his third head coach in four seasons, and potentially a new team altogether.
I still believe in Fields; there is big-time talent there. The problem lies between his indecisiveness, the overcoaching, horrible scheming, and the lack of investment made in the offensive line. It makes it very difficult for that talent to flourish. Maybe things will turn around this week in Kansas City, with Fields vowing to play football the way he knows how to. Will we see the Fields we saw in the latter part of last season? Or will we see more of the same from his 5-22 record?