Bears’ WRs still looking for chemistry with QB Justin Fields on scramble plays
They’re off-script, but extended or broken plays could turn into big gains for the Bears with Fields’ strong arm and their wide receivers’ speed
One of Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields’ best assets is his scrambling ability — not necessarily to take off running, but to roll away from a crowded pocket and buy time for a downfield shot. Those are precious opportunities for a team with a wide receiver corps it considers the fastest in the NFL.
By the time Fields gets out of the pocket, it’s no longer about the original play call or routes. The game shifts into something more like recess, and that should be a good thing for the Bears given his arm strength and their receivers’ speed.
“You can get a lot of big plays like that,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said Tuesday. “Some explosive plays [come] when the pocket breaks down or it just being a five-, six-second play.
“If a defense is in zone, their eyes are on the quarterback, so once he scrambles out, the defenders now have to figure out where everybody is. As he starts to scramble, all those zones shift.”
And if they don’t shift quickly and smartly, any receiver could be running free in an instant. It’s also a long time to hold the coverage, and it’s more difficult to account for everyone in that scenario because no one is running a conventional route.
No one is running a route at all, actually.
Receivers must improvise in those situations, but it’s more like a jazz ensemble than a stand-up comedian. If Robinson, Darnell Mooney or Marquise Goodwin makes a move, it doesn’t do any good if it’s not in sync with Fields.
That’s a different way of playing for Robinson and Mooney after working with Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky the last two seasons.
Their ultra-reliable route-running becomes irrelevant. It’s about chemistry at that point, and the Bears’ top receivers are still working on it with Fields. He practiced mainly with the second team until taking over as the Bears’ starter in Week 3. And even then, the Bears haven’t worked on scramble drills much, in part because coaches typically blow the play dead quickly in practice to prevent quarterbacks from getting hit.
“That’s still somewhat of a work in progress,” Robinson said of learning Fields’ tendencies on broken plays. “It’s hard to script it because [every play] is so different.”
Robinson and the other receivers have been studying film of Fields’ scrambles to see where he’s usually looking based on which direction he runs and to figure out where they need to go to take advantage of the chaos.
That’s vital for an offense that ranks last in the NFL in passing yardage at 117.2 per game and third-from-last in scoring at 16.3 points per game. They’re also last in the league with nine pass plays of 20 yards or more.
Coach Matt Nagy thinks the best way to get deep shots is off play-action because the team has established a run-heavy offense, and he’s probably right. But these extended plays provide great opportunities, too, and it allows Fields to take advantage of one of his strengths.