In an empty backfield on Nov. 8, Bears quarterback Justin Fields took the shotgun snap, stepped up to avoid the pass rush to his left and turned his shoulders exactly parallel to the line of scrimmage.
He ran that way — directly toward the Steelers’ bench — from the right hash mark almost to the “0” painted on the left side of the Heinz Field turf at the Steelers’ 20. He looked downfield toward Darnell Mooney, who ran a 10-yard hitch from the left slot that stopped at the 5 and then broke the route toward the end zone when his quarterback rolled out.
Cornerback Arthur Maulet turned his back to Fields to cover Mooney, which was the quarterback’s cue finally turn his hips and shoulders toward the end zone — and to throw.
“I mean, it’s pretty much routes on air,” Fields said Wednesday. “The DB can’t see the ball. So I just put the ball in a good place and, you know . . . [Mooney] came down with it.”
Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was impressed with the 16-yard touchdown pass, which gave the Bears a fleeting lead with 1:46 to play.
“That was not an easy angle,” he said.
It was a throw not many quarterbacks could make. And one Fields himself might not have been able to make a few weeks ago.
This season, the Bears have been putting Fields through practice drills to improve his accuracy rolling left. His two passing touchdowns over the previous two games have both come on those exact plays — when he broke out of the pocket, sprinted left and threw a strike.
Entering a second half of the season that will be measured by Fields’ progress more than anything else, those little victories are a big deal.
“He’s made special throws rolling left,” coach Matt Nagy said. “You never know how many of those you’re going to get intentionally — or on purpose — in a game. He’s very comfortable doing it. Some guys aren’t. And some guys aren’t, even as righties, as comfortable throwing to the right.
“But he has a touch.”
Against the 49ers, Fields ran left and threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jesse James that DeFilippo called a “mailbox throw” — it would have fit inside one.
“I always listen to hockey goalies and people talk about angles of the puck,” DeFilippo said. “And it’s very similar to when you have to deliver the football on time and accurately. You have to understand the angle and where the defender is and where he could cut off the route — and maybe a make a play on the ball.
“I thought both those guys did a great job of doing that.”
Throwing while rolling left is harder than it sounds. Some right-handed quarterbacks hate having to throw while rolling against their body, Nagy said.
“You’ve got to flip your hips around,” Nagy said. “You gotta get your shoulder square to your target — that’s harder when you’ve got to flip the whole way around. That’s difficult. It’s not easy when you’re on the run. Again throwing off the wrong foot sometimes. Sometimes when you’re trying to get your hips around, your shoulders around to throw off the wrong foot, it makes you inaccurate.
“He’s been really accurate in that case.”
Last month, the Bears identified Fields throwing while moving left as something they needed to improve upon. Being able to roll their quarterback to both sides of the field keeps play-action — and, just as important for a run-heavy team, the threat of it — as an option regardless of the direction the play is run.
“Just getting your shoulders turned and, you’re able to deliver the ball.” Fields said. “Because you’re fighting against the direction you’re throwing. So you just have to keep the elbow in and keep those shoulders in so you can deliver an accurate ball.”
There’s no secret — ‘‘Just practicing it,” Fields said — but it comes naturally to the quarterback. Credit Fields’ second-best sport — he was a standout high school shortstop and is used to kicking out his left leg to gain balance when turning a double play.
“A shortstop gets a toss from the second baseman, he’s got to flip his hips and throw to the first baseman,” Nagy said. “It’s kind of like that.”
The Bears see it on the practice field — and, over the last few weeks, in games, too.
“He has an accuracy right now that he’s shown in big-time moments,” Nagy said.