Welcome to the Justin Fields Plan; what will it look like?
When they traded up to draft him, the Bears said quarterback Justin Fields would be following the Patrick Mahomes Plan. That notion ended four plays into the Bears’ first possession Sunday night.
When they traded up to draft him, the Bears said quarterback Justin Fields would be following the Patrick Mahomes Plan. Like the Chiefs star did during his rookie season in 2017, Fields would redshirt this year and be tutored by Matt Nagy, the former Kansas City offensive coordinator.
That notion ended four plays into the Bears’ first possession Sunday night.
When Fields replaced Andy Dalton for the first of five one-off plays, the Plan went out the window.
Mahomes didn’t play a single snap until the final week of the Chiefs’ 2017 season. Fields appeared in the opener, though, and will play more going forward.
When Fields was on the field Sunday night, his teammates felt it.
“J-Fields is special,” running back David Montgomery said. “He already has a natural aura to himself that kinda changes the flow of how things go.”
Welcome to the Justin Fields Plan. What will it look like?
A lot of options
All five of the plays on which Fields served as quarterback Sunday featured some sort of option motion — and a decision for him to make.
Fields’ first play, a nine-yard completion to Marquise Goodwin on a run-pass option, looked simple. But it took Fields acknowledging that Jalen Ramsey, one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, lined up a full eight yards in front of Goodwin. Goodwin ran a five-yard out and turned it into a nine-yard completion.
“I just took that little five-yard ‘speed-up,’ ” Fields said.
Nagy thought his throw was a little too far inside, but the decision was sound.
“That’s a big moment,” Nagy said. “He’s used to those moments.”
In the second quarter, Fields pitched an end-around to Goodwin after a play fake to receiver Darnell Mooney, who ran a jet sweep motion from left to right. Mooney was lined up as a running back in the third quarter. Fields faked a handoff to him and shoveled a completion to receiver Allen Robinson.
Fields’ three-yard touchdown run was an option play, too. He faked a handoff up the middle to Damien Williams and ran right behind pulling tight end J.P. Holtz, who blocked outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and then cornerback Darious Williams to create a tunnel. Fields dove into the end zone and jumped into tight end Cole Kmet to celebrate.
“He almost ran me over,” Fields joked.
In the fourth quarter, Fields had the option of keeping the ball on a read-option handoff but gave the ball to Montgomery, who converted on third-and-two.
Consider those five plays the first step. Fields doesn’t figure to be limited to option plays the next time he takes the field.
Starter Andy Dalton dinked-and-dunked, but Nagy said that was a product of playing the vaunted Rams pass rush. The Bears being down to their third-string left tackle in the fourth quarter — fourth-string, if you count injured second-round pick Teven Jenkins — only exacerbated the problem.
Nagy was asked Monday whether it made sense to use Fields to stretch the field.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” he said. “I think he did a good job when he was in there.”
When Fields played, it came in staccato, one-play bursts. It affected the Bears’ rhythm, too. After Fields’ nine-yard completion, Dalton took a timeout, Kmet committed a false start and Dalton threw an interception in the end zone.
The Bears, though, weren’t alone in deploying their rookie that way. In Detroit, 49ers quarterback Trey Lance — the only other rookie first-round quarterback who didn’t start — got on the field for four plays. Like Fields, he produced a touchdown, throwing a five-yard pass in the first quarter. He ran the other three times.
Like Fields, all of Lance’s plays were one-offs.
They served a purpose, though. Fields said he acclimated to the speed of the game.
“It’s different when you’re actually on the field rather than being on the sideline,” he said.
Maybe next week Fields will get his own series. Nagy wants to be unpredictable, though, and said he has to be aware of substitutions affecting his offense’s rhythm.
“You could say, ‘Would that get [Fields] into a little more of a rhythm?’ ” Nagy said. “Maybe, but some of that is strategic, too.”
Still not starting
Nagy said that the rookie “did a great job of what we were asking him to do,” but that his timeline remains unchanged.
Still, the Bears’ actions were different from their preseason messaging. First, Fields was going to redshirt. Late in camp, Nagy said Fields would sit so long as Dalton performed well. On Sunday night, though, Fields stood on the sideline.
That’s not the Patrick Mahomes Plan.
Nagy said Dalton “did a pretty good job” against the Rams but repeated what he said earlier in camp — that he’ll start the quarterback who gives him the best chance to score.
That’s Dalton — for now. But it’s evolving each time Fields takes a snap.
“I brought it up in regard to producing and scoring touchdowns and winning,” Nagy said. “And we’re always talking about that.”