Former NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t believe what he saw as he stood on the Soldier Field turf watching the Bears play the Commanders last month: Justin Fields was fast.
“I had no idea he was that athletic, that he was that good of a runner,” he said.
Fitzpatrick decided the Bears were using Fields wrong. And after the low point of the team’s season — a 12-7 loss in which wide receiver Darnell Mooney dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass — he let the world know, ripping into the Bears’ scheme after the game from Prime Video’s on-field “Thursday Night Football” set.
“You are a guy who is an elite runner of the football!” Fitzgerald said of Fields. “We need to lean on and utilize that skill. Don’t sit in the pocket and try to be a pocket passer. That is not your strength.”
Fellow Prime Video analyst Richard Sherman, the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback, called out Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy by name.
“I don’t understand it — it’s like Luke Getsy is like, ‘Hey, I want to challenge [Fields] to overcome my play-calling,’ ” Sherman said. “Don’t make him overcome your play-calling! Put him in easy situations.”
During the Bears’ “mini-bye” after the Commanders loss, Getsy did just that. He has made the offense better fit Fields by calling designed runs, moving the pocket on passes and letting Fields use the athleticism that leaped out at Fitzpatrick. In the two games since, the Bears are averaging 31 points.
So what do Fitzpatrick and Sherman think about the Bears now?
“They’ve been getting creative and using [Fields’] skill set,” said Fitzpatrick, who played quarterback for nine teams over 17 seasons. “You now see they’re starting to design some runs. They’re starting to do stuff to get him out of the pocket to make him more effective. It’s been really fun to see.”
Sherman begrudgingly gave Getsy credit.
“It’s weird that it took ’til the [mini-bye] for them to look at Ravens tape,” Sherman said. “It’s weird that it took them so long. It’s like, ‘Hey, you just woke up and realized you have a quarterback that runs 4.3 [in the 40-yard dash],’ and that’s strange.”
Getsy said this week that the Bears have called “at least seven or eight” designed runs per game this season, although many have been read options in which Fields handed off or threw instead. What made the designed runs against the Patriots different, Getsy said, was the quarterback counter run scheme he installed after watching Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson shred the Pats earlier this year.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Fields ran 21.23 mph on one play against the Cowboys last Sunday, the fastest time of any ballcarrier all week and the 10th-fastest of any player all season. That speed gives the Bears a unique weapon. Even just the threat of it changes the game before he steps on the field.
“It forces you to prepare for every look,” Sherman said. “It forces you to prepare for him as a runner, which means the free safety has to be involved regardless of what the coverage scheme is because they can create an extra gap — 11-on-11 football, the same thing Baltimore does week in and week out. The quarterback has to be willing to do it. It sounds like Justin Fields has bought in.”
Fields didn’t ask to run more. But he didn’t fight it, either.
“I’m willing to do whatever for the offense to help us win games,” he said.
Until the Patriots game, the majority of Fields’ runs were scrambles. Fitzpatrick said young quarterbacks are quicker to run because of the “uncertainty” in what they see in pass coverage.
“That being said, there are a lot of athletic quarterbacks that are now coming into the league, and it’s part of their game,” Fitzpatrick said. “But you see, as guys get older, maybe less scrambling and more getting out of the pocket to make big plays down the field.”
Fields is only 23, but even he knows making the Bears’ passing attack more consistent is the next step for the offense. Adding receiver Chase Claypool from the Steelers will help.
“Running, I don’t think it correlates with me passing the ball,” Fields said. “I think it just gives the defense more things to worry about in terms of me running the ball or the running back running the ball. I don’t think me running the ball gives me more confidence passing the ball, to say the least.”
He’ll have to develop that with each completion.
“The top quarterbacks in the league, those guys all have the ability to scramble, look down the field and deliver the ball down the field,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “That always put an issue with the defense. You’ve got to pay attention to that. You’ve got to pay attention to your coverage down the field, and you’ve got to pay attention to the pocket. I just think it’s their style. You see more and more that type of style.”
The Bears’ style makes Fitzpatrick and Sherman happy — now.
“Sherm and I have been so pumped watching it,” Fitzpatrick said.