Justin Fields’ next situation to conquer: Scoring
Coaches are quick to praise the Bears quarterback’s situational awareness. But there’s one situation Fields absolutely needs to transfer from the back fields of Halas Hall to the Lumen Field turf Thursday night: celebrating with his teammates in the end zone.
As soon as wide receiver Tajae Sharpe planted two feet down along the sideline — or, at least, the Bears hoped he did — quarterback Justin Fields yelled at his teammates. He held his right hand in the air, made a cupping motion and ran to the line of scrimmage.
The Bears were going no-huddle. The Chiefs were not going to get time to watch replays of Sharpe’s 19-yard catch near the end of the first quarter Saturday and debate whether to throw the challenge flag.
Fields got to the line of scrimmage and made sure his teammates were set. Three seconds after the ball was spotted, it was back in Fields’ hands. He looked deep, found no one and took off for a 10-yard run.
The catch was spectacular. The scramble showed off Fields’ elite speed. But the decision to hurry up between plays was the most impressive part of that series.
“We’ve done more situational football here, in the time that we’ve been here, than I’ve ever been a part of,” said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who spent seven of his last eight seasons with the Packers. “Not that we didn’t have those conversations, but I’m just saying how much we’ve put into it on the practice field. All of that has been great for all of our guys. I think that they know how to respond to situations.”
It would have meant more had Fields led the Bears to a score.
The Bears punted on all three drives that Fields helmed Saturday, averaging 4.3 yards per play. Fields was the only presumptive Week 1 starter in the NFC who played in the preseason’s first week and also failed to lead his team to points.
He can’t do that again Thursday night against a Seahawks defense that allowed Mitch Trubisky — remember him? — to march 90 yards on seven plays in his opening touchdown drive last week. In two possessions with Trubisky under center, the Steelers averaged almost 10 yards per play against the Seahawks.
Coaches are quick to praise Fields’ situational awareness. But there’s one situation Fields absolutely needs to transfer from the back fields of Halas Hall to the Lumen Field turf: celebrating with his teammates in the end zone.
The main focus of the Bears’ preseason has been building the team’s confidence in Fields — and Fields in his new offense. Just think what a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive would do for both before Fields puts a baseball cap on.
Praising Fields’ feel for the game or ability to command a huddle is fine in May. In August, though, teams keep score. Emphasizing the little things carries a lot more weight when they add up to big things.
Or even a field goal.
‘‘I think you’re always trying to build the smartest player possible,” quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “And you’re always trying to build a player with the most knowledge base.”
In the seconds before he completed the pass to Sharpe, Fields checked the Bears into maximum protection against a blitz. It was what the Bears “expect of him — to operate and help himself get in the best situations,” Janocko said.
They work at it every practice.
“Coach [Matt Eberflus’] vision comes down to: We’re going to put guys in situations so that when that situation comes up in a game — and it may only happen a couple of times a year — he’s prepared for that,” Janocko said. “And he’s not thinking about, ‘What am I going to do in this situation?’ There’s something there. We’ve worked it, we’ve practiced it and now we can go execute it.
“That’s been really beneficial, that Justin has been in these situations.”
The Bears will continue to put Fields in those spots at Halas Hall and, perhaps, in one more exhibition game. Fields will play fewer snaps against the Seahawks than the 18 he got in the opener because the Bears had a shorter time to prepare than 30 of the NFL’s 32 teams playing this week.
Eberflus said at the start of the preseason that he wanted to play his starters extensively, though he acted coy this week when asked whether they’d appear in the preseason finale in Cleveland.
A scoring drive by Fields on Thursday night might be all he needs to see. If so, it would be less work than Fields got last season, when he completed 30 of 49 preseason passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions as the team’s presumptive second-stringer.
“I think, of course, I have a different mindset coming in this year,” Fields said. “I’m way more comfortable, just being in the NFL this year and, of course, having played a year. . . . We’re just gonna keep working, keep stacking days and continue to get better at the small details every day.”
The Bears can’t lose sight of what they missed last year, when coaching malpractice, injury and the coronavirus limited their first-round pick to only 10 starts. Fields threw to five pass-catchers in the opener. Three were playing their first game with Fields, and one of those has since been cut. Every snap Fields plays in the preseason is another chance to connect with a receiver he’ll need when the season starts Sept. 11.
“Obviously, continuous quarterback play is a big deal,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “He’s been the guy I’ve been catching balls with now since the end of the year last year. So that’s the longest stretch I’ve been with one guy, really. And we’re continuing to grow every day.”
Fields knows what to watch for in film sessions: He goes through his rules and protections for each snap.
“Just process-driven,” he said, “and making sure I did my job.”
Job No. 1 on Thursday: Score points.