Film study: Why did Bears run out of shotgun on 4th down?
The Bears put Justin Fields in the shotgun, meaning he caught the snap at the 5 — and needed to run about five times as far to score as he would have from under center.
In Week 1, Bears quarterback Justin Fields showed such awareness that he was able to scramble left, look 30 yards downfield and almost completely across it — from one set of field numbers to the other — and find Dante Pettis for a 51-yard touchdown.
In Week 2? Fields sprinted three yards past the line of scrimmage on third-and-10 Sunday — then decided to throw the ball. Was he thinking of scrambling first? Unsure of where he was on the field? Either way, he was flagged, the Bears punted and the Packers scored again.
“I saw it afterward, and I was just like, ‘Dang,’ ’’ Fields said after the Bears’ 27-10 loss at Lambeau Field. “I just have to get the ball out earlier — or just run it.”
Breaking down the Bears’ discombobulated rivalry game:
The Bears needed one yard to close the deficit to seven points with 8:13 left.
After Fields fell just short diving to the right pylon, the Bears faced fourth-and-goal. Rather than handing off to David Montgomery, who had 68 yards on six carries that drive, the Bears decided to let Fields keep the ball himself. That was defensible — the Bears trust Fields to run — but the formation was not.
The Bears put Fields in the shotgun, meaning he caught the snap at the 5 — and needed to run about five times as far to score as he would have from under center.
The Bears had tight end Cole Kmet to the left of tackle Braxton Jones and had two receivers split right and another one left. Montgomery was lined up to Fields’ left.
The Bears ran quarterback power to the left, with Fields running behind pulling right guard Lucas Patrick and Montgomery, who blocked outside linebacker Preston Smith to Kmet’s left.
Hit by De’Vondre Campbell, Smith and others, Fields couldn’t break through the line.
The fact that the Bears drove the field exclusively via the run in the fourth quarter and down by 14 points — with the Packers happily letting the clock run — was bad enough. But, really, a shotgun snap?
“We did outnumber the point of attack there,” coach Matt Eberflus said Monday. “And we just [needed] a little more push, a little more pad level.”
At the snap, the Packers had four linemen, plus Smith, at the line of scrimmage. The Bears had five offensive linemen and Kmet.
“It’s just the trenches,” Fields said. “Our O-line vs. the D-line. We’ll never know if I got in or not.”
The Bears challenged — Fields thought the ball crossed the goal line — but the play was upheld.
“I think whatever way the officials ruled it, it would have stood,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “And I think a lot of times those [challenges] are tough to overturn.”
The Packers scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, but no play was more important than a screen pass thrown near midfield.
“You could argue,” LaFleur said, “that might’ve been the most pivotal play of the game.”
Eberflus said “it was a big sequence for us.”
A holding penalty made it first-and-20 for the Packers on the Bears’ 34. Trevis Gipson’s sack of Aaron Rodgers made it second-and-28. Down three points, the Bears were two plays away from getting the ball back in the second quarter.
The Packers split three receivers left and two right. Rodgers took a shotgun snap and threw a tunnel screen to rookie wide receiver Romeo Doubs, who was split farthest left. When he caught the ball, he had two receivers — Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard — and three offensive linemen between him and the closest Bear.
Rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon took on Cobb to force Doubs inside but only for a second. Once Gordon was knocked to the ground, he kicked the screen back outside the numbers. Doubs split linebacker Nicholas Morrow and cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who were occupied by blockers, before being tackled by safety Eddie Jackson.
“The play hopefully gets six or seven yards at worst,” Eberflus said. “But when you don’t get the guy over the top, sometimes they cut the ball back inside or take the ball outside.
“The guys on the second level have to get on top of those blocks and turn it back to the defensive linemen that are running inside.”
Rodgers then completed a nine-yard pass on third-and-eight. Two plays later, he shoveled to Aaron Jones for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
The Bears weren’t surprised by the screen — “That is a common play that people run in that ‘get back on track’ situation,” Eberflus said — but couldn’t stop it. Morrow couldn’t get across his blocker in time to turn Doubs back inside, where the Bears had help from their linemen chasing the ball. Eberflus calls it “cupping the ball.”
“He’s got to hammer that, hammer it back to the defensive line,” Eberflus said.
Eberflus said defensive linemen are supposed to put their hands up to try to tip the screen — but not to jump so they can quickly chase the ball. Robert Quinn, who jumped at the line, said it was “easier said than done” to keep his feet on the ground.
Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was open and streaking down the right sideline on third-and-10 early in the third quarter when Fields checked the ball down to Montgomery.
St. Brown was supposed to run a curl route but popped so open that he kept running. He waved to Fields to indicate just that — a move the Bears call “mailbox.”
“I just threw my hand up and turned it into a go route,” he said.
St. Brown said it was the first time all year the team triggered a mailbox call by being so open. But Fields checked it down.
“That’s something we’re continuing to work on,” Eberflus said.