LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy wasn't taken aback or surprised by quarterback Justin Fields' comments on Wednesday at Halas Hall when the 24-year-old signal-caller aired his frustration over his early struggles.
In his detailed explanation, Fields blamed himself while noting that he believes he's overthinking things on the field. To Fields, the influx of information from the Bears' staff and his own desire to run things perfectly to a tee caused him to be "robotic" in a Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fields noted he wants to play more freely and use his instincts. He said his goal Sunday vs. the Kansas City Chiefs is to "just say 'F it' and go play. He later clarified his comments to note he places the blame squarely on himself and not the coaching.
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Getsy understands where Fields is coming from. That frustration is natural for a young quarterback with the talent to be great who is still early on in his journey.
"I think as we talk about his evolution, he’s becoming an NFL quarterback, and I think that part of it, that experience and that style of play, I think he was … there’s a few plays in the game that he wishes he had different reactions," Getsy said Thursday at Halas Hall. "He refers to them as instincts, let his instincts take over, right? And that is real. That is what he has special talent. He has special instincts."
Getsy pointed to a much-discussed play in the loss to the Bucs as evidence of this evolutionary process and Fields' frustration with the outcome of the play.
Early in the second quarter, the Bears had the ball around midfield trailing by three. They had Darnell Mooney, and Chase Claypool lined up to the right, with Mooney running a sail route from the slot. Fields wanted to hit Mooney, but the receiver was disrupted at the line. Fields gave Mooney an extra beat to try and get open and missed a wide-open DJ Moore on the backside. Cameras caught Moore clapping furiously for the ball. Fields didn't get off Mooney fast enough and wound up getting sacked.
To Getsy, when Fields talks about the desire to play with his instincts and not just follow all his coaching points, this is a play where the two can eventually mesh.
"That’s part of the evolution," Getsy said of the play. "You give him a hitch, you think he’s gonna win, you maybe give him one more, then it’s time to move on. And whether that’s moving on in your progression or whether that’s moving on with your feet, protection was pretty good until he took a few too many hitches. And those are the types of plays that we’ve got to continue to get better at. We work on ‘em every single day here. We’re working on pocket presence. We’re working on those situations, when it’s time to go and when it’s time to progress. That’s the evolution of a quarterback."
When asked how he and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko can go about helping Fields think less on Sunday and just let it rip, Getsy noted he believes Fields is at the part in his development where he is trying to figure out how to meld the two things together.
Fields wants to show he can win from the pocket. He said he wants to be a 4,000-yard passer. But Fields and the Bears' staff have to find a way to get him to grow in the pocket while not making it so the cacophony of information forces his brain to lock up and takes away his rare athleticism.
It's a balancing act for everyone.
"We talk about him getting better every single week," Getsy said of Fields' overthinking. "And I think there’s so many things that you can reflect on and look at that that you see that. And he’s talking about, you know, 'Flus talks about the four to six plays a game that could change a game each week. And I think there’s that. Those are his moments, when he feels like, when we reflect on it, you know, the next day as we’re reviewing the film that he feels like, ‘Man, I could be that difference.’ And I think that’s what he’s reflecting on in those moments when he’s talking like that. And I think that’s our job to give him those opportunities to do it well and make him feel like he’s comfortable in doing that and I think he’s starting to get better more comfortable with the guys he’s playing with, right? New group of guys and he’s starting to do a much better job with that as well.”
One can view Fields' airing of frustration through several lenses. The most nuanced view of his comments is that he is critical of the game plan and offensive focus while placing much of the blame on himself. He isn't playing like he knows how because he wants to do everything the staff tells him, and it's causing him to have analysis paralysis.
The 24-year-old quarterback pointed to another critical play in the second quarter of the loss to the Bucs as evidence.
Faced with a third-and-13 at the Bucs' 27, Fields sat in the pocket scanning the Bucs' defense. The protection held up, but nothing popped open. Instead of listening to his internal clock and getting out of danger, Fields tried to stick to his coaching points and hang in the pocket. That hesitation allowed Cam Gill to come around the edge, sack Fields, and jar the ball loose.
"I’m leaving. I’m gone. Time clock, I’m gone out of the pocket," Fields said. "That’s why that happened because they wanted me to work on staying in the pocket during the offseason, which, there’s times where you do, but when that internal clock goes off, that’s when you need to get out and extend the play, make a play. So yeah, it’s just kind of like taking their coaching, and then there’s always going to be…you don’t always have to…it’s not going to work out perfectly every time. Yes, there’s times where I could have stayed in the pocket, but in that play specifically, I was in the pocket for a long time. I’ve got to extend the play, get out of the pocket, extend the play, and do something with it. Make something shake. That’s kind of what I’m talking about, though, in getting back into my game and becoming more of a football player than such a thinker on the field."
Everything boils down to Fields and the staff finding a way to blend what he does well with what they want to do.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles said he understands Fields' frustration and that no one in the building views him as a "finger pointer."
"When I listen to him and that whole deal, like, the majority of it was like, ‘Alright, I’ve gotta create this clarity, I’ve gotta get better.’ I thought he took ownership of everything," Poles said Thursday. "He didn’t have to say anything about that. Our coaches are like, ‘How can we make you better? How can we help you be successful?’ And there’s always that balance. No one took it personally. We all know we have a hand in our success and we want him to be successful and it takes everyone for him to be successful, including himself. I kinda thought he hit on all of that. It was no shock to anyone.”
Poles said that he feels Fields is trying to balance leaning on his special athletic gifts and trusting other people around him to make plays. Fields' lack of playing time in the preseason -- partly due to offensive line issues -- and lack of reps vs. a pass rush has led to the Bears' offense being discombobulated early on in the season. The Bears feel that Fields is still learning to play with the new parts around him and adjust to not having to do everything himself as he did last season.
Fields and the Bears' offense have been brutal in the first two games.
Despite having the lowest average air yards per target in the NFL (5.0), Fields is dead last in Completion Percentage Over Expectation (-11.1). His passer rating (70.7) and QBR (22.2) are currently lower than his rookie season with Matt Nagy.
Getsy and Fields have to work in concert to find the solution. The job of a good coordinator is to design and call a game that plays to his players' strengths, not just call what he wants to call.
The Bears have only called four quarterback-designed runs so far this season. That has to change. They have to utilize the vertical passing game more. That's why DJ Moore, Chase Claypool, and rookie Tyler Scott are here.
Fields must also continue improving his play in the pocket to ascend as an NFL quarterback.
It's a partnership -- one Getsy believes is in a good place and will soon bear the fruit of success.
"I think you saw his passion and reaction when we got back in from the practice field and how he felt," Getsy said of Fields' walk back on his comments. "He’s such a guy of high character. He’s so passionate. He wants to win as much as anybody in the building. But it’s more important for him to be a man of character, and I think that part of it, the fact he felt it got challenged, bothered him more than anything else. Our relationship, our partnership, is outstanding. I think that part of it, we’re going to continue to grow. I have no questions about that.
"We’re going to continue to grind through that," Getsy said later. "We believe in the process that we’re going through. Justin believes in the process we’re going through. We’re going to keep working and sticking together. It’s going to keep getting better, as it has. I know the result isn’t what we all want. I get that. That sometimes puts added pressure on people. We believe in it and we’re going to stick to it."
At 0-2 and facing a storm of adversity, a Week 3 date with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs isn't the ideal recipe for a turnaround. The Chiefs' defense has allowed just nine and 14 points, respectively, in their first two games. The Bears will also be without left tackle Braxton Jones, who is on injured reserve with a neck injury.
None of that sounds positive.
But everyone from Poles to Eberflus, Getsy, and Fields remains steadfast that the Bears are on the right track and their hard work will pay off.
But they'll need to make some tweaks to facilitate the breakthrough they think is on the horizon. They have to find a way to get Justin Fields playing like Justin Fields -- it's the only thing that can save the 2023 Bears.