LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Even during their training camp struggles in mid-August, the Bears' offense always had one thing to hang their hat on: DJ Moore.
Their teammates billed the connection between Moore and quarterback Justin Fields as "special." It's "different," safety Jaquan Brisker said.
Every day, even when the offense was stuck in neutral, Fields would find Moore for a deep strike to end the day on a high note.
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In hindsight, perhaps Moore being as dynamic as he was in camp helped cover up some of the Bears' offensive warts. It was clear the offense would be clunky early in the season, but most expected the Moore-Fields connection to be something the Bears could lean on early while everything else got going.
That hasn't been the case.
Moore got just two targets in the Bears' Week 1 loss to the Green Bay Packers and has just 11 catches on 15 targets for 170 yards and one garbage-time touchdown in the first three weeks.
That simply won't get it done.
“DJ is a great player. He really is. He’s a great person, too," head coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday at Halas Hall. "We obviously have to target him as well as the other skill on our team. That’s one of the conversations we’re having as a group, as an offensive staff and myself, is being able to in the first plays of the game – the first 15 – to really target those skill players. And DJ’s one of those guys.”
Those 15 targets are the fewest Moore has gotten in the first three weeks of a season since his rookie year. His 170 yards through three games are the second-fewest after last season when Moore was catching passes from the struggling Baker Mayfield.
In the first five years of Moore's career, he averaged 123 targets, 73 catches, and 1,040 yards per season. Some of those seasons were 16-game seasons. Per Pro Football Reference, Moore's numbers per 17 games in that timeframe are 131-77-1105.
Currently, Moore is on pace for 85-62-963.
Not good enough.
Quarterback Justin Fields knows getting Moore the ball could be an antidote to some of the Bears' offensive woes. Through the first three games, the Bears' offense only has 14 plays of 20 or more yards. Eight of those have come on passing plays.
Moore is an explosive play waiting to happen. Putting the ball in his hands by any means necessary is their best chance at finding an offensive antidote to rescue the season.
“I mean, yeah, when you have a player like that, you always want to give him the ball, but defense knows that," Fields said Wednesday. "It’s not like they don’t know he’s probably our best receiver, so just like last time, they’re gonna put two guys over him, they’re gonna cloud his side, but of course, when we do get those ops, we definitely want to get him the route for sure.”
Moore was voted a captain by his teammates prior to the start of the season. He has shown leadership both on and off the field early on, taking accountability for the offense's missteps and making sure Fields went off the field after taking a hit to the head in Week 3 against the Chiefs.
On Thursday, Moore put the lack of production on himself.
"Just knowing the weaknesses of the defense," Moore said. "When they play zone, being able to find a void, and when they play man, just taking on that challenge of the one-on-one matchups and winning. But mainly when they do that, they’ll be in zone, so I’ve gotta find weaknesses in the zone and be quarterback-friendly.”
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said the Bears missed "seven or eight" explosive plays during their 41-10 Week 3 loss in Kansas City. A drop by Moore accounted for one of those. But the star receiver also made a slick one-handed grab downfield, showing why the rickety Bears offense might want to employ the "eff it, DJ's down there somewhere" strategy at times.
“I ain’t the fastest, but I know how to track the ball, so that makes me fast in itself, so I guess so," Moore said when asked if more downfield shots are needed. "But at the same time, you don’t always want to have to take the deep shot to get something going.”
Every other quarterback Moore has played with -- from P.J. Walker to Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, an aging Cam Newton, and Kyle Allen -- has been able to feed Moore the ball even when defenses knew it was coming.
Teams gameplan to stop Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, and other top receivers, but their teams still find a way to spoon-feed them the ball as much as possible.
Fields and the Bears need to do the same with Moore. That's why he's here.
The time for excuses is over.