How Bears plan to tinker with Fields-led rushing attack


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For the past seven weeks, quarterback Justin Fields's legs and playmaking ability have fueled the Bears' offensive rise.

Between the Bears' Week 7 win against the New England Patriots and their Week 11 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Fields rushed 68 times for 552 yards and six touchdowns. Some of those were designed runs -- counters, sweeps, powers, zone reads -- while others were Fields scrambling to make something out of nothing.

Utilizing Fields' legs more helped the Bears' offense become the most potent rushing attack in the NFL during those six weeks. But it also started to wear on Fields. The 23-year-old quarterback said his legs were tired after the Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions and looked a step slow the following week in Atlanta, where he suffered a separated left shoulder on a QB sweep near the end of the game.

Over Fields' last two starts, both the Falcons and Green Bay Packers have done two things to limit the damage the quarterback does on the ground. They have started charging the mesh point on the zone read, forcing Fields to hand it off to running back David Montgomery. They also have played mostly zone defense -- the Packers played zone on 100 percent of their snaps in Week 13 -- to keep all eyes on Fields.

The wear and tear on Fields, plus the need to evolve the offense, has led to the planned next phase of the Bears' ground attack, which was on display against the Packers, where Fields rushed only six times.

“I think the way the game was going, I think we were passing it so good, I think we were just going with that more," head coach Matt Eberflus said of the Bears' plan of attack vs. Green Bay. "I think that was the right thing to do. I know we had the designed [QB] counter. We all saw that play. That was nice where [Fields] slid down right before the first. He’s got to do a good job there. I thought he did a nice job of that.

"We ended up using a couple wild cat plays because we are trying to go with that in the future to take some off hits off of Justin. I think that’s a good idea in normal down situations. Because Justin is going to take the plays when he can. But we want to use him in situations -- red zone, third down, two minute -- when the game is there where it needs to be to keep drives a live and score points. He did a good job all day with that.”

The Bears have been adamant that their plan is to have a good balance of quarterback runs in the game plan but not put too much on Fields' plate. You could argue things got a little too quarterback-run-heavy against the Falcons and that the Bears put Fields at risk near the end of the game.

Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy are tinkering with ways to change up the running game to take some of the lift off the second-year signal-caller.

“I’ve said from the beginning for several weeks now, we want to be very protective of Justin to makes sure he is out of harm’s way," Eberflus said. "That is either being smart by him working to the sideline, working out of bounds, sliding correctly. Or things like that, different designs that we might give our halfback, or you saw we did the thing to Velus [Jones Jr.] where Velus had a toss sweep and all that. It’s good to spread the skill around and utilize it when we need in those situations.”

RELATED: Fields shows true growth in best game as passer

Through 12 games, Fields has rushed for 905 yards and eight touchdowns. He is on pace to rush for 1,206 yards, which would tie Lamar Jackson for the most by a quarterback in a single season. Jackson accomplished the feat in 15 games during the 2019 season.

The implementation of the QB-designed runs boosted the Bears' offense out of the pit of despair it was in during the first six weeks of the season. But it has also helped get Fields into a better rhythm throwing the ball. Since Week 7, Fields has made quicker decisions and been a more accurate passer.

On Sunday against the Packers, Fields had his best game as a passer this season. He showed great pocket presence, poise, made tight-window throws, threaded throws to the second level, and threw a beautiful deep ball to Equanimeous St. Brown for 56 yards.

A heavy QB run game was necessary for the Bears' offense to be productive with an unreliable offensive line and questionable skill talent. It served its purpose. The Bears will still keep that trump card in their back pocket for money downs, winning time, and "break glass in case of emergency" situations.

The Bears aren't going to stop Justin Fields from being Justin Fields. But they want to preserve him and construct an offensive attack built around his passing ability while using his legs as one tool in an expansive offensive toolbox, not the only hammer on a limited belt.

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