For all the things that are fundamentally wrong with quarterback Justin Fields and his offense, the Bears are one of the best teams in the NFL on opening drives. Only two teams have scored more often on the first possession than the Bears, who have kicked two field goals and scored one touchdown in four games.
Then teams figure the Bears out. Fields knows how to start hot– but he needs to find a way to stay that way.
The Bears have scored 13 points on the first drive — and 51 the rest of the game. They average six yards per play on the first drive — seven if you take out the season-opener played in a monsoon — and only 4.7 the rest of the way.
“That’s this league, right?” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “I can’t tell you how many games that I’ve watched this year that it’s like 7-3 the first two drives and then no one scores until the fourth quarter. These guys are really good, right? And they make it really hard.”
No quarterback makes it look harder than Fields, who ranks last among 32 starters in passer rating, passing yards, completion percentage and sack percentage. He needs to show improvement quickly — and there’s no faster way to do it than to, for the first time this season, take advantage of momentum the Bears gain on the first drive.
“That would be great that you have that,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “We’re always trying to score a touchdown every single time we touch the ball, of course. We just got to have consistency of execution.”
It hasn’t happened yet. Fields’ passer rating in the first quarter has been brutal this season — 40.4, the worst of any of his four frames.
When Bears coaches talk to Fields about how his development is a process, they use the old saying about how long it takes to eat an elephant. The answer: one bite at a time.
“We’re taking one bite of the elephant all the time,” quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “As things progress, and we keep progressing, those things that go from good to great translate into wins.”
The Bears used to have the opposite problem. Former head coach Matt Nagy schemed touchdowns on three of his first four opening drives in 2018 — and then watched the team go scoreless in 20 of the next 23 opening drives. That prompted legitimate questions about the Nagy’s preparedness.
Getsy, a first-time NFL play-caller, needs to sharpen the ways in which he deals with defensive adjustments after the first drive. It’s one thing to score while using the 15 scripted plays that all offenses prepare in advance–and another to make changes on the fly the rest of the game.
Getsy pointed to the Bears’ lack of red zone success — they’ve scored touchdowns on half their trips, which ranks 23rd in the league — as a reason the team has been stuck in the mud later in the game. Life gets harder inside the 20s.
“A lot of defenses that you play now–[the Vikings are] is one of them– they create that shell defense,” Getsy said. “You’re going to see DBs 20 yards deep and not letting you get behind them.”
Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who has the Bears’ only red zone receiving touchdown, chalked up the initial success — and ensuing failure — to execution more than scheme.
“They’re adjusting, we’re adjusting ….” he said. “It’s really up to us. We’re on the field. We’re the ones making plays, not making plays. Every coach has a scheme. The players make it work.”
It’s worked on the first drive. But the Bears — and their quarterback — need more.