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LAKE FOREST — With 6:05 remaining in the third quarter and the Bears up 17-7 over the Browns last Sunday, Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears had an opportunity to hit on a big play to extend its league over Cleveland.
Fields and the offense lined up on first-and-10 from the Bears’ 42-yard line. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called a screen to Roschon Johnson to the left. Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick, Nate Davis and Darnell Wright got to their landmarks, waiting for Johnson to receive the ball.
Za’Darius Smith lined up against Braxton Jones and was able to get pressure and close the distance on Fields. Linebacker Tony Fields was also engaged with Whitehair out in space, but still the Bears had the Browns outnumbered in space. Fields ended up throwing the ball out of bounds and lived to fight another down.
“Yeah, I think anytime, right?,” Getsy said. “Whether it’s a pass play, screen play, whatever it is, right? You gotta trust what you see, what you feel in the moment and he did. Something didn’t feel right in the moment, so he made the safe decision in his mind and threw it away. We always are gonna preach taking care of the football over anything else.”
Based on how Fields has been coached by this staff all season long, he made the right play to throw the ball away. With Smith and Tony clearly inhibiting Fields from delivering a clean ball to Johnson, the Bears’ quarterback made the “safe decision.”
“I thought he did a lot of really good things,” Getsy said about Fields’ performance against the Browns. “There were some really cool plays. You think about the keeper throw on the corners, extended plays that he made, even the touchdown throw was an incredible play. I think there was a lot of really good things. Yeah, there’s a couple things that we’d all like to have back. On a whole, I thought he did a really good job. He took care of the football and then, you know, a couple opportunities like we said, maybe we need to help explain it better to him or whatever or just him make the play. He’s capable of that and he’s done that. On the whole, he did his job pretty good and took care of the football and that’s what we ask him to do.”
What Getsy didn’t say was that the screen play couldn’t be made. It would’ve taken a perfectly lofted pass to clear Smith and get it to Johnson, and Fields would’ve had to trust Whitehair to continue his block on Tony for the play to have any chance of working.
If that all happened, Johnson said, “we would have had something” on the screen play.
“I mean going full speed it was probably a little blurry,” Johnson said. “Za’Darius was probably in the throwing lane a little bit. I tried to avoid him and get back a little bit. I mean that’s on Justin if he felt comfortable throwing it away. Going full speed, it looked like he was in the throwing lane, so he would have to get that ball down.”
The emphasis to take care of the football has been preached all season by this Bears coaching staff. In the beginning of the season, Fields threw six interceptions in the first six games. In the one game he didn’t, the Bears blew out the Commanders, 40-20.
After Fields returned from his dislocated right thumb, he has only thrown two interceptions in four games, with both of them coming in on Hail Mary throws against the Browns. The Bears finished 2-2 in those games.
Regardless if Fields ended up making the right decision on the screen play, the coaching staff needs find that right balance to allow Fields to stay aggressive but at the same time be smart with his decision making.
Getsy and Fields have three more games left in the 2023 regular season to continue finding that balance.
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