There is a flowchart when it comes to assigning blame for poor quarterback play in the 60045.
From regime to regime and as staffs are shuffled at Halas Hall, the precise order for blame changes a little. Sometimes the process is expeditious. At other times it is tedious.
The offensive coordinator has become the hitting coach — the guy you fire to keep your job — and the play caller is often the most unpopular person in town because the Chicago Bears have never gotten the quarterback right even when they’ve had one many figured would blossom.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy — the 12th Bears offensive coordinator in the last 25 years — caught heat last week after the 38-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the season opener at Soldier Field. Quarterback Justin Fields completed 24 of 37 passes for 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Bears didn’t make explosive plays. The pass protection was an issue. New wide receiver DJ Moore was targeted only twice.
A coordinator some feared would leave the Bears after one season for a head-coaching job when the team averaged 29.6 points over a five-game stretch during the middle of last season became the wrong guy for Fields in the minds of some.
That’s how the flowchart works.
The blame game starts with an examination of the talent or lack there of around the quarterback. The line and skill-position players wear the blame for the quarterback/offense not taking flight. That can ensnare the players and of course the general manager. Last season, this was completely understandable with what Getsy had to work with and Fields had to play with.
Next, blame shifts to the offensive coordinator (sometimes the head coach) and play-calling, planning and in-game decisions. Over the decades, the cycle starts over when the coordinator is replaced or the quarterback is launched — or in some cases both. Rinse. Repeat.
It’s a vicious cycle for everyone, fans included, when questions far outweigh the answers.
Once the Packers built a large lead, they were able to sit in zone coverage and force Fields to work underneath. He throws a beautiful deep ball but didn’t find a 50-50 shot he liked. Struggles on first down made it tough sledding.
Hype surrounding Fields entering this season was immense, based on incredible athleticism and a bunch of explosive plays he created last season. The enthusiasm wasn’t based on a 75-yard touchdown drive he directed in the final two minutes to beat the Atlanta Falcons. The Bears’ bid to win in the two-minute drill ended with an interception on the third play. Two weeks earlier, the Bears trailed the Dolphins by three points in the final two minutes and turned the ball over on downs on their side of the field.
Optimism for Fields has been based on traits that could help him become an elite performer — not established, consistent quarterback play with what was a subpar surrounding cast a year ago. Fields was so electric at times in 2022, opponents schemed in the offseason to consider how to defend him. That shouldn’t be lost on anyone. He’s not going to stun defenses with his athleticism like he did in the middle of last season. He might beat teams with his abilities, but they’re going to be expecting it.
Entering his 27th NFL start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fields could emerge as a top-tier performer. One poor game doesn’t doom him or Getsy.
“He will continue to get better,” Getsy said. “I thought he played under control, composed and all that stuff. I thought there was a lot of really good things. The touchdown pass, he’s changing the protection to make sure we pick up the pressure and then makes a great throw. So there’s a lot of good things too.”
Only two offensive coordinators in the last 25 years have lasted more than two years — John Shoop from 2001-03 and Ron Turner from 2005-09. Turner is uniquely qualified to discuss pressures of the role because his five-year run under Lovie Smith came after he was Dave Wannstedt’s coordinator for four seasons from 1993-96.
“I did not feel it much,” said Turner, now retired and living in North Carolina. “Our first year in ‘93, we were about as bad as any offense could possibly be (the Bears had seven passing touchdowns for the season and averaged 3.5 yards per rush).
“I’d hear a lot about it, but you really don’t focus on that. You focus on the guys in that building. That can be easier said than done, but you’ve got to do that. If you believe in what you’re doing and you have strong conviction in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, then you can tune all that stuff out. I knew we were bad. We were awful and we were doing about all we could do.”
Turner didn’t hide from it either.
“I remember going on the radio with Mike North,” Turner said of the former talk show host. “Everyone told me he blasted me more than anyone else. He was brutal. There was, I think, one game left in the season, and he said, ‘I gotta ask, you have to know what I’m saying about you?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ Then he said, ‘Every time I ask you to come on with me, you do. Why is that?’
“I said, ‘Mike, it’s part of my job to come on and talk about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The other thing is, you don’t know what you’re talking about. A year from now, two years from now, we’re going to be good and you’ll praise me and say good things and you still won’t know what you’re talking about. You know why? Because I’ve never seen you at a practice. You’ve never sat down and talked to me about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re going to do it and what our long-range plans are. So I really don’t care what you say about me because you don’t know. Say what you want to say. When we’re good, you’ll say good things. I won’t care what you say then either.’ He cracked up.
“The point I’m making is you’ve got to tune all that stuff out. If you don’t, it will eat you alive. The hard part was on my wife and kids going to a game and listening to everything in the stands. They had it harder than I did.”
Getsy isn’t oblivious to the discontent as the Bears try to get a win and then maybe build some momentum.
“I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know that it’s there, for sure,” he said. “I’m in a huge market here and we have an exciting young quarterback that everybody is excited to see how well he can do. I know that doesn’t really affect me or what I’m going to do or how I’m going to do it. As a coach, that’s all you can do, and when you’re in the building each and every day, you’re making sure that you’re doing everything possible to give those guys a chance to have success. That’s all you’re really focused on, and that takes up enough of your time that I don’t really have a chance to listen to all that or read all that.”
Turner would approve of that approach as Getsy tries to do what those who have come before him in the last quarter century, a list including Bill Lazor, Mark Heflrich, Dowell Loggains, Adam Gase, Aaron Kromer, Mike Tice, Mike Martz, Terry Shea and Gary Crowton, attempted. But none of them has worked with a quarterback that who broken through and become a top-tier performer.
“Nobody can argue that,” Turner said. “I don’t know why. Hopefully they have the guy right now that can do that long term. I don’t know. I think he has a chance.
“It’s the same everywhere. The people want to win, they want to see points scored and they want to see an exciting offense. There is a little more pressure in Chicago mainly because of how passionate the fans are. That’s what made my nine years in Chicago great because of the passion the fans have for it. That’s a good thing but it can also make it brutal at times if you allow it. One game they’re cheering you, the next they’re cussing you out.”
The cheering, the cussing — it’s all part of the flowchart.
Baker Mayfield, Buccaneers quarterback
Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.
Baker Mayfield, 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, is in his sixth season in the NFL and first in Tampa Bay. The No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma in 2018 by the Cleveland Browns is with his fourth franchise after playing for the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams last season.
Mayfield is 32-38 as a starter and beat the Bears in his only previous game against them, a 26-6 victory in Week 3 of the 2021 season. Mayfield completed 19 of 31 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown in what was Justin Fields’ first career start.
“The No. 1 thing about Baker is he is a very streaky thrower,” the scout said. “When he’s cold, like he was last week to start the Minnesota game, it can be pretty poor. His feet get frenetic, his eyes move too fast, his head isn’t still and he can become chaotic. But when he’s dialed in and you give him a road map for throws and build out from the run game, he can hit that back foot and rip it, he’s going to go after you. He’s got the arm talent to push you all over the field. When his movement is controlled, he can escape and extend plays and work the edge a little bit. He’s ultracompetitive. You consider he’s got two high-level wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, they can work the second level of the defenses all day long and they have vertical stretch ability.
“Baker has two premier targets so if he gets hot and gets on a roll, then you’re talking about the matchup issues the Buccaneers can create for a secondary. What are you going to do? You want to play two deep and stay over the top of Evans but then you know about the run game foundation they want to have in Tampa, and now you’re in a conflict. That makes the Bucs hard to defend. You’re not playing Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City, it’s not an elite offense, but Tampa does have tools in the offense that can make the offense hard to defend. Minnesota found that out last week when he got into a rhythm in the second half.”