To better combat the onslaught of defenders brought by defensive coordinator Brian Flores, the Bears went to the screen game early, often, and over and over again.
Per ESPN Stats and Info, Bear quarterback Justin Fields was pressured on 52 percent of his dropbacks in Chicago's 12-10 comeback win at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night. The Bears ran 13 screens, and Fields finished with the lowest average air yards per attempt (2.4) and air yards per completion (1.9) in his career. Fields threw 21 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage and was averaging just 0.8 air yards per attempt at halftime.
While the screens were initially somewhat effective, the Vikings quickly caught on and adjusted the Bears' game plan. But offensive coordinator Luke Getsy didn't stray from his plan, and the Bears' offense sputtered in the second half because of it.
On Tuesday, head coach Matt Eberflus addressed why the Bears felt they couldn't attack the Vikings with slants and short passes over the middle.
"They pack the paint, so to speak," Eberflus said Tuesday at Halas Hall. "Some of their coverages are three deep, and they’ve got two guys in the middle. So really, the open spots on a lot of those are the perimeter. And you certainly can hit some high-side pockets on those, which we did with DJ a couple times. Certainly, they give those things away. You’ve just got to do a real good job of spitting the ball out there and blocking well on the perimeter, which we did at times. You saw DJ get a couple nice runs there towards our bench. There were a couple times. But that’s really where you can take advantage of it."
When asked if he was satisfied with an offensive game plan that produced minimal vertical attacks until the game-winning drive when the Vikings didn't blitz, Eberflus admitted improvements are needed.
"You’re always wanting more chunks," Eberflus said. "Explosive plays are where it’s at. I think we had eight explosives where we’re at in terms of goal-wise. We certainly, when you’re playing a team that pressures that way, and they’re vulnerable in the coverage, I believe that we should have more, and we’re always looking to get that. Certainly, we had some opportunities to hit some more of those, and we want to take advantage of those."
Fields did have a few opportunities to attack downfield that he missed Monday night, with the most notable one coming early in the second quarter.
With the Bears facing a third-and-14 from their own 44-yard line, Fields dropped back and was immediately pressured and flushed out to the left. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney was wide open, coming across the field and working right to left. Fields kept his eyes downfield and had an easy chunk play if he ripped it to Mooney immediately. But instead, Fields waited and threw late and high, which allowed Vikings safety Josh Metellus to tag Mooney as he went up for the pass.
I’m convinced until I’m not. This type of miss are why. Mooney in the building on a victory Tuesday getting an epidural pic.twitter.com/1SZ91iDHWK
— kyle (@Ky1eLong) November 28, 2023
Eberflus' explanation/critique of the offensive output Monday night in Minnesota appeared to be directed at both Getsy for his screen-heavy plan and Fields for not connecting on some of the deep shots that were available.
Fields did, however, connect on the two deep throws that mattered.
With the Bears trailing 10-9 with under three minutes to play, Fields finally came through with the game-winning drive his young resume had been lacking.
Fields opened the drive with a 16-yard pass to DJ Moore and finished it with a 36-yard strike to Moore on third-and-10 to get the Bears into field-goal range.
The Vikings didn't blitz once on Fields' five dropbacks on the Bears' final drive. Fields went 2-for-2 on throws of 10 or more air yards and averaged 17.5 air yards per completion, per ESPN Stats and Info. Prior to that drive, Fields was 1-for-3 on throws of 10 or more air yards and was averaging 0.9 air yards per completion.
As is usually the case, there's plenty of blame to go around for the Bears' offensive struggles.
Getsy's plan lacked creativity and ingenuity, and his inability to adapt in the second half almost sunk the Bears. But Fields must also continue to be more consistent in seeing and hitting those chunk plays the second they come open. That pass to Mooney was at least 26 yards the Bears left on the table, and it could have been more.
It's all part of the growing process for a young quarterback and first-time NFL play-caller.
It's clear Eberflus knows his offense still has a lot of kinks to work out, and he sent a message to both his quarterback and OC that things have to get better coming out of the bye.