Emma’s Tailgater: Luke Getsy has inspired hope in the Bears offense
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — As Justin Fields scrambled to his left, pump-faked a defender and ran for a sensational 61-yard touchdown run, Luke Getsy could see it all developing from the west sidelines at Soldier Field.
“Honestly, it was like, ‘Holy cow,’” Getsy recalled. “But not that type of talk.”
If the 23-year-old Fields can continue this ascension in his second season and become the franchise quarterback that the Bears are believing he can be, that play will be remembered more than any other in 2022. It was a remarkable display of instincts and athleticism, with a dynamic talent simply being better than the 11 Dolphins defenders trying to chase him down.
But that isn’t what will stick with the first-year offensive coordinator Getsy. His view of Fields’ development and the apparent arrival of this Bears offense is vastly different.
In Getsy’s view, Fields and the Bears have been building to this point. He didn’t change anything in the playbook that allowed this to click, and no one player — not even Fields — has made a significant shift from the early struggles of this season.
After scoring 93 points in their first 6 games, the Bears have tallied 94 points in their last 3 contests. So, what has changed?
“There’s no magic potion,” Getsy said. “This isn’t like Space Jam, you’re drinking Michael Jordan’s special water. This is the work you put in back in April, all the way through now. The guys are just doing a really good job of buying into our philosophy, into our play style, the way we want to play a game and being the most physical football team on the field.”
Meanwhile, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus seemed to suggest that these changes came with key self-scouting in the October mini-bye break.
“We started to really look at ourselves and do a good job of self-scouting during that mini-bye,” Eberflus said. “And the coaches looked and (saw) maximizing skill sets of our players; not only Justin’s but other skill sets that we have, and minimizing what we need to minimize.
“I thought we did a really good job of that study, and then working into that really into the games and looking at some different things that people are doing around the league with quarterbacks that can run the ball.”
The Bears are undoubtedly more comfortable with his scheme than they were during the offseason program and even into the first games of this regular season, as Getsy suggested. For a young team stepping into an unfamiliar system, struggles were bound to emerge.
But the most important change for these Bears is how Getsy has catered better to the strengths of Fields. This offense features more play-action fakes to complement the NFL-leading rushing attack, moving pockets that get Fields into the open and designed runs that create opportunities for him to make plays.
It has led to this apparent breakthrough for Fields, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He has emerged into a rising star and boasts greater promise for what’s to come. He has taken charge of this Bears offense and ownership of Getsy’s plan.
Fields has become more comfortable in his own role and Getsy is showing confidence in him. That combination, along with increased familiarity for this supporting cast, has resulted in the Bears suddenly lighting up the scoreboard.
Getsy has put his stamp on Fields’ progression and brought the Bears an identity on offense that was sorely lacking. But with this success comes the uncertainty beyond 2022.
By hiring a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Eberflus, the Bears positioned themselves for potential turnover at offensive coordinator. The 38-year-old Getsy could emerge as a candidate for head-coaching positions because of what he has created for Chicago.
Sports Illustrated named Getsy among the top head-coaching candidates for this next cycle, and that was in September before the Bears found their footing on offense. It would not at all be leap for Getsy to go from one year as an NFL offensive coordinator into a position as head coach. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel spent just one season as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator before getting his shot in Miami, leading a 6-3 start for 2022.
As NFL franchises seek a head coach to cultivate their offense and build around a young quarterback, Getsy’s work this year with Fields and the Bears is certainly worth noting.
“No doubt about it, I think Luke is definitely on the path of being a head coach in this league,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said in July.
Of course, potentially losing Getsy is a concern for the Bears (3-6) down the road. They’re only halfway through this season heading into Sunday’s game with the Lions (2-6) at Soldier Field. Eight games remain for Fields and this offense, offering the chance to continue building on their foundation.
Getsy has implemented his vision for the Bears in short time as offensive coordinator and Fields has run with it.
Indeed, there’s no magic potion but Getsy has formulated hope for the Bears.
1. Eberflus gets Frank
Back in early 2018 when the Colts were left at the altar in a stunning departure by appointed head coach Josh McDaniel, they had already hired Matt Eberflus as defensive coordinator.
Eberflus was in limbo with the Colts, left to wonder whether the next head coach to step in for McDaniel would covet him as defensive coordinator. Indianapolis hired Frank Reich, whom Eberflus would develop a close connection with over their four years together. Monday marked a painful day for Eberflus as he learned that the Colts were firing Reich as their head coach following a 3-5-1 start to this season.
Certainly, there was some added disappointment for Eberflus when he found the Colts were appointing Jeff Saturday as their interim head coach — passing up vastly more qualified candidates already on staff. A 14-year NFL veteran and 13-year Colt, Saturday has never coached in the NFL — or even college. His highest level of coaching was at the high school level.
Is it good for the coaching ranks that figure like Saturday is bypassing qualified coaches?
“That’s a good question,” Eberflus said. “I don’t think I want to answer it. But I will say that I was a little bit taken aback by what happened there because obviously Frank is a really good friend of mine. I really enjoyed my time with him. He certainly helped professionally, as a man, as a coach. And I can’t say enough good things about Frank Reich. I love him to death. He’s a dear friend of mine. And I have a lot of other guys in the building that are in that situation.
“I know it’s hard. My heart goes out to those guys. Hopefully they will have some wisdom and stay strong.”
The Colts have two former head coaches on staff in John Fox and Gus Bradley. The 67-year-old Fox coached the Bears from 2015-’17, finishing 14-34 in that tenure.
Saturday’s appointment came through the thought of Colts owner Jim Irsay, who has maintained a close connection with Saturday ever since his playing days. The decision from Irsay raised conversations about hiring practices in the NFL, which are often stemmed out of relationships between owners and friends — rather than seeking out new ideas and candidates.
The Colts’ hiring does not violate the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires interviews for at least two minority candidates in a hiring cycle — only because Saturday is an interim candidate. Irsay would be required to conduct a full coaching search that fulfills the Rooney Rule first if he chose to make Saturday the full-time head coach after this season.
Reich was 40-33-1 over parts of five seasons leading the Colts. He expressed pride back in early February after Eberflus was hired by the Bears.
“I just think the world of Matt, personally and professionally,” Reich said then. “Matt’s a man who is high conviction, clear vision of what he wants, very process-oriented and knows the standards that it’s going to take to get there and just knows what it takes.”
2. Fields focuses on improvement
The NFL has never seen a performance like Fields produced Sunday, becoming the first player to rush for more than 150 yards, throw at least 3 touchdowns and rush for 1. Never before has a quarterback ever rushed for 178 yards in a single regular-season game.
To many observers, this may seem like simple flashes of greatness from Fields. Chicago sees the potential of what it means for the long term — a franchise quarterback in the making that this city has long coveted. There’s genuine excitement for the Bears’ future because of what Fields is proving.
Fields knows well that he cannot get caught up in the local frenzy.
“Just don’t let it affect me,” Fields said. “Just go about my day like I would before all this so-called hype came. Just put my head down and keep working. My main goal is to keep improving and keep getting better each and every day.”
Part of why Fields is able to keep a level head through success is because he’s endured failure in this role. Fields struggled during his rookie season and endured growing pains during the Bears’ first six games this season.
The Bears see Fields unfazed by success — just as he didn’t get down through difficult times.
“He’s been the same guy since he’s gotten here, which is really cool,” Bears tight end Cole Kmet said. “He just keeps coming to work every day. We know what type of guy he is. His confidence in himself, that has never changed.”
Fields’ development represents hope for the Bears, who have not had a true franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman.
As for this Bears team, Fields’ growth fits the direction of this franchise in a rebuilding season. General manager Ryan Poles can begin forming plans to invest around Fields’ potential with the more than $125 million in cap space and eight draft picks at his disposal.
All Fields needs to do is keep focusing on his continued improvement and the Bears could have something bright on the horizon.
“The quarterback is the number one position in this sport, and really all of sports,” Eberflus said. “It’s really a joy to see him mature, see him get better and him wanting to improve every single week. This week is going to be no different.”
3. Preaching patience
When Eddie Jackson was an ascending player in the NFL his first two seasons, he was part of a dominant defensive identity led by veteran mainstays — Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara.
And the Bears were stout defensively and feared by opposing quarterbacks. Now, the 28-year-old Jackson is the longest-tenured starter on the defense and Chicago ranks in the bottom third of the league. Trades of Smith and veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn last month underscored this new direction in place.
The Bears’ dominating defense used to pick up its struggling offense. Now, it’s different.
“The other way around,” Jackson said when reminded of this. “Yeah, it’s different.
“Right now, we’re just trying to build and get this chemistry going with the guys we do have.”
But as Jackson has embraced the “fresh start” Eberflus promised for him in 2022, he has gladly taken on a leadership role. After Quinn was dealt to the Eagles in late October, Jackson earned a ‘C’ on his chest as a team captain.
Jackson has also been instrumental for young teammates like rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, inviting him over to his home for film study and guiding him along. He has helped to oversee the growth of this group during a transitional season.
Jackson has been by far the Bears’ best defensive player to this point, recording 4 interceptions this season and returning to his Pro Bowl-caliber form. But while this young group struggles, he has held patient.
“It’s all on us,” Jackson said. “The way we practice. The way we hustle. The way we communicate on the field. Just our style of play. We want to put that back on film. Everyone to the ball. Stop these guys from scoring points. It’s different going out there and giving up 28 in the first half in back-to-back weeks. It’s different. We’re just trying to get back to it.
“You got to have patience. You got to understand some guys from different schools, different schemes. They’ve never played this type of football. Now we’re trying to mesh everything together. As an older guy, you just have to have patience just knowing one day it’s going to click.”
4. Running towards history
Justin Fields isn’t the only one posting record rushing numbers. The Bears’ run offense is on a historic pace this season.
The Bears are on pace to surpass the Ravens in 2019 for the most rushing yards by a team in a single season, a pace of 3,322.6 yards. Of course, this would be a new record set in a 17-game season – while Baltimore’s record of 3,296 rushing yards came in a 16-game campaign. At the very least, Chicago can shatter its previous franchise mark of 2,974 rushing yards set in 1984.
The Bears became the first team since the Steelers in 1976 to record four straight games of 225 rushing yards or more, according to the NFL’s PR team. The Bears’ 1,759 rushing yards are the third-most through nine games since 1990, trailing only the Falcons in 2006 (1,790 rushing yards) and Ravens in 2019 (1,776 rushing yards).
Fields and running back Khalil Herbert are each on pace to surpass 1,000 yards rushing this season.
Quote to note
“It speaks more to him than it does to anything else, the kind of guy that he is, the kind of approach that he’s had from Day 1 and the kind of kid that he is and the kind of competitor that he is. Like, he wants to be the best and there’s nothing else that he wants more than is to bring some W’s to this football team.”
—Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, on quarterback Justin Fields
CB Jaylon Johnson (oblique) — Johnson was in and out of the Bears’ sideline injury tent for an evaluation on Sunday. But he appeared on the injury report Thursday and appears to be one to monitor for this game.
RG Teven Jenkins (hip) — It seems Jenkins had this injury flare up during practice Thursday, when he first appeared on the injury report as a limited participant. Michael Schofield would likely step in as the starter at right guard if Jenkins is unable to play.
DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (knee) — The Bears’ struggling defensive front can’t afford to lose a starter in Muhammad, whose status for Sunday is suddenly in question.
CB Kindle Vildor (ankle) — Vildor left last Sunday’s game against the Dolphins with this injury and could be looking at a potential absence ahead. That means more opportunity for rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Jones.
CB Josh Blackwell (knee) — A key presence on special teams, Blackwell was limited in practice this week.
Emma’s Prediction (7-2): Bears 38, Lions 31
Who likes offense? Well, this game is for you! Look for Fields and the Bears to keep their pace going against the Lions, who will come up a touchdown short Sunday at Soldier Field. It should be an entertaining contest, one that keeps showing Chicago has its franchise quarterback in the making.