LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears didn’t plan to lead the league in rushing last season any more than they planned to trail the league in passing.
But adjusting to the first year in a new offensive system, with a collection of personnel that most around the league would not describe as top-end, prompted a heavy skew to the ground game as quarterback Justin Fields showcased his electric athleticism and play-making ability.
The Bears demonstrated one route to offensive production last season. That film might not reflect the Bears’ chosen route in 2023 because increasing familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system and a series of offseason moves have shifted the possibilities.
Consider this less a change in philosophy and more a change in execution of the system.
“Letting the guys take ownership of it, putting their own flavor on stuff makes it more natural and more organic, which usually means better,” Getsy told Yahoo Sports on Friday in a sitdown interview. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re just trying to give these guys more tools on the tool belt.”
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The tools at Fields’ disposal this season should allow him to better attack and protect. The Bears acquired veteran receiver D.J. Moore, who’s averaged more than 1,000 yards per season in his five-year pro career, as part of their trade of the 2023 first overall draft pick to the Carolina Panthers.
Compare that to last year’s Bears, none of whom compiled even 500 receiving yards or four touchdowns. Chicago’s leading pass-catcher was tight end Cole Kmet, whose 544 yards still trailed Moore.
The Bears also fortified the right side of its offensive line this spring, signing four-year Tennessee Titans starting guard Nate Davis and selecting tackle Darnell Wright in the first round of the draft, 10th overall.
The hope: More of a passing game will naturally emerge for Fields, who was often left scrambling last year because he either didn’t have time to let a play develop or didn’t have the right target for completing the pass. He ultimately completed 60.4% of his passes, throwing for 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games. Fields scored eight touchdowns by ground while rushing for 1,143 yards — seventh-most in the league, running backs included. This was the result more than the plan.
“I’m not thinking before a play breaks down. ‘Oh, I’m going to run this play or pass this play,’” Fields said. “I don’t make the decision beforehand.”
With his surrounding cast last year, he couldn’t.
How will this year’s talent collection jive with offensive familiarity in Fields’ first pro season without a new offensive system?
“Not having to learn a new offense, new protections, new language … has definitely been easier for me in terms of diving deeper into the playbook and a better understanding of it,” Fields said. “I’ve definitely felt way more comfortable this offseason.”
Even before padded practices ramp up, Getsy could see that in meetings and film sessions. Fields discussed adjusting protections and choosing between run plays at the line of scrimmage with a different level of command in OTAs this year than last, Getsy told Yahoo Sports. He described responses to defensive alignments more clearly, conveying not just what should be done but also the why. Visualizations of plays look different than a year ago.
“It’s more about the control that he can have,” Getsy said. “The ideas that hit his brain in the heat of the battle rather than just kind of doing what the piece of paper said.”
NFL history suggests the rebound from last year’s 3-14 campaign will still take the Bears more than one year, their pair of 2024 first-round draft selections another indicator of a multi-year plan. And yet: It doesn’t hurt that four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers is no longer in their division or even conference, after Rodgers won 24 of 29 games against Chicago. Getsy is also cognizant of the margin in a smattering of losses last year. The Bears fell seven times in one-possession games; five times, that deficit was five points or fewer.
Learning to finish games, cliché as it might sound, may be as important as learning to produce. Understanding the ethos under Matt Eberflus, one of a minority of NFL head coaches to emerge from defensive ranks, could influence the rhythm of when to run and when to pass.
“What we do a really good job of here is we play as a full team,” Getsy said. “So we’re gonna play the game, what’s best for our defense, what’s best for our special teams and what’s best for our offense too.
“I know it’s not always the prettiest thing that people want to see if people want to see passing yards and points, right? You know, so do we. But we want to win, more importantly.
“We’re gonna do whatever gives us the best opportunity to do that.”