Designed runs for Justin Fields help Bears unlock offensive potential

At 6-3, 228 pounds, the speedy Justin Fields proved to be an effective runner as the Bears insterted more designed runs for their QB. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Devin McCourty had seen this before. The way the Chicago Bears utilized quarterback Justin Fields in a 33-14 win over the Patriots on Sunday night reminded the veteran safety of another QB who had run all over New England’s defense a month prior.

“I think with the extended time, they added some plays that I think we saw in the Baltimore game with Lamar Jackson,” McCourty said, referring to the 10 days between the Bears’ last two games.

Fields said Wednesday the Bears implemented several of Baltimore’s run plays into their game plan against New England, notably the ones drawn up for the former MVP quarterback. Jackson ranks second with 39 designed runs for 390 yards and two TDs.

“He’s just quicker and faster than everybody else,” Fields said. “I’m just hoping to be quick like that one day.”

Using their second-year quarterback in a manner similar to Jackson was the catalyst for Chicago’s highest scoring game with Fields at quarterback. Of Fields’ 14 rushes (a single-game career high) for 82 yards, 10 came on designed runs and yielded 5.6 yards per rush. Fields totaled 13 designed rushes for 28 yards in Weeks 1-6 combined.

Bill Belichick said the Patriots were aware of Fields’ skill set as a runner beyond his ability to scramble and improvise when plays break down. How capable New England’s defense was to stop it proved to be a different story.

“We gave him third-and-long, and it seems like he would just find a running lane and pick it up with his feet or make a throw,” linebacker Matthew Judon said. “I think we kind of had no answers for him.”

The Bears came away from their mini-bye week with a formidable plan for how to incorporate Fields’ most underutilized asset: his legs. Fields was on the move frequently, whether on called runs or plays outside of the pocket. Fields went 6-for-7 for 104 yards throwing on the run, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

“I think it's very hard to defend,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “I've tried to defend those guys over the years, and it's very difficult.

“We just have to do it the right way – and we've got to be creative with how we do it.”

Chicago offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called six of Fields’ 10 designed rushes at New England on first downs, which the quarterback turned into 36 yards, two first downs and a 3-yard touchdown, his second rushing TD this season. Ten days in between games allowed Getsy to look at what Chicago’s offense does well – running on early downs – and add his quarterback to the mix. Chicago leads the NFL with 6.1 yards per carry on first downs.

The Bears own the NFL's best rushing offense at 181 yards per game. Since 1988, two of Chicago’s three best single-game rushing performances have come this season: 281 vs. Houston in Week 3 and 243 on Sunday.

The Bears’ commitment to the run has created a one-two punch with backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Adding Fields to the mix as a runner will allow for Chicago to double down on what’s working.

“You have to commit to that,” Eberflus said. “A lot of people say it and then they run the ball 15 times. But it’s that we’re committed to running the ball.

“And then obviously the element of the quarterback. When you have that quarterback who has the ability to run, he certainly gives you another element and another dose of yards in the running game.

Teams may now be able to better plan to contain Fields as a runner, but continuing to rely on these plays could play to the health of the offense and the quarterback.

Fields has taken the most sacks (27) of any NFL quarterback, but his designed runs tended to insulate him from getting hit in ways scrambles have not. Against a Cowboys defense that ranks first in sacks per game (4.1), putting Fields in position to not take as many hits should be a priority.

“...You want to do it in a safe way, cause it is your quarterback,” Eberflus said. “You want to make sure that you're doing it the right way. He has to know when to do things the right way in terms of to slide, when to get out of bounds and all those things.

“Just gotta be smart about it. He's got very good instincts that way, so we trust him.”