While some voices around the Chicago Bears have lost their voices shouting IT STARTS AT THE TOP, the Cincinnati Bengals serve as a reminder that, in reality, it starts under center.
Sunday, the Bengals have a chance to win their first Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. They’re doing this after winning a combined six games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. They have the same coach, the same coordinators, a six-person front office and the cheapest owner in the sport. Yet here they are. Because now they have a Joe Burrow.
The Bears have a chance at a similar turnaround, but Justin Fields will need to make a similar leap.
The Bears offseason and coaching search was seen as something that would be centered around Fields. Fans clamored for an offensive head coach who could, in theory, “develop” Fields into an elite quarterbacks. But NFL coaches don’t make bad quarterbacks good, or good quarterbacks great. That is left mostly up to the player himself. (The 2011 CBA limited the amount of time coaches have with players in the offseason.) Mike McCarthy used 10-hour days to help refine Aaron Rodgers’ mechanics, but that is no longer possible in the current NFL. Quarterbacks have had to rely on personal coaches to refine their mechanics. It’s what Josh Allen credits for his development.
Chicago has been criticized for hiring a defensive head coach with a first-time offensive coordinator and an inexperienced QB coach. In all, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko have just three years total working with quarterbacks. John DeFilippo had 11 himself as a coordinator or QB coach, Bill Lazor had 12 and Matt Nagy had nine. The Bears went from a team of expert QB coaches — who had gotten MVP-caliber seasons from the likes of Alex Smith, Nick Foles and Carson Wentz — to an unknown.
It’s a strong indication that the Bears realize that Fields will have to make improvements on his own while they try to design the offense around his skill set. After all, the new coaches won’t get their hands on Fields until April and, even then, what they can do will be extremely limited. The coaches will give Fields a list of things to work on and he’ll do so with his personal QB coach.
And that’s exactly what the Bengals did. It’s hard to sell head coach Zac Taylor as any type of offensive genius after he had bottom-three offenses each of his first two years. Taylor’s work as a quarterbacks coach wasn’t anything to write home about either. Instead of thinking they were going to fundamentally change who Burrow is, they decided to build around his skills. In his second year, Burrow might already be one of the five best quarterbacks in the league.
While the Bears’ offensive staff doesn’t have a lot of experience working specifically with quarterbacks, both Getsy and Janocko have experience working with other positions. Davante Adams credits Getsy for his breakout when Getsy was Green Bay’s wide receiver coach. Janocko has coached wide receivers and offensive line. Instead of just seeing the offense from the quarterback’s view, the new coaches should be able to build the entire offense to get the most out of the other ten players, making the quarterback’s life easier.
Fields has the talent to be the best quarterback in the league. He is already an elite deep ball thrower and there’s no way for opponents to prepare for his legitimate 4.4-speed. The new Bears staff will no longer try to force his skills to fit within a scheme, but rather build the scheme around his skills. It will be up to him to make it happen.
Head Coach Matt Eberflus told Albert Breer of MMQB that he believes in the 80-20 rule:
“To me, it’s 80 percent skill and the talent you have on the field and then the 20 percent is the other part, the coaching, the scheme, the culture, how we play, the physical style. But really, 80 percent of it’s the players.”
If this Bears regime is going to be a success, it’s going to be because that 80% delivers.