When talking about what makes an offense go, in any sport, one thing you hear mentioned often is “chemistry.” It’s intangible. You can’t measure it, but you can sense it. And the only way to develop it, is to play with the same group of people, a whole lot.
For the Bears and Justin Fields, developing that on-field chemistry was always going to be a process, and just one box to check on the very long checklist of his rookie development plan. But now that Fields has gotten on the field a lot more, and a lot sooner, some of that chemistry is starting to brew. Mainly, with second-year receiver Darnell Mooney.
Check out how Mooney broke down the first of his two big catches against the Lions on Sunday:
“Me and Justin locked eyes and once he looked at me, I was like, ‘OK.’ So I gave my eyes to the safety. The safety, I found out where he was and I took my route higher. Once he threw the ball, I caught it and I knew the safety was coming towards me, so I was like, ‘I gotta make him miss.’ Then the other guy was behind me. I tried to score, but … next time.”
Then, on his second deep catch, Mooney said that Fields had an option for where to throw the ball. Fields chose to throw it Mooney’s way.
“My number got called, so I had to make the play,” Mooney said.
The way the first deep ball developed relied heavily on that intangible quality of chemistry, too. Mooney said there wasn’t much discussion of the Lions’ use of soft coverage, or man coverage, or how the Bears were going to attack it. He and Fields were simply on the same page.
“Yeah, just sort of unspoken,” Mooney said.
This fast-tracked chemistry didn’t come out of nowhere, though. They’ve been working on it behind the scenes.
“Me and Mooney, we stay almost every day after practice to throw at least a few extra routes,” Fields said. “So me and him are pretty much always on the same page.”
In the end, Fields hit Mooney for five of his 11 total completions. Mooney’s 125 receiving yards accounted for more than half of the Bears’ 209 total receiving yards. Fields targeted Mooney seven times. Behind him, Allen Robinson and Cole Kmet tied for the second-highest target share at three apiece.
Before the game, Fields described how valuable it was getting starting reps in practice before the Browns game. By getting those under his belt he was able to feel more comfortable in practice leading up to the Lions game. It’s clear that translated from Halas Hall to Soldier Field, as well. But even with Fields developing before our eyes, Nagy has maintained that Andy Dalton will remain their QB1 when he’s healthy. It’s still unclear whether or not he’ll be good to go against the Raiders, but you’d have to imagine if Dalton is even only marginally limited the Bears would turn to Fields again.
Yes, Fields can learn some things on the sideline, but there’s no replacement for first-team practice reps, or real game action. That’s where chemistry is developed, not in a meeting room. Whether it’s part of the plan or not, he’s finally getting extended those on-field opportunities and he’s clearly learning more than just X’s and O’s along the way.
“We’re starting to put it all together,” Mooney said. “Looks very good. Feels very good.”