Part of what makes an NFL offense hum is trust and consistency. Trust that each of your 10 teammates will be where they need to be on a given play, and the consistency to execute that every snap. When something’s out of place, things go wrong. That’s what happened for the Bears defense with their big coverage breakdowns in Week 1. That’s also what happened on Justin Fields’ first sack of the game in Week 2.
“That was one there where I think maybe that’s a good learning one for Justin to be able to push up in the pocket,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “He was at about 11 yards depth, so if Justin gets back to his drop, can push up, you know, those tackles are going to let them edge ‘em a little bit.”
What Nagy is saying is that there was room for Fields to climb into a pocket created by the tackles guiding the pass rushers up the field.
This is where understanding where each player will be, at any given time, comes into play. For Jason Peters, it’s about getting familiar with his two different quarterbacks.
“With Andy (Dalton), he's going to hit his 10-yard, if it's a seven step or a five step, Andy's going to hit it and climb,” Peters said. “Versus Justin一 you know because I played with Mike (Vick), I played with (Nick) Foles, two different quarterbacks一 you know Mike is always trying to make a play, so he's going to bail out and roll out, not knowing I'm pushing the end up the field so he can come back and tomahawk. So, I've just got to adjust.
“I've got to take more kicks when Justin is in there just to cut off his pursuit angle, because he's going to bail out and try and make a play. That's what he does, you know, making plays. So two different quarterbacks, you've got one that pushes up and then you've got one that's trying to get outside the pocket if he gets a little pressure up front.”
The only way to gain that familiarity is to work multiple reps, over and over. If Dalton’s limited in practice with his knee injury then Peters, and the rest of the O-line, will finally get a chance to run those reps, over and over, with Fields under center. For that, there’s no substitute.
“I'm definitely going to work on that all week, just kicking more and getting more depth,” Peters said. “That way when he bails out of the pocket he's got a clean pocket versus you know just kind of short setting and taking on the bull because Andy's going to be on the spot and then pushing up.”
It’s not just about familiarity with the quarterback either. We always hear about offensive linemen needing time to gel as a unit, and Peters said that was a reason for some miscues against the Rams.
“I fell a couple times in the L.A. game just trying to get in sync with (Cody Whitehair), you know, because with him, he likes to kick out his left leg deep to stay square. I'm used to the guys reverse-staggering and stuff. So I'm just getting used to playing beside him with his footwork. But he's a great wing guy.”
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Whitehair’s play. In fact, Peters praised his work ethic, technique, and his football IQ. It’s just that Peters needs time playing next to Whitehair to better understand how they can work best, side-by-side.
So he’ll continue to work, repeating reps, over and over, adjusting to Fields, adjusting to Whitehair, adjusting until technique and muscle memory takes over.
“Just getting back to getting smooth,” Peters said. “I didn’t have the training camp or OTAs to get all the way smooth, so I’m doing it on the fly during live action. Just to get that, I about got it. I know how to do it. It’s just doing it over and over and over for the whole game.”