Fields’ second-chance game against the Vikings may well decide his fate as a Bear once and for all.
The third-year quarterback played an efficient, dynamic game against the Detroit Lions only to watch his team squander a 12-point lead and once again get separated from the football in a key moment with a chance to save the day. It was a good first step toward protecting whatever chance he has of remaining the Bears’ quarterback beyond this season, but the Lions’ defense is hardly the challenge that the Vikings’ unit will be.
You can never truly assume you know when the Vikings will bring pressure or not — at least to the less-trained eye. They can rotate in and out of safety shells post-snap to make the guessing game especially difficult, so just because there’s no deep safety pre-snap doesn’t mean there won’t be one later.
But if you see a picket fence forming in the secondary without a true middle-field safety, it’s probably time to get the antennae up.
This play against the Broncos looks a lot like Cover 4 given the outside cornerbacks’ techniques — looking back at the ball, not their man — but it’s basically Cover 0. The lone linebacker has the running back in man coverage, and the slot defender, Josh Mettelus, blitzes from the opposite side of the tight end.
Denver’s Russell Wilson does a good job here of getting the ball to his “hot” receiver, which Fields absolutely must do without hesitation on Monday.
Here’s a similar look from the same game with the Vikings essentially selling out to stop the deep ball and forcing Wilson to go to his hot receiver again (which he does). This might be one of the more dangerous alignments Fields will see.
Compare these plays to the game-opening sack Fields took against Minnesota in Week 6. The Vikings made no bones about their Cover 0 intentions here, and the Bears’ alignment helps diagnose the coverage. Fields simply has to throw the football. That’s the first thing he’ll need to rectify this time around.
Of course, the Vikings will never make it THAT easy to pick out their schemes. Because they can play man-match coverage instead of giving away their matchups and following receivers when they motion across formations, pre-snap motion won’t always give away the game against them.
Plus, they can get to their zone looks in a variety of ways — while sending pressure.
Here, defensive coordinator Brian Flores sends a zone blitz with safety Harrison Smith from Tampa 2 “invert”, which sees the free safety buzz from a single-high look into deep-half coverage and the backside corner rotate into the second deep-half role. Not just that, but the dropping defensive end jumps right into the passing lane Wilson wants to hit with Jerry Jeudy in the slot, causing him to hold the ball and eventually throw an incompletion.
In short, it’s hard to be sure of anything when you’re going up against the maniacal Flores except for one thing: you’re going to get blitzed a lot. And Fields might get even more attention than usual. Minnesota blitzed him at a 71 percent clip the last time the two teams played each other.
One thing that might help? Study how the Bears attacked the New England Patriots’ scheme from last year. Flores is a disciple of the Belichick line and similarly toys with quarterbacks using rotating coverages and unique blitzes. If you want to beat the Cover 0 look that killed the Bears in Week 6 to start the game, install an outside screen like the one Khalil Herbert scored on against New England in 2022.
Also, there’s the quarterback draw the Philadelphia Eagles have been pulling out against Cover 0, like the one that won yesterday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Have either one of those plays in the queue at any time.
We’ll see how much everyone has learned in the last five weeks. Any hope of saving peoples’ jobs, from the coaching staff to the quarterback, depends on some major adjustments.