Greenberg: It’s OK to be excited about a playmaking Bears offense in August


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CHICAGO — Preseason is for the dreamers.

You know, the NFL’s exhibition schedule gets a bad rap. We know it doesn’t count — that it’s a public practice — and the football is, generally, unimpressive, but for teams like the Bears, the ones who could go either way the next four months, a preseason touchdown is worth more than six points if you can close your eyes and imagine.

In two key series in their preseason opener Saturday, the Chicago Bears — who beat Tennessee 23-17 to keep coach Matt Eberflus’ preseason record perfect at 4-0 — looked like the Greatest Show on Park District Bermuda Grass.

It was in those series that the supporting cast of the offense made Justin Fields look good. He barely had to break a sweat to throw two long touchdown passes to DJ Moore and Khalil Herbert.

“I don’t think I did too much work today, threw two screens and they go for 50, 60 yards,” Fields said with a smile after the game. “Khalil and DJ made my job easy. … It’s always good to have playmakers like that on the team.”

He finished with 129 passing yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 3-for-3 day, but he didn’t really do anything impressive on his own.

What was both eye-opening and dreamlike were the touchdowns created on screen passes by Moore and Herbert. Moore scored first on a 62-yarder and Herbert followed with a 56-yard jaunt to the end zone. The touchdowns and the yardage all count the same for Fields. (Well, it’s preseason so it doesn’t count, but you get my drift.)

“When you increase the skill on your football team, the catch-and-runs get larger, the stat line looks better,” Eberflus said. “We’re going to continue to do that and certainly, we’re going to continue to take our shots downfield as well.”

To be sure, Fields will be judged, perhaps harshly, this season, but not just yet. Not in August. Eberflus pulled Fields after seven plays while he was on top. I am both skeptical and open-minded based on what we’ve seen in the past from the Bears and what we’ve witnessed thus far from Fields.

If the Wu-Tang Clan is for the children, Fields is for the jersey-wearing adults who dream like little kids about a franchise quarterback to call their own.

A gifted athlete with the potential to be different, Fields has shown so much and not nearly enough in his first two seasons. He has a city wearing No. 1 jerseys, but will he truly be the QB1 the Bears have been searching for?

No one wanted to see him do too much in this game and there was nothing from him to really evaluate.

Fields needs to do it all to be a top quarterback at this level, but he will only be as good as his supporting cast. That’s something we’ve learned season after season, disappointing after disappointment, at Soldier Field.

The addition of Moore, a real-deal, difference-making receiver in his prime, from Carolina in Ryan Poles’ big swing with the No. 1 pick in the draft is likely more important to Fields’ future than any first-round pick. All you had to do was watch that one play Saturday.

In the Bears’ first drive, Fields threw a receiver screen pass to Moore that was, honestly, a little off-target. But as the great ones do, Moore made something out of nothing. He caught it and, with some key blocks, simply took off down the left side for a 62-yard touchdown.

This is a good point to remind everyone that Johnny Morris and Harlon Hill are still one-two in career receiving yards for the Bears. Morris retired in 1967 and Hill in 1961. (To be fair, Alshon Jeffery was only 511 yards short of eclipsing Morris’ record of 5,059 before signing with the Eagles.)

Brandon Marshall and Allen Robinson never realized their potential with the Bears, but maybe Moore can be the guy just like Fields can be the guy.

“It’s exciting, it’s cool to see,” said Chicago native Cole Kmet. “Obviously, he’s shown to be an explosive playmaker throughout his career. Being able to take a screen to the house is fun stuff.”

“I wish I got to throw more routes to him,” Fields said of their quick work, “but that will come soon enough.”

Fields’ second touchdown came on a rollout (with pressure coming from the middle) where he flicked a little screen pass to Herbert, who juggled it and took off downfield, scoring a 56-yard touchdown with blocking from linemen Darnell Wright and Ja’Tyre Carter along with receiver Equanimeous St. Brown at the end. Herbert went hard for the preseason touchdown.

“If you break a run and get tackled on the 5, you get a fine,” Herbert said. “So that was definitely on my mind.”

We talk a lot about the importance of Moore, Chase Claypool and rookie Tyler Scott, about the tight end combo of Kmet and Robert Tonyan, but don’t overlook the importance of Herbert and the running back position in general to the Bears’ success.

Running backs aren’t going to be happy with their pay, relative to their expectations, but that doesn’t mean they’re not critical to the well-being of a healthy offense. Herbert and his backups have to complement Fields this season. After watching Herbert’s touchdown, what former Bears running back Matt Forte said to me recently sounded downright prescient.

“That ‘passing league’ crap, it sounds nice,” Forte said. “People use it, you know, not really knowing what that term, even means. The running back, I think, it’s so valuable, because when you have a young quarterback who’s trying to be developed, or even a veteran quarterback, they can take a lot of pressure, whether it be from the blitz or from them being inexperienced, and the running back position helps them. And that comes from running the ball, from screen plays, to mismatches to being involved in the passing game.”

If Fields is going to take the next step in his development, it will take a village. If the Bears are going to be relevant beyond Fields highlights this year, it’s going to take a full roster.

Two offensive series weren’t the only important moments in the game.

The defense, down a handful of starters, showed some pluck, sacking Titans quarterbacks Malik Willis and Will Levis eight times and picking them off twice. Rookies like Wright, the team’s first-round offensive lineman, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, defensive lineman Zacch Pickens, running back Roschon Johnson, linebacker Noah Sewell and defensive tackle Travis Bell had positive showings in their first NFL action.

Preseason games aren’t meant to be meaningful to the public, but for players new to the league or trying to make the fringes of a roster, they provide opportunities. For coaches and executives, it’s a chance to evaluate a team’s depth.

We’re all aware the season doesn’t begin until Sept. 10 against the Packers at Soldier Field. That’s when a Moore touchdown will matter. That’s when you can really get excited, or sad, about Fields.

It’s just August, though, the right time to start dreaming about better days. That’s what preseason football is for.

(Photo of DJ Moore (2) celebrating with Khalil Herbert after scoring on a 62-yard catch and run in the first quarter: Jamie Sabau / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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