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Fields in Focus Part III: Under Pressure

| February 16th, 2022

This piece will examine how frequently Fields was pressured, who was to blame for that pressure, and how Fields performed when under pressure. All stats are from Pro Football Focus (PFF) unless otherwise noted.


Pressure Frequency

Fields was one of the most heavily pressured QBs in the NFL as a rookie. PFF had him pressured on 43% of dropbacks, the 3rd highest rate of 39 qualifying NFL QBs (34% median, 45% worst). Pro Football Reference, which is more selective with what they consider a pressure, had him at a 27% pressure rate, the 5th highest mark in the NFL (23% median, 31% worst).

The table below shows how much of the pressure for each QB PFF blamed on each position. Fields’ stat is provided, and his rank compared to the other 39 QBs, as well as the range of the other qualifying QBs.  Cells where Fields ranked in the top 10 are highlighted in green, while cells where Fields ranked in the bottom 10 are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • By and large, Fields was not particularly to blame for the pressure he faced. PFF only credited him with being responsible for 13% of his pressures, which was the literal middle of the pack for the 39 QB sample.
  • Pressures may not have been his fault, but many sacks were. Fields allowed 24% of his pressures to turn into sacks, which was the 6th worst mark in the NFL (median 17%). This matches Lester Wiltfong’s Sackwatch series, which blamed Fields for 9 of the 36 sacks he took in 2021. If you go back and look at the film breakdown for those (which Lester does for all of them), the majority came when the initial pressure was not his fault, but then Fields could have gotten the ball out or escaped and didn’t.
  • In general, the pass blocking from the offensive line ranged from average to below average (again, 20th is the middle of a 39 QB sample). Two spots stood out from that: right guard was pretty good (it’s worth noting RG James Daniels is a free agent) and center was pretty bad. Sam Mustipher has to be upgraded this offseason.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the tight ends allowed a high rate of pressure compared to other QBs. When looking at tight ends, PFF had Cole Kmet ranked 43rd and Jesse James 30th in rate of pressures allowed out of 68 total qualified tight ends, which is around average for both, so I’m not sure what happened here. Maybe it’s a small sample size thing, where the tight ends gave up most of their pressures when Fields was in at QB (as opposed to Dalton or Foles).
  • I think sample size with running backs (the majority of the other) was probably an issue too. PFF had David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert 25th and 23rd, respectively, in rate of pressures allowed out of 64 qualified running backs, which is a little above average but nothing spectacular.


Performance Under Pressure

We’ve already seen that Fields was under pressure very frequently, so how did he hold up when that happened?

The table below shows how Fields performed in a wide variety of statistics when kept clean (blue) vs. pressured (orange), and also includes Fields’ rank out of 39 total NFL QBs who had at least 20% of the pass attempts of the NFL leader.

Information on the spread of all NFL QBs is also provided for each stat. Cells highlighted in green indicate Fields was among the top 10 QBs in this category, while those in red indicate Fields was in the bottom 10 QBs. A further explanation of big time throws and turnover worthy plays was given in the play action article; generally, more big-time throws is good, and more turnover-worthy plays is bad.

A few thoughts:

  • The accuracy and completion percentage are bad in both categories. This has been true no matter how we parse the data, because Fields struggled with accuracy in 2021 (as we saw in the 1st article of this series).
  • When he was kept clean, Justin Fields was really good. He was among the best QBs in the NFL in both big time throws and turnover worthy plays, which is the exact combination you want to see out of a high-level quarterback.
  • When he was pressured, however, Fields morphed into a pretty bad QB. His big-time throws dropped, but more concerningly his turnover-worthy play rate skyrocketed. Part of this is likely his 12 fumbles, which by definition must come when he is under pressure.
  • Given that Fields’ astronomical sack rate is also entirely dependent on him being under pressure, he might have been the most OL-dependent QB in the NFL last year. When kept clean, he was really good. When pressured, he was really bad. Fixing the offensive line has to be a priority this offseason for Chicago’s new decision makers (and new GM Ryan Poles has already said it will be).

Blitz

Finally, I want to look specifically at how Fields performed when teams sent extra rushers at him on a blitz.

Much like the table above in the performance under pressure section, the table below shows how he fared in a variety of stats when blitzed (orange) and not blitzed (blue), and also gives context for how he ranked relative to the 39 qualifying NFL QBs. Cells highlighted in green indicate Fields was among the top 10 QBs in this category, while those in red indicate Fields was in the bottom 10 QBs.

A few thoughts:

  • Fields was blitzed on 30% of dropbacks, the 13th highest rate in the NFL. The median blitz rate was 27%, so he was blitzed slightly more than normal.
  • Notice how things change, on average, for NFL QBs when blitzed. They get the ball out more quickly and aim throws shorter, but this results in more completions and a higher yards/attempt. The reason defenses are still willing to blitz, then, is because it leads to more sacks and turnovers. It’s a risk/reward proposition.
  • Compared to his peers, Fields actually held up decently well against the blitz, at least in terms of completing passes and gaining yards. He did better in both of those areas when blitzed than not blitzed.
  • The negative plays, however, were not good, as he was near the bottom in both turnover worthy play % and sack %. Part of the reason there is that Fields didn’t get the ball out all that quickly, though he never really gets the ball out quickly. Still, Fields needs to improve at recognizing the blitz and getting the ball out before it can get home.

Lessons Learned

  • Justin Fields was under pressure a ton, but it was mostly the fault of a poor offensive line, with center Sam Mustipher particularly sticking out as a problem.
  • Fields let a high rate of those pressures turn into sacks, which was largely his fault. He needs to get better at either taking off running or getting the ball out when under pressure.
  • Fields was a near elite level passer when kept clean, but that swung to him being very bad when under pressure. This puts a lot of stress on the offensive line, as he doesn’t like to throw quickly, so they need to hold up and keep him clean for an extended period of time.
  • Opposing teams blitzed Fields at a slightly higher than average rate, and this led to a high rate of sacks and turnovers. He needs to get better at recognizing the blitz and getting the ball out quickly.

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