There’s no need for a fancy intro paragraph today — Justin Fields did things with his feet last year that the NFL had never yet seen from a Quarterback and everyone on this site lived each moment more than once.
Justin Fields scored THREE times from 50+ yards on the ground in 2022, which no other QB has done in their *total career*.
That doesn't count the 53-yd TD @ MIN that got called back, nor his 60-yd scramble @ DET.
I get "QB rushing is unsustainable", but Fields is different. pic.twitter.com/dmKlMyBzeU
— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) May 29, 2023
In doing so Fields put the league’s defenses on notice and, by the end of the season, so consistently drew extra attention that he opened up seams for his teammates to take advantage of.
Unfortunately for Fields, those teammates were Dante Pettis, Michael Schofield, Larry Borom, and plenty of others that simply didn’t have the talent to make the most of their opportunities. Even still, we saw early glimpses of how attempts to contain Fields might backfire in 2023 — that’s what we’ll go over today. Let’s dig in.
The Passing Game
We could talk about the effectiveness of Fields’ scrambling until the cows come home, but the threat alone that his mobility presents defenses will slow down opposing pass rushers and force them to play contain. Remember, when a pass rusher wins against an offensive tackle he implicitly leaves a running lane open that the QB can use to leak out of the pocket and gash the defense on the ground!
Fields took healthy advantage of these running lanes early in the season and converted so many first downs that Defensive Coordinators started trying to just fence Fields into the pocket — in 2023, I’m hoping that results in more plays like the one pictured below:
The best thing that Fields does for the #Bears OL is scare opposing DCs into calling contain rushes — watch this *3rd down* TD throw to Dante Pettis, then watch both EDGEs again.
They aren't trying to hit Justin, they're keeping him in the pocket. Great news for Brax & Darnell. pic.twitter.com/hIsrnpEo79
— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) July 12, 2023
When the DEs rush to contain, the natural trade-offs are easier assignments for the Bears’ OTs and thus longer unpressured time in the pocket. Hopefully the addition of DJ Moore (and return of Darnell Mooney) allows Justin Fields and an overhauled Bears’ passing game to punish defenses for leaving Fields alone.
There’s a separate conversation we could have about how Fields’ mobility will likely force defenses to deploy a Spy on passing downs (thus removing a defender from the coverage net), but we’ll leave that for another day. For now, let’s discuss the affect Fields’ feet have on…
The Running Game
The Bears’ game against the Bills was particularly bizarre because it saw a defense that’s normally poised overreact to the threat Fields’ mobility possessed on nearly every handoff, creating opportunities for teammates in the process.
On this play Fields freezes the defensive end (who, because the CB is blitzing, should just crash down towards David Montgomery) and also freezes the oncoming blitzer, thereby occupying 2 defenders by himself and creating a 7-on-6 for the Bears’ run blockers that they win convincingly. Montgomery springs into wide open space, picking up almost 22 yards before contact and setting the Bears up to score within a few plays.
I threw together a short video explaining what the defense saw pre-snap — give it a watch if you’re interested! But suffice it to say, Fields forced the DE to hesitate and hesitation is defeat in the NFL.
Obviously Justin Fields will need to win through the air in order to become a complete Quarterback, but Fields’ legs have the respect of his opponents. I’m excited to see how Luke Getsy can take advantage of the defensive adjustments that Fields’ rushing threat will force.
Your Turn: How many Rushing Yards will Fields finish the year with?