Fields in Focus (4/8): Fields Under Pressure

| May 8th, 2023

Today is the fourth of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.

All data comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF) unless otherwise noted, and Fields’ per-snap stats are only from Week 5 on, as was explained in part one of this series. (Volume stats are still season-long for an easy comparison to other QBs.)

Pressure Frequency

Like we saw in his rookie season, Fields was under heavy pressure in 2022. PFF had him pressured on 45% of drop backs, the worst rate of 33 qualified QBs and 12% higher than the NFL average. Pro Football Reference, which is more selective with what they consider a pressure, had him at a 27% pressure rate, the 3rd worst mark in the NFL (range from 13% to 29%, with an average of 21%, quick side note that this is full season, not just from week 5 on).

The table below shows how frequently PFF blamed pressure on each position. Fields’ stat is provided, and his rank compared to the other 33 QBs, as well as the range of the other qualifying QBs.  Cells where Fields ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while cells where Fields ranked in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • Well, that’s not good. Every single position is below average, with Fields and the LT both being right at the bottom for allowing pressure. This matches what we saw earlier this offseason when I did a more thorough dive on the tackles, guards, and centers. The Bears don’t return any stellar pass blockers.
    • It’s worth noting that left tackle Braxton Jones improved significantly as the season – his first in the NFL – wore on and was an average or better pass protector by the end of the year.
    • New right guard Nate Davis allowed a pressure every 26 snaps last year, which would be slightly above average and mark a clear improvement from what Chicago previously had.
  • I want to take a moment to think about Justin Fields, who some argue holds the ball too long and thus invites the pressures and sacks that he takes. There is some truth to this argument, as he was blamed for pressures at the 2nd highest rate of any QB.
    • However, it’s worth noting that other QBs with a similar style of play are blamed for pressures at a similar rate.
      • Lamar Jackson was actually worse, accounting for a pressure every 10 drop backs, while Jalen Hurts was at 16 drop backs/pressure blamed.
      • Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen were both blamed for a similar total number of pressures, though less often on a per-snap basis than Fields because they had more drop backs.
      • If you want to think of it in terms of % of pressures the QB got blamed for, Fields was at 24%, which was actually less than Jackson (34%) and Hurts (26%), with Mahomes and Allen both at 20%.
      • This comes with the nature of having a QB who likes to hold the ball and look for big plays down the field, which will always be Fields’ game. He can certainly look to improve here, but this issue is never going to go away.
    • None of those QBs, however, get blamed for holding the ball too long, mainly because they play behind much better offensive lines.
      • Chicago’s OL as a whole was blamed for a pressure every 3.3 pass blocking snaps, compared to an NFL average of 4.1 snaps/pressure (the Bears ranked 26th).
      • Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts, the two most comparable QBs in pressure rate they were blamed for, played behind stellar offensive lines that were blamed for a pressure every 5.5 and 5.9 snaps, respectively.
    • The pressure numbers also translate to sacks. PFF blamed Fields for 13 sacks last year (matching Windy City Gridiron’s sackwatch), which was tied for the most in the NFL.
      • Once again, that’s not ideal, but not out of the ordinary; 7 of 33 QBs were blamed for 10+ sacks, including Jalen Hurts (13), Justin Herbert (13), and Lamar Jackson (12) all being nearly identical to Fields. Fields as a whole was sacked 55 times, much more than Hurts (38), Herbert (38), or Lamar (26). That seismic gulf shows the problem with Chicago’s offensive line.

Lessons Learned

There are two real takeaways from today’s article:

  • Justin Fields holds the ball too long, which invites pressure and sacks.
  • Chicago’s offensive line was really bad at pass blocking.

This isn’t an either/or situation, where only Fields or the OL are at fault. Both bear plenty of blame, and that’s a killer combination overall. Fields needs to prioritize getting the ball out a bit quicker, but his playing style is always going to involve him holding the ball and inviting some pressure. Teams have shown you can work very effectively with that approach, but it requires building a quality offensive line sooner rather than later. That’s a big reason why Ryan Poles just spent the 10th overall pick on RT Darnell Wright, who was widely viewed as the most pro-ready pass protecting tackle in the draft.

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