There’s been one question on everyone’s mind for almost three years now. It’s been the center of heated debates and vehement disagreements. Everyone who watches the sport has had this conversation online or with friends and family alike.
Is Justin Fields good?
I still don’t know yet, but Sunday’s game against the Lions was a step in the right direction. Fields finished with a 77.4% adjusted accuracy score, about six percent better than his 71% adjusted accuracy score from last season’s sample. There’s some selection bias with a one-game sample like this, but the Bears rarely got that level of play from Fields during any point last year.
The thing with Fields is you often have to contextualize the data with what they are actually asking him to do as a passer. This game was no different.
For example, the Bears spammed boot-action in the first half to get Fields going. Five of his 16 attempts in the first half were on boot-action, and they certainly called more that turned into scrambles. Boot-action is a fantastic way to enable Fields’ athleticism and arm talent, of course, but that’s in part because it simplifies things for the quarterback and gives them easy options.
To that same point, 43.5% of Fields’ passes were in the 1-5 range. Most of those throws were flat routes off of boot-action or stick routes in quick game. That’s better than spamming screens and checkdowns—Fields only threw one pass behind the line of scrimmage—but it’s still a rather tame way to run a passing offense when you’re not throwing that many times to begin with.
Fields was fantastic on the stuff they asked of him, though. Some of Fields’ best throws of the day came on those boot-action concepts.
Fields hit Equanimeous St. Brown in the first quarter on an intermediate crosser while rolling to his right. Fields placed the ball on ESB’s back shoulder so as to stop him from running right into a defender. We haven’t seen thoughtful ball placement like that from Fields very often in his career.
Later in the half, Fields threaded another sweet crossing route, this time rolling to his left. Fields whipped the ball in between a few Lions defenders to hit Darnell Mooney in stride.
Fields was even better as a deep passer. He made two post throws in this game that would have us freaking out if we weren’t all so scarred by two and a half years of the Fields saga.
After missing DJ Moore on a post route in the first half, Fields connected with him on the same concept late in the third quarter for a touchdown. Fields stepped up versus pressure and delivered a bomb 45 yards down the field straight into Moore’s breadbasket. It was the exact kind of throw I envisioned Fields making when he came out of Ohio State. That was one of the few times we got to see it in action.
The last post throw is the one that should have gotten people to talk about this Fields performance. On 3rd-and-9 with the game on the line, Fields chucked a deep post to Tyler Scott against tight coverage. Scott, a real burner, should have been able to fly under the ball in perfect stride, but he didn’t. Scott slowed himself down when he brought his eyes up to find the ball, ultimately making the difference between the ball barely going over his fingertips and running right under it for a potential touchdown.
If Scott catches that ball, the Bears probably extend their four-point lead and at least ensure the game goes to overtime, if not win the thing outright. And if that happens, all anyone would be talking about this week is how Fields played.
Fields was also balling under pressure, specifically within the pocket. Fields was successful on 9-of-10 attempts when pressured, including 6-of-7 from within the pocket.
For what felt like the first time in a while, Fields was playing fast and free under pressure. You saw him changing arm angles, speeding things up, and finding different ways to get the ball out, stuff he just didn’t really do before. In fact, the only pressured throw Fields missed was a red zone wheel route to Khalil Herbert that was never open.
Fields was gaming against the Lions. It’s still hard to buy all the way in with Fields because of how limited the passing offense is, but there is something there. Unlocking Fields as a runner and streamlining the passing offense to feature his arm strength is a formula that can clearly work.
Hopefully Fields can build on the confidence and creativity we saw from him in this game.