Justin Fields has morphed into one of the most electric young quarterbacks in the NFL. What makes it so exciting is he’s done almost despite what’s happening around him. While strong supporting casts often prop up other young quarterbacks, Fields has done his damage with a frankly mediocre group. His offensive line is one of the worst pass-blocking units in football. His wide receiving corps lacks the ability to get open or catch the ball consistently. As a result, Fields has had to do much of the work himself.
He is currently on pace to top 1,000 yards rushing for the season. That would make him only the third quarterback in NFL history to accomplish said feat. Yet with that success comes an inevitable criticism. Maybe contrarian Bears fans are annoyed that Fields hasn’t been able to beat teams more often with his arm. Quarterbacks are judged on their passing ability. He hasn’t done that.
Well, it’s rather convenient people still say that despite watching what unfolded in Atlanta. While the discussion centers around Fields’ injured shoulder and how the final drive was mismanaged, everybody has ignored the evolution that took place in the 4th quarter. He completed a 4th quarterback comeback, and he did it almost exclusively with his arm. Here is a breakdown of how it happened.
Pass #1 – Sprint out to Cole Kmet for 6 yards
People should not underestimate how difficult this throw is. Fields does the fake on the run-pass option. Then he has to sprint left, square his shoulders, and fire an accurate pass to Kmet where the cornerback has no shot at picking it off. If that throw is too far inside, there is a chance Isaiah Oliver picks it off and takes it back for a touchdown. It might seem like a routine completion, but it’s not.
Pass #2 – Full-field read before hitting Chase Claypool for 1st down
One of the hardest things to learn as a quarterback in the NFL is going through progressions. That means moving from your first, preferred options to a second, then a third, and so on until you find somebody open. It requires total trust in your protection. One could understand Fields struggling with this since his line hasn’t been great in that department. Yet he did the job brilliantly here. Claypool was his fourth read on the progression. To do this on 3rd down makes it even better.
Pass #3 – Quick hitter to Kmet for a 1st down
One of the biggest criticisms of Justin Fields during his early days as a starter was his unwillingness to take the easier throws when they were available. He too often waited for the big play. That isn’t nearly as big of a problem anymore. This is one example. The play unfolded exactly as designed. Kmet pops open, and Fields hits him for an easy first down.
Pass #4 – Redirects David Montgomery on a scramble and hits him with a 32-yard missile
People always talk about Fields’ otherworldly athleticism as a runner. It lulls into a false sense of security. Too often, you forget the guy has a cannon for an arm too. He proved it in this play. He gets good protection off the play action, surveys left, and then moves right to buy time. Fields communicates to Montgomery to carry his route up the sideline. Once the running back gets a necessary step, the quarterback fires an absolute dart for a big 32-yard completion. There are maybe three or four quarterbacks in football who make that play.
Pass #5 – Justin Fields creates magic on a scramble before finding St. Brown for a 1st down
One of the most underrated traits good quarterbacks need is an ability to improvise. When a play design doesn’t work, can they use their abilities to make something happen? Fields has already proven many times he is excellent at this. Yet this play showcases how dangerous he’s become. Most of the time, he’d probably take off and run when nothing materialized. Instead, he moves around, avoids rushers, keeps his eyes down the field, and flips an easy throw to Equanimeous St. Brown for 14 yards. Those kinds of plays are backbreakers for a defense. Chicago scored four plays later. Of the 75 yards covered, 66 of them came through the air.