Justin Fields is still a long way from rounding out his game and climbing into the top tier of quarterbacks, and one of his greatest advantages in that pursuit is that he knows it’ll take a lot more work.
Fields doesn’t have to be a classic pocket quarterback, but he needs that ability in his repertoire because he’ll see some defenses capable of keeping him there. He needs as many avenues to flourish as possible. He’s clearly a dynamo as a runner, but the fully developed version of his style would include more production as a passer.
“Just keep growing, especially in the passing game,” Fields said Wednesday when asked where he hopes to go from here. “Pocket presence, getting to the check down faster — that’s one thing I can grow at now and just keep developing, keep growing. [I want] to get little completions and really just drive the ball down the field.”
He doesn’t want to be a runner or a thrower. He wants to be both, and his history suggests that’s possible. Fields averaged 244.2 yards passing over his final two seasons at Ohio State and got just 13.9% of his offensive yardage by rushing.
He is overly reliant on running this season, with 31.3% of his yards coming that way. Somewhere around 20-25% likely is the most viable formula.
Fields can always fall back on his elite speed and perceptive shifts as a runner, but the other top running quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen win with balanced performances.
When Fields set the NFL regular-season record for quarterbacks with 178 yards in the loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, he completed 17 of 28 passes for just 123 yards, though he did connect on three touchdown passes and finished with a 106.7 passer rating.
For someone at his stage, it’s indisputable progress. And with the added context of him passing efficiently over his last five games, it’s a strong signal that he’s still on his way up.
“He’s uber-smart and is running the offense well,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “He’s getting more comfortable, so that’s what we’re most excited about.”
But he can get even better.
Jackson, for example, has 14 100-yard rushing games in his career, including the playoffs. In those games, however, he also averaged 219.9 yards passing. That’s an overwhelming combination, and the Ravens went 12-2 in those games.
As Fields looks to take another step in that direction, this week is an ideal opportunity. The Lions, as usual, are bad at everything.
Nobody gives up more points, and few teams are worse in pass defense. Carson Wentz feasted on them for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
Jalen Hurts, a dual-threat quarterback like Fields, threw for 243 yards and ran for 90. That would be a good place to set the bar for Fields on Sunday.
Fields’ only game against the Lions was early last season when he made his second career start. He wasn’t great — 209 yards passing, nine rushing and an interception — but it was enough for the Bears to hand him the job permanently rather than wait for Andy Dalton.
Those were dark days for the Bears, as it was obvious in real time that former coach Matt Nagy didn’t understand what he had in Fields. The goal always seemed to be to coach running out of his game, using it only as a last resort. As if it isn’t hard enough for a rookie quarterback to adapt, Fields faced the added hindrance of the staff trying to change him.
He has come a long way since. Fields is 19 starts in, playing in an intuitive offense and every week there’s evidence of how much he is learning.
“The more you play, the more you see defenses and the more you get used to just seeing different looks,” Fields said. “I’m growing each and every day.”