Justin Fields’ running prowess is the talk of the NFL, and most of that conversation is about the unparalleled speed he brings to the quarterback position.
He’s outrunning cornerbacks like the Lions’ Jeff Okudah, a former No. 3 overall pick who surely thought his 4.4 speed would be sufficient for any situation. Fields has clocked the fastest speed of any quarterback this season, at 21.2 miles per hour and has a couple 60-yard touchdown runs.
But his one-yard touchdown for the Bears against the Lions might’ve been his most impressive play. Not only does Fields possess pure speed that scares every defense, but his elusiveness is rivaled only by Ravens star Lamar Jackson.
Fields ran 34 actual yards for that touchdown, and while social media is full of videos of him dancing, none of those moves are as artful and inimitable as what he did in the backfield. The pasodoble is easy by comparison.
When Fields dropped back, two defenders were closing within three yards and a third ran in as he rolled left, then cut back to the right. One lunged and actually had both arms wrapped around his legs for a moment, nearly pulling him to the ground for an eight-yard sack, but he turned hard to the left and shook him.
Even then, he still had a defender in pursuit behind him and another approaching ahead. That’s when the speed kicked in. Fields hit the gas, survived two defenders hitting him at the goal line and plowed into the end zone.
It’s not normal.
Fields has still been sacked more times (36) than anyone in the NFL, but things look much different than they did in his starting debut as a rookie when the Browns flattened him nine times.
It helps that Fields is no longer being told to win from the pocket and is now in an offense that allows him to play freely. But he also has gotten more savvy during the chaos that transpires in the small, crowded space of the backfield. He has natural athleticism, but there’s also a mental component to being an elite escape artist.
“Your eyes are always downfield, so you’re learning to develop a feel for the tempo of the rush,” Bears quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “It just comes down to the functional intelligence to react in that moment.”
And there’s a lot to decipher in a very short time.
Defensive end Trevis Gipson described that challenge, which he’ll face in Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota when the Bears visit Atlanta, as “a lot of commotion,” and whoever processes the frenzy first usually wins those battles. Defenders are often within arm’s reach of Fields, but one quick step is all he needs to escape through the B-gap between the guard and tackle.
“Honestly, it’s pretty challenging,” Gipson said. “When you’ve got a mobile quarterback that’s moving around, you’re hoping your teammates can keep him boxed in and you all can play off each other. You hope there’s no gaps for escaping.”
When asked which quarterback has been the most problematic for him in that regard, Gipson said Fields. When pressed to pick someone whom he has actually faced in a game, he said there really isn’t anyone on Fields’ level.
Again, his mind is a big part of that. Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones said the goal is to make mobile quarterbacks “play with a panic,” but does Fields ever seem panicked? He looks like he’s performing a dance he knows by heart.
“You think you have him… and he just outruns [you],” Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker said. “He gets out of a sack that’s clearly a sack.”
That’s invaluable amid ongoing renovations to the offensive line. Fields has faced pressure on 28.1% of his drop backs, third-highest in the NFL, but been sacked on fewer than half of those plays. He’s turning nothing into something.