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Steelers Analysis

What are the Steelers Getting in Justin Fields?

What are the Pittsburgh Steelers getting in Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields after their trade for him?



Pittsburgh Steelers Trade Target Chicago Bears Quarterback Justin Fields
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 9, 2021. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Justin Fields and Russell Wilson are both Pittsburgh Steelers. Tell me if you thought that would be a reality a few weeks ago. Regardless, it is, and the Steelers brought back none of the quarterbacks from 2023’s team, instead opting to clean the slate and start over. After the play they received from that position, it makes sense. But what is the team getting from Fields?

Honestly, you can read much of what I wrote about Russell Wilson a week ago. Fields turns down open middle-of-the-field throws and takes bad sacks. For reference, among quarterbacks with the number of attempts in the Pro Football Focus database, Fields took the most time to throw the football at 3.39 seconds, and his pressure-to-sack ratio was ninth-worst in the NFL at 19.3 percent. And Wilson is right up there with him.

MORE: 4 Steelers Takeaways after Russell Wilson Signing

This is the issue with Fields, though, and it’s different from Wilson’s. While Wilson is naturally smaller and a chaos creator who often turns down middle-of-the-field throws because he can not see over his offensive line, Fields has a shoddy internal clock and is a slower processor of post-snap coverage changes. As a result, Fields takes some shots in the middle of the field, leading to danger. By holding onto the ball too long and getting ready if it beats late, Fields puts himself in a position to throw picks.

It’s not a surprise that Fields threw four interceptions in 19 attempts in the middle of the field between 10-19 yards last season. Most of those were processing errors because he waited too late to get rid of the ball. So, those are the two main issues that plague Fields in the passing game and why he has not been able to leap where he is now into franchise quarterback territory.

However, regardless of position, Justin Fields is one of the most dynamic runners on the ground in football. If you think that’s wrong, check the stats. Fields is right there with some of the best scramblers in the NFL, such as Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts. The designed quarterback runs the game with Fields because he is a dynamic athlete and so strong that he sticks out. The Bears even started to build that around him at times but never fully committed to it.

That mobility and speed transfer into the passing game. Fields can throw off platforms and out of structure with the best of them. There are multiple moments on tape where the tape flashes because Fields has magic out of structure. That is a special trait, and his arm talent allows his ceiling to be much higher than it otherwise would be.

The way Fields creates with his legs is, thus, twofold, but he relies too much on the chaotic happenings in his game. At times, he appears skittish in the pocket, which, in conjunction with his processing issues, leads to many sacks that should not happen. He can drift into pressure, and through processing errors and a want to use his athleticism (understandable!), Fields often creates a dirty pocket rather than sustaining himself in a clean one.

The arm talent is elite, and Fields has a gorgeous deep ball and makes throws that many in the NFL could only dream of making. So, that’s a plus. Much like Wilson, the arm talent is fantastic. And with Fields, he throws a pretty accurate ball, too. So, there are plus traits to build on in this muck.

But if Justin Fields takes the next step, it will be by consistently playing within the pocket and winning from within there. This is the absolute essential separation between him and Jackson. Jackson has learned to be a dynamic athlete and particular creator out of the structure, dissect defenses within the structure, and win in the pocket. Fields has the special magic you want at that position, but the way he plays makes him one of the most volatile quarterbacks in the league.

So, take it from there. That’s where the unmined upside is with Fields. It’s hard to get generally guys to play at a higher level within the pocket, but it has happened before. Someone like Geno Smith, for example, is now night and day compared to when he was with the New York Jets. The player on tape that Fields is currently is a dynamic runner who can make memorable plays out of structure with elite arm talent. It’s all about winning in structure enough to take that next leap.