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The tale of the tape for every Justin Fields snap of 2023

Now that we have entered the least active six weeks on the NFL calendar, I thought it was finally time to bite the bullet and complete my series where I watch every snap of the potential signal caller for the upcoming season. Yes, it’s as tedious as it sounds. I first did it for Kenny Pickett. Remember when he was on the team? Seems like years already. I came away surprised at how the narrative didn’t really fit with the tape when all the emotions of the individual game situations were removed. Then, of course, Kenny was traded, so there’s time I’ll never get back.

I then watched every snap of Russell Wilson in 2023 and came away impressed. He still moves like a young man, throws the ball with a consistent accuracy that Steeler fans are not at all accustomed to seeing, and clearly still has a passion to be great. The downsides that stood out was there was rarely a time when Wilson hit his back foot on a 3, 5, or 7 step drop and threw to his first or second read. It was like watching a Mini-Ben playing backyard ball and turning every play into an unscripted down. I’m sure it was that habit that caused Sean Payton to lose his angry little mind and not from any actual bad play from Wilson, as that was far and few between. The biggest concern I found was when Russell was hit or sacked on those improvised plays, the ball ended up on the ground. A ball control time of possession offense can’t be having turnovers coming from sacks deep in their own territory.

That left Justin Fields. I was least familiar with him as I don’t pay close attention to college football and let’s face it…he played for the Bears and must watch tv they are not. I only knew what I had heard – he’s an amazing athlete with loads of arm talent but struggles with consistency and reading defenses. Another common statement I heard is that he would not be a great fit for an Arthur Smith schemed offense because he was rarely under center and would struggle to run play action where he would be required to turn his back to the defense.

If any of you are worried about this portion of the offseason and feeling lost waiting for the season to start, just watch every offensive series for the Chicago Bears like I did. Now I feel like the six week wait for training camp is not enough. I’m not even sure if I like football any more. I never want anyone to get injured, but I had forgotten that Fields left the first game against the Vikings and then missed the next four games. It was such a relief to start each of those games and then get to skip it as I saw the backup on the field. It still took me three painful days to get through it all. Now I am in no hurry for September.

I had two objectives when watching the film. First on the list was to see how many times Justin ran true under center play action, and then just an overall observation on him making plays and sustaining drives. Here are the numbers. The 2023 stat line for Justin Fields is 227 completions on 370 attempts. Of those 370 attempts, only 27 were under center, and only 24 of those were play action where he turned his back to the defense before attempting a throw. Fields was almost always in Shotgun no matter the down or distance. About halfway through watching the film, I had the random thought that “Duck” would be a better nickname for Justin than it was for Devlin Hodges, since he was in Shotgun so much, and you hunt ducks with…well…you get it. I was getting bored. If Justin Fields were ever to give a HOF speech, he could never use Terry Bradshaw’s famous quote “What I wouldn’t give right now to put my hands under Mike Webster’s butt just one more time!” Fields would have to say “What I wouldn’t give to right now to stare at Lucas Patrick’s butt just one more time!” which sounds decidedly creepier for some reason.

I have more numbers to throw at you. Of the 24 true under center play action snaps, there were 8 completions, 8 incompletions, 2 sacks, 1 sack/fumble, 6 rushes that were broken plays, and 2 designed rushes. The most in a game is four, against Arizona and Atlanta, ironic as that is. The least was zero, against the Vikings, but that was the game he left early after being violently slammed down on his shoulder during a sack. But, in the next full game against the Vikings and then again versus the Lions and Commanders, there was only one under center play action pass in each game.

Now for the overall impressions. First, I would like to thank D.J. Moore. He is That Dude. Moore was the only bright spot in an otherwise slog of a film watch. I came away from this experience wishing he were the guy Omar Khan somehow managed to steal away from the Bears. He was the complete opposite of how Chase Claypool used to play. Moore was always fighting back to the ball, robbing the defense of sure interceptions, and then turning up field for big plays. He made almost impossible combat catches, ran fantastic routes, and gave Fields a college level open target on plays. The interception stats for Fields would probably be almost triple if not for Moore and his effort to bail out his quarterback.

As for Fields, he is a great athlete with an extraordinarily strong arm. He is also wildly inconsistent. He would throw a perfect ball, then the next three would be off target and miss badly. There were completions on balls that he absolutely should not have thrown, but his arm talent and D.J. Moore refusing to let defenders get the ball bailed him out of interception after interception. That all tracked with what I had heard about his passing ability.

What didn’t track was the athletic ability. I kept waiting for Fields to wow me by escaping free rushers to break off a big gain on the ground or find a downfield receiver, but that rarely happened. As Steeler fans, we all know the frustration when hate-watching the Ravens, and Lamar Jackson looks caught dead to rights in the backfield only to somehow pop free and make a big play. When defenders had Fields in that situation, he almost never got out of it. And with that comes an unbelievably bad habit. When Fields was getting sacked and his passing arm was not pinned, he would just blindly chunk the ball in the air as he was falling to the ground, and where it was going was anyone’s guess. It’s a miracle there weren’t more pick-six plays as the ball just fluttered into the arms of a surprised interior defensive lineman. I saw about five or six plays where he was able to escape and make a big gain, but most times when he was in trouble, it ended in a sack for a big loss or the dangerous throw the ball in the sky move.

To sum it up, watching this game film reminded me of watching the Steelers offense the last few years. Most completions were short curl routes with no chance for YAC. Fields had a habit of staring down the out routes to the sideline that had DB’s jumping the routes well before the receivers made their breaks. Several of those passes almost became a defender streaking to the house. Mainly, it was very inconsistent, with few sustained, methodical drives going the length of the field.

Will it be that way in Pittsburgh? It’s a different situation with a (hopefully) better offensive line and coaching. How much that can change habits that have been ingrained remains to be seen. Just from watching all the snaps from Wilson and Fields now, I would not only have Wilson in the pole position but about to put Fields a lap down with ten to go in the race. I feel optimistic about the offense with Russell Wilson, but unless there are major improvements, I’m afraid a Justin Fields led offense would be more of what we have become accustomed to watching, inconsistent play with stalled drives and missed scoring opportunities, plus a stressed out defense put in short field situations. If Justin does end up seeing significant playing time, I hope he proves me wrong. I’ll be rooting for him to have success and making that Chicago tape a distant bad memory. That I will never, ever, watch again.


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