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Bills-Bears key to the game: Slowing down Justin Fields

Assessing Buffalo’s track record against mobile quarterbacks, with Justin Fields on deck

John Wawrow

When a NFL team has a quarterback that can not only throw the ball, but run the ball effectively as well, good things generally happen for that team. Buffalo Bills fans know this first hand with Josh Allen. The do-it-all quarterback, running back, and even receiver has carried Buffalo to Super Bowl contention by averaging 51 yards rushing per game and nearly 275 passing yards per game.

The list of dual-threat quarterbacks has grown tremendously over the last decade in the NFL, and Buffalo finds themselves matched up against one of the elite ones this week in Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears.

Fields has rushed for over 1,000 yards so far this season, but has also had 15 passing touchdowns. Bills head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are not rookies, and have game-planned against a player like this before. In this week’s Mr. B’s Breakdown, I investigate their history against dual-threat quarterbacks to find out how they approach defending this type of player.

Cam Newton

McDermott has matched up four times against his former team’s quarterback. Newton, the former NFL MVP, has struggled in these matchups, going 1-3 against McDermott’s Bills. Newton has 33 carries for 176 yards and three touchdowns in those four games, but as the win-loss record goes, Buffalo has owned Newton. His lone win was McDermott’s first game as head coach for the Bills in 2017.

This clip, coming from a blowout win over Newton and the Panthers in 2021, highlights the importance of the defensive line against a quarterback like Newton. Newton has size in the pocket, and with the edges and interior getting pressure, they also put their hands up in the air when Newton releases the ball. The tipped pass falls incomplete, and the Bills got a stop on fourth down. Fields also has size in the pocket, so Buffalo’s defensive line will have to do everything they can to disrupt him, even if they can’t get him sacked.

Kyler Murray

Murray has only faced off against a McDermott Bills team once, and it was one we all would love to forget. The Cardinals got the win against Buffalo on a last second Hail Mary play. Leading up to that play, Murray found success on the ground, to the tune of 11 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Murray’s rushing was the spark-plug that helped Arizona rally, something Buffalo certainly won’t forget.

On this run-pass option, Murray finds the hole in the offensive line and scampers into the end zone for a score. The touchdown was the start of the 14-point comeback by the Cardinals. Fields is also very talented at running an RPO. Buffalo’s linebackers, Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, will have to play smart football and be ready for anything if the defense wants to stop this option for Chicago.

Russell Wilson

Only a couple of short years ago, Wilson was an elite talent at the quarterback position in the NFL. Buffalo played Seattle in their 2020 season, winning a 44-34 shootout. Although he passed for almost 400 yards, Wilson had two interceptions, and only rushed for five yards. This interception came on a 4th & 1 from Buffalo’s four-yard line. The defense doesn’t bite on Wilson’s play-action fake, gets pressure, and forces Wilson to chuck up the ball instead of taking a sack. Safety Jordan Poyer makes an athletic play jumping for the ball, setting up the Bills’ offense with a touchback.

Pressure sacks are a momentum-shifter for a defense and can break the back of an opposing offense. Without edge rusher Von Miller, it will be up to Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, and company to bring the heat on Fields, forcing him into some mistakes.

Lamar Jackson

Buffalo has had some epic affairs with Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, not only in the regular season, but also the postseason. Jackson as a starter is 1-3 against Buffalo, and has struggled to produce. With 38 carries for 186 yards and no touchdowns, coupled with the losses, Buffalo has had success bottling up the Ravens with Jackson under the helm.

On this sack of Jackson during the Bills’ AFC divisional playoff game in 2020, Frazier dialed up pressure, sending Levi Wallace on the cornerback blitz. Jackson spins out of the initial tackle, but Wallace doesn’t stop, eventually bringing Jackson to the ground. If Jackson were to break Wallace’s tackle, he was facing a swarm of blue jerseys ready to bring him down. Buffalo will need to be better on team tackles, and have all 11 guys on the field pursuing the ball against Fields, as he has a level of physicality Jackson doesn’t have.

McDermott and Frazier know finishing tackles is important. Last week, they failed to do so against Miami running back Raheem Mostert on a 71-yard run that saw Mostert break almost a half a dozen takcles.

“Guys do have a lot of pride, and they want to do better at that part of the game,” Frazier Said. “In the NFL on defense, you have to tackle. This time of year, you can’t really work on it the way you want to. You don’t have on pads. This is a non-padded week for us. But you have to mentally put yourself in that frame of mind, to be able to go out and tackle and get guys to the ground.”

Getting the 6’3”, 230-pound Fields to the ground is easier said than done, but if anyone can do it, Poyer, Milano, Edmunds and company should be up to the task.

In summary

While it hasn’t been perfect, McDermott and the Bills have done a good job against mobile quarterbacks. Against the guys listed above, Buffalo sits with an overall record of 7-3 — an impress record, considering the talented rosters and coaches the quarterbacks also had on their respective teams.

The Bears are only 3-11, but they look to be a sneaky team that can pack a punch. I expect Fields to get some yards on the ground, but Allen and the offense will score too many points that Fields won’t be able to keep up. With the weather looking brutal, both quarterbacks could have big days on the ground, but I will give the nod to Allen and his refined passing ability, as Fields is not yet on Allen’s level.

Who do you think wins this game on Christmas Eve? Will Allen or Fields have more rushing yards?