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Buffalo Bills opponent preview: Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields

Boom or bust in a big way

Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are set to take on the Chicago Bears on Christmas Eve with the hope of locking up the AFC East as an early gift to the team and its fans. The two teams will face each other, but also the elements, with the weather forecast calling for dangerous cold and wind. At the heart of any contest like this is the quarterback. We’ve seen Josh Allen in rough conditions, so let’s take a look at the competition.

The stats

Yeah, I know. You come here looking for GIFs. Don’t worry, there are a few below. In the case of quarterback Justin Fields though, I promise some stats are worth the time. This far into the season, the aggregate numbers hold some predictive validity, and might clue us in on some key traits without so much as touching the film room. But again, we’re going to do that, too.

Here are some raw numbers to ponder with my thoughts on the matter directly after:

  • Despite the Bears’ abysmal 3-11 record, Fields is tied for the sixth-best touchdown rate with 5.5% of his throws going for a score.
  • On the other hand, 3.5% of his passes are intercepted. That’s second-worst in the league.
  • Fields is tied for tenth-highest in the league with 7.5 yards gained per attempt.
  • In a similar vein, Fields has the fifth-highest intended air yards.
  • At 3.12 seconds on average, Fields takes the longest time to throw in the NFL.
  • Maybe not so coincidentally, Fields is sacked 14.4% of the time. That’s not only worst in the league, there’s not really any competition. Russell Wilson is second-worst at 9.8%.
  • For our final stat, Justin Fields is 29th in the league in number of passes attempted. Even more crazy is the fact that seven of the quarterbacks on the list who have attempted more passes than Fields have played at least two games less than he has.

What does this all mean? You’re looking at an extremely boom-or-bust quarterback. He holds the ball for a long time, which leads to a high number of exciting plays. Some of those exciting plays are great for Bears fans — touchdowns and long passes, specifically. The interceptions and sacks are more exciting for fans of the opponent. The limited number of passing attempts suggests that Chicago is aware of the above.

Fields has the second-highest number of rushing attempts this season by a quarterback, with 143, and the most yards with 1,000. Fields also leads the league in yards per attempt with 7.0 yards per rush. That last stat is actually not limited to quarterbacks, incidentally. It’s for all positions. Now let’s watch some plays!

Play 1 — The wheels

We talked about his rushing, and here’s a great example. As an FYI, for the GIFs, we’re going to stick to highlights. The aggregate stats paint a nice portrait of Fields, so the question is more about what the Bills will need to shut down. Discipline in the run game will be huge. This run is pretty insane for a lot of reasons. Feel free to discuss in the comments, as I think the GIF says everything I’d care to say.

Play 2 — Long touchdown

Bills Mafia has seen this play before, but usually when it’s to our benefit. The pocket collapses, and Fields scrambles. There’s a ton of open field for a chunk run, but Fields is still looking downfield. He throws at the last second while on the run, and with less-than-perfect throwing form. That’s a lot of potential in one clip.

Play 3 — Shorter touchdown

Without having the helmet mic on myself, it’s hard to know who’s calling what shot — Fields or offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Either way, this looks like a deliberate quick pass attempt to beat the pass rush. Fields shows poise, remaining in the pocket despite the quick pressure, and gets the pass off accurately. I like this throw because of how much different it is than the last one. Fields and his ultimate career arc are very much up in the air, but he shows off an array of tools that Bears fans should like.

In summary

Despite his tools in the passing game, the Bears appear to be deliberately limiting passing attempts for Fields and relying more on his legs to keep the chains moving. Fields doesn’t have a bad yards-per-attempt measure for passing, and his rushing rate is almost as good, which is actually kind of bonkers. I’d predict, with the expected weather, that this tendency will be further exacerbated on Saturday.

Fields’ tendency to hold the ball and wait for a play to develop, and his already-high interception rate, are likely to be a bad combo on a cold, windy day. Pass rushers may not be as hampered by the elements as the hands of people who might be trying to catch the ball. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Fields doesn’t have the zip to play in the wind, but he’s already a bit more blunderbuss than bullseye in the best circumstances.

Assuming the Bears do steer a bit one-dimensional, as I’d expect, it will benefit the Bills, who can focus more attention on stopping his running game. Buffalo’s defense has taken on some tall orders and come away successful, but any advantage they can get is fine by me.