How Detroit Lions plan to stop Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields: ‘There’s no easy answer’

Detroit Free Press

Watching second-year Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields on tape, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell is reminded of some the best dual-threat quarterbacks in football.

“I feel like you’re watching a little bit of Deshaun Watson in Houston, you’re watching Lamar Jackson (in) Baltimore. There’s a little bit of Jalen Hurts,” Campbell said Wednesday. “Just very quarterback driven. Quarterback-driven runs, guard/tackle pulls, read the end, hand it off, these backs are running hard, they’re downhill. And then there’s enough of the keepers off of it, there’s enough misdirection to the receivers, and then certainly his ability on third down.”

Stuck in a system that did not accentuate his skill set and playing for an organization that did not seem fully invested in his development at the start of the season, Fields has emerged as one of the NFL’s most dangerous quarterbacks since the Bears revamped their offense last month.

He set a regular season NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (178) last week against the Miami Dolphins and has run for 408 yards and three touchdowns in the Bears’ past four games.

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Chicago is 1-3 over that stretch, but the Bears have scored at least 29 points in each of their three games since they spent time during their extended break from a Thursday night loss to the Washington Commanders studying film of Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bears have incorporated more designed quarterback runs into their offense, and Fields, the No. 11 pick of the 2021 NFL draft, has used his 4.4 speed to unleash a torrent of big plays.

Fields’ 178 yards against the Dolphins topped Michael Vick’s 173-yard performance in 2002 and nearly matched Colin Kaepernick’s 181-yard day against the Green Bay Packers in 2013 for most rushing yards ever by a quarterback.

He had a 61-yard touchdown run in the game, threw for three more scores and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

“He’s as dynamic as he was in college,” said Lions left guard Jonah Jackson, who played with Fields at Ohio State. “You see the feet, you see the arm. He’s got the best of both worlds, and he’s still a young guy so he’s got a ways to go. His ceiling, I don’t think there’s much of one. I’m excited for his career, just as long as we’re not playing him.”

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The Lions are coming off their best defensive performance of the season in a 15-9 win over the Green Bay Packers, but they rank 31st in the NFL against the run and have struggled against every dual-threat quarterback they have faced.

Geno Smith ran for 49 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in the Seattle Seahawks’ win over the Lions last month. Hurts had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 1 victory. And Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder shredded the Lions for 82 yards rushing and a TD in the preseason.

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Campbell joked that “maybe we won’t talk about it, running quarterbacks, this week. We’ll just not even make an emphasis on it, see what happens.”

“There’s no easy answer to playing this guy because you see it all over the tape week after week,” Campbell said. “But it’s certainly something that we’re preaching and it’s the cast the net, close the net. And you talk about you have to be as unselfish as you’ve ever been as a rusher against this guy on third down because it’s — you give him even a crease, you get pinned in the A gap, he rushes high upfield, your defensive end and the B gap’s open and now look out. He’s got a lot of grass and he can run.”

Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez said Fields is more dangerous as a runner than Smith and Hurts because of his speed and shiftiness, and secondary coach Brian Duker, a Ravens assistant in 2018-20 who worked against Jackson every day in practice for three seasons, called Fields “the first guy of that combination we’ve faced this year.”

“We just haven’t quite faced one like this,” he said. “So this’ll be a little bit of a new beast, a new challenge for us.”

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The Lions did face Jackson last season, however, and they held the Ravens quarterback largely in check as a runner, save for one 31-yard scramble, with a game plan that emphasized patience in the pass rush and gang tackling.

Campbell said the Lions will need a similar effort Sunday and will “use a little bit of everything” at their disposal to get it done/

“He’s got wheels, moves,” cornerback Mike Hughes said. “I don’t want to compare him to Lamar, but they got a lot of things similar that they do. Like I said, he’s a special kid and we’ll have to key in on him pretty hard. So just follow the game plan and I think we’ll be all right.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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