The Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin don’t often get bested by a rookie quarterback. And I don’t think many people are anticipating that they are going to fall victim to the Chicago Bears on Monday night next week. But they do understand that they have to be aware of the rushing thread of rookie quarterback Justin Fields—even if they have the training for it.
After all, they play in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens, who have the greatest running quarterback of all time under center in Lamar Jackson. He has already recorded two 1000-yard rushing seasons and is well on his way to his third in a row. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was not shy in acknowledging that they lean on their experience defending him whenever they play a mobile player at the position.
“We play Baltimore twice a year, so we get kind of used to that”, he told reporters yesterday when he was asked about defending a running game driven by a quarterback, via transcript. “We try to use some of the same stuff that we’ve done before against good running quarterbacks”.
The Steelers have done pretty well containing Jackson as a rushing threat. Last year, he was held to only 65 yards despite recording 16 rushes, and he was forced into a fumble three times. He rushed for 70 yards on 14 carries in 2020. In two games in 2019, he rushed for a combined 27 yards on nine rushing attempts.
As for Fields, the 11th-overall pick, he has so far rushed for 243 yards on the season on 44 carries, but he is beginning to find his personality in that department. He rushed for 103 yards and a 22-yard touchdown on Sunday, and he has 184 yards on 24 attempts over the past three weeks. But those are on him, Butler says, in contrast to Jackson.
“They had, I think, two called runs”, he said of Fields. “He’s more of a scrambler type. I think a lot of the yards that he got when he rushed for 100 yards was scrambling. So, we’ve got to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket. How do you do that? Well, we’ll see”.
I probably don’t need to remind you that the Steelers have a checkered past recently when it comes to playing with gap-soundness in their quarterback containment, but they have been better in that department lately.
Still, Fields will stress that a lot more than most of the other quarterbacks they have faced so far on the season. To combat that, they want to make sure these quarterbacks feel the consequences of their decisions at every opportunity.
“We hit him. We’re gonna keep doing stuff”, he said, referencing past comments he’s made about how to play quarterbacks who choose to run, as he talked about for Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills at the beginning of the year. “We want the threat of that hit all the time, make those guys understand that if they’re gonna run the ball, they’re a running back. I hope the referees understand that too”.