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Hoge: Fields, Jackson are different QBs, but both electric

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The Bears might be 3-6, but the mere presence of Justin Fields on the roster has created an enticing matchup against Lamar Jackson and the 6-3 Ravens at Soldier Field Sunday.

It’s intriguing enough that CBS made the matchup its featured Noon game with Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson on the call.

In Chicago, it means a rare opportunity for fans to see a superstar AFC quarterback. And it provides a promising benchmark for Fields — can he one day become an MVP too? Naturally, the comparisons are flowing, even if the two quarterbacks aren’t really that similar.

"To be honest with you, there’s not many guys who are like Lamar Jackson,” Fields said Wednesday. “You should just call it what it is. He does stuff that some receivers, running backs can’t even do. So I don’t think you can compare it to that, but just all of the backlash he got coming out of college saying he was a running back and stuff like that, he’s just proving everybody wrong, and of course, he’s one of the best in the league right now.”

There are plenty of dual threat quarterbacks in the NFL today, but most of the good ones are still passers first and only run when they need to, with an occasional designed run thrown in to keep the defense on its toes. That would be the best way to describe Fields’ game.

Jackson is in a whole different class. He leads the Ravens in rushing -- by over 400 yards.

 

“He probably could be one of the best running backs in the NFL if you put a two in front of his eight,” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said.

And many thought that’s all Jackson would be in the NFL — a really good runner. But he’s proven to be just as good of a passer in four seasons, which is why he became MVP in just his second year.

“What I've seen over the years is somebody that's really grown a lot as a passer,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “On third down, the trust they have in him in making his progression reads, the vertical passing game that he has, his eyes downfield with the scramble — ‘OK, it's not there, I'm gonna take off.' He's without a doubt an unbelievable NFL quarterback that can do great things with his legs, which is just a stressor.”

Fields is bigger and not as shifty as a runner, but he still has sudden athleticism and can run like a gazelle in open spaces. His legs are always going to be a weapon, but he’ll never lead the Bears in rushing, nor should he.

“(Fields is) just his own kind of quarterback. I mean, all these guys are very unique in their own kind of different ways,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s got a strong arm — a very strong arm — he throws the ball very hard. He throws the ball downfield quite a bit, throws a lot of intermediate routes and then he can take off and run too. They have some quarterback driven runs, some designed runs that they use. And then he also takes off in the pocket and gets yards too. All the things that he brings to the table, that’s what we’re looking at really hard to try to defend.”

Put simply: both quarterbacks are causing the opposing defensive coordinators headaches this week. Fields has already done enough to command the most attention from defenses, proving he can kill you with the play after the play — just like Jackson. The Pittsburgh Steelers — who are very familiar with Jackson — learned that the hard way with Fields’ late go-ahead touchdown drive last week.

“That’s huge for the team when you can have a quarterback that you know as long as we give him enough time, as long as we give him the ball back, we know that good things are gonna happen,” Gipson said. “That was just one of those things where I just felt confident that whole drive that No. 1 was gonna make a play.”

For entertainment sake, let’s just hope both quarterbacks have the ball in their hands in the fourth quarter with a one-score margin.

"It obviously starts and ends with (Jackson). He is special. He's such a competitor,” Nagy said. “I've always watched him from afar. I've watched him grow from afar. I mean he came out (of college) and a lot of people didn't want to look at him at quarterback and he proved everybody wrong. And the Ravens proved everybody wrong for those who didn't believe that.”

 

Fields came out of Ohio State in the spring with his own doubters, but most considered him to be a passer first and a runner second. Still, Fields revealed Wednesday that he picked up a particular nuance in the run game from watching Jackson.

“Last year, when I was in college, I would turn on his highlights and study how he ran the read option, how his feet were and how he kind of got a running start,” Fields said. “When he runs the read option, he staggers his feet so he can like be already in a running position to run the ball after he’s reading the defensive ends. So last year, I kind of just watched how he operated that.”

The Bears have run more read-option in the last two games and that could continue against the Ravens. On the flip side, the Bears’ defense knows it will have to handle Jackson in the running and passing game all day long.

“We've gotta know where he's at on every single play. He can beat you with his legs, he can beat you with his arms and he can beat you with his mentality,” Nagy said.

Considering it’s Jackson’s first appearance at Soldier Field, Bears fans in attendance are in for a treat.

And maybe in four years, Ravens fans will be in for a similar treat when Fields visits M&T Bank Stadium for the first time.