FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Justin Fields is on a personal tear right now.
Don't believe it? Look no further than the Bears last two games against Miami and Detroit. Sure, the Bears ultimately lost both games, but what Fields did in the losses should not be overlooked.
Against the Dolphins, Fields ran for 178 yards on 15 carries. (Yes, you did read that right). A week later against the Lions, Fields ran for 147 yards on 13 carries. That's an average of well over 11 yards a carry through the last two weeks.
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For as much as been made about the Falcons run game, the Bears have the best rushing offense in the league currently.
They play a game similar to that of the Falcons, one in which puts physicality at the line of scrimmage first. It's also not unlike what Carolina did against the Falcons last Thursday night. The only difference being what the Bears like to do with Fields, not necessarily just their running backs.
So, how do the Falcons limit Fields?
Corral him, not unlike how a border collie herds sheep where they're meant to go. Don't let Fields meander. Don't let him escape the offensive herd. Keep him in the pocket.
It's when Fields is looking for those wide open spaces that he's at his most dangerous.
"The guy has 700-and-some yards as a quarterback running the ball. Some of them are designed runs. Some of them are zone-read runs, but there's a lot of them, too, on third down, where he drops back to pass and takes off and gains 25 or something," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "You just have to do a good job of corralling him... A lot of assignment football this week."
Defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham spoke at length on Wednesday about the importance not just of playing "assignment football" like Pees said, but also the importance of carrying lessons learned from the loss to Carolina with the defense into this upcoming game with the Bears.
"It sucked that we lost the game," Graham said. "But I do think it was important that we had that game back then. Now we're coming in against another rushing offense and I feel like we're going to have a better game."
Graham continued by saying the topics of conversation around this week's prep all stem from one word: Discipline.
The Falcons defense, particularly this defensive front, have to be disciplined in every aspect of Sunday's game against the Bears with Fields in the pocket. There are things that are magnified with Fields that a defense could get away with against other quarterbacks.
This means communicating along the line of scrimmage better. It means fitting gaps better. There are a lot of things that go into those "leaky runs" of a quarterback, Graham said, but those runs aren't as detrimental if the Falcons are disciplined in their run lanes, and their personal jobs, too.
"You have to tell yourself to be disciplined, because some of the time in the game you want to be the one to go make that play. You want to be the person to make that play," Graham said. "But then you have to understand that all 11 guys are trying to make the same play you're trying to make. If you're not at the right spot at the right time and someone is relying on you to do your job I feel like that's when those leaky runs happen."
Thinking back to the 2021 season, containing a quarterback leaking out of the pocket was something this defense needed to see progress in. What's interesting, though, is that they haven't had too many opportunities to test this progress. The pocket-passer quarterbacks they've played in 2022 greatly outnumber the tuck-it-and-run quarterbacks they've faced.
Truth be told, they haven't faced anyone quite like Fields. They've played guys like Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert already this year, and as productive as those guys are, no one plays the game like Fields.
That's why Graham called not just the challenge ahead this Sunday unique for the Falcons, but Fields himself "unique" as well.
"I don't think we've seen a QB get north and south like that, yet," Graham said. "I feel like we have to stay in those rush lanes, squeeze a lot of those gaps down so he has to stutter his feet and slow himself down."
In essence? The way to stop him is to corral him.
"This isn't like (Tom) Brady or (Peyton) Manning or somebody like that who's going to sit in the pocket all day and going to be a statue. He's not. He's going to take off," Pees concluded. "The problem with him, too, is not only when he takes off – he's a 230-pound guy that can run the ball. He'd probably be a good running back if he was a running back. He breaks tackles and he's tough to bring down... We just have to do a good job of assignment football and keep him in the pocket in the passing game and be able to play him in the run game."
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Chicago Bears.