Why Justin Fields could give the Steelers a better chance of making playoffs than Russell Wilson

The Pittsburgh Steelers have improved their quarterback room mightily the past week, signing Russell Wilson to be their starter and trading for Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields to be Wilson’s backup.

The Steelers deserve credit for being proactive after ranking just 28th in passing offense last season. However, they also deserve criticism for already handing the starting job to Wilson. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin reached out to Wilson when the trade was going down to let him know he would work as lead signal-caller in the fall.

Anointing Wilson QB1 would have made much more sense if the year was 2014, not 2024. Wilson doesn’t deserve the luxury of being crowned starter before he attempts a pass in practice. Wilson, 35, and Fields, 25, have posted similar stats the past two seasons. In fact, Fields ranks higher than Wilson in ESPN’s Total QBR metric in that space, edging him out 51-to-44. Fields and Wilson have had similar combined passing and rushing scores the past two years as well, with Wilson posting 48 total touchdowns and Fields 45.

Justin Fields could give Steelers the best chance of making playoffs

Where Fields and Wilson differ drastically at this point in their respective careers comes in their abilities as runners. While Wilson was once dangerous with his legs, he is much more pedestrian these days and has rushed for 618 yards with six touchdowns the past two years. In contrast, Fields is arguably the second-most electric quarterback running the football behind two-time MVP Lamar Jackson. Fields has rushed for 1,800 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons.

While Fields received the brunt of the blame in Chicago, stats indicate he wasn’t the problem for the Bears. It’s worth pointing out that Fields ranks in rare territory in one impressive area. Since 1970, only four quarterbacks have thrown for 5,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards in their first 30 NFL starts. Fields is one of them, with Lamar Jackson, Michael Vick and Jalen Hurts the other three.

Wilson will go down as one of the best quarterbacks of his era and he has a Super Bowl ring to prove it, but the past isn’t always prologue. Mike Tomlin should be promoting a fair-and-square quarterback competition instead of handing Wilson the keys to Pittsburgh’s offense.

Even when diving into the analytics of the matter, the evidence is in Fields’ favor. Per CBS Sports data scientist Stephen Oh, Pittsburgh’s chances at making the playoffs are 25.6% with Wilson starting and 35.9% with Fields at the helm.

While both Wilson and Fields present major upgrades over what the Steelers had a season ago in Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky, they need to get QB1 right at the start of the campaign or they could dig themselves into a hole in the standings they can’t crawl out of. The AFC North is incredibly competitive, with the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns all considered playoff contenders. If Pittsburgh wins the division, it will mean they picked the right starting quarterback. And the correct choice could be Justin Fields, not Russell Wilson.

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