I had an editor once tell me that when I get angry, I should write. “Some of your best work comes when you are fired up about something, it is then when your true passion for this comes through the piece.”
The same editor also told me not to include the word “I” so often, but we are bending some rules today as you’ll see.
However, I wanted to be as clear-headed as possible for this first Mitchell Trubisky recap piece of the 2019 season. After writing in various outlets - including the Pro Football Weekly Chicago Bears preview magazine - that I would be betting on Trubisky this season - I wanted to have a surgical approach to the initial game.
Then...Thursday night happened.
Angry after the game, I sat down at the computer and started to type. Sure, we were in the heat of the moment, and we had no access yet to the All-22 to truly dive into what we saw transpire in the season opener, but who really needed it? Our eyes were not deceiving us, that performance actually happened.
Yet I remained true to my approach. I wanted to sleep on it, take some time, watch the game a few more times and get a better feel for how Trubisky played. Then, over the weekend, it took forever for the NFL to even post the All-22 video, which did not help my “must write with an even keel” approach for this piece. Finally, it gets posted and I get a chance to break it down again.
Friends, we’re writing angry.
As I kick off - there’s that “I” word again - season two of covering Trubisky week in and week out for PFW I’d like to think I’ve earned a bit of credibility here, as an outside voice who focuses on quarterback play, giving measured recaps of the Bears’ third-year quarterback. Not too high after the good games, not too low after the bad ones. But folks, let’s face it: Trubisky was bad on Thursday night.
Sure, there are the bottom line numbers: 26 of 45 (a sub-60% completion rate) for 228 yards, no touchdowns and a crushing interception that we will get to in a moment. There are the sack numbers, five for a loss of 20 yards and yes some of those were on him. There are the advanced numbers , such as 5.1 Yards per Attempt which is 24th out of 25 passers right now in the league, or Adjusted Yards per Attempt of 4.1, which is 24th out of 25 passers right now in the league, or his Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 3.26 which sees him crawl out of that 24th spot all the way up to...23rd.
But sometimes, your eyes are not lying to you. Our eyes tell us the story.
Let’s start with the interception and get it out of the way:
This is bad and it does not get better with the benefit of All-22 hindsight.
The Bears come out in a Y-Iso formation using 21 personnel. Tight end Ben Braunecker (#82) is along on the right while the Bears use a trips formation on the left. Taylor Gabriel (#18) is on the outside, running back Tarik Cohen (#29) is the middle receiver and Allen Robinson (#12) is the inside receiver. Chicago runs Double In to the trips side, with Gabriel and Cohen cutting inside while Robinson runs the corner route. Braunecker and running back David Montgomery (#32) run an out/in combination on the right:
Now, the corner route is the primary read on this play, and with just 2:03 remaining in the game, down by 7, facing 3rd and 10, you would like to hit on a big play. This route concept is designed to create space for that corner route from the #3 receiver by hopefully pulling the outside defenders to the middle of the field, and against single-high coverage, giving the corner route receiver the leverage advantage against the free safety.
Chicago does get single-high coverage, but there is a twist:
As you can see from this still after the snap, the Packers use a bracket on Robinson. Cornerback Tramon Williams (#38) drops off of Cohen to take an outside leverage position over Robinson, allowing free safety Adrian Amos (#31) to work slowly from the middle of the field, knowing he has help on Robinson from the outside.
Even still, this throw can be completed, provided the quarterback does something besides stare at Robinson from the snap to the throw. Trubisky is pulling the trigger in this second image, and perhaps he has not seen Williams peel off Cohen. Provided he has been smart with his eyes, there is still a chance:
Instead, he stares at Robinson the entire route, and you can see the jump Amos gets on this. If he looks elsewhere - at Braunecker, Cohen, the dude in the front row chomping on popcorn, anywhere else - this play might have a chance.
Instead he throws Amos a can of corn.
And that was not even my least favorite play of his from the night.
Late in the first half the Bears face a 3rd and 14 in their own territory. They line up with Trubisky in the shotgun and three receivers to the left, with Cardarelle Patterson (#84) isolated on the right. This is the route concept they dial up:
Last season I outlined how the Bears and Matt Nagy would often turn to mirrored route concepts, such as curl/flat, to give Trubisky some simplified half-field reads. That is what they do here, just with Robinson’s middle curl coming deeper than the usual sit route you see on that design.
Now, let’s look at the Packers defense before the play. They show a two-deep safety look, with Amos and rookie safety Darnell Savage (#26) deep. Trubisky would be right to expect some sort of middle of the field open (MOFO) coverage here, such as Cover 2 or Cover 4. It is third and long and the Packers want to prevent a big play. But as is often the case in the NFL, things are not what they seem:
Green Bay rolls this into a Tampa 2 look, spinning Savage - a rookie safety - down into the middle of the field, again over Robinson’s intended path. No matter, with the secondary spot dropping into a Tampa 2 look, Trubisky should find an open receiver on this play.
Savage reads this the entire way, nearly stepping in front of Robinson for what could have been a critical interception. But again, Trubisky stares this down. Other than a cursory glance in the direction of Patterson, he is locked onto Robinson:
This is not the most complex secondary rotation Trubisky will see this season, but it nearly baits him into a bad interception.
There was also...whatever this was:
Trubisky spins away from pressure rather well, but once outside of the tackle box he inexplicably takes a loss here, rather than just throwing the ball away.
What do these three plays have in common? A lack of situational awareness. Trubisky seems overwhelmingly task-oriented on these plays, a QB simply going out trying to execute the primary read, getting from Point A to Point B on a given snap, rather than remembering all the other little things you need to do to execute on a play in the NFL. Moving defenders with your eyes, working through reads, making the right decision with the football, throwing the ball away and living for another down, avoiding a sack in a game when every yard might matter.
Look, there were some nice throws from Trubisky on Thursday night. This throw to Robinson on a double-move was perfect:
This seam route to Montgomery out of the backfield was another great read and throw, coming on a beautiful design that other coaches such as Andy Reid and Sean McVay have used:
This is a four verticals using Montgomery out of the backfield in combination with motion from Patterson to draw the eyes of the defenders. A brilliant concept.
I even love how Trubisky dropped the arm angle on this quick RPO, making this slant route impossible to defend:
Between the arm angle and the lightning-quick release, Green Bay was not stopping that play.
But by Year 3 we should have moved beyond the idea that some isolated reads and throws are signs of big growth and potential. The little things are huge when playing this position, and they need to be mastered. Something that I’ve been taught to do in the realm of quarterback evaluation is to watch a wide berth of NFL quarterbacks in the offseason to see what works, and what does not. Something that does not work - and never will - is telegraphing your intent as a QB. Until he stops doing that, Trubisky will not be the quarterback people, myself included, placed their bets on.
Bill Walsh once said that a QB has until his third year to figure it out. We are into year three, and the clock is ticking.