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Data Entry: Breaking Down Trubisky’s Interceptions

| January 23rd, 2018

In his rookie season, Mitch Trubisky got to play 12 games and throw the ball 330 times. In those 330 attempts, he threw 7 interceptions, which is actually pretty good. That rate – an interception on 2.1% of his throws – was 12th best in the NFL among qualified passers, ahead of established veterans like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers.

As that list above shows, there’s more to being a good quarterback than simply not throwing interceptions. But avoiding interceptions is an important part of a quarterback’s job; in no small part because they can be game-changing plays that make it a lot harder to win.

But not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  1. Bad decision. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 8 years from balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  2. Bad throw. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  3. Miscommunication. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  4. Receiver error. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

Let’s look more closely at each one of Trubisky’s 7 interceptions to see which of these categories they fall into, and then consider what we can learn from all 7 together. Special hat tip to Ted Van Green for this idea, and for the fabulous Marcus D for providing all of the gifs. If you’re a fan of Chicago sports, you should definitely follow Marcus on Twitter, as he puts out gif highlights all the time.

Interception #1

Situation: Game tied at 17, 2:32 left in 4th quarter, 1st and 10 at the Bears’ 10 yard line.

What happened: In Trubisky’s first start, he had a chance to lead a game-winning drive and got a little too excited. The very first play saw him force a pass to a well-covered Zach Miller that never should have been thrown. A best-case scenario saw that ball fall incomplete, while there was a strong chance of an interception the whole way.

This is simply an awful decision by Trubisky, especially since the game is tied. The worst thing to do is turn it over and hand the Vikings a win. It was only first down too. Trubisky should have learned a valuable lesson on this one: live to fight another play.

Verdict: Bad decision

Interception #2

Situation: Bears down 8, 1:22 left in the 4th quarter, 2nd and 15 at the Saints’ 48 yard line.

What happened: Trubisky’s 2nd interception also came late in the game while he was trying to make a play, although this time the Bears were trailing instead of tied. Tre McBride, Trubisky’s intended target, is open, but Trubisky sails the pass, and the defender behind the play easily intercepts it.

I have zero issues with throwing this pass, the problem is in the accuracy. That will be a repeated issue in several of these plays.

Verdict: Bad throw

Interception #3

Situation: Bears down 7, 6:03 left in the 1st quarter, 1st and 10 from the Bears’ 40 yard line.

What happened: Trubisky’s 1st read on the play is clearly Dontrelle Inman, who he targets here on a curl. Trubisky is staring him down the whole time and releases the ball quickly, before Inman has turned (which is necessary on a timing route like this). Inman turns inside, and Trubisky’s throw looks like he thought Inman was turning the other way. The pass is tipped by Inman, making it an easy interception.

I don’t love this throw into semi-traffic, but if Inman and Trubisky had been on the same page it would have either been a contested catch or incomplete. Trubisky either missed the throw wide or there was a miscommunication. Kudos to the offense for forcing a fumble and getting the Bears the ball back.

Verdict: Miscommunication/bad throw

Interception #4

Situation: Bears down 28, 2:22 left in the 4th quarter, 1st and 10 from the Eagles’ 32 yard line.

What happened: Trubisky moves around in the pocket under pressure before attempting a throw to Markus Wheaton. Due to the pressure, the ball comes out a split second later than it should, and Trubisky doesn’t have a chance to set his feet and step into it, which puts the throw behind the target for an easy interception.

Wheaton was more open a half second before this pass got thrown, but an accurate pass here is either caught or incomplete at worst. This is solely on poor accuracy by Trubisky, the second time we’ve seen that on an interception.

Verdict: Bad throw

Interception #5

Situation: Bears down 10, 14:22 left in the 3rd quarter, 2nd and 8 at the Bears’ 22 yard line.

What happened: Rolling left, Trubisky sails a pass to a wide open Kendall Wright. The ball flies over his head right to the waiting defensive back.

Throwing across your body on the run is the hardest thing for a quarterback to do, but you have to miss anywhere but long in this case. Again we see accuracy issues plaguing Trubisky.

Verdict: Bad throw

Interception #6

Situation: Bears down 17, 13:40 left in 4th quarter, 3rd and goal from the 5.

What happened: Trubisky tries to get a pass to Dontrelle Inman in the back of the end zone, but ends up throwing it right to a waiting defensive back in front of him. I’m guessing Trubisky simply didn’t realize the safety was there. This is a throw you absolutely cannot make.

Verdict: Bad decision

Interception #7

Situation: Bears down 10, 0:34 left in the 4th quarter, 1st and 10 from the Lions’ 25 yard line.

What happened: This is another timing route that Trubisky throws before his target (Daniel Brown this time) turns. And again we see Brown turn inside while Trubisky throws like he thought Brown would turn outside. In this case, I’m pretty sure Trubisky was correct, as the defender is inside of Brown, but maybe the route called for the inside and Trubisky just missed the throw.

Either way, Brown wasn’t exactly wide open, but NFL windows are tight, and this should have been a contested catch or incompletion if Brown and Trubisky were on the same page.

Verdict: Miscommunication/bad throw

Takeaways

I have a few thoughts:

  • Trubisky generally didn’t force the ball this year. His 7 interceptions went to 6 different targets, and only 2 were throws that shouldn’t have been made. That’s a good sign to see from a rookie. He’s already pretty good at not chucking balls into double or triple coverage hoping to beat it with a perfect throw.
  • We also see this in when the interceptions came. 5 of the 7 were in the 4th quarter, with 4 of those coming within the last 3 minutes of the game. Trubisky was very careful with the ball this year until he was forced to play more aggressively. This can be fairly seen as both a positive and a negative, and might change going forward as he hopefully works with a more aggressive coach.
  • Accuracy is an issue. At least 3 of the interceptions (and up to 5) came from Trubisky simply missing throws to open receivers. He missed plenty of passes that weren’t intercepted too. Accuracy wasn’t an issue from what I saw of Trubisky’s college tape, so I don’t think this is a problem that will hang around long term. But it is something that needs to be addressed, and I hope Trubisky is working long and hard on his footwork this offseason.
  • Side note: with the Bears seemingly poised to implement a West Coast/spread offense predicated on wide receivers consistently gaining yards after the catch, accuracy will be even more important. It will be vital for Trubisky to consistently put the ball in a spot that lets his targets make an easy catch in stride so they can quickly get up the field.
  • Option routes are dangerous. The Bears started implementing these down the stretch with Trubisky, but they require both the quarterback and the wide receiver to read the defense and come to the same conclusion about what the receiver should do in short order. We saw two instances here where it appears that didn’t happen, leading to interceptions, and there were several more that led to incomplete passes. I particularly seem to recall this being a repeated issue when targeting tight end Daniel Brown late in the season (such as in the last interception above), though I have no hard proof to back that up. These types of routes will likely continue being utilized in Chicago’s new offense, so hopefully Trubisky and his target will be able to get on the same page more frequently as Trubisky matures and the targets around him improve.

What are your thoughts about Trubisky’s interceptions? Let me know in the comments below.

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