This column comes not to defend the quarterback of the Chicago Bears because the quarterback of the Chicago Bears requires no defense. This column comes to defend three elements missing from modern sports discourse: patience, perspective and rational thought.
Mitch Trubisky is an inexperienced signal caller in his second year. Sunday was his 18th start – his sixth in a new, complicated offensive system. Through this period there have been plenty of good and plenty of bad to evaluate in the kid’s performances. And that puts Trubisky in the same category as just about every other young quarterback to come through the ranks of the NFL; a fact seemingly lost on the many social media football fans who believe Sean is the patriarch of the McVay Football Family.
Aaron Rodgers and Steve McNair were non-existent at this point in their NFL careers. Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning were throwing the ball to the other team far more than their own. Drew Brees, the league’s all-time passing leader, was so mediocre his team took a quarterback number one overall after his third season.
But fans are in a panic. Why? Because Patrick Mahomes has been an exception to this general rule. But the pre-professional experience of Mahomes/Trubisky should not be discounted. Mahomes threw 1,349 passes at Texas Tech. Trubisky threw 572 at North Carolina. The difference? Roughly Sam Darnold’s career at USC. As a current NFL GM texted me Monday, “You couldn’t draw up a better developmental path for a young QB than what Mahomes got.” Trubisky got a year of hand it off, hand it off, dodge a sack on third-and-long.
Nobody is arguing Trubisky is going to be better than Mahomes. But, honestly, who gives a shit? It’s not like Mahomes is in Detroit! Barring the two clubs both ending up in the Super Bowl, these two quarterbacks will be on the same field in their careers what, three times if both stick in the league for a decade plus?
(Side note: Notice nobody is yelling about taking Trubisky over Deshaun Watson anymore? That’s because Watson doesn’t look like he’s even going to physically make it to the end of his rookie contract. Sadly, many of us predicted this due to his frame and playing style. The league needs more Watsons, not less. But Watson should be a warning: the first seven games of one’s career do not a career make.)
Trubisky has work to do over the final ten games of 2018 because (a) he needs to get better, (b) the Bears can still achieve things this season and (c) the organization is building massive momentum for next season. And since I’m in a Paul Simon mood these days, I’m using the music legend to frame the discussion.
A Mile Out of Memphis
Accuracy has been Trubisky’s biggest issue through the first six games of the 2018 season and it’s been two routes in particular that have given him issues: the quick, mid-range out and the deep vertical, specifically over the middle.
Here’s the fact, though: Trubisky is not an inaccurate passer. He’s completing 65.9% of his passes, which is a higher rate than Ben Roethlisberger, Pat Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. And Trubisky is not tossing screens or easy dump-offs, even though he probably should be throwing more of both. He’s throwing the ball down the field. Just as he’s 15th in completion percentage, he’s 15th in yards-per-attempt.
But he misses BIG throws. And that’s the issue. Trubisky doesn’t miss the 8-yard curl on third down to move the chains. He misses Taylor Gabriel standing alone 35 yards down the field. He misses Anthony Miller on the post, streaking past the safety. If he hits 50% more of these throws, his season is going into the stratosphere.
It’s all mechanics, touch and confidence. And those things take time to develop.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Bears want to throw the ball inside the red zone. And if you want to throw the ball inside the red zone you open your team to a litany of potentially killer mistakes. Sacks and penalties leave you with third-and-goal from the twenty. Picks flip the game. And Trubisky has been far too reckless with the ball on this part of the field.
In this area Trubisky needs to develop a three-track mind. If the play is there to be made in the air, make it. If you can give a receiver the chance to make a play, give them that chance. But if the play is not there, only two options exist: tuck it and run or throw the ball into the seventh row.
Cross-body tosses to an eligible lineman WHO IS COVERED should never happen.
Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall
Every quarterback in the league is pressured. The great ones are defined by how they handle it. Trubisky is seeing many of these pressures, however, for the first time.
- At North Carolina, he was coached to run if the play broke down. (He and just about every other quarterback in modern college football.) It took time for many young QBs – Cam, Wilson…etc. – to erode this mentality.
- Take the check down! The Bears have good play-after-the-catch talent, especially Burton and Cohen. When time isn’t there, Trubisky has to give these playmakers the opportunity to make their own plays. If you’ve watched Chiefs football, this has been one of the true strengths of Mahomes. He trusts that Andy Reid has his skill guys in the right spots and doesn’t always rely on his arm strength to force balls into difficult spots. The easy answer is often the right one.
- Sometimes you step up, take the hit and deliver the football. That’s the sport.
Can’t Run But…
Trubisky’s performance against New England showcased how dynamic he can be as a runner. And I’m firm a believer he should use it as a weapon. But he must continue to avoid the kind of contact that is derailing the careers of young quarterbacks almost every season. By and large, he’s been good in this department. But it’s only six games. And it only takes one bad hit.
One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor
What Trubisky needs to show the organization, more so than perhaps anything else, is the ability to stack good, four-quarter performances. Because if he does this, the Bears are going to win a lot of games with him as their quarterback.