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Breaking Down Every Single Mitch Trubisky Interception From the 2018 Season

| February 15th, 2019

In his sophomore campaign, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky saw statistical improvement across the board. He completed a higher rate of passes, threw for more yards per attempt, and was much more efficient throwing touchdowns. The one area where he regressed from his rookie campaign (statistically speaking), was throwing interceptions. He threw them on 2.8% of his passing attempts in 2018, compared to just 2.1% in 2017. If he had stuck to his 2017 rate he would have been intercepted only 9 times. He threw 12 picks.

Throwing fewer interceptions is a good goal for Trubisky in 2019, but what does he need to improve to make that happen? In order to figure that out, we need to break down the film, because 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:

  • Bad decisions. 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 10 years, with balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  • Bad throws. 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.
  • Miscommunications. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  • Receiver errors. 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.

As I did last year, I want to look more closely at each of Trubisky’s interceptions to see which of these categories they fall into, and then consider what we can learn from all 12 together. Special hat tip to Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron for providing all the GIFs. If you’re a fan of the Bears, you should definitely follow Andrew on Twitter.


Interception #1

Situation: Bears up 7-0 with 11:51 left in the 2nd quarter, 1st and 10 at the Chicago 38.

 

What happened: Trubisky took a deep shot down the sidelines to Allen Robinson, who was in single coverage with no safety help. Robinson wasn’t necessarily open, but this is not a bad decision. He’s a big WR who can go up and win jump balls, and the lack of safety help means this should be an incompletion at worst (if properly thrown). Unfortunately, Trubisky leaves it short, which lets the cornerback pick it off.

Verdict: Bad throw


Interception #2

Situation: Bears up 7-0 with 8:54 left in 2nd quarter, 1st and 10 at the Chicago 44

What happened: Trubisky tries to hit Robinson on a quick slant for what would have been an easy completion, but the ball is tipped by a pass rusher, and a defensive back is able to get under it before it hits the ground. This one’s on Trubisky for not recognizing the linebacker pseudo-blitzing and sitting right in his line of throw to tip the pass.

Verdict: Bad decision


Interception #3

Situation: Bears trail 14-3 with 1:06 left in the 2nd quarter, 2nd and 3 at the Chicago 44

What happened: Trubisky tried to beat a blitz by dumping the ball off to Benny Cunningham in the flat, but ended up throwing it right at the blitzing defender. Though the first defender didn’t make the interception, he tipped it up in the air and let the other free rusher finish the play. Trubisky does a good job of recognizing the blitz here, but he simply can’t throw the ball right to a defender. He needs to either take off running right or throw it at his target’s feet to avoid the sack (which he did numerous times in similar situations later on in the season).

Verdict: Bad decision


Interception #4

Situation: Bears up 21-13 with 12:13 left in the 4th quarter, 1st and goal at the Miami 13

What happened: Trubisky thought he had Ben Braunecker coming open in the middle of the end zone, but a waiting safety has an easy interception. There was speculation Trubisky couldn’t see the safety here because he blended in with the goal post, but whatever the reason, this is a pass that absolutely cannot be thrown.

Verdict: Bad decision


Interception #5

Situation: Bears down 31-24 with 3:38 left in the 3rd quarter, 3rd and 10 from the New England 41

What happened: We’re going with a different angle on this one to better see the throw. Trubisky did a great job of escaping the pocket and buying time, and makes a good throw to Josh Bellamy for what should be a first down. Somehow the defender ends up with this pass, which shouldn’t be possible without committing pass interference if Bellamy does his job. This one was a fantastic play by Trubisky, and blame falls squarely on the wide receiver.

Verdict: Receiver error


Interception #6

Situation: Bears down 31-24 with 13:05 left in the 4th quarter, 1st and 10 from the New England 35

What happened: Trubisky correctly identifies that Anthony Miller is wide open for a touchdown, but he throws it short, allowing the defender to catch up and make the interception. If this pass is decent (not even great), the Bears tie the game.

Verdict: Bad throw


Interception #7

Situation: Bears up 31-3 with 6:40 left in the 3rd quarter, 1st and 10 at the Buffalo 46

What happened: Trubisky has Trey Burton wide open for an easy completion, but completely air mails the ball to a defender ten yards behind him. Like several of Trubisky’s interceptions, this is the right read but a terrible pass.

Verdict: Bad throw


Interception #8

Situation: Bears up 3-0 with 14:12 left in the 2nd quarter, 1st and 10 at the Chicago 36

What happened: Trubisky thought he had a small window to get a pass down the field to Taylor Gabriel, and made a perfect pass. Unfortunately, the defender makes a better play on the ball than Gabriel does. Trying to fit this in between three defenders is a pretty poor decision, especially to a small receiver like Gabriel. If that was to more of a go up and get it target like Robinson or Adam Shaheen, the outcome may have been different. Still, the better decision would have been to take the checkdown to Tarik Cohen, especially on 1st down.

Verdict: Bad decision


Interception #9

Situation: Bears up 14-0 with 3:37 left in the 3rd, 3rd and 8 at the Chicago 46

What happened: Trubisky tried to hit Allen Robinson on an inside breaking route against tight coverage, but Robinson didn’t get to the spot. It almost looks like Robinson was trying to work back outside, while Trubisky clearly thought he was going to continue towards the middle of the field. I would chalk this completely up to a miscommunication, but you can also clearly see Ben Braunecker (#84) wide open on a delayed release on the other side of the field, while everybody else is tightly covered. Trubisky needs to recognize that instead of trying to force a risky pass.

Verdict: Miscommunication/bad decision


Interception #10

Situation: Game tied 0-0 with 11:03 left in the 1st quarter, 2nd and 15 at the Chicago 42

What happened: Trubisky overthrew Josh Bellamy, who had settled nicely into a hole in the zone. This is a difficult pass because it has to go over the defender in front of Bellamy without going over Bellamy, and Trubisky airmailed it.

Verdict: Bad throw


Interception #11

Situation: Game tied 6-6 with 0:19 left in the 2nd quarter, 3rd and 10 from the Chicago 39

What happened: Trubisky tried to hit Taylor Gabriel on a quick out route to pick up a 1st down and stop the clock, but the defender read it the whole way and was waiting underneath Gabriel to make the easy interception. Honestly, Trubisky is lucky this wasn’t returned for a touchdown. That’s a pass that simply cannot be thrown.

Verdict: Bad decision


Interception #12

Situation: Bears up 15-6 with 3:58 left in the 3rd quarter, 2nd and 7 from the Chicago 43

What happened: Trubisky has Trey Burton open, but – stop me if you’ve heard this before – he overthrows it for an easy interception by the waiting safety behind the play.

Verdict: Bad throw


Takeaways

Here’s the final tally for Trubisky’s 12 interceptions:

  • Bad decision: 5.5
  • Bad throw: 5
  • Receiver error: 1
  • Miscommunication: 0.5

A few thoughts:

  • Just like in his rookie season, nearly half of Trubisky’s interceptions came from simply missing throws that were there to be made. All 5 of those missed throw interceptions were on deep passes, where Trubisky particularly struggled in 2018. He missed plenty of passes that weren’t intercepted too. Improving his accuracy will be the fastest way to cut down on interceptions (and make his overall play much more effective), and needs to be his #1 goal this offseason. I’m no passing mechanics expert, but it seems to me the problems mostly come with Trubisky’s footwork (Andrew Link weighed in on that here). Now that he’s more familiar in the offense and doesn’t have to spend the offseason learning it, he should spend it drilling footwork so he can hit those passes.
  • On the bright side, the Bears did an excellent job of avoiding costly mistakes through receiver error and miscommunications this year. They had the lowest rate of dropped passes in the NFL and generally avoided miscommunications, which is impressive for the 1st year in a new (and complicated) offense.
  • No one player was the target for too many interceptions (Robinson was the most targeted with 3), meaning that Trubisky generally did a good job of spreading the ball around instead of forcing it to one trusted target regardless of the coverage. This matches the season-long statistics, as their top 3 pass catchers all finished with between 91 and 94 targets and 688 to 754 yards. This was an offense built on spreading the ball around, which was a wise approach given their personnel.
  • Half of Trubisky’s interceptions came on 1st down, and 5 of those 6 came on 1st down when they had the lead. I’d maybe like to see him get a little less aggressive in those situations given the context of the game. You don’t want to throw the other team back into it. He threw interceptions on 5.6% of those passes, double his rate for the season as a whole.

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