For the Bears, there is no more important issue looming than which man will
be under center receive the shotgun snap when the Bears take the field against Detroit in Week One. Today I want to dig into the stats to see what we can learn about Foles vs. Trubisky, as well as what to expect from whoever wins that derby compared to other QBs around the NFL.
The table below shows basic efficiency statistics for Trubisky and Foles in the Reid offense (so Trubisky in 2018-19 in Chicago and Foles in 2016 in KC and 17-18 in Philadelphia), plus the other three notable recent Reid QBs (Smith 13-17, Mahomes 18-19, Wentz 16-19). I’ll note I included playoff stats for everybody because otherwise Foles’ sample size is just so small (less than 350 with just regular season, just over 500 with playoffs included). I also included the NFL average for 2018-19 as a frame of reference for what’s roughly normal around the league. I split up the data into short and long passes (targeted more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) using Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.
That’s a lot of information to digest, so let’s look at short and deep passes separately.
We’ll start with deep passes (blue in the table), where neither Foles nor Trubisky shine.
Both have a very low completion percentage, but Foles is around league average in yards/attempt, while Trubisky is awful there. This suggests that Foles takes deeper “deep” shots, and thus gets a higher yards/completion mark to make up for his low completion percentage.
Foles has higher than normal rates of both touchdowns and interceptions, which leaves him around the league average in TD:INT ratio on deep shots. I don’t put too much stock in these numbers for Foles due to a small sample size; he only has 89 deep passes compared to over 200 for every other QB in the table, so we’re talking a total of 8 TD and 6 INT here. Still, the data at least suggests to me that Foles is aggressive in his deep passes, giving his guys a chance to make a play but also leaving himself prone to defenders making a play on the ball.
Trubisky, on the other hand, is awful at throwing deep TDs and throws a whole lot of deep INTs. He’s well below league average in every major deep passing category, and honestly might be one of the worst deep ball passers in the league (though Carson Wentz is up there with him in that respect, according to these stats). Given those struggles, it’s puzzling to see that Trubisky throws it deep so often. Foles is more conservative in that regard, though he still throws it deep more than Alex Smith, the poster boy for conservative QB play.
This isn’t really related to the Trubisky/Foles debate, but oh my goodness Patrick Mahomes.
When you look at the data as a whole, it’s pretty clear that Foles is the better deep passer of the two. He’s not a great deep ball passer, but he’s also not a terrible deep thrower, which Trubisky clearly is. Foles’ yards/attempt and TD:INT ratio are both around league average, which is probably the best the Bears can realistically expect from either QB this year.
Advantage: Nick Foles
Now let’s move to short passes (orange in the table), where again we see neither Foles nor Trubisky stand out from the other Reid QBs or NFL average passing statistics. Both Foles and Trubisky have a better than average completion percentage, a reverse from deep passes, but lower yards/attempt marks indicate they are completing shorter “short” passes than the league norm. Once again, however, Foles’ yards/attempt mark is around league average, while Trubisky’s is far lower.
Both Foles and Trubisky struggle to throw touchdowns on short passes, which aligns them with Alex Smith and suggests safe check downs. This is reinforced by very low interception numbers; notice, however, that this is very much a characteristic of QBs in the Reid offense, as all five in this table have short interception rates that are well below league average.
Trubisky is appreciably better than Foles at avoiding interceptions on short passes; which is pretty much his only statistical advantage in the entire table. Still, it’s not like Foles is bad in this area (he’s still better than average), and Trubisky’s comically low yards/attempt mark more than makes up for that. As we saw in 2019, avoiding interceptions doesn’t do any good if you can’t move the ball.
Advantage: Nick Foles
Nick Foles will be Chicago’s starter over Trubisky this year because he has proven to be a much better quarterback in this offense on both short and deep passes. This is not to say that Foles is a particularly good quarterback, but he’s not a terrible one, which puts him miles ahead of Trubisky.
Statistically speaking, Foles is a guy who should come close to league average production in this scheme. He doesn’t take a lot of deep shots, but when he does you should expect a lot of big plays for both teams. On the short stuff, he mostly plays it safe, which leads to few interceptions but also few touchdowns. Generally, his short passing work shows the ability to hit the layups and gain yardage at about a league average rate.
At least that’s what the data suggests. I always think it’s a good idea to try and match up data with film analysis, and by happy coincidence Robert Schmitz of Windy City Gridiron recently put out a film study on Foles that comes to many of these same conclusions. We each did our work independently and came to these conclusions separately, and it’s great to see the film and stats reinforce each other. I highly recommend you check out his video below.