Too often building around a quarterback and building around a quarterback’s strengths are confused. When the Bears first acquired Jay Cutler, they thought deep threats were the best way to build around the strong-armed passer, without realizing throwing deep passes wasn’t necessarily his strength. The same is true for Mitch Trubisky who was one of the worst deep passers in the league last year, but one of the best on shorter completions.
The drafting of Riley Ridley was an example of the Bears trying to play to the strengths of their quarterback.
Ridley doesn’t have the speed to consistently blow by defenders, but he is considered an excellent route runner, which should help him get open on underneath passes. He also has a big frame to win the so-called 50/50 balls. Ridley adds to bigger targets that include Allen Robinson and Javon Wims as the Bears look to eat up the middle of the field while still being able to beat defenses over the top, on occasion.
Of quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts, Trubisky is ranked 27th with a passer rating of 61.9 on passes traveling 15 or more yards down the field, according to Pro-Football-Reference. He ranked slightly better than Blake Bortles and worse than quarterbacks like Josh Rosen, Case Keenum, Sam Darnold and Alex Smith.
But Trubisky was elite on short passes.
He had a passer rating of 107 on passes that traveled less than 15 yards in the air – fifth among quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts, behind only Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes.
Despite clearly being better on short passes, 22 percent of Trubisky’s attempts were 15 or more yards down the field. For comparison sake, the very best quarterback at throwing deep — Russell Wilson (131.8 rating) — had just about 21.5 percent of his passes travel that far. The second best — Drew Brees (125.5) — had just 17 percent of his passes go that far down the field. Heck, even the cannon-armed Patrick Mahomes came in with just 21.4 percent of his passes going 15 or more yards down the field.
So, what gives?
Personnel moves are not going to tell the story of the 2019 Bears. They could improve their roster this off-season, be a better team than they were in 2018 and STILL win fewer than twelve games. No, with lofty expectations for the coming year, everything will depend upon the improved play of their starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.
Here’s what Matt Nagy had to say about Trubisky’s progression into 2019 at the year-end press conference [Cut to 16:30]:
According to Nagy, his young QB has already conquered the “next play mentality” and “the steps of 101 progressions.” In layman’s terms, Trubisky knows what he is doing when it comes to running the offense. But it’s understanding what the opposing defense is up to that comes next, or as Nagy puts it, “recognizing pre-snap what he’s about to see from these defenses.” At quarterback, if you know what your 11 are doing, and you know what their 11 are doing, it just comes down to making the plays.
And Trubisky can make ALL the plays.
Look no further than those final drives against the Eagles. Season on the line. Avoiding the rush. Hitting targets deep down the field with pin-point accuracy. Every completion was met with elation from the crowd. Everyone in that building felt something was changing because something was changing.
And then Parkey happened.
The Bears are in the position most NFL franchises want to be in February. They don’t need to spend the next three months searching for starters. They’re looking for complementary pieces to fortify a championship run. And there are several places they should look.
Mitch Trubisky has a miss, especially when he’s throwing deep left. The miss is high. When he gets too pumped up – much like a starting pitcher – the miss is high. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue having this miss as I’m in the camp the Trubisky of September 2019 will bare little resemblance to the Trubisky of September 2018. But in the meantime, why not put a bit more size on the outside? The Bears have a star number one in Allen Robinson and tons of speed around him. But they’ve got no reach.
So why not look for a power forward – a big man to post up at the sticks on third-and-six and catch the ball in traffic? Could that be someone like Kelvin Benjamin or Michael Floyd? Sure, if the money is right. Is the answer possibly in-house, with someone like Javon Wims stepping up in 2019? It’s possible but I’m always wary of depending on players who struggle to even crack the 53 in their rookie season, especially at a position that saw multiple injuries.
The Bears need to add a different kind of player to this group. Someone with size and physicality.
Emily made a thorough argument against the Bears signing Kareem Hunt.
I made the case, as best I could, for the Bears pursuing the troubled running back.
Andrew explained why this Matt Nagy offense needs Kareem Hunt.
Nagy can’t run his offense without an every-down running back who threatens the opposing defense in the passing game.
If the #Bears don’t sign Hunt, their best bet is Howard returning next year. And, let’s be clear, that isn’t a BAD option.
But Howard can’t do this… pic.twitter.com/ymeeOhyGCG
— Andrew Dannehy (@adannehy) February 5, 2019
Even if the Bears don’t acquire Hunt, they need to acquire a player LIKE Hunt.
I texted a league source in November with a question I’m fond of asking: “Tell me something about this Bears team I’m not smart enough to see.”
His response: “Leonard Floyd is playing out of his mind.” He went on to break down the many things Floyd was doing in coverage and explained to me how few outside backers – if any – were capable of that.
As the New England Patriots prepare to play in their 79th Super Bowl of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era, they serve as the sport’s finest example of what the Bears – and every other organization – are trying to accomplish.
We can talk about Chuck Pagano, Khalil Mack, future first-round picks, draft steals and everything else, but what this era of Bears football becomes depends almost entirely on the quality of the head coach and the quarterback. And the first year got off to an adequate start for Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky.
The Bears were a top ten offense in both points per drive and DVOA until the QB was injured. Then they slid back. They struggled for most of the playoff game, but the quarterback made enough big plays to give them a chance to win.
Then Ray Finkle blew it.
Despite what Lt. Lois Einhorn did with those uprights, the Bears coach and QB gave us hope for the future. Hope that this thing could be special.
What a ride.
The Bears’ 2018 season ended with a doink a few weeks before anybody wanted it to, but man oh man what fun it was. After four straight years of shifting attention to the draft by November, the Bears went 12-4, established themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL, and laid waste to the division. Along the way, they got to officially end the season of both the Packers and Vikings and made the entire city of Chicago go crazy with football fever.
Lest we forget some of the highlights of 2018:
Outside of the Bears, my only other serious sports fandom belongs to the wayward New York Knicks. The Knicks only flash of national relevance in the last twenty years was quickly snuffed out by a ballhog unwilling to share the limelight. The team has drafted in the top ten for the last three years and only missed it in 2014 because they had traded their pick away for the chance to get Carmelo Anthony a few months before free agency. When the reports came out in the summer of 2017 that Phil Jackson was shopping Kristaps Porzingis because he didn’t show up for an exit interview (really), I hit the point where I seriously considered resigning my allegiance to the team. That was a bridge too far.
I mention all this because I know what the hopelessness of fandom can feel like.
That’s what confused me so much throughout this Bears season. Despite winning nearly every week it felt like all I was seeing (from both Bears fans and the national media) were questions about the quarterback. While life has interfered with my Bears fandom over the last few years, Nagy, Mack, Hicks, Cohen, and, of course, Trubisky, made it fun to watch the team again this season. I didn’t miss a game on TV, I taught my three year old “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” (it’s very cute), and I read all the Bears coverage I could find every Monday morning for the past 19 weeks.
Sports are entertainment and this team was nothing if not entertaining. So what’s the point in trying to pick apart a kid who holds the keys to a decade of possible relevance? I trust Jeff and the rest of the crew here are going to spend quite a bit of time breaking down the game, the season, and what’s in store for the next nine months, so I thought I’d spend a bit of time trying to get inside the head of the fans who love to hate Trubisky.
Here are my three best guesses for why people feel the need to pick apart a player who offers them their greatest hope for football salvation:
This is the most understandable reason, but then why be a fan? The difference between liking a sport and liking a team is whether you feel something when your guys win and lose. For the past 10 years in the NBA I’ve liked the sport more than the Knicks. It’s fun, I watch a bunch of games on League Pass, but there’s no real emotion there. I wanted LeBron to beat the Warriors, but I didn’t care when he didn’t. We are human and we crave feelings, both good and bad. It makes some sense to try and protect your emotions by playing down the hope, but if you really care about the team you’re going to lose that game with yourself.
Usually I write a paragraph here, introducing the concept below. But doesn’t the headline do all that work? Do you really need further explanation of this piece? I don’t think you do. So read away…
(#5) Kyle Fuller’s Dropped Interception
Yes, this was a negative play. But it is the singular moment of adversity that seems to have inspired the entirety of the 2018 campaign. Every big play, every dance routine, every sack of the quarterback, seems to have been motivated by that Aaron Rodgers pass sailing off the chest of Fuller.
(#4) All Those Touchdown Passes Against the Bucs (tie)
After three games, 2018 felt like it was going to be a long, developmental-type season for Mitch Trubisky. Then Week 4 happened. 354 yards. 6 touchdowns. Yes, it was against the hapless Buccaneers but it was still the kind of explosive performance this organization was not using to seeing from the quarterback position. Seeing it was important for Bears fans, Bears players/coaches and for the quarterback himself. That game elevated expectations for the entire year.
(#3) Akiem Hicks Scores a Touchdown
Week 13, in the Meadowlands, Daniel handed the ball to Hicks at the goal line and the behemoth scored (easily). It was the play that best symbolized the sense of pure fun Matt Nagy has brought to this organization. He’s not afraid of comparisons to the ’85 edition of this franchise. Fridge be damned! He’s just out there calling plays, having a good time and inspiring his players to do the same.
And now it gets real.”
That was the message from Matt Nagy after thoroughly kicking the butt of a team that fully expected to be contending for the Super Bowl this season. The Bears didn’t just knock the Vikings out of the playoffs. They offered a glimpse of how talented they actually are.
It’s been convenient to say the Vikings weren’t good or that they lost before the game even started. But that ignores the primary storyline heading into the game: the Vikings were “fixed.” They fired Flip and found Stefanski! Their offense had been corrected and they were the team nobody wanted to play.
Then the Bears broke them…again.
The Bears didn’t do anything flashy. The offensive game plan was vanilla. They did what they do defensively. They won that game simply because they were too good to lose it. They were that much better than a team that had a Super Bowl-worthy roster.
When the Bears needed life Sunday, second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky stepped in.
The strengths of the team were flailing. The defense was mid-collapse. The coach made numerous bone-headed calls. Throughout the third and early fourth quarters the Packers had all the momentum. They were going to steal the game. Everyone knew it.
After a strange fake punt allowed the Packers to drive 50 yards for a touchdown and the game-tying two-point conversion, the Bears looked dead. They got the ball back.
First down: incomplete to Burton.
Second down: incomplete to Burton.
Third down: Trubisky takes off for 14.
Later in the drive, Trubisky made a sharp throw to Gabriel for 14 on second-and-13. Then he hit Adam Shaheen for 16 yards on second-and-eight after scrambling to his left.
Then Matt Nagy took the ball out of his hands, calling a Wildcat run in which Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard botched the exchange on third-and-one and the Packers recovered.
That was supposed to be the time Aaron Rodgers took control of the game. Everyone with a working knowledge of the game of football expected it.