Friday night, news leaked that Mitchell Trubisky would be the Bears’ week 1 starting QB. While this is a decision that greatly surprises me, I want to explore what the Bears need from Trubisky in order to make it work.
This immediately led me to look for what he has done differently when he has been the most successful in his Bears career. There was actually a stretch in 2018 when he performed pretty well, starting with his breakout game against Tampa Bay in week 4 and continuing until he hurt his shoulder against the Vikings in week 11. In that 7 game stretch, Trubisky was 138 of 217 for 18 TD, 6 INT, and a 107.3 passer rating. Not every game in there was good – he had 3 games with a passer rating below 80 – but overall it was easily the most impressive stretch of his career, as you can see below (note: I’m ignoring his rookie season in 2017 and focusing solely on what he has done in this offense the last 2 years).
Three things stand out to me here:
- He moved the ball efficiently. Look at that yards/attempt; it’s beautiful. For context, the average NFL pass gained 6.7 yards in 2019. Trubisky was well above that for one magical seven game stretch, but has been below it for the rest of his career. And this isn’t just a one-game outlier; Trubisky was above 10 yards/attempt in three of the 7 games, and only below 6.5 in one of them. For a little more context, 8.7 yards/attempt would have ranked 2nd in the NFL last year, while Trubisky’s 6.1 yards/attempt was last in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks.
- He threw touchdowns. 4.5% of all passes thrown in the NFL in 2019 went for touchdowns. In that seven game stretch, Trubisky was nearly double that. Even if you remove the Tampa Bay game as an outlier, he’s still at 6.3% for the other 6 games, which is well above league average. For the rest of his career, he has struggled mightily to throw touchdowns.
- His legs were a weapon. This has more to do with running efficiency than volume, though you can see he also ran more often when he was at his best. From weeks 4-11 of 2018, Trubisky averaged over 8 yards/carry, while he was around 4 yards/carry in the other samples.
Those are the differences. Trubisky didn’t throw it more or less often than in other times, he didn’t complete more passes, and he didn’t avoid interceptions. He just gained more yards, threw more touchdowns, and ran it more effectively.