The Chicago Bears will go only as far as Mitch Trubisky takes them, but they need the offensive line to hold up so they can see exactly what the quarterback can do.
The line play has ranged from awful to mediocre until the last two games when we’ve seen holes opening up. It certainly appears that the unit is beginning to come together, which will be important for both the immediate and longterm future of the club.
Trubisky earned all the headlines after his dynamic performance against Dallas, but lost in the shuffle was the dominant performance by the offensive line. They didn’t just get the better of one of the best defensive lines in the league. They bullied them in what was unquestionably the best performance the Bears blockers have had all year — and maybe in several seasons.
That was the second straight game in which the Bears controlled the line of scrimmage. Trubisky was hurried just six times and hit once on Thanksgiving, according to Pro-Football-Reference, as the Bears also gave their runners 40 yards before contact on 23 attempts. Compare that to a week earlier when Bears rushers had just 25 yards before contact on 26 attempts. (The advanced data for the Cowboys game won’t be available until Wednesday.)
The difference was seen in Trubisky too. While he wasn’t pressured that much against the Giants, it was enough to throw him off as he had 10 of what PFR deems to be bad throws, compared to just four against Detroit and four against Dallas.
The Green Bay Packers know how much pressure impacts Trubisky and they blitzed him 17 times in Week One. They got home a fair amount, sacking him five times, hitting him five more, and hurrying him seven times.
Trubisky was bad that game, but he didn’t have much of a chance to be good.
Last night, against the Dallas Cowboys, Matt Nagy called his best game as Chicago Bears head coach.
Last night, even with a few wonky moments, Mitch Trubisky looked like the future at quarterback for the Chicago Bears.
Last night, with another starter heading to the locker room and new faces all over the place, the defense of the Chicago Bears looked like the group everyone expected to make them title contenders this season.
And David Montgomery.
And Anthony Miller.
And Cordarrelle Patterson.
And Holtz and Horsted and Mack and Fuller and…
…can’t we go back and start this 2019 campaign over again?
Johnny Brogan tends the bar at the Copper Kettle in Woodside, Queens. He’s been behind the sticks for twenty-four years, mixing Bloodies and pouring thick pints of the black. He’s there on Thanksgiving. He’s there on Christmas. He’s there, seemingly always, the front man of my local saloon since moving to the neighborhood a decade ago.
Thursday, the bar was empty when I sat down fifteen minutes before kickoff. Brogie, as he’s known in the community, put an Amstel Light and pint of club soda in front of me. This was going to be a long day of drinking and I had to pace myself. I ordered a bowl of potato leak soup to lay something of a base. No bread. (I’m off bread.)
I approached Bears at Lions the same way I’d approached the last month plus of Bears football: with passionate indifference. The team – and more importantly the quarterback – lost me entirely with their shambolic performance against the New Orleans Saints. And the weeks since have been a slow drain of any emotional juice I might have pumping through my supporter’s veins. This is a rare mode for me to be in, as I’ve always espoused the “we’re only guaranteed 16 of these a year” mentality. But it happens.
Then it stopped happening.
Sometime on Thursday, things changed.
I don’t know why.
I don’t know exactly when.
But sometime during this Thanksgiving game, I found my hands clenched together tightly. The Amstels were going back quicker. The pacing started. The bathroom trips multiplied. Nerves. Anxiety. Even Brogie noticed. “Only seen you like this during the Masters,” he said, referring to my nerves watching Tiger wrap-up number 15 earlier this year.
Maybe it was the kid quarterback, playing with shattered confidence and a bum shoulder, putting his teammates on his back in the second half, delivering several of the best passes of his young career.
Maybe it was Roquan Smith, flying all over the field, reminding us all why he was considered one of the best young defenders in the sport coming into the season. We’ll never fully understand the mental sabbatical Smith took mid-season. But if he plays like that, we won’t remember it either.
Maybe it was seeing promising talents like Anthony Miller and David Montgomery dominate. Finally. And for the first time in 2019, having a sense that this offensive project under Matt Nagy makes some sense. That these fellas can deliver in this offense.
There can be no argument that any element of an offense as bad this Bears’ offense is performing to an acceptable level. Not the play caller. Not the offensive line. Not the skill guys. Nobody. But as this space has reported for the last several weeks, one can not adequately evaluate this offense because what’s being run is not Matt Nagy’s offense. What’s being run is a dialed-back, remedial version of the offense that the overwhelmed quarterback can supposedly “handle”.
And now it’s clear he can’t even handle that.
What took place Sunday night in Los Angeles was the culmination of months and months of frustration from the head coach. Call it a benching or don’t. That’s up to you. But Mitch Trubisky was healthy enough to finish the football game and Matt Nagy did not want him to do so. The reasons are many.
The calls at the line are consistently wrong.
The protections are consistently wrong.
The decisions by the quarterback with the football are consistently wrong.
Said a source within the organization to DBB Monday morning, “They are down to the bare bones. I’d be surprised if they are running 25% of the playbook.”
Think about that for a moment. For years, Matt Nagy has developed the offense he would run in the NFL when he finally had his own team, his own chance. For two years, he’s been installing that plan. And ten games into his second season, he’s been forced to throw three quarters of that plan into the trash because the man they thought was a franchise quarterback can’t run it.
When Matt Nagy met directly with ownership, he made it clear to them he was going to do anything and everything to try and salvage Mitch Trubisky. It’s hard to imagine that will remain his mindset much longer.
#Bears coach Matt Nagy on pulling QB Mitch Trubisky: “It was all based off, he wasn’t feeling right. His hip was hurting him.”
Our story from an interesting night: https://t.co/ghvkuX3YcE
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 18, 2019
Two weeks ago, Matt Nagy pulled the plug on his offense. He realized the quarterback wasn’t capable and went to a simpler, easier-to-execute version. It worked. Kind of. Last night, Nagy broke. He couldn’t watch it anymore. And he pulled the plug on Trubisky. This will now be the story for the next six days. And we all knew it was coming.
Ryan Pace wakes up.
He kisses his wife on the forehead. Tells her he loves her.
He walks downstairs and pours himself a cup of Lavazza. (I assume Pace is like me and has the kind of coffee maker he can set the night before.) Maybe he makes some toast. Dry. No butter. Maybe he fries and egg or two. He sits at the kitchen table in silence.
He takes his dump.
Dresses for the workday. His favorite suit. He needs it today. This is not his normal workday and he knows it.
He gets into the office an hour earlier than normal to prepare and stares out the window, waiting to see the cars of Ted Phillips and George McCaskey arrive.
They finally do. It’s time.
“Ted, George,” he says, “I fucked up.”
In the modern NFL, missing on the first-round quarterback can set a franchise back years if you let it. The Bears can’t let it. Today, the entire organization has to acknowledge they chose the wrong guy. It’s difficult. It’s painful. For Pace, it’s somewhat humiliating. But it is necessary if the team hopes to contend for a title in in the next few years. Because they will not contend for anything with Mitch Trubisky playing quarterback.
With five games under the belt, the Bears are roughly 1/3 of the way through the season. Let’s check in on how they’re doing, starting with the offense.
I wrote this offseason about the importance of explosive plays (passes of 20+ yards or runs of 15+ yards) to an offense’s overall success, finding there is a very strong correlation between explosive plays and points scored. Chicago’s offense produced explosive plays at a slightly below-average rate in 2018, and I believed they were poised to improve dramatically in that category this year, and thus improve overall as an offense.
So far, the exact opposite has happened, as you can see in the table below.
The Bears have turned into one of the least explosive offenses in the NFL. They currently have 11 explosive passes and 2 explosive runs, and their current explosive rates would have ranked 31st and 32nd of 32 NFL teams in 2018 (I didn’t have time to compile the numbers for everybody in 2019 so far).
The run game is particularly egregious, as the lowest mark in the NFL last year was 3.1%. 1.7% is not even in the same ballpark. The Bears are 20th in average yards per carry before contact and 29th in yards/carry after contact, but I’m inclined to blame the offensive line more than the runners. Most of the time first contact seems to come not from one player in space, which might give the runner a chance to break a tackle and keep going, but with multiple front 7 players hitting the RB at the same time. It’s worth noting that the Bears’ running backs haven’t been great either though; Player Profiler ranks David Montgomery 36th among running backs in juke rate (evaded/broken tackles per carry), while Tarik Cohen is 55th. In Montgomery’s defense, he is 9th in the NFL in broken tackles per carry, according to Pro Football Reference.
I wrote this offseason that getting rid of Jordan Howard would help Chicago’s run game be more explosive, but so far they’re producing explosive plays on the ground at less than half the rate they did last year. Part of the problem is that Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky – who combined for 14 explosive runs on 167 carries last year, have no explosive runs so far this year, but David Montgomery only has 1 in his 69 attempts, and that’s far worse than Howard’s rate of 1 every 25 carries last year (which was already one of the worst marks in the NFL).
The moment is here for Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky.
Don’t fuck around. Win.
Opening night was an offensive debacle. The coach was overwhelmed. The quarterback was over-matched. They were not ready to call or perform in a football game, respectively, period.
But this ain’t the 3 AM show in the lounge. This is ain’t the place to work on your material. This is the showroom and the gents are in top hats and tails. The Bears don’t have the luxury of time to figure things out.
They are in one of the best divisions in football.
They have the best defense in the league.
The moment is here.
This offense doesn’t have to be great to keep the 2019 vintage of the Chicago Bears on the league’s top shelf. It has to be serviceable, at least for now. It has to help this team stack wins until the season gets serious in November.
And doing that falls onto the shoulders of two men. Nagy. Trubisky.
Hey Matt, wake up. David Montgomery is a horse. Ride him. The quarterback is still inexperienced. Get him some quick, easy throws. You don’t get credit for the other side of the ball because it wasn’t built by you and it isn’t coached by you. Yours is the offense. Lead them.
Hey Mitch, enough. Enough with the silly throws into holiday weekend traffic. Enough with not calling your own number and getting easy first downs with your legs. Enough with making rookie mistakes because this is your third year in the league, second year in the system, and a few more rookie mistakes are going to lead to your rookie contract being your last contract in the league.