Bears

Mitch Trubisky's next developmental step is adjusting to NFL defenses

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USA TODAY

Mitch Trubisky's next developmental step is adjusting to NFL defenses

Mitch Trubisky is no longer an NFL secret (well, maybe a little one, after only two games). Now the real intrigue shifts in significant measure to what the rest of the NFL is going to do about him.

Because while the Bears have/had a plan to bring his development along at a measured pace, the rest of the league, beginning with the Carolina Panthers this Sunday, has quite a different plan in mind.

What do the Panthers (and others) have waiting for Trubisky?

The Baltimore Ravens presented a Cover-2 look on 40 or so of the Bears' 75 snaps, something “on film we really didn't see any of that at all, so it was really surprising for them to come out in that two-high shell,” Trubisky said. “Our plan was just to run them out of it.”

A simple NFL operating philosophy is to find out and understand what an opponent likes to do and does best, and then take that away from him. Trubisky is very good on the move; colleague JJ Stankevitz uncovered the fact that Trubisky against the Baltimore Ravens had the longest average time in a play of any NFL quarterback, meaning he works well out in space and extends plays.

The math from there isn’t especially complicated: A quarterback who is accurate and comfortable getting outside the pocket, extending and improvising plays, is someone to be kept inside the pocket, ideally one collapsing around him. By using a mush-rush, for instance, a controlled assault on the pocket without edge rushers selling out for max pressure and focusing on lane integrity, a defense potentially takes much of Trubisky’s mobility out of play. This is a common strategy against Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and mobile quarterback who is as or more dangerous when flushed from the pocket as he is in it.

A “Chico Plan” then?

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has done bad things to Bears quarterbacks and comes from an attack-dog mindset as a member of the 1985 Bears. He learned from then-coordinator Buddy Ryan that a prime directive of the defense is to simply get to the quarterback.

Rivera and then-coach Lovie Smith differed on the use of blitzing, with Rivera on the side of crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war. After Rivera was excused from his job as Smith’s defensive coordinator, he went to San Diego as Chargers linebackers coach and opened the 2007 season against the Bears blitzing, sacking and harassing Rex Grossman in a 14-3 San Diego win.

The next time the teams met, in the 2010 preseason opener, Rivera was by then defensive coordinator, and he had the Chargers blitzing Jay Cutler from the outset on the latter’s only series, sacking Cutler with a corner blitz on just the seventh play of the game. Not exactly gentlemanly conduct for preseason openers.

But if the past is prologue, Rivera’s past should be revealing to Trubisky.

Scouting Trubisky

But how do the NFL and the Panthers in particular scout Trubisky with a body of work consisting of just two regular-season games?

Rookies with little pro time on tape are scouted from their college play. The Bears took looks at Carson Wentz’s North Dakota State play before they faced Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles in game two last season. That was out of some necessity, since Wentz played 39 snaps in the Eagles’ first preseason game and not again until opening day after he’d been installed as the starter following Sam Bradford’s trade to Minnesota.

Predictably perhaps, Wentz powered the Eagles to a 3-1 start with 100-plus passer ratings in three of his first four games. Teams progressively adjusted and Wentz had only two games with ratings in the low 90’s the rest of the season, none better. He had seven TD passes and one interception through the first four weeks, then nine TD’s and 13 INT’s the rest of the way.

“You go back and look at his college film if you don’t have much film from the NFL,” said linebacker Sam Acho. “You may see that he moves well in the pocket or likes to move outside or whatever. But Mitch played in the preseason and now has played a couple games. It wasn’t like Wentz which was the first game or two of the season.”

Attention is indeed less likely to be paid to Trubisky’s college body of work for the simple reason that he did play extensively through the preseason, with 126 snaps and 53 pass attempts, the most of either for any of the Bears’ four quarterbacks through preseason. But Trubisky happened to play his college football at the University of North Carolina, down the road from Charlotte, so “we remember Mitch mostly because of what he did when he was here at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Rivera said. “We got to watch all 14 games and we were impressed. We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Guessing that Chico wasn’t including next Sunday.

Bears film breakdown: Mitch Trubisky's amazing scramble, Marcus Cooper's soft coverage mistake

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Bears film breakdown: Mitch Trubisky's amazing scramble, Marcus Cooper's soft coverage mistake

Had Connor Barth not missed a 46-yard field goal that would've sent Sunday's Bears-Lions game into overtime, Mitchell Trubisky's 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 would've gone down as the biggest play the rookie quarterback made in 2017. Instead, Barth missed the kick, and the Bears couldn't force an opportunity for Trubisky to win the game in overtime.

But that scramble was incredible in its own right, even if it didn't lead to a tie ballgame and/or eventual victory. Here's how it happened:

The Lions rush three, with linebacker Tahir Whitehead (labeled No. 3 here) defending Benny Cunningham, who initially sticks in the backfield in pass protection. Detroit has four defenders playing man coverage against the Bears' four pass-catchers -- wide receiver Markus Wheaton and tight end Daniel Brown are at the top of the image, while wide receivers Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman are at the bottom. The Lions have three safeties playing deep with the Bears needing 13 yards to gain a first down. 

Trubisky drops back and doesn't spy anyone open. The yellow line is where the Bears have to get to for a first down, and instead of forcing a throw, Trubisky opts for a scramble drill. 

It doesn't start very well. Trubisky is pursued by defensive linemen Anthony Zettel and A'Shawn Robinson (blue arrows) and has no chance to scramble outside. There's a window created by Wheaton at the top of the screen (purple arrow) but there's no chance Trubisky could set and make that throw across his body now. Scramble it is. 

Trubisky stops on a dime and is able to avoid Zettel and Robinson, and cuts back to the middle of the field. Defensive end Cornelius Washington (red arrow) identifies where Trubisky is going and begins pursuing him. 

A hole opens up! But Washington is now quickly closing on Trubisky, who at this point still has to run about 17 yards to get the first down. It's not looking good. 

Somehow, Trubisky sheds Washington's tackle around the 42-yard line. He still has 10 yards to go, and now safety Miles Killebrew (red arrow) is closing on him. 

Killebrew overpursues to the boundary, and Trubisky is able to cut back to the middle of the field.

"He ran to my side and cut back and then made another guy miss, and I was like, oh s***, he’s really about to get this," Inman said. 

Killebrew whiffs, and Trubisky picks up the first down. 

"That’s his mentality," running back Tarik Cohen said. "Y’all got to see his mentality. That situation, fourth and 13, he’s not going down, not taking a sack, not throwing the ball away — he’s going to find a way to make a play, and he’s going to lead us to where we need to be." 

***

One of the game's most critical plays for the Bears' defense came midway through the second quarter. The Lions were backed up near their own goal line, and Leonard Floyd had just forced a Matthew Stafford incompletion with an excellent speed rush to the quarterback's blind side. The Bears defense seemed to be locking down on Detroit, and with a 10-point lead, forcing a punt here could've turned into more points by an offense that was having success in the first half. 

The Bears rush Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Pernell McPhee (red circle), and have cornerback Marcus Cooper playing off Lions wide receiver T.J. Jones (orange line). Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (blue arrow) is going to sit in the flat. 

Jones gets to the sticks and sits down (orange circle), with Cooper still backpedaling. Kwiatkoski, perhaps, could've been a little deeper, but it doesn't appear that he's in the wrong spot. Also, tight end Eric Ebron has some open space just before the first-down line with safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson (purple arrows) keying on him. 

The ball is in the air, and Cooper is about six yards off Jones, who's right at the first down marker. Kwiatkoski can't get to the ball, and Jones and Stafford easily converts the first down. Credit needs to be given to Jones for a savvy route and knowing exactly where he needed to go to pick up the first down. 

And this was a heck of a throw by Stafford, who in this frame is about to get hit by Goldman while Floyd is leaping to try to disrupt the throw. A good route, a great throw and poor coverage led to the Lions picking up a first down. This throw sparked something in the Lions' offense, too: Including it, Stafford had a run of nine completions in 10 attempts for 153 yards and two touchdowns before halftime. For the Bears' defense, this play was the beginning of one of the "siestas" coach John Fox said have plagued his team this year. 

***

One of the Bears' best designed and executed offensive plays on Sunday came midway through the fourth quarter in the red zone down by a touchdown.

Tre McBride was motioned to the hashmarks from the outside, and the Bears have fullback Michael Burton and tight end Adam Shaheen lined up to the field side (red circles). Zettel (yellow circle) is lined up well off left tackle Charles Leno's left shoulder. 

Trubisky sold this play well, planting his right foot and sort of turning his body toward the field. Zettel (orange arrow) bites hard on that fake and loses contain, while Shaheen, Burton and McBride (red arrows) all disguise the play as a stretch/toss to the field. Cohen (purple arrow) now has some open space to the boundary. 

In the top left corner, another player does his job to set up the play: Inman carries cornerback D.J. Hayden (blue circle) into the end zone, freeing up plenty of green grass for Cohen. Safety Quin Glover (gray arrow) now has to pursue Cohen toward the pylon. 

"(Inman) ran the DB off, so I knew I had to get to the pylon or if he’s going to meet me there first, I had to stop his feet," Cohen said. "So I gave him a hesitation move." 

That hesitation froze Glover just enough for Cohen to tee up this:

Wheeee! "I felt like I had a 44-inch vert," Cohen said. He's able to dive in the end zone and tie the game up in a critical spot. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Did the Bears technically "win" on Sunday?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Did the Bears technically "win" on Sunday?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) and Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap on the panel.  Kap is happy that Mitch Trubisky played ok and John Fox’s team lost again.  The panel disagrees.

Plus Leonard Floyd doesn’t have an ACL tear…. Yet. Should the Bears shut him down even if he gets good news?