Understanding how steep Mitchell Trubisky’s learning curve really is


Understanding how steep Mitchell Trubisky’s learning curve really is

Looking at the care and feeding of a Mitchell Trubisky from a slightly different angle suggests that the rookie’s development has been quite a bit more difficult – and better – than realized from just a cursory look. For perspective purposes, consider:

The marquee Bears free-agency signing in 1994 was quarterback Erik Kramer, lured away from the division-rival Detroit Lions whom Kramer had quarterbacked to the playoffs two of the previous three seasons.

By midseason, though, Kramer had lost his starting job to Steve Walsh after successive and progressively more horrible outings against the Minnesota Vikings, Lions and Green Bay Packers.

Something was odd about that. I approached Kramer after a last-straw nightmare against the Packers and wondered why his play against those three was so abysmal (three touchdown passes, six inteceptions and eight sacks) – given that those all were teams with which he was intimately familiar, as opponents and as his own team (Lions). Meaning: He had more than a passing knowledge of where those defenses would line up and how they’d play.

“The problem isn’t knowing where those guys are going to be,” Kramer said. “It’s that I don’t know where MY guys are going to be.”

That was not Kramer knocking his receivers; it was a statement that he felt frustratingly lost in a new offense, a West Coast scheme under coordinator Ron Turner. Kramer was benched following a Green Bay game in which he threw two interceptions in just 10 first-half attempts.

Fast-forward to 2017 and understand how steep the slope is that Trubisky, who had only 13 collegiate starts, is attempting to climb.

Kramer at least knew what Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota defenses were doing. Trubisky hadn’t seen more than film of the Packers and Vikings before facing them, and will see the Lions for the first time next Sunday.

Add to that the exponentially complicating factor that Trubisky is still learning a Bears playbook that he has only used for five games (preseason and training camp never touch much of the playbook) and is being added to on a weekly basis.

“This is a new offense,” Trubisky said on Wednesday. “I was in North Carolina’s offense for four years, knew it like that back of my hand and could probably throw a check-down without even looking. We’re putting in new plays every week now so it’s a little different. In my development, I’ll have to memorize where everything’s at.

“I’m getting better with that each week. And some plays are better than others, just going through progressions and what I’m comfortable with, so I need to keep doing that. I’ll get better at that and get the ball out of my hands. It’ll get better.”

It needs to, if only for Trubisky’s well-being. Illustrative of Trubisky doing a lot – a WHOLE lot – of processing, he has taken sacks at a concerning rate: one sack every seven drop-backs for his last four starts. For comparison’s sake, Tom Brady takes one every 21 dropbacks. Aaron Rodgers, one of the more sacked elite quarterbacks, gets taken down once every 14,5 dropbacks. Mike Glennon, even with his and the offense’s early issues, was sacked once every 18.5 dropbacks. To his credit, Trubisky knows the chief reason for the 15 sacks over the last four games.

“The sacks are more so me holding on to the football than a breakdown in protection; [the offensive linemen] have been doing an awesome job,” Trubisky said. “I just have to continue to go through my progressions, get the ball out and find the checkdowns. The more and more I play within the offense, I think you'll see growth and me getting the checkdowns and getting the ball out of my hands, so, yeah, that's just where I need to take another step.”

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One of my media colleagues raised a poignant point about coach John Fox, viewing Fox against the backdrop of Lovie Smith, fired after a 10-6 season and an 81-63 record as Bears coach. Smith lost a Super Bowl played against quarterback Peyton Manning. Fox lost a Super Bowl played WITH Manning.

So how good a coach is Fox, really? Better than Bill Belichick? Mmmmm… . Better than Bill Walsh? Ummmm… .


Belichick is a combined 53-62 as a head coach without Tom Brady as his quarterback. That would be a winning percentage of .460.

Walsh without Joe Montana achieved a 49ers record of 17-23, a win percentage of .425.

Fox with Manning didn’t win that Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. But without Manning, Fox is unofficially 93-108 for a win rate of .462.

Prediction: Can the Bears carry over what they did in Cincinnati to Detroit?

USA Today

Prediction: Can the Bears carry over what they did in Cincinnati to Detroit?

The question was posed to Mitchell Trubisky at Paul Brown Stadium following the Bears’ 33-7 destruction of the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend: Was the offensive more aggressive today?

“Sure, it’s fair to say,” Trubisky said with a confident, wry grin. “Everyone’s got opinions.”

The follow-up: Is it accurate to say that?

“It’s accurate,” Trubisky said. 

Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with both a passing and rushing touchdown in Cincinnati, but more importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over while operating a more aggressive and expansive gameplan. The effectiveness of the Bears’ ground game — led by Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and, as heading an excellent showing by the offensive line, Cody Whitehair — helped make sure the passing game was going to open up against a depleted and downtrodden Bengals defense. 

The Detroit Lions have a lot more to play for on Saturday at Ford Field than the Bengals did last weekend: At 7-6, they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive NFC. Detroit didn’t have standout defensive end Ziggy Ansah for its 27-24 win over the Bears at Soldier Field in November; Ansah is officially questionable for Saturday but seems likely to play. 

As my colleague John ‘Moon’ Mullin pointed out, though, the biggest key for the Bears on Saturday will be not turning the ball over: The Lions have been losers in three of the four games in which their defense didn’t generate a takeaway. But since squeaking by the Bears in Week 11, the Lions lost by seven at home to the Minnesota Vikings, were blown out by the Baltimore Ravens and — despite forcing five turnovers — beat the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers by only three points last week. 

So even though the Lions have something to play for, this is a team that’s beatable. Expect another close game; if the Bears play close to as well as they did against Cincinnati, they very well could leave Michigan with their fifth win of the season. 

Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 23

Why historical context for Mitchell Trubisky's 2017 is encouraging for 2018

USA Today

Why historical context for Mitchell Trubisky's 2017 is encouraging for 2018

In the last decade, 22 quarterbacks have started at least 12 games in their respective rookie years. If Mitchell Trubisky finishes out the 2017 season, he’ll hit that dozen-start mark as well. 

So with that in mind, where do his numbers stack up against that group with three games remaining? His stats could still fluctuate in these final weekends against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, of course. But if what he’s done in his first nine starts remains largely unchanged, he’ll have put up numbers that represent a decent foundation on which to build in 2018. 

Trubisky has an interception rate of 1.87; only two quarterbacks have gone through their rookie years in the last decade with an interception rate lower than 2 percent: Dallas’ Dak Prescott (0.87, 2016) and Washington’s Robert Griffin III (2012, 1.27 percent). Injuries derailed Griffin’s career, while Prescott has been outstanding while playing next to Ezekiel Elliott and struggled without his running back.  

But the point here: Quarterbacks have to learn ball security at some point, and Trubisky may be ahead of the curve in that regard. That the Bears opened up their offense on Sunday, having Trubisky throw 32 passes in a blowout win, was a signal this coaching staff trusted him to operate a more expansive scheme and not turn the ball over (which he did). 

Trubisky, though, is only averaging 6.7 yards per attempt — 25th out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in 2017. Of the 22 rookie quarterbacks in the last decade, though, 13 averaged fewer than seven yards per attempt as rookies:

Quarterback Rookie Year Y/A 2nd year Y/A +/-
Blaine Gabbert 2011 5.4 6.0 +0.6
Derek Carr 2014 5.5 7.0 +1.5
Sam Bradford 2010 6.0 6.1 +0.1
DeShone Kizer 2017 6.0 N/A N/A
Blake Bortles 2014 6.1 7.3 +1.2
Carson Wentz 2016 6.2 7.5 +1.3
Mike Glennon 2013 6.3 7.0 +0.7
Brandon Weeden 2012 6.6 6.5 -0.1
Andy Dalton 2011 6.6 6.0 +0.3
Mark Sanchez 2009 6.7 6.5 -0.2
Ryan Tannehill 2012 6.8 6.7 -0.1
Geno Smith 2013 6.9 6.9 0.0
Joe Flacco 2008 6.9 7.2 +0.3

That's an average gain of 0.5 yards per attempt from Year 1 to Year 2 isn’t exactly significant, and the names on this list (save for Wentz) aren't exactly inspiring. But here’s a more encouraging comparison: How the 17 quarterbacks in the last decade who’ve started at least 12 games in both their first and second seasons in the league improved in terms of passer rating:

Quarterback Rookie Year Rookie PR 2nd year PR +/-
Dak Prescott 2016 104.9 91.6 -13.3
Robert Griffin III 2012 102.4 82.2 -20.2
Russell Wilson 2012 100.0 101.9 +1.9
Marcus Mariota 2015 91.5 95.6 +4.1
Matt Ryan 2008 87.7 80.9 -6.8
Teddy Bridgewater 2014 85.2 88.7 +2.5
Cam Newton 2011 84.5 86.2 +1.7
Jameis Winston 2015 84.2 86.1 +1.9
Andy Dalton 2011 80.4 87.4 +7.0
Joe Flacco 2008 80.3 88.9 +8.6
Carson Wentz 2016 79.3 101.9 +22.6
Derek Carr 2014 76.6 91.1 +14.5
Andrew Luck 2012 76.5 87.0 +10.5
Ryan Tannehill 2012 76.1 81.78 +5.6
Blake Bortles 2014 69.5 88.2 +18.7
Geno Smith 2013 66.5 77.5 +11
Mark Sanchez 2009 63.0 75.3 +12.3

Trubisky, entering Saturday’s game against the Detroit Lions, has a passer rating of 80.0. 

Most quarterbacks made at at least incremental gains from Year 1 to Year 2, with Ryan probably the biggest outlier here given he was fine as a rookie, then took a step back in Year 2. Prescott and Griffin both had passer ratings over 100 as rookies and regressed as sophomores. 

Nine of the quarterbacks above had a rookie passer rating between 75-85: Winston, Wentz, Tannehill, Newton, Luck, Flacco, Dalton, Carr and Bridgewater (we’re including Bridgewater in here, because 85.2 is close enough). Those nine quarterbacks averaged a passer rating gain of 8.3 points from Year 1 to Year 2. Overall, these 17 quarterbacks saw, on average, their passer ratings increase by 4.8 points from Year 1 to Year 2. 

So beyond the encouraging signs we’ve seen from Trubisky on and off the field this year, the numbers point to the Bears’ franchise quarterback improving in his second season in the NFL. An that’s a good start to answering the question of how far the Bears can go in 2018, no matter who he’s throwing to or who’s coaching him.