What's the solution for fixing Mitchell Trubisky's high sack rate?

USA Today

What's the solution for fixing Mitchell Trubisky's high sack rate?

A common theme of Mitchell Trubisky and Dowell Loggains' mid-week press conferences has been that opposing defenses are throwing looks at the Bears' rookie quarterback they haven't shown on film before. That presents a problem for a young quarterback trying to study the tendencies of his opponents. 

Trubisky doesn't have a lot of experience at the NFL level, and will make his sixth career start on Sunday. Without that bank of experience on which to draw, he's struggled at times to identify coverages, and that's led to him getting sacked at a high rate. 

"The more snaps, the more reps you take the better you get," Trubisky said. "So just go back to the library and you start to see patterns in what they're throwing at you and what you've seen before, so it all helps. The more reps the better."

Historically, though, it's not unprecedented for a rookie quarterback to have some growing pains in terms of identifying what opposing defenses are doing, leading to that player taking a fairly heavy load of sacks. In the last 15 years, there have been 18 first-round quarterbacks to average more than two sacks per game, with Trubisky currently tied for the fourth-highest total:

 QB  Year  Sacks/Game
 David Carr  2002  4.8
 Blake Bortles  2014  3.9
 Jared Goff  2017  3.7
 Alex Smith  2005  3.2
 Marcus Mariota  2015  3.2
 Mitchell Trubisky  2017  3.2
 Paxton Lynch  2016  3.0
 E.J. Manuel  2013  2.8
 DeShaun Watson  2017  2.7
 Jay Cutler  2008  2.6
 Andrew Luck  2012  2.6
 Blaine Gabbert  2011  2.5
 Matthew Stafford  2009  2.4
 Cam Newton  2011  2.2
 Ryan Tannehill  2012  2.2
 Ben Roethlisberger  2004  2.1
 Sam Bradford  2010  2.1
 Carson Wentz  2016  2.1

This isn't a perfect measurement -- sacks per drop-back would be better, but for historical context would require film review of every snap each of these players took as a rookie, a task for which we don't have enough time. This total doesn't factor in the quality of the offensive line playing in front of the quarterback (Joey Harrington, for example, was sacked only 0.6 times per game in 2002). 

But it does back up what offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains brought up about Trubisky taking so many sacks.

"He's just gotta keep playing," Loggains said. "When you go back and look at it, look at Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, those guys took a lot of sacks early in their career. The part of what we're going through right now with Mitchell, and he is playing now, he has a knack for not turning the ball over and he's doing a good job with that. That's a huge plus. The next part of his game that will grow as he plays more is he'll start to take less and less sacks because he'll start to understand where check-downs are. A lot of young guys do this and he's learning a great lesson while taking care of the football."

(Rodgers took 2.1 sacks per game in 2008, his first year as a starter.)

Smith, since his rookie year, is averaging 2.5 sacks per game. Maybe the more encouraging example here is Mariota, who like Trubisky averaged 3.2 sacks per game his rookie year, but in 2016-2017, is averaging 1.4 sacks per game. Goff has only been sacked 1.4 times per game in his second year in the NFL. Even Bortles, despite a league-leading 51 sacks in 2015, is down to averaging 2.4 sacks per game since his rookie year. 

The point being: These things take time, but can be corrected with the benefit of experience seeing different NFL defenses. Trubisky not only knows he's taking too many sacks, but he knows why he's taking too many sacks. And that's at least a good starting point for improvement, too. 

"Ball security is very important so I'm just trying to take care of the football, but at the same time you want to stay aggressive and you could say the sacks are a result of that," Trubisky said. "I think the O-line has been playing their butt off and they've done a really good job in protection, so the sacks are more so me holding on to the football than a breakdown in protection. So they've been doing an awesome job, and I just have to continue to go through my progressions, get the ball out and find the check downs, and 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."

Can facing the Lions for the second time benefit Mitchell Trubisky?

USA Today

Can facing the Lions for the second time benefit Mitchell Trubisky?

The Bears’ trip to Detroit this weekend carries a little extra intrigue for Mitchell Trubisky, not only because he’s coming off the best game of his career but because it represents his first opportunity to play a team for the second time in a season. 

Trubisky completed 18 of 30 passes for 179 yards with a touchdown, 53 rushing yards and a lost fumble on Nov. 19 against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. It was a decent game for the rookie quarterback punctuated by his 19-yard scramble on fourth down that set up Connor Barth’s missed game-tying field goal. 

That game was always going to be something on which Trubisky could build going into Saturday’s date with the Lions at Ford Field, though it doesn’t necessarily give him an edge in facing the same defense twice, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. 

“There’s a record of how that defensive coordinator played you for the first time,” Loggains said. “… We get a lot of different coverages the first time playing a rookie quarterback, and with our run game, people trying to stop those things. Now for the first time he’s going to get to see a defensive coordinator twice. He’s obviously going to be able to study how they played him last time.”

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin — who’s been the recipient of some head coaching buzz — will likely give Trubisky a different look this weekend than he did in mid-November. But as opposed to Trubisky’s previous nine starts, in which defenses frequently showed him looks they hadn’t put on tape before, the Bears’ rookie will at least have a general idea of the tendencies of his opponent based on experience. 

For what it’s worth, Carson Wentz generally had more success when facing an opponent for the second time in a season as a rookie last year. His passer ratings in those six games against divisional opponents:

Washington: 77.7, 86.7
Dallas: 91.4, 93.7
New York: 64.5, 70.1

If the same happens for Trubisky on Saturday, it would represent another step in the right direction in his long-term growth. 

“It will be good because we’ve got a lot of film on them especially from the matchup we played them,” Trubisky said. “So preparation is very important this week, just getting a good tell on them, what they’ve been running.  So really first, second down and third down is going to be crucial. We want to stay on the field to again convert third downs and come away with more points. Last time a couple times the penalties got us and that one turnover. 

“So we’re just going to take care of the football and play our game and hopefully we can take all of the positives we did from the last game and carry them over to this game coming up.”

Devin Hester leaves more than Bears, NFL records behind


Devin Hester leaves more than Bears, NFL records behind

This isn’t about Devin Hester and the Hall of Fame (can we say, “gimme?” As longtime pigskin scribe Ira Miller once said of that standard, “If they wrote the history of pro football, would they have to mention you by name?” Hester, yes, obviously). It’s about the guy, one of the quiet gentle spirits you feel fortunate to have had come through your work life.

Like so many things, when you think of Devin Hester, you get a collection of snapshots, really fun ones in this case. Well, mostly fun; sometimes “fun” doesn’t totally apply when you’re thinking about the end of something that made your Bears Sundays, well, fun.

Snapshots like…

…knowing you didn’t leave the TV when punting situations came for opponents, or didn’t take too long getting back to your seat when Devin was going to return a kickoff. Those were plays when fans sometimes dawdled in the kitchen. Before Devin…

…the touchdown return to start the 2006 Super Bowl, one of those moments with an almost cartoon quality, the roadrunner moving like someone had hit the fast-forward button for one guy and left the other 21 on the field looking like they were running in peanut butter…

…talking to Devin about whether he could put into words a kind of genius that nobody else had. What did he see, what was he thinking as he made one of those returns that simply defied human physics. He thought for a second, then just sort of laughed and said simply, “I see colors. I run away from the ones that aren’t mine.” Simple, right?...

…the Bears announcing that GM Jerry Angelo had used a second-round pick in the 2006 draft on a cornerback out of Miami. Only Hester wasn’t really a cornerback, wasn’t really anything just because he could do so many things well – returner, DB, receiver, running back – that his coaches moved him around. So what did the Bears really get? That, no one could have remotely predicted…

…the emotion that included tears when Devin learned that the Bears had gotten rid of Lovie Smith, the only coach Hester had played for. When you think pro football as being just a business, guess again. Devin had to be talked out of quitting the game that day, and it really was never quite the same for him after that, in Atlanta, Baltimore or Seattle…

…how Devin took the shredding for his shortcomings as a receiver and heard how Smith and the coaches were blasted for making him into something he wasn’t. That wasn’t the whole story, of course; the Bears wanted the football in his hands more, Devin and his agent wanted to lift the money ceiling that came with being “just a returner,” so Angelo worked out a very fair deal that was back-loaded with escalators to pay Devin $10 million over each of the last two years of the contract if he hit certain performance triggers. He didn’t, but trashing the kid for wanting to grab for the brass ring never made sense…

…the fun factor. Devin would go back to receive a kickoff and every fan in the end zone seats of Soldier Field was standing. And Devin was having a ball with it, to the point where you absolutely knew that if Devin Hester decided to run instead into Lake Michigan, all he’d have to do would be wave his arm for all the kids to join him and they’d have followed the Pied Piper about anywhere he wanted to go…

that would include Canton.