Bears

Why the Bears' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky is working well

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USA Today

Why the Bears' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky is working well

The Bears’ gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky was controlled against the Baltimore Ravens, with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains only calling 20 passing plays on Sunday. And that’s hardly a problem. 

Not only did the Bears win with Trubisky mostly handing the ball off, but the gameplan accomplished a goal just as important for the future of the franchise. It was part of the slow, deliberate development of a rookie quarterback who only started 13 games in college and doesn’t have a big-time receiving target or two (like DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller) on which to lean. 

“I think they’re giving him a chance to develop,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “They’re not throwing him to the wolves. You can get out and have him throw 45 passes and get crushed, or you can do what you’re doing right now and be very methodical and very direct.

“…  If you ask a young guy to throw the ball 40 times and you expect to win, that’s going to be very difficult. So I think what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to develop this guy, shoot, believe me, I think the young man’s got a chance.” 

Beyond the playcalling Sunday — 50 runs between Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen — the design of the offense gave Trubisky the best chance to win the game. No quarterback had more time to throw in Week 6 than Trubisky (3.49 seconds, according to NFL Next Gen Stats), which makes sense given the rollouts and boots called for him. But for a rookie in Trubisky who needs improvement with blitz recognition, Loggains found a way to give him more time to scan the field and make a decision than any other quarterback last week. 

And what Trubisky did with all that time was not force anything. Only Green Bay’s Brett Hundley threw a lower percentage of aggressive passes (defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as when a defender is within one yard or less of a receiver at the time of completion or incompletion) than Trubisky, who only threw one of his 16 passes into tight coverage. That was a point of emphasis for the rookie six days after Harrison Smith baited him into a crippling interception. 

“Sometimes the best play is a throwaway,” Trubisky said. “So it’s just coming down to me learning, continue to stay aggressive; wanting to get a completion every time, but being smart and knowing when I need to throw the ball away and live to play another down.”

Loggias, in describing Trubisky, used the “M” word: 

“I thought he did a really good job managing the game and playing like he had to,” Loggains said. “He was still aggressive. He wasn’t, and I hate the term ‘manage’ but he was playing the way he needed to play to win that game.”

The Bears hoped Mike Glennon could be a game manager, of course. But the offensive strategy they’re deploying now isn’t necessarily the same as they one they used with Glennon — Trubisky has the ability to be a playmaker, as he showed when he evaded pressure and found Kendall Wright for a pivotal 18-yard completion in overtime. That was that aforementioned one pass he threw into tight coverage against the Ravens. 

But the Bears’ best skill position players are running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, unless a receiver emerges from the group of Tanner Gentry, Tre McBride, Josh Bellamy, an injured Markus Wheaton and Wright (the latter of whom Loggains said is at his best when he’s taking 25-30 snaps per game). The offensive line has improved with continuity over the last few weeks. This is a team that’s strength is in running the football, not in its quarterback play. 

Eventually, the Bears will open up the offense for Trubisky (getting a big-bodied receiver who can win against tight man coverage would help) as he gains experience, and the strength of the offense can be in its quarterback play. But if the goal is to bring a young quarterback along while giving the team a chance to win, then the offensive gameplan is working. 

“As a quarterback, you want to be throwing the ball, but as a competitor and leader of this team, you're going to do whatever it takes to win,” Trubisky said. “And if it's running the ball, if it's passing the ball, whatever it is, that's what we're going to do. I didn't feel any type of way at all about how many times we ran it, how many times we passed it, just excited to come away with the win and how we stuck together, and came away with that win, so it was awesome to see.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.