Bears

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

The Bears are hurtling toward another last-place finish in the NFC North, and Mitchell Trubisky is 2-4 as the team’s starting quarterback after Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. But talk to any of Trubisky’s teammates and it's clear they believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for this team, and it’s because of the bright future their quarterback has.

“He’s still young right now, a little green,” offensive lineman Bobby Massie said. "But he’s getting better every week, man.”

Explained fellow offensive lineman Kyle Long: “Just his poise and sense of urgency, at the end of the game to have the wherewithal to make the throws he’s making. Obviously it’s not all perfect — he’s a young quarterback in this league — but he has the confidence and trust of the guys around him. And that’s a rare thing in this league to have.”

Massie, like Long, also used the word “rare” in describing Trubisky, a guy who’s only started 20 games since leaving Mentor High School in 2013 (13 games at North Carolina, one in the preseason and six in the regular season). Massie, Long and the rest of the Bears’ locker room know how good Trubisky can be — or maybe, the way they’re thinking, will be — despite some uneven games this year.

The flashes of what the No. 2 overall pick can do keep on showing up, like that 18-yard jump pass to Kendall Wright that set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens, or his instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 on Sunday that set up a game-tying 46-yard field-goal attempt that Barth missed.

“That’s his mentality — y’all got to see his mentality,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “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.”

On the other hand, there were still some missed throws and reads for Trubisky (like not connecting with Benny Cunningham on a check-down five yards from the end zone in the first quarter) that serve as a reminder of his greenhorn status.

But it’s what Trubisky has done before and after those highlight or lowlight-reel plays that’s building a groundswell of confidence in him among his teammates.

The Bears got the ball on their own 17-yard line with 91 seconds left in the fourth quarter needing a field goal to tie the Lions on Sunday. When Trubisky entered the huddle, he was calm and confident — same as he was in the first quarter of the game, when the stakes weren't so high.

“He came to huddle and told everybody, 'Calm down, we’re going to win this game,'" wide receiver Dontrelle Inman said. “And that’s what the greats do. There’s no up and down with the emotional level when it comes time to actually go win the game. That’s a plus for him.

“He’s a competitor, and you see it week in and week out. He’s never going to give up. That’s the quarterback you want to be with you and throwing you the ball.”

That Trubisky’s teammates have so much confidence in him — despite the Bears’ 3-7 record — is a significant positive for his long-term development (that he’s only thrown one interception in his last 120 pass attempts is another positive). On Sunday, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains seemed to have more confidence in Trubisky, too, with the pair opening up the playbook and leading to the Bears having their best offensive game of the season.

That trust might not lead to a lot of wins this year. It might not be enough to keep the current coaching staff in place. But the way Trubisky’s teammates talk about him, they don’t see any hurdles the rookie can’t clear on his way to becoming a legit franchise quarterback.

“It’s rare and it’s the start of something special that we get to see,” Massie said. “Hopefully — I can’t predict the f***ing future — but from this point on, it looks like he’s going to be a special player.”

Bears-Lions aftershocks: Trubisky's 'best game,' per John Fox

Bears-Lions aftershocks: Trubisky's 'best game,' per John Fox

The past several weeks coach John Fox has noted the progress that rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky has made. Monday it was naming the 20-10 loss to Detroit as Trubisky’s best game, which Trubisky himself didn’t entirely agree with or dispute.

“Yeah, uh, you try and look at the process, not the outcome,” Trubisky said. “I got better in some areas, but obviously we’ve got to take care of the football to give my team the best chance to win. Did some things well, got better in some areas but the turnovers hurt us and that’s what really kept us out of the game. So, it’s good to see me get better, but we want to have a chance to win every single game.”

Give the kid points for straight-up accountability, and he later detailed some of the specifics such as footwork or where he forced a throw.

And cynically, the best-game thing might be a little of Fox sending a message upstairs that he and his staff have done some good work developing the rookie franchise quarterback. That’s actually a fair self-appraisal; Fox may be core-conservative to a fault, but he also had to make do for two years with Jay Cutler, plus a sprinkling of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.

Fox is a decidedly extreme longshot to avoid dismissal two weeks from Monday, and the development of Trubisky – four of his last six starts have produced passer ratings of 88 or higher – is perhaps the only significant positive in favor of his staff.

“When you go back and look at the tape, you go through the mechanics, you go through just the decision-making, there was really a lot of good that Mitch did,” Fox assessed. “Everybody looks at the box score they see the three picks. But it was probably arguably his best game.

“I think the thing that's impressive about Mitch is you know in a couple of situations where we might not have been lined up right, he corrected it. We had a situation where a guy was lined up wrong; he corrected it. Three, four weeks ago I'm not sure that happens. You know there was a couple of throws where I mean mechanically he's really sound, he's staring down the barrel with somebody right in his face and he drills a completion on third-and-18. So there was really a lot of good. I know the result is not what everybody wants, I understand that but as far as his growth and his maturation I thought probably his best game as far as just him goes.”

Some just-wondering odds and ends… .

How concerned should anyone be that the Green Bay Packers were 3-4 (win-pct. .428) with Brett Hundley, while the Bears are 3-7 (.300) behind Mitch Trubisky? Not sure if that says as much about either of the two first-time NFL starters as it does the talent base around each, which was certainly the question after the Bears’ loss to the Packers after the off-week… .

Any perceived gap between Bears and Browns is problematic. The Bears have lost three games by three or fewer points; the Browns have lost four. The Bears lost to Green Bay by seven points the last time they met; the Browns lost to the Packers by six and made the Packers go to overtime to beat them. Both losses were to the Hundley Packers and were home games.

‘Splain it to me, Lucy

As far as the catch rule is concerned (and no, I do not understand its application), just wondering:

Why does a receiver have to “survive the ground” as per NFL SVP of Officiating Al Riveron said in justifying the overturn of Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James’ TD catch vs. New England, but a quarterback or running back stretching to, say, the pylon not have to hold onto the football until after impact?

James and Dez Bryant, among too many others, had control of the football long enough and securely enough to make a football move, as in stretching to reach the goal line. That should be enough to establish enough “possession” to establish control, which should stop mattering once the player has broken the plane of the goal line, or in Bryant’s case vs. the Packers once upon an NFL time. Why can the ground not cause a fumble outside the end zone but be part of an incompletion inside the end zone?

“Umm, I'd be hard-pressed [to explain the catch-rule],” Fox said, fairly avoiding outright criticism that could get him fined. “Every time I turn on the TV or watch plays… we've made it interesting, for sure.”

And on the subject of “Huh?” – why is hands-to-the-face an infraction when done by, say, an offensive or defensive lineman, but not when a running back bends a defender’s head back with a stiff-arm?

Bears film breakdown: How Mitchell Trubisky's worst interception with the Bears happened

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Bears film breakdown: How Mitchell Trubisky's worst interception with the Bears happened

Mitchell Trubisky threw a career high three interceptions in Saturday's 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions, so from that perspective, it was the worst game of his career. 

Coach John Fox disputed that thought on Monday, though, making the case that Trubisky actually played his best game with the Bears last weekend. That statement may have been directed at the folks responsible for deciding whether or not he'll get a fourth year in Chicago, but it does have some merit in some of the operational things that don't show up in the stat sheet. 

Still, three intereptions are hard to get past, especially for a coaching staff that first and foremost has worked to drill ball security into the head of their No. 2 overall pick. 

Trubisky's first interception came when he overthrew Kendall Wright while rolling to his left, the product of nothing more than an inaccurate pass. That's something that can be cleaned up, as was his third pick, which came when he and tight end Daniel Brown weren't on the same page on a last-ditch drive late in the fourth quarter. 

But the second interception he threw was particularly disappointing given 1) the situation and 2) how it happened. 

Facing a third-and-goal from the five-yard line, with the Bears down by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, this is what Trubisky saw: 

Dontrelle Inman (red arrow) is matched up in man coverage against cornerback Darius Slay. Safety Quandre Diggs (yellow arrow) is at the front of the end zone, and will drop back to assist Slay in coverage. At the bottom of the screen, Kendall Wright, Daniel Brown and Dion Sims are in a bunch formation, with Benny Cunningham as the lone running back next to Trubisky. 

Trubisky receives the snap, and Diggs holds his ground as Inman begins his route (red circle). Brown (green arrow) will run across the face of linebacker Tahir Whitehead toward the far sideline. 

Diggs took his first step back before Trubisky began his throwing motion, while Whitehead briefly engages with Brown. Trubisky, though, doesn't see Diggs, and thinks Inman is being manned up by only Slay as he cuts toward the back middle of the end zone. 

Diggs easily steps in front of the pass and picks it off. Sims (black circle) was doubled in the end zone, leaving Brown (grene circle), Wright (off screen) and Cunningham (below the green circle) as the players in one-on-one man coverage on this play. 

 

"Yeah, I just lost (Diggs) in my vision," Trubisky said Saturday. "I thought I had ‘Trelle in the back of the end zone. Kind of just forced one there. Good coverage and call by them and I just gotta throw the ball away so we can get a field goal and not force it."

Playing armchair quarterback for a bit, perhaps Trubisky could've slid to his left away from some pressure and thrown Brown's direction. While Whitehead still could've broke up the pass, he probably wouldn't have picked it off and the Bears would've at least managed a field goal. With the benefit of film review, Trubisky offered this analysis of the interception on Monday:

"Forced throw," he said. "Forced throw. The DB did a good job baiting me into it and they covered everything else pretty well. I saw something on the field that really wasn't there when you go back and watch it on film."

But we'll end this with a more positive thought: Throws like this one are a reminder that Trubisky has started 24 games since high school (13 at North Carolina, one in the preseason, 10 in the regular season). Most rookie quarterbacks started at least 26 games in college, or two full regular seasons with bowl games ending each. 

Through that lens, the most important thing for Trubisky in 2017 is gaining the experience to pair with his talent, which showed up on a few throws Saturday, too (like his 22-yarder to Markus Wheaton while staring down a biltz). There's a lot that Trubisky hasn't experienced yet. This interception was the first he's thrown on 1) third down and 2) in the end zone. He'll learn from it as the game continues to slow down for him toward the end of his rookie year. 

"I would say on some plays definitely, and on other plays not," Trubisky said when asked if the game is getting slower for him. "You could definitely see it in my footwork when I'm drifting when I don't need to or when my feet are calm and I'm moving through my progressions very smoothly. You can tell which plays it's slower and which plays it's not.

"I'm definitely progressing and you want to see the games continue to get slower for me as it goes because then you're just dissecting defenses and you're in a rhythm going right down the field. Some plays it is, some plays it's not and the more I'm able to slow it down the more success I'll have going forward."