Bears

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

All of the Mitch Truisky expectation qualifiers have been installed — no magic wand for the offense, only 13 college starts, not out of a pro-style system at North Carolina, and so on and so on. But irrespective of any pressure on the job statuses of GM Ryan Pace or coach John Fox, the expectations of the rookie quarterback over the next season-and-a-half or so should be more, far more, not less.

The reason lies in one of those things that run counter to most conventional-wisdom assumptions about quarterbacking in the NFL. The Bears hope, in the deepest corners of the franchise, that it continues.

That “it” is the strong — as in “near”- or actual “playoff-grade” — play of quarterbacks within their first three and often fewer seasons, a time frame which was once the norm and still is arguably preferred. Aaron Rodgers sat several years behind Brett Favre after arriving as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 draft choice in 2005 (20 picks after the Bears had grabbed Cedric Benson), and “I was very thankful for the opportunity, now as I look back, to grow,” Rodgers said before the Bears game this year.

But in an era when defenses have become increasingly sophisticated, and numbers of top college quarterbacks are coming out of spread offenses and systems far from “pro style,” quarterbacks have had positive impacts with increasing suddenness.

Consider some case studies from the last several years:

Player | Team | Drafted | Result

Teddy Bridgewater | Vikings | 2014 | 2015 NFC North champions

Jared Goff | Rams | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC West, current No. 3-ranked passer in 2017

Robert Griffin III | Redskins | 2012 | NFC East champions, rookie season

Andrew Luck | Colts | 2012 | Playoffs first 3 seasons

Dak Prescott | Cowboys | 2016 | NFC East champions in 2016

Carson Wentz | Eagles | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC East

Jameis Winston | Bucs | 2015 | 2-14 Bucs in 2014 were 6-10 in 2015 and 9-7 last season

Success is far from automatic, and to some extent lies in the eye of the beholder and has a time element. “Everybody was calling Goff a bust sometimes last season,” said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with his hand on the Trubisky steering wheel and throttle. “And the teams around the guys are obviously enormous factors.”

To wit: Goff went No. 1 overall, usually a spot belonging to the most woeful team from the previous year. But he went to a Rams team coming off a 7-9 season that dumped its draft to move up from 15th for him. Likewise, Wentz went to a 7-9 team (Philadelphia) that traded up. These weren’t Peyton Manning going to 3-13 Indianapolis and Ryan Leaf to 4-12 San Diego (1998).

But Luck was the No. 1-overall pick by an Indianapolis team that went 3-13 in 2011, then 11-5 in Luck’s first year. Washington was 5-11 in 2011, then 10-6 and NFC East champions in RGIII’s rookie season.

Trubisky has gone to a 3-13 team, one with among the least productive groups of wide receivers in the NFL. On the other hand, after Troy Brown, name two other New England Patriots wide receivers from their early Super Bowls.

Note to the rookie: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools (see: Jay Cutler).

And Tom Brady had started zero games and thrown all of 3 passes, 2 incomplete, as a rookie backup on a 5-11 Patriots team in 2000 before starting in relief of Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

But the game and the players, particularly the quarterbacks have changed.

“In 2005, I don’t think the quarterbacks were as ready to play as maybe some of the guys are now,” Rodgers said. “There’s better coaching, better awareness, there’s better coaching at a younger level. If you’re not in a ‘raise-you-foot-up, look-the-sideline, let-the-coach-call-the-play offense,’ you’re doing some more stuff now at the college level.”

All the Bears ask is for Trubisky to do more stuff now at the NFL level.

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

12-15mattstaffordnickkwit.jpg
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

12-15mitchelltrubisky.jpg
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.