Why Mitchell Trubisky can ‘raise all boats’ during the growing pains of his rookie year

Why Mitchell Trubisky can ‘raise all boats’ during the growing pains of his rookie year

The idea that Mitchell Trubisky can “raise all boats,” in John Fox parlance, was a theory about the No. 2 overall pick during offseason workouts and training camp. On Monday night, that theory became based in reality: Bears players felt like Trubisky made them better, though it didn’t lead to necessarily cleaner play.

But how Tre McBride III, who got his first significant action (43 offensive snaps) on Monday, described what Trubisky brought to the team is telling:

“As far as I was concerned, I felt his confidence and I bought into that and it drove me to get my confidence where it needed to be,” McBride said. “And that’s really important as a quarterback, as a leader of the offense, that your confidence is able to be seen by your counterparts. That’s what I definitely recognize.”

McBride only recorded one catch on one official target, but he had a spectacular 26-yard reception — that would’ve moved the Bears to the Minnesota Vikings’ 9-yard line — that was wiped out by a Cody Whitehair holding penalty. He nearly reeled in a Trubisky deep ball in the second quarter, only to have offensive pass interference called against him (“it was the last thing I was expecting,” McBride said of that flag).

That energy Trubisky provided didn’t lead to a win or even a good stat line (12/25, 128 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). But it’s part of the reason the Bears are confident in what Trubisky can do even as he works through some of the growing pains of being a rookie quarterback.

The first teaching point for Trubisky: He doesn’t need to make a big play when facing a first-and-10 deep in his own territory with the game tied late in the fourth quarter.

“He's got to play,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “And you have to understand situational football. It’s first-and-10, you don't need to make that play. You're on the edge and I do love the fact that he's aggressive, but it’s first-and-10, understand the situation, we're backed up, let's be smart, let's find a completion, let's get to our check down, let's run gets what we can and get out of bounds, that's really the biggest thing that you talk to him about.”

Trubisky still is learning how much tighter the windows are in the NFL compared to college and what plays he can and can’t make anymore. But the Bears also don’t want to coach the aggressiveness out of a quarterback who last week described himself as having a “gunslinger” mentality.

The good news: Trubisky doesn’t sound like someone who’s losing that aggressiveness anytime soon.

“You can’t be scared,” Trubisky said. “You’ve just got to think every time the ball’s in your hand that it’s going to be a completion, my guy’s going to come down with it, so when you’re extending plays you’re not thinking negatively. You’re being aggressive and you’re playing the game.”

Plays like the interception and the near-26-yard completion to McBride are all part of the learning process for Trubisky. As he continues to gain experience, the Bears are confident he’ll continue to show progress — all while elevating the play of everyone around him.

“He can create things, he can make people around him better and he’s only going to be able to keep doing that,” tight end Zach Miller said.

Bears play 'designer' game in mauling of Bengals, now what does it mean for the big picture?

Bears play 'designer' game in mauling of Bengals, now what does it mean for the big picture?

A week after playing the kind of football game that gets coaches fired, the Bears almost inexplicably produced one that ranks as exactly the type their organization has wanted to see from players and coaches in a season on the employment brink for John Fox.

The Bears’ 33-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals was an afternoon rife with signs of progress, particularly notable because it came from a team with nothing to play for and came at the expense of a team that actually did have at least a mathematical something at stake.

Not to even remotely say that this was a game that changed the job forecast for Fox, which still has time to play out, only that if the Bears somehow manage to string together a closing four games like this… well, no point getting that hypothetical at this juncture. But one team played on Sunday like it wanted its coach gone and the other like it wants its coach back, and they weren’t as expected.

(Just for sake of argument: If the Bears now play this kind of game against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, how will you feel about John Fox coaching Chicago for the fourth and final year of his contract? Just sayin’…)

All of this came at the expense of a Cincinnati team missing virtually the entire back end of its defense and with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins hobbled. But this is what you are supposed to do to a shaky, shaken team, and it is what the Bears didn’t do to a San Francisco or a Green Bay. You can only beat the team in front of you that day and the Bears, for the third time against a team from the powerful AFC North division this year, did that. Emphatically.

What the organization does with this in evaluating Fox is still weeks away and not really worth the analysis exercise right now. But it was a statement game, one where the Bears played well and hard for 60 minutes, for any number of individuals, beginning with Mitch Trubisky as the rookie evinced the kind of development that the franchise has prayed for from its young quarterback ever since GM Ryan Pace deemed him worth trading up on draft day to ensure landing.

Call this a “designer” game – a 100-yard rusher (Jordan Howard with two touchdowns and 147 yards, pushing him past 1,000 yards for the season), a 100-yard receiver (Kendall Wright, 10 catches for 107 yards, and a quarterback who both managed the game and shredded the defense (Trubisky, 25 for 32, 271 yards, a touchdown pass and touchdown run, no interceptions and a rating of 112.4.

The 482 yards of offense are the second-highest output (after 522 in a 2016 loss at Indianapolis) in the Fox era.

The defense collected two takeaways (an interception and fumble grab by rookie safety Eddie Jackson) while the offense had zero turnovers. That second part has been of marginal value this season, with the Bears an undistinguished 2-2 in games when they’ve managed no giveaways. But ball security has been a prime directive for Trubisky since coaches turned the game over to him and Sunday’s effort left him with just those four interceptions in 225 attempts, a pick percentage of 1.8 and completion percentage climbing to 58 percent.

Game plan pyrotechnics

The game plan and result do make for an interesting dichotomy for critics. The Bears have to run the football to win, and yet when O-coordinator Dowell Loggains runs the football, he’s pilloried for being too conservative and shackling Trubisky.

This time Loggains was able to formulate and direct a game plan that had balance – 38 runs, 34 pass plays – and a complete spectrum of formations that included a wildcat run by Tarik Cohen, a read-option touchdown run by Trubisky, and passes to open six of the Bears 11 possessions.

The Bears piled up 256 yards in the first half after a combined total of 287 for the last two games. 

What had to be concerning is that, while Trubisky had thrown just four interceptions over the span of his first eight starts, he also had connected on just five touchdown passes (six if the Zach Miller non-catch travesty is included). And as WBBM and WSCR observer Zach Zaidman compiled, the offense had gotten into the red zone only nine – nine – times in eight games under Trubisky.

This time the Bears drove into the red zone five times and came away with points three of those times. Add in Howard’s first touchdown run for 21 yards and the overall is the sort of sustained consistent offense that wins football games.

The Bears didn’t go a possession without notching at least one first down until deep into the fourth quarter when they were up 33-7.

Six different players had plays gaining 10 yards or more and the Bears had 10 plays longer than 15 yards. Last week, the Bears had one play longer than 15 yards. Against Philadelphia, three. Against Detroit, one of the only three other times they scored 20-plus points this season, six.

“We put the past behind us and [focused on] one drive at a time,” Trubisky said. “We had a great week of practice, and I feel like that just trickled [down] throughout the week with positive energy. The guys just came together and we were able to make a lot of plays today.

“We weren’t going to dwell on the past and what we didn’t do. We can learn from our mistakes, and it allowed us to be more effective today.”

And it all means…what?

The positives speak for themselves, but mean precious little if this game, with its largest Bears winning margin since they beat Jacksonville by 38 and Tennessee by 31 in 2012, isn’t followed by another progress game, then another, and then one more at Minnesota.

The Bears have delivered false positives on multiple occasions this season, in the form of wins over Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Carolina, none of which ultimately meant much of anything because of what followed. The Carolina win was followed by five straight losses that rocked the franchise just as it felt as if a turnaround might be starting.

Now, no one really knows what to expect.

“What’s been frustrating for me and the coaches is that a lot of us have had our day in the sun, but to see young guys come in, and work hard, and not reap those benefits,” Fox said. “I thought Mitch Trubisky played very well last week [vs. San Francisco]. When you don’t experience the end result that’s a ‘W,’ it’s hard to put much into that. I’ve seen him grow every week he’s been out there since all the way back to Minnesota.

“It’s just kind of nice to see some of those young guys experience the benefits of all that hard work.”

Under Center Podcast: How important was Bears' blowout win over Bengals?


Under Center Podcast: How important was Bears' blowout win over Bengals?

Where has that game plan been all season!?

Laurence Holmes, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down the Bears' 33-7 win over the Bengals on Sunday.

Mitchell Trubisky had his best game as a Bear as Jordan Howard continued to change the franchise’s record books.

Plus, Adam Shaheen and Kyle Fuller had big performances that could cement them as part of the Bears future which starts this Saturday with the division-rival Lions.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: