Bears

View from the Moon: Defense says Bears getting 'Pretty Boy Assassin' in QB Mitch Trubisky

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USA TODAY

View from the Moon: Defense says Bears getting 'Pretty Boy Assassin' in QB Mitch Trubisky

What are the Bears getting in Mitch Trubisky? It depends a little on who you talk to.

A smile crept over Leonard Floyd’s face as the outside linebacker reflected on what the Bears had installed as their new starting quarterback. Since the end of training camp, Floyd and the defense has seen Mitch Trubisky running Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Atlanta plays against them as quarterback of the scout team. And Floyd had a name for what was moving in under center for his team’s offense.

“You can call him ‘The Pretty Boy Assassin,’” Floyd said. (And since all quarterbacks are “Pretty Boys” to defensive guys, consider this high praise.)

Like Aaron Rodgers once did as Brett Favre’s backup in Green Bay, taking the No. 1 defense to the shed occasionally in his role as scout-team quarterback, Trubisky did run the upcoming-opponent’s plays as drawn up on the cards. But a predator gene periodically kicked in and Trubisky pushed the envelope at the defense’s expense, with a throw or mobile play that was beyond what the cards called for.

And he didn’t mind letting them know it.

“He’s competitive, really competitive, but with a smile on his face.,” said Floyd, shaking his head. “He’ll beat you, then be walking back to the huddle, look over and just smile at you. He’ll beat you with a smile on his face.”

Trubisky’s work as scout-team quarterback accelerated his development. And didn’t do any damage to his confidence, either.

“He’s got a lotta [swagger]. I like his swag’, his demeanor,” Floyd said. “He’ll rip you but he’s got control of the offense. He’ll switch cadences, do stuff you’re not expecting, make plays.”

The result has been a quarterback developing even outside of his own offense. And the defense, which has faced four teams with a combined 11-4 record for 2017, three of which (Atlanta, Green Bay, Pittsburgh) ranked in the top 10 in scoring last season, stands No. 8 in yardage allowed per game.

“It’s pretty advantageous for a defense to have a scout-team offense that’s willing to compete and make you better,” said defensive end Akiem Hicks. “That’s why the guys are there, to give you good ‘looks’ and push you as well as help you prepare.

“So anytime somebody’s being competitive against you, that’s a great thing.”

With a touch of “assassin” sprinkled in.

“[Trubisky] is not being nice,” Floyd clarified. “He’s got a smile on his face but he’s really trying to beat you.”
Pit bulls have a “smile” on their faces, too.

“Exactly,” Floyd said.

All that is attitude. But beyond practice swag’, can he play?

What the Bears are getting with Trubisky in terms of quarterback skill set is arguably unlike any quarterback they have fielded in the last 30 years, maybe longer. Not automatically better, just…unlike.

None of the No. 1’s over the past three-plus decades – Rex Grossman, Cade McNown, Jim Harbaugh, Jim McMahon – have come with the mix of athleticism, arm strength, footspeed and overall command. Include Jay Cutler in that batch, with many of the physical skills that have distinguished Trubisky, particularly the arm strength but command-lite. Down the draft list – Kyle Orton? Craig KrenzelMosesMorenoWillFurrerNathanEnderleDanLeFevourDavidFalesPaulJustinPeterTomWillis? Nope.

Two specifics here:

First: Defensive players have remarked that Trubisky’s ball comes out “hot” – not so much in terms of just speed, but more in terms of sudden. Where Cutler’s decision-making was (and still is) an issue, waiting a split-second longer to throw believing the arm strength would make up the time, Trubisky has impressed with decisiveness. Accuracy at the NFL game level, where the receivers and defensive backs move at speeds Trubisky hasn’t experienced live yet, will of course be a work in progress.

Second: The combination of footspeed and quick-twitch projects to mobile pockets, rollouts, read-options and so forth. But there’s a possible catch.

Trubisky’s quickness within and escaping the pocket with buy time and extend plays, adding time to his protections. He was sacked 20 times in 467 pass plays last season. But he also averaged 7.2 rushes per game last season. The obvious question is, when he gets flushed or breaks the pocket, is he still looking downfield a’la Aaron Rodgers? Or is he Michael Vick and mentally a runner at that point, which gets rushing yards but not big completions on broken plays?

At this point, he has the right answer. “When things break down, I’m able to make plays and again get the ball to my playmakers. Because I’m not the best athlete on the field. There are other guys who do that. But when things can break down I can maybe make something happen.”

And really, that’s the idea here.

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

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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

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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.