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
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||+/-|
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||+/-|
|Robert Griffin III||2012||102.4||82.2||-20.2|
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.