A double-digit win over a phoning-it-in Cincinnati Bengals team likely doesn’t change the direction of where John Fox’s future has been trending ever since the off week. But it does at least halt the slide for a few days, and for reasons far more important than the 33-7 score.
What Sunday’s game at Cincinnati spotlighted was the development of a rookie quarterback, and Mitch Trubisky’s day was what GM Ryan Pace had in mind when he made a draft gamble for someone with 13 college starts. It also was what the organization had in its fondest imaginings back at the beginning of October when the change was made from Mike Glennon to Trubisky.
This isn’t an especially easy situation to evaluate. For one thing, no single position in sports is more important than quarterback. For another, anything other than demonization of Fox invites dismissive scorn. Just a thought, though: If Fox has been criticized for stunting Trubisky’s growth, shouldn’t he get credit when Trubisky does grow? And for he and O-coordinator Dowell Loggains listening when the rookie spoke up that he was ready to open up his game up more?
Maybe the decision on Fox, Loggains and the staff after this season already has been made. That’s speculation, and three more performances like Sunday’s couldn’t be disregarded. But that’s actually not the main point of Sunday. Trubisky is.
Grading on a QB curve
Trubisky and GM Ryan Pace are destined for careers of comparisons with Deshaun Watson. But Trubisky after nine NFL starts compares favorably with some of the more celebrated young quarterbacks whose careers his will coincide with.
Just for purposes of loose perspective: Trubisky now has upped his passer rating on the season to 80.0, with a yards-per-attempt at a respectable 6.7. Jared Goff’s rookie season ended with numbers of 63.6 and 5.3. Carson Wentz, 79.3 and 6.2.
Marcus Mariota, No. 2-overall in 2015, finished at 91.5 and 7.6. So if Pace wants to second-guess himself about not paying a draft ransom to pry that pick away from Tennessee, at least he has the satisfaction of being right about his take on Mariota.
But Trubisky has impressed a veteran coach who doesn’t impress easily, particularly with rookies.
“I think he’s prepared hard since he’s gotten here,” Fox said on Monday. “Like anything in any walk of life, it takes a minute and some repetitions to get it all figured out. Developing an NFL schedule, it’s completely different than college – what to look at, how to do it, how to study, how to prepare. And then the in-game experience – there’s little tiny things… .
“You can talk about those and stress in situational practice. But until they happen to you, it’s important. You’re going to make mistakes in every game but it’s not making the same ones, and that’s what really impresses me about Mitch.”
Maybe Fox is and has been stumping for his and his coaches’ jobs. Then again, maybe the jobs being done aren’t as bad as the record, because an individual player and his development actually can be critiqued separately from the whole.
The drumbeat of scathing criticism directed at coordinator Dowell Loggains, and by extension at Fox, has to some degree missed the point. It has centered on a supposed unwillingness to expand the realm of the possible for Trubisky. Given that Loggains last year oversaw an offense that was 61 percent pass, and that with a QB musical-chairs of Jay Cutler/Brian Hoyer/Matt Barkley, this has bordered on the laughable, probably born more out of antipathy toward anything connected with Fox.
Does anyone seriously believe Fox and Loggains, whose offense averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt last season – among the Bears’ highest over the last 20 years – would suddenly choose to go to just dink-and-dunk when they’ve been handed a potential sharpshooter’s rifle in Trubisky? Maybe the reason the Bears have been conservative with Trubisky lies elsewhere, as last year when the offense was late “discovering” Jordan Howard when the real story was that the young man just wasn’t in whole-game shape early on.
Airing it out is more than a little problematic when confronted with protection issues. The Bears were top-12 in sacks per pass attempt when Trubisky took over for Mike Glennon. Since then, with a transient offensive line, backs with blitz-pickup shortcomings, receivers with limited separation skills and a rookie sorting through progressions and defensive schemes, the Bears have slipped into the mid-20’s.
Trubisky was sacked twice in 34 drop-backs by the injury-riddled Bengals, compared with the one every nine drops he’d taken before Sunday.
Not surprisingly, Trubisky averaged 8.5 yards per attempt against Cincinnati. Only six of his 32 attempts went to running backs (19 percent). Against San Francisco, 40 percent of his 15 throws went toward backs. The chief reason for Trubisky’s effectiveness, and why Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen were combining for 227 rush yards, was right in front of them.
“It all starts up front,” Fox said. “Not taking anything away from any of the skill guys, but whether it’s pass protection or its run blocking, I think that all starts and finishes up front. Our front had a good day.”