Bears

Will Mitch Trubisky make a start soon? History is on his side...

Will Mitch Trubisky make a start soon? History is on his side...

The question of when Mitchell Trubisky would make his first career start was always going to be a storyline this year, but Mike Glennon’s rough showing in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought it to the forefront of Bears-centric debate this week. 

Coach John Fox doesn’t want to deal in hypotheticals, and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains shot down a question Wednesday about if Trubisky was taking snaps with the first-team offense in practice: “Mike Glennon is the starter.”

But when will Glennon not be the starter and give way to Trubisky? History shows you might want to circle Week 5 or Week 6 for Trubisky’s debut. 

Since 1997, there have been 33 quarterbacks taken in the first 10 picks of that year’s NFL Draft (we’re using top 10 here as a rough cutoff point for drafting a guy expected to be the future of the franchise). Trubisky and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes haven’t played yet. Among the 31 quarterbacks who have played, three waited at least one year to make their first start (Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Jake Locker). Of the 28 remaining quarterbacks, there’s an even split: 14 started from Game 1 of their rookie year and 14 made their first starts sometime between Games 2 and 17. 

Of those 14 quarterbacks who didn’t start immediately, they on average made their first start in their team’s sixth game of the season, which for the Bears would be Oct. 15's trip to face the Baltimore Ravens. The median of that group is Week 5, which is the Bears' home Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings. 

Interestingly enough, none of them started their first game immediately after a bye week or even with an extra day of rest (i.e. the week of a Monday Night Football game). The Bears have 11 days off between facing Green Bay on Thursday, Sept. 28 and Minnesota on Monday, Oct. 9. 

Quarterback Draft year (pick) First start game # QB rating
Tim Couch 1999 (1) 2 73.2
Donovan McNabb 1999 (2) 7 60.1
Akili Smith 1999 (3) 5 55.6
Michael Vick 2001 (1) 8 62.7
Joey Harrington 2002 (3) 3 59.9
Byron Leftwich 2003 (7) 3 73.0
Eli Manning 2004 (1) 10 55.4
Alex Smith 2005 (1) 5 40.8
Vince Young 2006 (3) 4 66.7
Matt Leinart 2006 (10) 5 74.0
JaMarcus Russell 2007 (1) 16 55.9
Blaine Gabbert 2011 (10) 3 65.4
Blake Bortles  2014 (3) 4 69.5
Jared Goff 2016 (1) 10 63.6

Most of these quarterbacks didn’t have success parachuting in during the middle of a season — the highest quarterback rating among the group (Matt Leinart’s 74.0) is lower than the average quarterback rating for the 14 players who were starters from Week 1 (75.4). The three quarterbacks who waited at least a year to start had an average quarterback rating of 81.1, though that’s a small sample size. 

Among the last 10 top-10-picked quarterbacks, only two made their starting debuts in the middle of a season — Blake Bortles in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ fourth game and Jared Goff in the Los Angeles’ Rams 10th game — while Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz started from Week 1 (Locker is the 10th guy here and started his first game a year after being drafted). So Trubisky, in not starting immediately for the Bears, would be somewhat of an outlier in recent history.

The Bears will have to hope that Trubisky is an outlier, too, in terms of initial success among quarterbacks who make their debuts mid-season, too. 

Bears film breakdown: How Mitchell Trubisky's worst interception with the Bears happened

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Bears film breakdown: How Mitchell Trubisky's worst interception with the Bears happened

Mitchell Trubisky threw a career high three interceptions in Saturday's 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions, so from that perspective, it was the worst game of his career. 

Coach John Fox disputed that thought on Monday, though, making the case that Trubisky actually played his best game with the Bears last weekend. That statement may have been directed at the folks responsible for deciding whether or not he'll get a fourth year in Chicago, but it does have some merit in some of the operational things that don't show up in the stat sheet. 

Still, three intereptions are hard to get past, especially for a coaching staff that first and foremost has worked to drill ball security into the head of their No. 2 overall pick. 

Trubisky's first interception came when he overthrew Kendall Wright while rolling to his left, the product of nothing more than an inaccurate pass. That's something that can be cleaned up, as was his third pick, which came when he and tight end Daniel Brown weren't on the same page on a last-ditch drive late in the fourth quarter. 

But the second interception he threw was particularly disappointing given 1) the situation and 2) how it happened. 

Facing a third-and-goal from the five-yard line, with the Bears down by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, this is what Trubisky saw: 

Dontrelle Inman (red arrow) is matched up in man coverage against cornerback Darius Slay. Safety Quandre Diggs (yellow arrow) is at the front of the end zone, and will drop back to assist Slay in coverage. At the bottom of the screen, Kendall Wright, Daniel Brown and Dion Sims are in a bunch formation, with Benny Cunningham as the lone running back next to Trubisky. 

Trubisky receives the snap, and Diggs holds his ground as Inman begins his route (red circle). Brown (green arrow) will run across the face of linebacker Tahir Whitehead toward the far sideline. 

Diggs took his first step back before Trubisky began his throwing motion, while Whitehead briefly engages with Brown. Trubisky, though, doesn't see Diggs, and thinks Inman is being manned up by only Slay as he cuts toward the back middle of the end zone. 

Diggs easily steps in front of the pass and picks it off. Sims (black circle) was doubled in the end zone, leaving Brown (grene circle), Wright (off screen) and Cunningham (below the green circle) as the players in one-on-one man coverage on this play. 

 

"Yeah, I just lost (Diggs) in my vision," Trubisky said Saturday. "I thought I had ‘Trelle in the back of the end zone. Kind of just forced one there. Good coverage and call by them and I just gotta throw the ball away so we can get a field goal and not force it."

Playing armchair quarterback for a bit, perhaps Trubisky could've slid to his left away from some pressure and thrown Brown's direction. While Whitehead still could've broke up the pass, he probably wouldn't have picked it off and the Bears would've at least managed a field goal. With the benefit of film review, Trubisky offered this analysis of the interception on Monday:

"Forced throw," he said. "Forced throw. The DB did a good job baiting me into it and they covered everything else pretty well. I saw something on the field that really wasn't there when you go back and watch it on film."

But we'll end this with a more positive thought: Throws like this one are a reminder that Trubisky has started 24 games since high school (13 at North Carolina, one in the preseason, 10 in the regular season). Most rookie quarterbacks started at least 26 games in college, or two full regular seasons with bowl games ending each. 

Through that lens, the most important thing for Trubisky in 2017 is gaining the experience to pair with his talent, which showed up on a few throws Saturday, too (like his 22-yarder to Markus Wheaton while staring down a biltz). There's a lot that Trubisky hasn't experienced yet. This interception was the first he's thrown on 1) third down and 2) in the end zone. He'll learn from it as the game continues to slow down for him toward the end of his rookie year. 

"I would say on some plays definitely, and on other plays not," Trubisky said when asked if the game is getting slower for him. "You could definitely see it in my footwork when I'm drifting when I don't need to or when my feet are calm and I'm moving through my progressions very smoothly. You can tell which plays it's slower and which plays it's not.

"I'm definitely progressing and you want to see the games continue to get slower for me as it goes because then you're just dissecting defenses and you're in a rhythm going right down the field. Some plays it is, some plays it's not and the more I'm able to slow it down the more success I'll have going forward."

Bears grades: The return of D's and F's, except for the linebackers

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USA Today

Bears grades: The return of D's and F's, except for the linebackers

QUARTERBACKS: D

Mitchell Trubisky threw three interceptions, with two of them particularly deflating: His first pick came on the second play of the third quarter when he overthrew Kendall Wright while rolling to his left; his second came in the end zone on third down. The last one came late in the fourth quarter when he and tight end Daniel Brown weren’t on the same page. Those mistakes were disappointing for a guy who hadn’t thrown an interception since Week 12, and now has as many interceptions as touchdowns (seven). But Trubisky did make a number of good throws, like when he stared down a blitz and found Markus Wheaton for a 22-yard gain. He also appeared to be the reason why the Lions to jump offsides twice, a good sign for his development with his cadence. But while he threw for over 300 yards for the first time in his career, the turnovers are the most important thing here. 

RUNNING BACKS: D

While some of the Bears’ running issues on Saturday were the product of some shaky run blocking from an offensive line that lost its two starting guards (Tom Compton and Josh Sitton) to injury, Jordan Howard wasn’t able to do much, either. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t break a tackle, and Howard finished with only 37 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Tarik Cohen didn’t get on the field much, playing only 25 of the Bears’ 63 offensive snaps and gaining one yard on two rushing attempts. The good news, perhaps, for this group: Howard caught all four targets he received for 26 yards, and he, Cohen and Benny Cunningham combined for 12 catches on 15 targets for 75 yards with the Bears’ only touchdown (which went to Cunningham). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D

The stats for this group are inflated by the Bears’ having to try to pass their way back into the game in the second half, but while Kendall Wright (seven catches, 81 yards), Josh Bellamy (five catches, 70 yards) and Markus Wheaton (two catches, 42 yards) seemed to be productive, that trio only caught 14 of their 24 targets. Trubisky’s accuracy issues had something to do with that, but there were some poor plays in there too, like when Wright couldn’t hang on to a pass on the Bears’ first drive that was dislodged by safety Quandre Diggs. Also concerning here: Dontrelle Inman was invisible for the second straight week, only catching one of two targets for five yards six days after Trubisky didn’t look his way at all in the Bears’ blowout win over Cincinnati. Bellamy was also whistled for two penalties. 

TIGHT ENDS: D

Not having Adam Shaheen (chest) on Saturday was a blow to this group, especially after it functioned so well with the rookie in there last weekend in Cincinnati. Dion Sims caught his only target for nine yards, while Daniel Brown caught three of four targets for 32 yards — but that one target he didn’t catch was intercepted. That the Bears struggled to run the ball falls some on the tight ends, too: Only three of the nine plays with Sims and Brown on the field at the same time were runs, and those went for a meager nine yards. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: D

Four penalties were assessed to the Bears’ offensive line: Holding and a false start for Charles Leno, holding for Hroniss Grasu and illegal hands to the face for Cody Whitehair. Losing Sitton and Compton stretched this group to its max, and the Teryl Austin’s Lions defense had some success run blitzing the Bears. But it’s hard to find positives when the production from the Bears’ running game wasn’t there, especially a week after this offensive line dominated the Bengals’ front seven. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Akiem Hicks hit home on a sack for the first time since Week 8 and added a tackle for a loss, but he whiffed dropping Matt Stafford on that 58-yard heave to Marvin Jones in the second quarter. The Lions averaged 4.6 yards per carry, over a yard higher than their season average (3.4, 31st in the NFL). Eddie Goldman returned to the defense and only got on the stat sheet because of a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty he committed on the first play of the game. 

LINEBACKERS: A-

Sam Acho (one sack, one TFL, one hurry and a forced fumble) and Lamarr Houston (two sacks, two hurries, two tackles for a loss) each had huge games, while Nick Kwiatkoski had a solid game (eight tackles) as well. Pernell McPhee, prior to suffering a shoulder injury, had a few decent pressures and sniffed out a screen to Ameer Abdullah for a loss of six (he was injured on that play). This unit was not the problem with the Bears on Saturday, to say the least. 

DEFENISVE BACKS: D-

Eddie Jackson did some good things in the open field, but allowing Jones to catch that 58-yard jump ball in the second quarter — which was on a third-and-18 play and set up Detroit’s first touchdown of the game — was rough. Kyle Fuller struggled, too, allowing catches all five times Stafford threw his way for 61 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Fuller was flagged once, while Prince Amukamara had two penalties assessed on him. Stafford has been kryptonite for this group, with passer ratings of 120.2 and 115.3 and no interceptions against the Bears in 2017. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-

There were two bad penalties assessed to the Bears on special teams on Saturday: First, DeAndre Houston-Carson was flagged for holding on what was otherwise a 90-yard kickoff return by Cohen. And John Timu was whistled for holding on a shanked punt that only went 24 yards, leading to the Bears beginning a third quarter possession at their own 36 instead of own 46. 

COACHING: F

Another week of undisciplined play (13 penalties) doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. John Fox’s decision to punt on fourth-and-one from the Bears’ own 45-yard line in first half was head-scratching for a team without anything to lose. Not kicking an onside kick down 10 with about two and a half minutes left was odd, but made more confusing by Mike Nugent kicking a pooch kick instead of going deep. This postgame quote from Wright about why the Bears played so poorly six days after playing so well wasn’t necessarily meant as a criticism of the coaching staff, but can be read as sort of an inadvertent one:

“I have no idea,” Wright said. “I have no idea. That’s a question I can’t even answer. I would say we came out flat, but I don’t really think so. I think everybody was ready to play and everybody had the energy to play. It’s not anything I can put on that.”