In this episode of the Under Center Podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John "Moon" Mullin break down Dowell Loggains' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky and explain why it's worked so far, and where it can go for the rest of the 2017 season.
The Bears’ gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky was controlled against the Baltimore Ravens, with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains only calling 20 passing plays on Sunday. And that’s hardly a problem.
Not only did the Bears win with Trubisky mostly handing the ball off, but the gameplan accomplished a goal just as important for the future of the franchise. It was part of the slow, deliberate development of a rookie quarterback who only started 13 games in college and doesn’t have a big-time receiving target or two (like DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller) on which to lean.
“I think they’re giving him a chance to develop,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “They’re not throwing him to the wolves. You can get out and have him throw 45 passes and get crushed, or you can do what you’re doing right now and be very methodical and very direct.
“… If you ask a young guy to throw the ball 40 times and you expect to win, that’s going to be very difficult. So I think what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to develop this guy, shoot, believe me, I think the young man’s got a chance.”
Beyond the playcalling Sunday — 50 runs between Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen — the design of the offense gave Trubisky the best chance to win the game. No quarterback had more time to throw in Week 6 than Trubisky (3.49 seconds, according to NFL Next Gen Stats), which makes sense given the rollouts and boots called for him. But for a rookie in Trubisky who needs improvement with blitz recognition, Loggains found a way to give him more time to scan the field and make a decision than any other quarterback last week.
And what Trubisky did with all that time was not force anything. Only Green Bay’s Brett Hundley threw a lower percentage of aggressive passes (defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as when a defender is within one yard or less of a receiver at the time of completion or incompletion) than Trubisky, who only threw one of his 16 passes into tight coverage. That was a point of emphasis for the rookie six days after Harrison Smith baited him into a crippling interception.
“Sometimes the best play is a throwaway,” Trubisky said. “So it’s just coming down to me learning, continue to stay aggressive; wanting to get a completion every time, but being smart and knowing when I need to throw the ball away and live to play another down.”
Loggias, in describing Trubisky, used the “M” word:
“I thought he did a really good job managing the game and playing like he had to,” Loggains said. “He was still aggressive. He wasn’t, and I hate the term ‘manage’ but he was playing the way he needed to play to win that game.”
The Bears hoped Mike Glennon could be a game manager, of course. But the offensive strategy they’re deploying now isn’t necessarily the same as they one they used with Glennon — Trubisky has the ability to be a playmaker, as he showed when he evaded pressure and found Kendall Wright for a pivotal 18-yard completion in overtime. That was that aforementioned one pass he threw into tight coverage against the Ravens.
But the Bears’ best skill position players are running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, unless a receiver emerges from the group of Tanner Gentry, Tre McBride, Josh Bellamy, an injured Markus Wheaton and Wright (the latter of whom Loggains said is at his best when he’s taking 25-30 snaps per game). The offensive line has improved with continuity over the last few weeks. This is a team that’s strength is in running the football, not in its quarterback play.
Eventually, the Bears will open up the offense for Trubisky (getting a big-bodied receiver who can win against tight man coverage would help) as he gains experience, and the strength of the offense can be in its quarterback play. But if the goal is to bring a young quarterback along while giving the team a chance to win, then the offensive gameplan is working.
“As a quarterback, you want to be throwing the ball, but as a competitor and leader of this team, you're going to do whatever it takes to win,” Trubisky said. “And if it's running the ball, if it's passing the ball, whatever it is, that's what we're going to do. I didn't feel any type of way at all about how many times we ran it, how many times we passed it, just excited to come away with the win and how we stuck together, and came away with that win, so it was awesome to see.”
Dowell Loggains knew he wanted to coach his whole life, so back in 1995 — his freshman year of high school — he started keeping a notebook of plays he recorded on video tapes (remember those?). One of those plays he wrote down happened in 2000, while Loggains was a freshman at the University of Arkansas.
With the ball on the Green Bay Packers’ 2-yard line, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King handed the ball off to running back Warrick Dunn. Dunn then handed off to fullback Mike Alstott, who was running in the opposite direction. Alstott was met by a Packers defender, but flipped a pitch back to King, who caught it at the five-yard line and bolted into the end zone.
That play, designed by former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Les Steckel, was the inspiration behind the two-point conversion play the Bears ran Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. While Loggains was with the Tennessee Titans, head coach Mike Munchak lived next door to Steckel, and the Titans hired Steckel’s son in an offensive quality control role.
“I got to meet coach Steckel one day," Loggains said. "We go to Easter with (former Titans offensive coordinator) Chris Palmer, Mike Munchak and Les Steckel and his wife. I had this notebook and I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to ask you about this one play, You ran it 13 years ago.’ He called it doughnut.
“… So I’ve always had this play, as a coaching staff upstairs, we had this play. But you’ve got to have Zach Miller. You gotta have a tight end or a Mike Alstott that you trust with the ball-handling. So it’s just an option play off that. That’s where the play came from.”
Miller is a former college quarterback who joked that he made the switch to tight end “because the option was my best pass,” so he was a perfect fit for the play. The Bears ran it in training camp and were holding on to it for the right situation — which also had to be with Mitchell Trubisky as the quarterback.
Calling for the play in such a critical situation, with the Bears down by two midway through the fourth quarter, took some guts. But the Bears were confident in the design and their ability to execute the play — “there was a little smile going into the huddle, we were like we’re going to score and tie the game right here,” Trubisky said.
The play worked to perfection, just like it did 17 years ago at Lambeau Field. Loggains wasn’t going to pat himself on the back for the innovative design — but he should thank his 20-year-old self for writing down that play.
“Coach Les Steckel deserves all the credit for it,” Loggains said. “We just installed it 17 years later.”