It's been a rough few months for Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. First, Chicago traded for his potential replacement, Nick Foles. Then came general manager Ryan Pace's decision to decline his fifth-year option, a move that's generally considered a no-brainer if a first-round quarterback has shown promise through his first three seasons.
Trubisky's certainly had some quality moments behind center for the Bears, and his productive 2018 season raised expectations for a big second year under Matt Nagy's tutelage in 2019. Unfortunately, he regressed across the board. He was so bad -- and seemed so lost -- that his time in Chicago feels like it's running out.
Pace took his time making his decision on Trubisky's fifth-year option. He did his due diligence; he reviewed and analyzed and scrutinized every aspect of Trubisky's game. In the end, No. 10 just hasn't been good enough, and one thing that's plagued him is his inability to connect on the long ball. In fact, Trubisky was recently rated as the league's worst deep-ball thrower by USA Today's Doug Farrar.
There are a number of reasons the Bears declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option and brought Nick Foles in to compete for Chicago’s starting job, but Trubisky’s performance on deep passes is stunningly bad. Last season, Trubisky had the worst EPA (Expected Points Added) on deep throws — his -14.6 far outpaced the field, as Daniel Jones of the Giants finished second-worst at -9.0. On such throws, Trubisky completed just 32 of 103 passes for 779 yards, four touchdowns, and seven interceptions. It’s one of many things Trubisky will have to improve if he’s ever to be thought of as anything but a draft bust.
Having a quality deep ball isn't a prerequisite to be a quality NFL starter, but it certainly helps. The ability to flip the field on one play that's the result of an on-the-money bucket-throw is extremely valuable, and it's a reasonable expectation for a player who was selected with the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Bears aren't good enough to overcome a quarterback who fails to take advantage of those rare opportunities to make impact downfield throws. That's why Foles is in Chicago. And it's why Trubisky probably won't be much longer.
The Bears have high expectations for second-year running back David Montgomery entering the 2020 NFL season. General manager Ryan Pace didn't invest any draft picks or free-agent money into running backs this offseason which means the Bears' running game will depend heavily on the former Iowa State star.
There's also Tarik Cohen, who's entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 'offensive weapon' who's become more of a receiver than runner as a pro should have his fair share of opportunities to make plays too.
But will the combination of Montgomery and Cohen strike fear in opposing defenses this season?
According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's recent ranking of every team's running backs, the answer is no. Chicago's backfield was ranked 27th.
Miller used a composite grading system for each running back that reads similar to what fans of the Madden video game franchise are used to. Montgomery scored a 77. Cohen garnered a 74.
To put their grades into perspective, Christian McCaffrey was given a 99 while Ezekiel Elliott scored a 95.
Is it fair to question whether the Bears' running game will be productive in 2020? Yes, it is. Let's face it, Montgomery is still relatively unproven after failing to crack 900 rushing yards as a rookie, and Cohen has carved out more or a reputation as a quality punt returner than a consistent threat as a running back so far in his career.
There's still reason for optimism in Chicago, however. Montgomery flashed tackle-breaking upside in 2019, and if the Bears' offensive line improves its run-blocking in 2020, Montgomery will be one of the more productive running backs in the NFC.
Until then, Chicago's backfield has a long way to go to live up to the rich tradition of running backs who called Soldier Field home.
Many Bears fans already know the toll that Kevin White's injuries took on him physically. Leg breaks, hamstring tears, and shoulder fractures all contributed mightily to White's underwhelming time in Chicago, but the lesser known side of things centers on the emotional toll those injuries took. Talking with our Bears Insider JJ Stankevitz, White went into detail about what it was like for him to be living through that:
It was hard. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. It was hard because I love the game so much and want to be great so bad and did the right things, be a good person — forget about football, I try to be a super good person. And it was just like oh my gosh, when am I going to get my chance or my turn? Or when am I going to be like, oh my gosh I got through it and now I’m with this team or got this contract and I was able to score the winning touchdown or whatever. So I just kept thinking that’s gonna come, it’s gonna come, it has to happen. Just stay the course, keep fighting, keep battling. You got the talent, just stay healthy so we can show it. So that’s what every day kept me going.
... Like, you don’t understand what that player has to go through day in, day out. Even sleeping, it’s hard to sleep because your mind is like, I’m ready to play, I wanna go. Your body is like, no shot. So you gotta sleep on that. Then you get kind of bored, or sometimes you know what the media’s saying, fans are saying, it kind of gets you like, I’m gonna go out there and run a route. I want to be able to do it right now. Like I want to be able to do it now. So you gotta be able to deal with that mentally. Physically, your body’s not ready, so you gotta do treatment and extra things every single day. You don’t just go in for treatment from 9 to 11 and then you’re done for the day. That’s not it. It’s an every day battle, mentally and physically.
It's fascinating – not to mention a bit heartbreaking – to get such a first-hand account of what failure in the NFL feels like. You can listen to the entire interview on the latest episode of the Under Center Podcast: