Midway through the second quarter of the Bears’ trip to Denver on Sunday, you might’ve been frustrated with Mitch Trubisky overthrowing a seemingly wide open Taylor Gabriel.
Those kinds of misses, on the surface, are enough to drive even the biggest Trubisky backers nuts. The FOX television broadcast showed Gabriel sneak along the fray at the line of scrimmage, then dash upfield as soon as inside linebacker Josey Jewell picked up running back David Montgomery in the backfield.
So this is the view those watching the broadcast were afforded:
Gabriel looks wide open, right? If Trubisky just lets the pass rip, this pass should be completed for at least a first down, moving the Bears closer to Denver’s red zone as they sought their first touchdown of 2019.
This is not, though, a defense of Trubisky’s throw on the play. Gabriel was wide open, and a throw with less loft would’ve led to at least a chunk-gain completion and a first down. Instead, this was the result:
The coaches/All-22 film, via NFL GamePass, as well as Matt Nagy’s explanation of the play, afford a more complete picture of what went wrong.
“It's a shot play to where (Gabriel) sneaks down the line and runs down the sideline and he's totally uncovered,” Nagy said. “It started that way.”
Here’s how the play looked when it began with Trubisky faking a handoff to Montgomery:
Jewell, the yellow arrow, picks up Montgomery on play-action while fellow inside linebacker Corey Nelson blitzes (more on him later). Gabriel is the blue arrow running just beyond the trenches. Allen Robinson’s route is the orange arrow and is designed to carry his cornerback as well as safety Kareem Jackson to the field side. And in the red, Adam Shaheen and Cordarrelle Patterson are tasked with double-teaming Broncos edge rusher Von Miller.
“You're always aware that 58's over there,” Nagy said. “Our guys did a good job of double teaming him.”
The play design initially works. Jackson goes from the boundary to carry Robinson up the field (orange circle), leaving Justin Simmons to cover from field to boundary to catch up with Gabriel (blue arrows), who has plenty of green grass with which to run his route. As soon as Jewell crashes toward the line of scrimmage to pick up Montgomery (yellow arrow), Gabriel cuts upfield. Meanwhile: Shaheen is winning physically against Miller (red circle) as Trubisky slides to his right, leaving little threat of one of the game’s most disruptive edge rushers making an impact on the play.
Simmons was late picking up Gabriel, but not so late to give the Bears a shot at turning this play into a touchdown. Still, Trubisky has a clear shot at connecting with an open Gabriel for a chunk gain on first down at the very least, and at the best Gabriel could’ve made Simmons miss and taken the play to the house.
"That angle of where Taylor was and where Mitch was wasn't the greatest of angles,” Nagy said. “I think Mitch would tell you, listen, if I had that over again, it would be more of a line-drive shot and kinda a back shoulder (throw).”
These, simply, are the kind of throws the Bears need Trubisky to make. The play design worked, perhaps not perfectly, but Nagy schemed one of his receivers open. The blocking was good, with Shaheen and Patterson neutralizing Miller on the right and Charles Leno keeping Bradley Chubb at arm's length on the left. Center James Daniels nailed his protection, pancaking Nelson in the process. There was some pressure in Trubisky's face from defensive end DeMarcus Walker, for what it's worth, but it came late.
The Bears wound up settling for a field goal on this drive, which wasn't completely unproductive (it was a 52-yarder, one yard shy of Eddy Pineiro's game winner, which went the same direction in the fourth quarter). But for the Bears' offense to truly find its rhythm, it needs to take advantage of these kind of plays and pick up chunks of yardage on first down. In this one instance, the play was there, but the execution was not.