The Bears have a big play issue.
They had a big play issue last year, when they finished 29th in the league in plays of 20+ yards (39). It wasn’t a lack of trying, either – per NFL’s Next Gen stats, in 2018, Mitch Trubisky ranked 10th in the NFL in Intended Air Yards (IAY), with an average of 8.8 per attempt. However, when it came to Completed Air Yards (CAY), Trubisky came in 15th (6.0).
It doesn’t tell the whole story – and there’s probably a decent case to be made that some of Trubisky’s deep ball troubles are overstated – but what the stats don’t cover, the eye test does: through the first two games of Nagy 202, the offense isn’t any more explosive than it was last year. In fact, it's probably even less so.
“We need to make more plays period,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “And that's on all of us…”
It may be on everyone, but it starts with Trubisky. Through two games, the third-year QB is averaging roughly the same IAY (7.9). The problem, though, is that he’s averaging almost two yards less per completion (4.0) this year. His Average Air Yards Differential (AYD) is -3.7, which is the third-worst in football. The only ones higher are Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
All in all, it’s just a fancy way of saying that Trubisky’s struggling to make big plays happen with his arm. But if teams are going to see how Green Bay and Denver sat their safeties back and dared him to throw the ball downfield, how do you adjust to that?
“There’s plays in your playbook to go after the Cover 2 safeties,” Matt Nagy said. “You gotta be able to run the ball. When they have less guys in the box, they have seven guys in the box, you gotta be able to run the ball. So, that’s answer number one, and any coach will tell you that.
“Then the second part is being able to protect -- they’re in Cover 2 for a reason, they’re protecting the shots down field. There’s ways to scheme it and if they take away the deep balls, you go ahead and you hit the intermediate throws.”
Those intermediate throws are where receivers not named Allen Robinson come into play. As of Friday afternoon, Taylor Gabriel has three receptions on the season. Anthony Miller has one. Getting those guys involved – and not having to count on Robinson’s 13 yards per reception to get you down field – will be how the offense unlocks some more of the potential those around Halas Hall have been talking up all offseason.
“It's kind of always an early season deal where hey, these two guys are doing something, what about these guys, what about that guy,” Helfrich added. “I think that'll all come. I think [Miller] from a mental standpoint in this last game did a great job. He ended up playing a lot of reps and played well.”