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Mitch Trubisky has not gained yardage on a scramble since the third quarter of the Bears' first game in 2019, this after the former No. 2 overall pick’s legs were such an important weapon a year ago.

Through five starts, Trubisky only has five total rushing attempts gaining 21 yards — an average of about one rush and four yards per game. In 2018, Trubisky averaged a shade under five rushing attempts and 30 yards per game, including 29 first downs on runs.

So neither the designed runs nor the scrambles have been there for Trubisky in 2019, which has contributed to the quarterback’s alarming regression in Year 3 as a pro.

The hot take here is Trubisky could stem that regression tide by running the ball more. The actual answer is more nuanced than a blanket statement.

Opposing defenses have done plenty to scheme against Trubisky’s running skills whether they’re playing man or zone. That’s meant having a defender spy Trubisky, or having defensive ends play contain, or using “corral” rushes to make sure he can’t escape the pocket, as coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich explained.

The Bears, of course, don’t want Trubisky scrambling if nothing is there. Nagy said last week it has to happen naturally, and that in general his quarterback shouldn’t be looking to run on a given passing play.

“I try not to over-coach that and say look to run because when you do that you miss a progression,” Nagy said. “Instinctually, if a progression isn’t there or a play isn’t there that we thought was going to be there, that’s where you see a little bit more scrambling and ab libbing and that hasn’t been happening this year.”

 

But there are things the Bears can do to scheme the option of running into plays, instead of having Trubisky do it out of desperation. Nagy could call a two-read play, where if Trubisky’s first two progressions aren’t open, his third progression is to take off and run. And some of the designed runs the Bears have had, like zone reads, have worked: Trubisky picked up eight yards on one of those plays against the Denver Broncos, for example.

“I just think it comes down to natural instincts,” Nagy said. “And I thought last year, numbers wise, you saw more of that up until this point. The numbers are there. For whatever reason, it hasn’t been there this year. We’re aware of that. He’s aware of it.

“But I just want to be careful of saying ‘become a runner.’ Because then I don’t think you become a quarterback. You have to flip it. You have to be a quarterback that can run.”

Trubisky, though, hasn't proven to be a reliable pocket passer, especially in 2019. His two best plays this year came on the move, for what it's worth: The strike to Allen Robinson that set up Eddy Pineiro's game-winning field goal in Denver, and his outstanding heave to Taylor Gabriel for a touchdown against Washington. Just getting Trubisky outside the pocket and on the move could help his overall play, even if he doesn't take off and run. 

The other issue here is Trubisky’s shoulder injury suffered in Week 4. He’s wearing a harness on that previously-dislocated non-throwing shoulder, and it’s noteworthy that he didn’t have a rushing attempt against the New Orleans Saints, his first game back from that injury. It was only the second time in Trubisky’s career he didn’t have a rushing attempt.

But still, all these factors — from the defense to playcalling to his shoulder — don’t fully explain why Trubisky only has five rushing attempts this year. Part of it is, simply, he’s not doing it as much.

“I think teams have been doing a good job taking it away,” Trubisky said. “I’m trying to be pass-first guy, running when it’s open. And it hasn’t been there. Just keep looking for it but doing my job as a passer first.”

Trubisky displayed a good natural instinct for running the ball a year ago, even accounting for a little over-reliance on pulling the ball down and taking off. Perhaps part of that area of his game fading in 2019 is an over-correction there combined with defenses taking away those scrambles.

Nagy mentioned the ebbs and flows of Alex Smith’s runs while he coached him with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he never averaged fewer than three rushing attempts per game during their time together. Thirty-six quarterbacks have more rushing attempts than Trubisky entering Week 8, including Chase Daniel (six) in two games.

 

So Trubisky does need to run the ball more no matter what opposing defenses are doing or coaches are calling. He needs to be smart about it, yes, but It’s a significant part of his skillset, one that needs to be tapped into to make sure the Bears’ season doesn’t continue sliding downhill. 

“His legs are a huge weapon for us,” Nagy said. “I’m an idiot if I take his legs away because there are a lot of quarterbacks that don't have his legs. Trust me, 31 other defensive coordinators, ask how concerned they are about him running the football. It's a weapon.”

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