From running out of the tunnel to hearing the blaring artificial crowd noise, Saturday’s scrimmage at Soldier Field gave the Bears their only dress rehearsal in this preseason-less year of NFL football.
But for the quarterbacks, the scrimmage was hardly representative of a real game. Beyond not being able to be hit by opposing pass rushers, the scrimmage was fully scripted by the coaching staff, meaning it did not feature the usual unpredictable flow of a regular season game.
“As you guys saw, we might have a 1st-and-10 play that goes for 12 yards, and it should be 1st and 10 the next play, but it ends up being 2nd and 8,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “Or there's a certain result where you think the ball is caught over the middle for a 20-yard gain but it's only a two-yard gain.”
The advantage of the script is making sure the quarterbacks get to practice every scenario the coaches want to simulate. The downside is that takes away a lot of the instinctual “on-the-fly” thinking that is required to play quarterback in the NFL.
“I think it's just hard to show (what a quarterback can do), but with the circumstances we need to do the best we can,” Mitchell Trubisky said. “We're trying to run the offense. I wouldn't say it's a problem, but it is kind of weird. You're just not in the flow of the game.”
Regardless, both quarterbacks got over 30 passes to show what they could do at their home stadium and the results do carry a lot of weight. Trubisky and Nick Foles both had opportunities to roll with the first-team offense against the second-team defense and vice versa. The results were mixed, but overall positive on a beautiful day on the lakefront:
It’s been hard to evaluate the decision-making with tough viewing angles at Halas Hall and no access to the practice tape, but Saturday’s view from the stands helped a little bit. Early in the scrimmage, Trubisky looked to take a shot deep but correctly read the defense and realized Tarik Cohen was uncovered underneath for a big catch-and-run. A high throw to Anthony Miller almost resulted in an interception, but that was followed by a nice strike to Darnell Mooney in the middle of the field. The execution on a goal-line fade to Jimmy Graham was one of the better throws of the day. While working with the second-team offense, Trubisky threw two interceptions to cornerback Kyle Fuller, but the second one was batted up in the air at the line of scrimmage and Nagy wasn’t too bothered by the first one because his quarterback was extending a play that was likely already dead.
“If you get sacked because they're not hitting you live, extend the play and give the guys a chance to finish, and that's kind of what that first one was,” Nagy said. “So you've got to take a little bit of that into account.”
That said, it was hard to see where Trubisky was going with that throw and it was an easy pick-6 for Fuller the moment it left the quarterback's hand. Trubisky also overthrew Mooney on a deep ball up the middle, which was a theme for both quarterbacks Saturday.
The highlights of the day came on back-to-back throws later in practice while working with the first-team as Trubisky threw two perfect deep outs to Miller and Riley Ridley on the left sideline.
After the scrimmage, Trubisky said he believes he is showing the coaches that he’s more accurate, “especially out and to the left and outside the numbers. I think I've shown that I can make those throws and I've done better with my footwork and then just being able to lead and run this offense.”
Foles’ day was a little bit more up-and-down, but he did avoid the interceptions. An early pass was broken up by Fuller (can you tell Fuller had a great day?) when Foles’ pass fluttered behind Javon Wims. Another incompletion sailed behind Miller. Two deep shots to Mooney fell incomplete – one short and one long – although it’s worth pointing out that Mooney appeared to be slightly banged up on the first attempt as he dove for the ball and may not have been moving at 100 percent when the second deep ball went over his head.
Foles did have two deep balls completed, although it will be interesting to see how the coaches grade each play. One came on an obvious sack where Foles continued the play and threw a nice ball to Rodney Adams. The other was an Antonio Freeman “HE DID WHAT?” catch where safety Marqui Christian failed to haul in the interception as he fell down and the ball bounced right to Ted Ginn Jr. who ran in for a touchdown. Watching live, I actually thought it was a good ball that was misplayed by Ginn Jr., who seemingly stopped his route short of where the pass ended up. A few plays later, a deep ball to Miller was clearly overthrown.
On the positive side, Foles’ decision-making continues to stand out. He regularly recognizes where blitzes are coming from and threw into the blitz twice Saturday for completions. It’s clear he is in command of the offense and reads defenses well before the snap.
Saturday’s scrimmage winner
With Nagy excusing both interceptions, Trubisky was the winner Saturday. He was more accurate and completed the tougher passes. The two deep outs late in practice were really well thrown balls that not a lot of NFL quarterbacks consistently hit. It was by no means a perfect practice. Things looked ugly after the interceptions as a late decision and an overthrown pass closely followed, but Trubisky regrouped and finished strong. I thought he closed the gap Foles had started to build this week.
The final word
Saturday’s scrimmage was the last practice open to reporters this season. The quarterback competition is not over, but this marks the end of the daily quarterback reports.
And guess what? It’s pretty even.
At this point, I have a slight edge in Foles’ direction based on the overall body of work we have seen, but Trubisky’s performance Saturday at Soldier Field could carry some extra weight. At the very least it showed that this thing is far from decided yet.
The Bears have four scheduled practices this week, but Monday’s is a lighter practice. That means Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will probably decide who starts at quarterback against the Lions, even though Nagy said he won’t reveal the starter until that game.
So what happens if this is a tie after Thursday?
“I can tell you we're definitely not going to toss a coin, but we've had those discussions before this camp even started. We've hit every scenario possible,” Nagy said. “I think it's a very valid question because you don't know. You don't know how it's going to go, and you have a guy in Mitch who's been in this offense for two years, and you have a guy with Nick that has been a part of this offense in the past at different levels.”
The Bears were hoping the winner would be obvious. So far it isn't and time is running out.