The new Mitch is about to meet an old friend.
Fresh off beating Nick Foles for the starting quarterback job, Mitchell Trubisky is (allegedly) more confident, more detailed and more accurate. Meanwhile, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia, is, well, probably the same guy with the same defensive scheme and (maybe) slightly better players.
We’ll all find out how much of this is true Sunday at Ford Field when the Chicago Bears open the 2020 season against the Lions.
But in all likelihood, if Patricia remains stubborn in his defensive ways, even the old Mitch would be fine. The old Mitch is 68-for-91 for 866 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception in three starts against Patricia’s Lions. He has an average passer rating of 132.56 in those starts.
Surely, the Bill Belichick disciple will change something up so Trubisky doesn’t beat him again, right? Right?
First, let’s examine why Trubisky has had success against Patricia’s defense…
It’s a good matchup. Patricia likes to play a lot of man defense and doesn’t like to blitz a lot. He relies on his front-four to generate pressure while loading up the back end with defensive backs that excel in man coverage.
This is a good combination for Trubisky, who typically excels when he can identify 1-on-1 matchups without much pressure.
Just a short, easy film study reveals that of the nine touchdowns Trubisky has thrown against the Lions in the last two seasons, seven of them came against man-to-man defense and all of them came against four or fewer pass rushers.
Last year in Detroit, Trubisky connected with seldom used tight end Jesper Horsted for an 18-yard touchdown after correctly identifying the “alert” built into the play and recognizing that Horsted had outside leverage in his 1-on-1 matchup. He then delivered one of his better throws of the year. The Lions, meanwhile, rushed three on the play.
Later in the game, near the goal line, Trubisky calmly reached his third progression – David Montgomery – on a safe throw over the middle as the Lions only rushed four. The touchdown toss was a game-winner.
It doesn’t take a giant leap to conclude that Trubisky has a good understanding of the coverages the Lions play. As a result, he exudes confidence in the pocket while going through his progressions. The challenge in the offseason was to accomplish this against all opponents, but it already seems to exist against Detroit.
So will Patricia change things up this time?
It was baffling that the Lions head coach essentially deployed the same game plan on Thanksgiving last year after Trubisky carved up his defense three weeks prior at Soldier Field. You’d think a Belichick understudy would adapt more from week-to-week, let alone season-to-season.
The Lions do have a new defensive coordinator, hiring Cory Undlin, who was the defensive backs coach in Philadelphia. In that regard, there is a bit of the unknown in Week 1, especially since there’s no preseason film to analyze.
“We won't know that really until you're a couple quarters in and you can get a sense of what their plan is and it's the same for us with them,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. “That part is a little bit harder for us to understand.”
But the Lions’ offseason suggests Patricia’s defense will be more of the same. After shipping out Quandre Diggs because he supposedly wasn’t a good fit, the Lions sent the pick they acquired in that trade to New England for Duron Harmon, who is more of a do-it-all type safety in a nickel defense. At cornerback, Darius Slay is out and Desmond Trufant is in. That doesn’t really seem to be an upgrade, other than that Trufant is known for his man-defense.
Meanwhile, ex-Patriots Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton were brought in because they know the scheme. Shelton theoretically will fit the defensive line better than Snacks Harrison.
Are these really upgrades? Perhaps yes, because they fit Patricia’s defense better.
But doesn’t that mean more of the same against Mitch Trubisky?
You’d think there will at least be more wrinkles, but then again, we all thought that on Thanksgiving last year. Perhaps former Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel -- now in Detroit -- will help the Lions scheme. Of course, Nagy has his own adjustments to counter with, none of which he was willing to detail for the Lions in Wednesday’s Zoom session with reporters.
Regardless, the new Mitch theoretically should be better under pressure if the Lions choose to bring more of it. Nagy praised Trubisky’s growth in winning the Bears’ quarterback competition, especially when it comes to hanging in the pocket and seeing the field.
If that’s truly the case, it shouldn’t be an issue Sunday in Detroit because that’s already one his strengths against the Lions.