Mitch Trubisky has been one of the most well-protected quarterbacks in the NFL this year, an achievement that speaks to not only strong offensive line play but his own skills.
Among quarterbacks with at least 400 drop backs, Trubisky has been under pressure on only a little under 30 percent of the time, which ranks sixth in that group behind Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Baker Mayfield. And he’s been sacked fewer times (21) than any qualified quarterback this year.
“Oh (wow),” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “That’s pretty damn good. I didn’t know that.
“That’s just a testament to the five guys up front and with Mitch, we’ve made him comfortable in the pocket for him to sit there and make the throws downfield, and to coach Harry (Hiestand) for coaching us up and getting us ready to go on Sundays.”
No doubt the Bears’ offensive line deserves a ton of credit for protecting Trubisky this year. Massie and left tackle Charles Leno have been solid — among tackles with at least 400 pass blocking snaps, Massie ranks eighth in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking efficiency, while Leno ranks 21st. Massie has allowed one sack, two hits and 23 total pressures, while Leno has allowed four sacks, two hits and 27 total pressures, per PFF.
“I don’t think Leno and Bobby get enough credit for what they do,” Trubisky said. “They’ve shut down a lot of really good pass rushers this season and kept people out of my face. They just do and awesome job and we know how important they are to the team, and I wish they would get more recognition because they deserve it.”
Plenty of credit needs to go to the interior of the Bears’ offensive line, too, which only found continuity with the two guards playing next to Cody Whitehair until Week 10, when Bryan Witzmann’s rotation with Eric Kush ended at right guard. James Daniels has played every snap at left guard since Week 7, too. Whitehair’s improved communication with Daniels and Witzmann is noteworthy, as is his solid play, too.
“Cody’s just really smart,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “He’s seen a lot, he’s seen just about everything that teams can bring.”
The Bears could potentially get Long back for next week’s season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, and/or for the playoffs in January, which would provide a boost, too.
But there’s another factor in the Bears avoiding sacks as an offense: Trubisky himself. He’s steadily improved over his two years in terms of identifying and calling out protections to help his own case, for starters.
“He’s leaps and bounds from when he first got out there,” Massie said. “He was like a deer in headlines early on, rightfully so, just starting off playing in the NFL. But he’s become a great player and it’s going to be an amazing thing to see what he does later on in his career.”
And then there’s Trubisky’s uncanny knack for not only sensing pressure, but been able to avoid it. He avoided blitzing members of the Green Bay Packers a few times last week, turning one of those plays into a highlight-reel 23-yard strike to tight end Adam Shaheen.
“There’s some times where he should be sacked, where I’d miss a block and he, I don’t know, just sidesteps and he’s free,” Daniels said. “It’s just things like that that he does and that’s very helpful for us.”
So even when the pocket isn't necessarily clean, Trubisky is still able to make plays. And that's not necessarily something that can be coached.
“To me, that’s an innate ability to see behind you,” Daniel said. “It’s pretty impressive what he’s able to do. He’s very shifty in the pocket and guys have a hard time bringing him down.”
One more player who deserves credit for those clean pockets and low sack total: Jordan Howard. He’s been a physical presence in pass protection, replacing Benny Cunningham as the Bears’ go-to running back to block a blitzing linebacker or defensive back and help make sure Trubisky has time to throw.
“He does a great job studying the different opponents and the blitzes and their tendencies and how they want to try to attack us,” running backs coach Charles London said earlier this month. “And he’s done a really good job for us in protections all year.”
While the Bears’ offensive line has been on the hook for far too many negative runs this year, the collective ability of that group, Trubisky and Howard to avoid negative plays on drop-backs has been important in keeping this offense on schedule and ahead of the chains all year.
“It’s just growing over time,” Leno said. “It’s just like everything — like me getting engaged, it’s a start, but it’s gotta take time and a lot of reps to get better at it. That’s what we’ve been doing.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears and stream the ‘Football Aftershow’ easily on your device.