Bears

Does Mark Sanchez make sense to back up Mitchell Trubisky?

Does Mark Sanchez make sense to back up Mitchell Trubisky?

INDIANAPOLIS — For all the focus this week on free agency, which unofficially begins March 12, and the NFL Draft, which begins in late April, no one affiliated with the Bears has lost sight of the most important key to the long-tern success of the franchise: Mitchell Trubisky. 

The Bears didn’t trade up in last year’s draft for Trubisky to be merely “fine.” They didn’t hire a young, quarterback-driven coach for Trubisky to be “just a guy.” They didn’t invest so much effort into building the structure around Trubisky just to feel “okay” about him. 

If the Bears get Trubisky right, they’ll get a lot of other things right, too. Matt Nagy is a big part of that equation, as is offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. But another important guy in all of this will be Trubisky’s backup in 2018. 

“There’s no more important room than that quarterback room, and we’re really mindful of who we pair in that room,” general manager Ryan Pace said. 

So how about elevating Mark Sanchez from being a No. 3 quarterback who was inactive for all 16 games last year to being Trubisky’s backup?

“He did a good job this year, all the things we value with him, his veteran leadership and his experiences,” Pace said. “He’s a free agent. Those are all evaluations that are ongoing.”

Pace said Sanchez has expressed interest in returning to the Bears, where he and Trubisky developed a good relationship in 2017. Sanchez’s been-there, done-that history was important for Trubisky as the rookie dealt with so many new experiences in the NFL. 

Having that veteran quarterback as a sort of conduit from the coaching staff to Trubisky is helpful. But with a young quarterback like Trubisky, maybe it’s easy to lose sight of the job No. 1 of a backup: Being ready to come in and win at a moment’s notice. 

Pace pointed to that on Tuesday, mentioning Nick Foles' Super Bowl title, which could present a roadblock for retaining Sanchez. The last time the 31-year-old threw a pass in a regular season game was on Jan. 1, 2017, and he hasn’t been credited with a quarterback “win” — for what that’s worth — since 2014. 

“You need to be able to come in and win if something happens,” Pace said. “We just saw that in the Super Bowl. But again the chemistry in that room is important. You’re there for the starter. You’re in a supportive role to help him grow. We have a younger quarterback, so we have to be mindful of who we pair with him in that room.”

Pace could shoot to sign someone like Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carolina’s Derek Anderson or Miami’s Matt Moore, all of whom are due to hit the open market in two weeks. Chase Daniel, who spent last year as the New Orleans Saints’ backup and has direct connections to Pace and Nagy, will also be a free agent but has had a longer layoff between NFL throws than Sanchez (Dec. 22, 2016, which was the only pass he threw that year). 

But opting to keep the same chemistry in the Bears’ quarterback room — minus Mike Glennon, of course, who will be released when the new league year begins March 14 — could have a benefit to Trubisky. And it could mean Sanchez is back at Halas Hall in 2018. 

“I think you just surround your quarterback, who’s your most valuable asset, with a lot of good resources,” Pace said. “We feel like we’ve done that, definitely with the coaching staff. And they all bring a different perspective to the table. It’s cool to walk into the offensive meeting room and see them collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely that kind of relationship. So it’ll be interesting to see that play out. It’s definitely a creative offense.”

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

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USA TODAY

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

First things first, getting some ancient history out of the way but also looking at it in a different light….

Turns out Dowell Loggains may not have been an idiot or John Fox an offensive restrictor plate, either, in the matter of using and developing Mitchell Trubisky. They in fact appear to have known some things that Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are finding out about one young NFL quarterback: that Trubisky simply isn’t particularly accurate or effective going downfield with his passes. At least, not yet.

The Bears did their ongoing due analytics through Trubisky’s rookie year. In the requisite pursuit of putting a player in the best chance to have success, they determined what he wasn’t good at, and trimmed back much of the field from his scripting and play rolodex early. The sense now is that Nagy also may be doing just that with Trubisky.

Something never made complete sense, that Loggains, had thrown the ball around Soldier and other Fields more than 61 percent of the time with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Yet with a talent like Trubisky, he was calling only a more-balanced 53 percent passing. The accuracy reality helps you understand some of the reason why; The young QB just hadn’t really thrown accurately down the field, or anywhere, for that matter, looking at his 59.4-percent completion rate even with the top of the field dialed back.

Downfield accuracy can be a quirky thing. Rex Grossman, for instance, was quixotically more accurate when passes were directed longer than 15 yards, yet maddeningly scattershot on, say, bubble screens. Trubisky is not that, most quarterbacks aren’t, but positive plays are the objective, wherever they lie for the particular thrower.

But all of that’s not really important now, just looking at Trubisky with some perspective; the downfield accuracy that’s a true work in progress wasn’t there then. And best guess is that Fox, Loggains and the rest of the staff weren’t going to tell Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Cody Whitehair or anyone else on offense to get their bodies pounded just so the kid could learn how to throw deep. The point was, and is, to win the game (thank you, Herman Edwards).

More to matters of more recent perspective….

Using the right evaluation scales

One simple (well, maybe not completely simple) fact is that Mitch Trubisky is improving, and in many respects, substantially, even as frustration and dissecting continue.

First, a note of explanation: Evaluating Trubisky against expectations, even for a No. 2-overall pick, isn’t useful. Neither is evaluating him strictly vis’a’vis other young quarterbacks.

What is useful is evaluating Trubisky vs. Trubisky, No. 1, and No. 2, more important, is the team winning with him?

The answer to No. 2 is “yes.” Two wins in three games, being within on defensive stop of having his team 3-0—that’s a “yes.” He had his team 2-1 last year after three starts, albeit against better competition (Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina), so he is at least as win’ish as he was as a rookie.

As to No. 1, the footwork isn’t where he or his coaches want it. Neither is his decision-making. Nor the accuracy thing.

But evaluating Trubisky against Trubisky and not Allen, Mahomes, Watson or anyone else, the point is signs of improvement. Consider:

In his first three starts last season, Trubisky barely qualified for “inaccurate” or “productive.” In his first three starts this season, he’s earned both, even with his distance issues:

 

                           2017                                    2018

 

                  Cmp.     Yards                    Cmp.      Yards

 

Gm 1         48.0%       128                    65.7%       171

 

Gm 2         50.0%       113                    73.5          200

 

Gm 3         57.1%       107                    68.6          220

 

Even with a couple of untoward throws and interceptions, his INT rate is still a respectable-if-not-great 2.9 percent.

Trubisky’s meaningful arrows are pointing up when compared to where he finished that rookie season, when he went out 1-2 with declining performances:

Gm 14      67.4%       314

 

Gm 15      60.9%       193

 

Gm 16      55.6%       178

Putting a final assessment of Trubisky is still quite some weeks off for 2018, and quite sometime longer for what he is big-picture. But in the meantime, comparing Mitch Trubisky ’17 to Mitch Trubisky ’18, the new one is better.

Bears film breakdown: Two red zone plays show where Bears need to improve, and how they can be effective

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Bears film breakdown: Two red zone plays show where Bears need to improve, and how they can be effective

The Bears had three possessions enter the red zone in Sunday's 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but only managed 10 points on those drives. Another pair of possessions stalled just outside the red zone, leading to Cody Parkey attempting four field goals, making three. 

With explosive plays hard to come by for this offense, an emphasis this week will be converting long drives that get into the red zone into touchdowns, not field goals. Against Arizona, though, we can see in two different plays, two quarters apart, how far the Bears have to go in the red zone but also how this group can find success. 

We'll start with a play that caught some attention on Twitter during the game: 

At the top of the screen, three Cardinals defenders are lined up across from a group of four Bears — Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen — in a diamond stack formation. At the bottom of the screen, Allen Robinson is lined up in single coverage against Cardinals cornerback Jamar Taylor. 

Trubisky takes the snap and doesn't look to his right, only identifying Robinson in single coverage and lofting a pass to him on a fade route. Coming down with jump balls/50-50 balls in the end zone are a strength of Robinson's, but Trubisky's throw doesn't give him the best opportunity to make the catch. 

It's worth noting that linebacker Josh Bynes (yellow arrow) does immediately break left when the ball is snapped, and even if the play was blocked well by the other three guys on that side of the field it wouldn't have been guaranteed to be a touchdown. 

"There are some advantage throws, there’s some choices on that play," Nagy said. "So that’s where he decided to go with the ball, and so we didn’t execute that play. We gotta regroup and pick another one."

****

Alright, on to a well-called and well-executed play in the red zone. 

Trubisky lines up in the shotgun with Cohen (blue arrow) to his right and Benny Cunningham (green arrow) to his left, with Robinson (yellow arrow) on the near side. Trubisky takes the snap and flows to his right, and Bynes (white arrow) drifts that way. Center Cody Whitehair (red arrow) gets two yards beyond the line of scrimmage and has to determine if he's going to block Bynes or linebacker Gerald Hodges. 

By the time Cohen accelerates near the line of scrimmage, Hodges (white arrow) is too far away to make the play. Whitehair (red circle) blocks Bynes. 

"You gotta read the most dangerous guy and make your decision from there," Whitehair said. "I felt like the guy a little bit to my left (Bynes) was the most dangerous guy with the misdirection play."

Cunningham (green circle) lands a strong block on safety Antoine Bethea, which triggers the play. 

"I knew as soon as he called it that I could trust in Benny Cunningham to make the most important block, so when he made that block I knew I had to cut off that and just keep running for the end zone," Cohen said. 

Worth noting: Had Hodges not been fooled by the misdirection on the play, he could've been able to crash toward the line of scrimmage and make a stop. 

"It was a good setup by coach Nagy," Whitehair said. "... If a defense is flowing hard like they were, it was a good time to use it."

Cohen, meanwhile, reads that Robinson's momentum in his block of Taylor is going to the sideline, so he cuts back over Robinson's inside shoulder, even with safety Tre Boston (black arrow) crashing down on the play. 

Boston gets his hands on Cohen around the four-yard line, and Cohen is eventually tackled at the one for a gain of 17 yards. Jordan Howard finishes the drive off on the next play with the Bears' only touchdown of the game. 

Still, "I was supposed to get in there," Cohen said. "I smelled it."