Following the Bears' 19-14 win over the New York Giants on Sunday, Mitch Trubisky clearly described two things he likes to do as a quarterback: Play with tempo and throw on the run.
Both lend themselves to a more backyard style of offense than the Bears have tried to run this year, making his comments the most notable thing to come out of Soldier Field this weekend. Here’s what he said on running a hurry-up, two-minute offense:
“I can just see the defense, (I’m) not thinking as much, guys are in their spots, (not) worried about the play clock,” Trubisky said. “You're just seeing space, you're seeing the defense and you're kind of just reacting, and it's something I've been doing my whole life, so it's more natural for me.”
And on throwing on the move:
“I think it's good,” he said. “I think I'm comfortable throwing on the run. I think that it helps that our O-line is moving the pocket, so it's not drop back all the time and I think our receivers like it because they get a little more time to run their routes. It's a good way to mix it up, moving the pocket, take a little pressure off the O-line, and create big plays.”
Consider what Trubisky said here: Playing fast and reacting comes naturally. Players get lined up quicker and easier. He’s able to read defenses better. It’s not a drop back all the time.
It wasn’t necessarily a quarterback making a public plea to his coach for how he’d like the Bears’ offense to be operated (Trubisky, one would think, has made these comments to coach Matt Nagy behind the scenes). But it was a good refresher on what Trubisky does well against the backdrop of a season in which he’s regressed, not improved.
So what are the Bears doing about it?
First things first: 13.5 percent of the Bears’ plays in 2019 have been in no huddle, the NFL’s second-highest rate behind the Arizona Cardinals, per SharpFootballStats.com. So in terms of just going up-tempo, the Bears are already doing that for Trubisky.
“We've really done it for a lot of the season,” Nagy said. “… We like it and we think it's good and we know that Mitch feels comfortable in that and I think our offense does so we want to definitely keep that going.’
Play-action has become an avenue for the Bears to get Trubisky outside the usual pocket, with more of those plays being called in recent weeks (Trubisky still only entered Sunday with 45 passes on play action, 27th in the league). So Nagy is listening, and doing that too.
“Any time, without getting into specifics and giving an advantage away, any time we have plays or something that our players like, we always take that into consideration,” Nagy said. “I think you need to. So if it’s a play, whether it’s huddle or no huddle, that he doesn’t like, we get together every Friday and we go through that call sheet. And if there’s something that he doesn’t like that thing gets thrown out.”
The more interesting point here, then, is with personnel groupings.
Nagy’s offense is predicated on using plenty of different personnel packages in an attempt to confuse opposing defenses — they might be in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two receivers) on one play and then 10 personnel (one back, no tight ends, four receivers) on another, with David Montgomery swapping out for Tarik Cohen. It’s supposed to be part of the identity of this offense — the ability to keep a defense on its heels with waves of substitutions and different formations.
But this offense has had far too many problems in 2019 getting players lined up in the right spots and/or knowing their assignments on a given play. Going up-tempo and using play-action is one thing; doing those things without frequent, substantial personnel changes might be another.
“It’s hard for defenses to get set up and we know exactly what we’re doing when we come to the line of scrimmage,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. “So we’re just ready for the next play automatically, we all know what to do.”
The Bears have used 241 unique lineups this year, the seventh-highest total in the league. Only 4.4 percent of the Bears plays have been ran with their most common lineup, fifth-lowest.
(For reference, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles have used 217 and 158 different lineups, respectively.)
This may be the most difficult balance for Nagy to strike, then, over the final five games of 2019: His belief in using different personnel packages to give his offense an advantage, versus his players’ confidence in their own assignments in going no-huddle/hurry-up without those sometimes play-to-play substitutions.
Getting away from such frequent personnel changes, though, would be an adjustment that seems worth trying as Nagy and the Bears search for a sustainable spark for their lagging offense.
“On the ball, (the defense) can't substitute and we're not substituting either, so everybody knows where their spots are at and we're playing fast, and I think that's when we play free and guys are getting in the right spots and guys are making plays,” Trubisky said. “I’m seeing the defense, and they're not doing a bunch of crazy looks because we're going fast, and they've got to respect that.”