Bears

Why the Bears' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky is working well

10-18mitchelltrubisky.jpg
USA Today

Why the Bears' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky is working well

The Bears’ gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky was controlled against the Baltimore Ravens, with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains only calling 20 passing plays on Sunday. And that’s hardly a problem. 

Not only did the Bears win with Trubisky mostly handing the ball off, but the gameplan accomplished a goal just as important for the future of the franchise. It was part of the slow, deliberate development of a rookie quarterback who only started 13 games in college and doesn’t have a big-time receiving target or two (like DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller) on which to lean. 

“I think they’re giving him a chance to develop,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “They’re not throwing him to the wolves. You can get out and have him throw 45 passes and get crushed, or you can do what you’re doing right now and be very methodical and very direct.

“…  If you ask a young guy to throw the ball 40 times and you expect to win, that’s going to be very difficult. So I think what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to develop this guy, shoot, believe me, I think the young man’s got a chance.” 

Beyond the playcalling Sunday — 50 runs between Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen — the design of the offense gave Trubisky the best chance to win the game. No quarterback had more time to throw in Week 6 than Trubisky (3.49 seconds, according to NFL Next Gen Stats), which makes sense given the rollouts and boots called for him. But for a rookie in Trubisky who needs improvement with blitz recognition, Loggains found a way to give him more time to scan the field and make a decision than any other quarterback last week. 

And what Trubisky did with all that time was not force anything. Only Green Bay’s Brett Hundley threw a lower percentage of aggressive passes (defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as when a defender is within one yard or less of a receiver at the time of completion or incompletion) than Trubisky, who only threw one of his 16 passes into tight coverage. That was a point of emphasis for the rookie six days after Harrison Smith baited him into a crippling interception. 

“Sometimes the best play is a throwaway,” Trubisky said. “So it’s just coming down to me learning, continue to stay aggressive; wanting to get a completion every time, but being smart and knowing when I need to throw the ball away and live to play another down.”

Loggias, in describing Trubisky, used the “M” word: 

“I thought he did a really good job managing the game and playing like he had to,” Loggains said. “He was still aggressive. He wasn’t, and I hate the term ‘manage’ but he was playing the way he needed to play to win that game.”

The Bears hoped Mike Glennon could be a game manager, of course. But the offensive strategy they’re deploying now isn’t necessarily the same as they one they used with Glennon — Trubisky has the ability to be a playmaker, as he showed when he evaded pressure and found Kendall Wright for a pivotal 18-yard completion in overtime. That was that aforementioned one pass he threw into tight coverage against the Ravens. 

But the Bears’ best skill position players are running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, unless a receiver emerges from the group of Tanner Gentry, Tre McBride, Josh Bellamy, an injured Markus Wheaton and Wright (the latter of whom Loggains said is at his best when he’s taking 25-30 snaps per game). The offensive line has improved with continuity over the last few weeks. This is a team that’s strength is in running the football, not in its quarterback play. 

Eventually, the Bears will open up the offense for Trubisky (getting a big-bodied receiver who can win against tight man coverage would help) as he gains experience, and the strength of the offense can be in its quarterback play. But if the goal is to bring a young quarterback along while giving the team a chance to win, then the offensive gameplan is working. 

“As a quarterback, you want to be throwing the ball, but as a competitor and leader of this team, you're going to do whatever it takes to win,” Trubisky said. “And if it's running the ball, if it's passing the ball, whatever it is, that's what we're going to do. I didn't feel any type of way at all about how many times we ran it, how many times we passed it, just excited to come away with the win and how we stuck together, and came away with that win, so it was awesome to see.”

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

roquan_smith_bears_ilbs_season_preview_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

jordan_howard.jpg
USA Today

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

Maybe this is what happens when a team is coming off a 5-11 season and has won only 14 games over three years. Maybe it's just another example of the Chicago Bears being overlooked and underrated. Regardless of the 'why,' a recent poll of NFL experts has provided more fuel for the Bears in 2018.

ESPN's Field Yates asked 43 insiders and former players for their list of the top under-25-year-old starters in the NFL and not a single Chicago Bear made the cut.

No Jordan Howard. No Mitchell Trubisky. No Allen Robinson.

Not a single Bear.

The most shocking omission is Howard, who finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2016 and sixth last year despite facing defenses that focused their entire game plan on stopping him every single week. At only 23 years old, he's clearly one of the top young running backs in the NFL and warranted a spot on this list. 

Instead, the Rams' Todd Gurley, Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott and Giants rookie Saquon Barkley got the nod.

Howard has more rushing yards than Gurley over the last two seasons and trails Elliott by only 179. Barkley has yet to take a snap in the NFL.

The Bears were recently named the most underrated team in the league heading into 2018 and this is just another piece of evidence justifying that claim. A winning season will change the national perception of players like Howard, who with another year of high-end production should find himself at or near the top of many of these lists next offseason.