Matt Nagy clarified a significant point during his Monday press conference at Halas Hall: Mitch Trubisky will be the Bears’ starting quarterback for the rest of the 2019 season, so long as he’s healthy enough to play.
That’s the right decision, no matter how poorly Trubisky has played during a Year 3 supposed to be one of “steady, incremental progress,” as was the company line from Halas Hall back in July and August. But two numbers matter here for the 4-6 Bears:
5.6: Trubisky’s average yards per attempt, the lowest among 33 qualified quarterbacks in the NFL by seven-tenths of a yard; and
1.3: The percent chance the Bears will make the playoffs, per Football Outsiders.
With six games remaining, the Bears’ season is all but over. The 2018 Bears are not walking through that door, leaving 2019’s version to finish with six or seven wins at best, at this point.
So the most important — but not only — question for the Bears as they trudge through the final stretch of 2019 is this: Can Trubisky be salvaged?
The answer, right now, is not yet a resounding “no,” even if he’s provided scant evidence a turnaround is coming. Trubisky was fine — not good, fine — for the Bears’ first seven possessions against the Los Angeles Rams, with only one of those ending in a three-and-out.
A dropped pass here, a missed field goal there — and another missed field goal there — did more to keep the Bears’ off the scoreboard in the first 30 minutes than anything Trubisky did. Sure, he missed some throws, like one to an open Ben Braunecker on a play-action deep ball to the far sideline. But Trubisky looked largely decisive, if not explosive, against a good, zone-heavy Rams defense that entered Sunday ranked fourth in DVOA.
Who knows how different the game looks if Eddy Pineiro hits field goals from 48, 49 and 47 yards on the Bears’ first three drives (Pinerio missed from 48 and 47, and Nagy elected to try to convert on fourth and nine instead of having him attempt a 49-yarder). Perhaps Nagy and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s playcalling would’ve been different with a 16-10 lead instead of a 10-7 deficit.
The point being: If a few things not related to Trubisky went right, we might — for the first time this year — have been willing to buy the “steady, incremental progress” line.
Instead, Trubisky’s hip pointer steadily, incrementally affected his play as the second half went on. The Bears gained just 30 yards on their final four possessions with Trubisky at quarterback, going three-and-out three times and failing to capitalize on its defense smothering Todd Gurley, Jared Goff and the Rams’ offense with just a three-point deficit.
“I told him, I said, ‘Listen, man, we appreciate your toughness,’” Nagy said. “‘We appreciate you being as tough as you can possibly be and want to stay in the game.’
“But I need to be able to make a decision because there’s a fine line of that pain or being injured to where it affects how you play or decisions that you make because of being injured. And I think that’s where we got to. Again, he’s a tough, blue collar kid. And he’s a fighter. But I wanted him to know that I fully support if he’s in pain and it hurts to play and too much to where it’s affecting our team, I need to make a decision. And that’s exactly what that was.”
Nagy did not know on Monday if Trubisky would be available for an ideal get-right game against the lowly New York Giants this Sunday at Soldier Field. But the Bears’ next two games, against the Giants and Detroit Lions, won’t necessarily do much for his chances of still being the starter in Chicago in 2020.
What will matter more is how Trubisky finishes out 2019 in four games against teams that, in all likelihood, are ticketed for the playoffs: The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.
While it feels unlikely now, what if Trubisky puts together four complete, solid games to end the season and finally starts to look like the quarterback the Bears expected to get in April of 2017? The Bears believe quarterback development is not linear, a belief steeped in Ryan Pace’s time with the late-blooming Drew Brees in New Orleans and Matt Nagy’s experience coaching former No. 1 pick Alex Smith in Kansas City.
So the Bears’ brain trust is going to give Trubisky as much time to develop at his own pace. He’s also been described as a “reps guy” — as in, someone who needs to learn on the field.
So there’s no reason, save this hip pointer not improving, to not give Trubisky as many reps as possible over the final six weeks of 2019. Also: It's not like playing Chase Daniel for the final six games would absolutely, 100 percent save the locker room from fracturing — and, to this point, there hasn't been much to indicate an internal fracture is happening.
If the Bears had a backup quarterback with starting experience — perhaps in a Super Bowl and multiple NFC Championship games, for example — it might be a different story. But the Bears appreciate Daniel's ability to step in on a moment's notice during a game, or for a game or two, and operate Nagy's offense. He was not signed to be a long-term starter in case the 2017 No. 2 overall pick's career began cratering.
So the Bears are going to give Trubisky every opportunity to finally show the “steady, incremental progress” they hoped to see out of him three months ago.
That also means giving Trubisky every opportunity to fail, which would make their decision on what direction to take their quarterback room in 2020.
So yes, as long as Trubiskiy is healthy, he’ll be the Bears’ starter — as he should be. There’s too much in 2020 riding on what he does next, whether it’s more of the same or not.
“We’ll see where he’s at,” Nagy said when asked if it would benefit Trubisky to not play again in 2019. “You know, as we go here the next couple days, we’ll see where he’s at, but that’s not what he wants and that’s not what we want. We want to keep growing.”