Why benching Mitch Trubisky makes zero sense for the 2019 Chicago Bears

Why benching Mitch Trubisky makes zero sense for the 2019 Chicago Bears

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.” 

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The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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