Mitch Trubisky’s last two games, on the surface, look like a blueprint for how a quarterback can pick apart a zone defense: 45 completions on 57 attempts (79 percent) for 481 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 119.4.
Conversely, Trubisky has only been able to run eight times for 19 yards in those wins over the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. And while the Bears’ offense hasn’t been as explosive as it was in previous wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Detroit Lions, perhaps this is the groove it needs to be in come the playoffs next month.
Part of the reason for that thought: The 49ers didn’t play a lot of zone prior to Sunday, but did against Trubisky. This has been a theme of Trubisky’s career, too: The Baltimore Ravens did the exact same thing in Trubisky’s second career start in October of 2017, for example.
What’s changed and developed for Trubisky is his ability to adjust faster within a game to those different defensive looks.
“I think over the last couple of games that we’ve played when teams have done that the offense and myself have adjusted quicker,” Trubisky said. “I think it was kind of a learning process for us going through that and changing our game plan a little bit and just switching some things up on the fly and knowing when to adjust and saying, ‘Okay, you’re going to have to identify pre-snap and post-snap a little bit more with your eyes and trust what you are seeing out there and just play within each play and try to find a completion and do your job.’”
For as sound as this strategy may be, it only resulted in 14 points against the 49ers — the Bears’ lowest total of the season, though had Cody Parkey hit a 37-yard field goal in the first half, it wouldn’t have had that designation. It’s not impossible to generate explosive plays against zone coverage, but outside of Allen Robinson’s 43-yard grab Sunday, those haven’t been a part of the Bears’ offense recently.
But in developing that ability to diagnose a defensive coordinator’s scheme quicker, Trubisky is making fewer mistakes. The fumble he lost against the 49ers was the product of doing too much within a play, and he said the interception he threw (that was called back for defensive holding) was the result of a poor throw, though the decision to force a pass into the end zone can be questioned too.
Otherwise, Trubisky made good decisions against the 49ers with where to go with the football, which coach Matt Nagy framed as an important learning opportunity.
“It helps him grow as a quarterback because you make more decisions,” Nagy said. “Not that you don’t do that vs. man, but there’s holes in the zone areas. Now are the holes, are they short, intermediate or long, with how they’re doing it with their scheme? He’s continuing to get a lot of looks. And I truly believe that only in the long run, him getting these zone looks that’s he getting right now, he’s getting better and better at them.”
The question for whatever team plays the Bears in the playoffs will, then, be this: Has Trubisky put enough on tape over the last two weeks to prove he can efficiently beat zone coverage? Or is it worth sticking to that strategy even if Trubisky is able to pick it apart on account of playing more man-to-man coverage could leave a defense exposed to his running ability?
At the very least, the Bears over the last few weeks have given whoever that opposing defensive coordinator will be something to think about.
“We’re seeing a lot more zone this year,” Nagy said. “It depends, really the personnel that the defense has and then how they see us as an offense, and so it just happens to be — some years you see a lot more man and this year we’re seeing a lot more zone. That’s fine. It’s for us now when you see zones you’ve got to be able to find the holes, gotta be able to make plays.”