Mark Schofield: How Mitch Trubisky handles pressure, and 2 throws that should give Bears fans hope
“I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”
It is a rather common refrain, not limited to the former Florida State football coach, but if they’re keeping score, winning is much more important than looking good while you’re on the field or the court. Which is good for Chicago Bears’ quarterback Mitch Trubisky, in the wake of Chicago’s 16-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, in a game that Pro Football Weekly’s own Hub Arkush stated “redefined winning ugly.”
In Sunday’s outing, Trubisky completed 24 of 35 passes for 220 yards, with one interception and three sacks. You might be surprised to learn that by some metrics, it was Trubisky’s best outing of the season. His 6.3 yards per attempt showed an improvement over the 4.9 he posted in Week 1 and the 5.9 he posted in Week 2. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice…
The outing was not all bad, as Trubisky again showed some developmental progress as well as delivering on two throws in particular that demonstrate him at his best. In this Week 3 recap we’ll look at the good and the bad, examine how he faced pressure, and check in on some of Matt Nagy’s schematic influence on the young QB.
Against the Cardinals, Trubisky faced a number of pressure situations, where Arizona brought blitzes off the edge or from the slot to try and generate heat on the quarterback. Early in the game Trubisky showed an ability to decipher these pressure schemes and react accordingly, often replacing the blitz with the ball, a time-tested way of handling blitzes.
On this third-and-6 play from Chicago’s opening drive, the Cardinals blitz a linebacker and play Cover 1 behind the pressure scheme. Trubisky (#10) recognizes it immediately and hits rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller (#17) on a shallow crossing route, working through the area vacated by the blitzing linebacker:
As you can see, this begins with presnap motion, as Miller starts the play on the right side of the formation and motions across the football into the left slot. That gives Trubisky a pre-snap indicator of the coverage, in this case man, given that Bene’ Benwikere (#28) trails him across the formation. Helping your quarterback is a good thing, and using motion helps QBs identify coverage before the play. Trubisky also does a very good job of dropping his arm slot here on the throw, almost releasing it side-arm, so he can fit it around pressure.
Later in the first quarter he faced a blitz again, off the edge, and this time Trubisky needed to improvise a bit:
What happens here is that the Bears use a five-man protection scheme up front, releasing both the tight end and the running back from pass protection responsibilities. This protection scheme, often called a 70s protection scheme in most offensive systems, is slid toward the weakside linebacker, in this case to the right. But that means when the Cardinals have a slot cornerback blitz on the left side of the offense, Trubisky cannot expect him to be blocked. In essence, Trubisky himself is responsible for that blitzer. So when the QB sees him coming, he immediately slides himself to the right and away from him, buying him time to make this checkdown throw.
There was a play later on, however, where the young quarterback did not handle pressure as well as he could have.
Late in the first quarter the Cardinals show blitz on a third-and-7 play, walking a defender down on each edge and showing six-man pressure. The Bears have Trubisky in the shotgun and a three-receiver bunch to the right:
Chicago runs a three level read play to the right, and the receiver to pay particular attention to is Taylor Gabriel (#18) in the flat:
All six defenders come after Trubisky on the play, and Arizona even uses a twist up front to try and free a rusher. Despite this, there is still a window for Trubisky to throw to Miller in the flat. He looks right at the route, but then decides to pull it down and try to escape:
He’s then strip-sacked and the Cardinals recover. On the very next play Arizona scored to take a 14-0 lead.
It is unclear why Trubisky pulled this ball down in the moment. Perhaps he was worried about the cornerback jumping the route, although it does seem like there is a big throwing window and this is not a particularly long throw. Perhaps he was worried about the closing defender in his face, but there was still time to release the ball. Whatever the reason, it lead to a costly turnover and an early deficit on the scoreboard.
Those in Trubisky’s camp can point to two throws he made Sunday with pride. The first is an example of Trubisky actually showing some calmness and comfort in the pocket, despite pressure, and the second shows him
The first play comes on a first-and-10 midway through the second quarter, with the Bears trailing by 14 and the football in Chicago territory. Trubisky is in the shotgun and the Bears run another three-level read to the right side of the field, out of a 2x2 formation:
Given that Trey Burton (#80) is running a deep crossing route from left to right, this is a slow-developing play that Trubisky will need to be patient on as it comes together. But as he drops into the pocket he faces some pressure off the right edge. Rather than drop his eyes and/or look to escape, he subtly moves and climbs in the pocket before dropping in a perfect throw to his tight end:
This is the kind of pocket movement and calm demeanor you want from your quarterback. More of this, please.
Trubisky’s best throw of the game, and one that got his head coach excited, came in the third quarter on an out-and-up route from wide receiver Allen Robinson (#12).
Chicago catches the Cardinals in a Cover 3 coverage on this play, and the route combination puts Trubisky in a perfect position to manipulate the safety in the middle of the field. Watch the play again and pay attention to the QB’s helmet. Trubisky stares right at safety Tre Boston (#33) in the middle of the field. That holds Boston in place, given the dig route coming from the safety’s right. At the moment Trubisky hits his drop depth in the pocket he flashes his eyes to the right sideline and begins to throw, just as Robinson is making his move vertically. From the manipulation to the timing, as well as the throw, this is picture-perfect from Trubisky.
It was not all good, however.
In the second quarter a Bears’ drive stalled in the red zone and they were forced to settle for a field goal, despite at one point facing a first-and-goal at the Arizona 4-yard line. Many will point to a decision on third-and-goal from the 2 by Trubisky, where he attempted a red zone fade route to Robinson, as a poor one.
Especially given this presnap look:
But I want to first look at a throw made earlier in the drive, on a first-and-10 play. The Bears have the football on the Arizona 36-yard line and put their QB in the shotgun using 12 offensive personnel, and have a three-receiver trips look to the right. They run another three level read here, with a slight twist:
As you can see Robinson releases vertically, while Burton runs an out pattern. Fellow tight end Dion Sims (#88) runs a shallow crossing route from left to right, setting up the three levels with Robinson deep, Burton in the intermediate level and Sims short. But the twist is Gabriel, who runs a post route working away from the three-level read. That gets Boston crossed up, and Gabriel gets behind the coverage:
It is a good read and decision for Trubisky to make this throw, he just misses it. As you can see his is setting and resetting his feet in the pocket, and this has given him problems this season. He made a set/reset throw earlier, as we already covered, but he misses a big chance here.
On the bright side, Bears fans. At least he tried to hit this route. New York Giants fans would be happy to see their QB attempt throws like this.
There was the little matter of the interception to talk about, however briefly:
Arizona brings pressure yet again, and Trubisky immediately looks to check the ball down. But he doesn’t get the throw over the head of Chandler Jones (#55) coming off the edge, and the defender tips the pass and it is intercepted off the deflection. It is a tough throw to make, given how you have to get it over the defender in your face but still drop it down into your RB, but you’d rather him sail it over the running back’s head than do...this.
Checking in on Scheme
Back this spring and summer when we looked at how Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich would look to develop Trubisky two areas we highlighted were the use of mirrored passing plays, as well as packaged plays. We saw both on Sunday against Arizona, and Trubisky was effective in those moments.
First, an example of a mirrored passing route:
Nagy called a mirrored curl/flat design multiple times against the Cardinals, including this second-and-22 early in the second quarter:
As you can see, the route structure gives Trubisky the same look to both sides of the field, and he can make his read and decision based on coverage or even “best look,” which could be either a favorable matchup or even the short side of the field. This design still stresses the defense from sideline to sideline and at multiple levels of the field, but simplifies the read process for the QB.
We also mentioned packaged plays, which allow the quarterback to determine pre-snap whether to run or pass based on a count of defenders in the box. The Bears used that in the first quarter and while the play was not completely successful, Trubisky made the right read and decision. The Bears face a second-and-10 and align with Trubisky in the shotgun and Jordan Howard (#24) to his left. Chicago has three receivers to the left side as well:
Here the package is either a run to the right edge, or the bubble screen to the trips. But looking at the Arizona defense, the Cardinals have the numbers advantage with seven box defenders. Six cannot block seven, so Trubisky pulls the ball from Howard after they meet at the mesh point and throws the bubble screen:
Robinson gets overpowered on his block, which prevents this from being a bigger play, but Trubisky made the right read and decision.
In the NFL, you survive and advance. Every win, especially those coming on the road, is an achievement. With a defense like Chicago’s, the Bears just need Trubisky to be effective, eliminate mistakes and capitalize on opportunities in the passing game. He failed to meet those goals on Sunday but Chicago was able to still come out with the victory.
Despite that, Trubisky still showed improvement in some areas. He will continue to be a work in progress, but with this defense even a quarterback who ends the year with an incomplete grade might be enough for this team to achieve greater goals.