Mark Schofield: Mitch Trubisky’s lessons learned
Sport is the ultimate entertainment. The ultimate form of drama, the perfect screenplay unfolding in real time before the eyes of millions.
The final story of the 2018 Chicago Bears is yet to be written, but you could not have asked for a better twist to the story arc than this Sunday. With a chance to secure their first division title since 2010, the Bears had to stare down a well-known foe and foil, the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The arc to this story takes on even more meaning when you look back at how the season began. On the first Sunday night of the season the Bears got out to an early lead against their bitter rivals, then watched it melt away as Rodgers did what he has done so many times before: Spark a miraculous comeback to stomp on the hearts of the Bears and their fans. What made that opening-night loss sting that much more was the failure of the offense, and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, to put the game away despite their initial hot start.
Last week in this piece we talked about lessons for Trubisky and his head coach. This week it is only fair to close that loop as well, with some lessons learned.
In the Week 1 loss to the Packers, Chicago enjoyed a 17-0 lead at the break. But their lead could easily have been more had the offense capitalized on the advantages in front of them in the second quarter.
In that quarter, the Bears’ offense had a pair of three-and-outs, and failed to capitalize on another possession that started in Green Bay territory, when Trubisky was strip-sacked on a fourth down try. Their only points of the second quarter came on a defensive touchdown from Khalil Mack.
This Sunday, however, was different. While the defense held Green Bay to just a field goal in the second quarter, Trubisky put together on of his best drives of the game to lead a touchdown drive in the final minutes of the half.
The drive began with the Bears facing a first-and-10 on their own 39-yard line, holding a 7-3 lead and under two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Chicago aligns for the first play of the drive with Trubisky (#10) in the shotgun and three receivers to the right:
In the piece last week one of the lessons we imparted upon head coach Matt Nagy was how some simplified read structures can get Trubisky into a bit of a groove as a passer. Some of Trubisky’s best plays against the Los Angeles Rams, in a game where he struggled on the whole, came on these designs. That is exactly what the head coach turns to to open this series:
Looking at the presnap alignment of the defense, Trubisky will read linebacker Blake Martinez (#50) on this play. As the QB meets the running back at the mesh point, he’ll decide whether to throw or hand off based on how Martinez reacts. If the linebacker drops into his underneath zone, he’ll hand off. If Martinez crashes down against the run, he’ll pull the football and throw to Trey Burton (#80) on the inside slant route.
Matthews crashes down:
Trubisky pulls the football from the belly of Tarik Cohen (#29) and drills in a good throw, with optimal velocity and placement, on this slant route. On this image you can see how the run action moves Martinez and creates a perfect throwing lane:
You can also see one of the lineman working to the second level, in case the ball was handed off, but that’s a story for another time.
Following a big Cohen run and a Trubisky incompletion, the offense faces a second-and-10 with just 45 seconds remaining, on the Green Bay 30-yard line. Here, Trubisky completes arguably his best throw of the day, on a beautiful post route as we will see. The offense lines up with Trubisky in the shotgun and three receivers to the left, leaving Josh Bellamy (#15) alone on the right side. The Packers show an overload blitz over the right tackle, with three defenders lurking:
Pressure does come, but it is from the backside, with free safety Tramon Williams (#38) blitzing from the slot:
Trubisky shows no fear here, despite the free run that the safety has into the pocket. He stands tall and delivers a strike to Bellamy in the perfect position for a big gain on this backside post route:
If the measure of a quarterback is decisiveness, then Trubisky on this snap shows just how good he can be. As he takes the shotgun snap his head flashes to the left to pick up the blitz from Williams. He knows that he’ll need to get the ball out, but he also knows that he has the backside post route to Bellamy given the coverage in the secondary. He places this throw in the right spot, up-field and away from the cornerback in trailing coverage, in perfect position for only Bellamy to make the play. Well done.
Trubisky and the Bears capped off the drive with a touchdown coming from what I’ve long believed to be their most dangerous offensive alignment: Y-Iso with Burton alone to one side, with Cohen shaded towards him in the backfield:
Two things stand out on this play. First, the Bears get Cohen to the right of Trubisky – and shaded toward Burton’s side of the field – late in the play, perhaps trying to take advantage of the matchup they see in the secondary. Second, Trubisky is blitzed again, this time up the middle, and he is staring down this pressure as the play unfolds. Once more he hangs in the pocket with pressure coming towards him before getting this to Cohen in the flat. From there, the shifty back does what he does best: Make people miss in space.
Then came the fourth quarter. After a quarter of football which saw the Packers score 11 unanswered points to tie the game, it seemed like the script was going to play out in usual fashion. Somehow, Rodgers would find a way yet again to crush the souls of the Bears’ faithful. Those fears reached a near critical level when Cohen fumbled the football in Packers’ territory early in the fourth quarter, giving the Packers a chance to take the lead and ending what had been a 10-play drive into Green Bay territory. However, then the defense forced a punt, giving the ball back to the offense.
Then Trubisky, channeling his inner Syrio Forel, stared the Packers in the eye and said “not today.”
If RPO designs are one way that Nagy gets his quarterback into a rhythm, there is another passing concept that we have covered – perhaps ad nauseam this season – that the Bears turn to in these moments. Stop me if you have heard this one before, facing a second-and-6 on their ensuing possession, the Bears turned to the curl/flat concept:
Trubisky hits Taylor Gabriel (#18) for an eight-yard gain on this play, giving the Bears a fresh set of downs. Helped along by two defensive penalties and a shovel pass to Burton, the offense faces a second-and-8 inside the Packers red zone.
Lessons coming full circle.
Also in last week’s piece we illustrated how yet again, Trubisky’s left foot was hampering his ball placement. On two of his interceptions against the Rams he stepped wildly in the bucket, misfiring on throws. The final play of this drive came again on a Y-Iso formation, as the Bears put Burton alone on the left side and run a Flat-7 Smash concept, with Burton running the corner route:
Presnap, Trubisky likes the look from the defense. The Packers are in Red 2, a red zone Cover 2 concept, and with the cornerback likely to hang in the flat to cover the running back out of the backfield, Burton should take advantage on his corner route with outside leverage working away from the safety. The only thing he’ll need to do is deliver a strong, accurate throw. It starts with his feet, and they are much improved here when juxtaposed with last week:
Look at how his feet align with Burton, and the “target line,” remembering as we pointed out last week that ideally the quarterback steps three to four inches left of the target, to allow the trailing hip to come through and generate torque on the throw:
Another lesson learned.
The Bears have two regular season games remaining, and their final 2018 story has yet to be written. But if their head coach and quarterback keep learning from the lessons of the past, perhaps this story will indeed have a happy ending.