It’s completely understandable to feel down about Mitch Trubisky’s NFL debut.
He completed just 12 of 25 passes, threw for only 128 yards, and posted a woeful 60.1 passer rating. And yet, that might have been the most entertaining 128-yard passing performance in Chicago Bears history.
Despite a set of disappointing numbers, there was still plenty to be encouraged about after dissecting the team’s 20-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. So let’s dig in.
It’s a one-game sample size, but Trubisky flashed the necessary athleticism and arm talent to compete at quarterback in the modern NFL at times during his debut. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ commitment to play action passes seemed stronger with Trubisky than at any time with Mike Glennon (seven of Trubisky’s pass attempts came on play action calls, including five designed bootlegs).
Loggains even added a sprint right play that created a different throwing window and allowed Trubisky to make a successful throw on the run. Several receivers were able to make use of Trubisky’s ability to open up new windows because of his mobility. There were also six traditional drop-backs in which he used his athleticism to move up or around the pocket to extend plays.
Sometimes, throwing on the run can be dangerous. I counted four occasions in which Trubisky was throwing on the run and across his body, with one attempt resulting in Zach Miller’s touchdown … that should have been an interception and later Harrison Smith’s interception on Trubisky’s second to last pass. There will be times early in Trubisky’s career where his mobility and playmaking ability is as much of a curse as it can be a gift. For now, chalk it up to inexperience and learning on the job.
Trubisky completed just 1 of 7 passes for nine yards when he dropped back and faced pressure, according to Pro Football Focus’ data. It’s safe to suggest opposing defenses will continue to blitz Trubisky, meaning the rookie will have plenty of opportunities to learn from his mistakes and get a better grasp of what to do while throwing on the run.
Remember when Trubisky started with a 96.3 first-quarter rating after completing 7 of 9 passes for 64 yards? Fun times. After that, Trubisky went just 5 of 16 (31.3 percent) for 64 yards and a 39.6 passer rating over the game’s final three quarters. Overall, Pro Football Focus handed out a 47.1 grade, which is fair considering he orchestrated just one offensive scoring drive that ended in a touchdown.
Trubisky will also need to clean up some of the pre-snap penalties, as several false start calls and a delay of game took the Bears offense out of any rhythm they seemed to build. Those penalties are commonplace for rookies early in their careers as their teammates get used to their calls and cadences. As familiarity grows, confusion will subside.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called the Bears offense boring because of some of the predictable and conservative play calling. In his comments on SportsCenter, Gruden said it was a grind for Chicago’s offense to squeeze out a first down. Gruden was right as the Bears had just two offensive plays that gained 20+ yards on the day – and one was a trick play from the special teams unit on fourth down. As for the Bears offense, they were just 3-for-12 on third down and had almosg as many first downs from penalties (4) as they did from runs (5). And it’s not as if they had many (7) first downs through the air either.
We’ll see how Trubisky grows with how the playbook expands moving forward. Loggains did an OK job playing to Trubisky’s strengths, especially with as often as he moved the pocket to create throwing lanes for the quarterback. There were times where it was evident Trubisky being a threat on the move was the only reason a Bears receiver was open. Moving forward, Loggains will need to call plays where receivers use their bodies or routes to clear space for Trubisky to throw.
Along with athleticism and an ability to provide the offense with a different dynamic, Trubisky showed a bit of accuracy. It wasn’t Trubisky’s best showing, but he started 7 of 9 for 64 yards and a 96.3 rating in the first quarter. Unfortunately, as we mentioned, he completed just 5 of 16 (31.3%) for 64 yards over the final three quarters.
Trubisky’s future is bright because of his arm talent and athleticism, but likely won’t start scratching the surface of his skills until he has some more reliable receivers. Still, starting now allows him to work out some of the kinks in his game, grow familiar with his offensive teammates and cut back on some of the silly procedure and dead-ball penalties, get acclimated to game speed, and make risky throws in a low-leverage environment for a team whose playoff odds are slim and none with slim taking a stroll toward the exit.