In the first quarter of the Bears’ 41-9 rout of the Bills, quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s progress showed up on a third-and-10 conversion.
The Bills showed seven at the line of scrimmage but only rushed four. Linebacker Matt Milano, though, beat running back Benny Cunningham and flushed Trubisky from the pocket.
Trubisky stepped up to his left, kept his eyes down the field and threw a 19-yard completion to receiver Anthony Miller, who was wide open between two Bills in zone coverage.
It’s a play that Trubisky also made because the Bills were concerned about him running for the first down.
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, in particular, focused on him. He was in coverage and stepped up when Trubisky moved to his left. Trubisky then threw the ball over Alexander’s head.
“You’ve seen teams scheme [against my running] the last couple weeks with a spy or just having defenders play more zone against us so they have defenders on the quarterback rather than on the receivers,” Trubisky said.
“That’s just something they’re going to continue to have to account for — and something we’re going to have an answer for.”
And it’s one of five things that we want to see Trubisky do over the second half of his first season with coach Matt Nagy, starting Sunday against the Lions.
Find a balance
One of the recurring criticisms of Trubisky is that he’s been too quick to run when pressured. That changed against the Bills. He had one carry – a six-yard run on an option play down to the Bills’ 1-yard line. It was his lowest rushing total since having eight in Week 2 against the Cardinals.
But Trubisky did the same against the Jets. He gained 51 yards on six carries but only two were actual scrambles. Three were option plays and one was a sweep.
The Bears want Trubisky to use his athleticism. His 302 rushing yards trail only Cam Newton’s 352 for quarterbacks. But the Bears want Trubisky to use his legs and feet in the pocket first.
Trubisy’s first-down run on third-and-10 in the third quarter against the Jets is an example. Instead of running – which Nagy was OK with — Trubisky could have stepped up, slid to the right and thrown a pass to a wide-open Miller.
“There is a fine line with coaching a quarterback who has the ability to leave the pocket and make yardage for himself,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “There’s also a fine line when you’re supposed to leave and your eyes need to go from no longer looking at receivers to who you are supposed to make miss or get to the sideline.”
Benefit from his backs
The Bears have often be compared to the Rams because of their young coach-young quarterback situations, but Jared Goff also has superstar back Todd Gurley, who has an NFL-best 868 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Trubisky hasn’t benefitted from the same caliber of run-game production.
Jordan Howard ranks 17th with 439 rushing yards this season. He’s only back in the top-20 for rushing with an average below 4 yards per carry with a pedestrian 3.5. Howard only has one carry for more than 20 yards this season.
Nagy has said several times that he’s trying to find what works best for Howard. It’s not that Howard needs more carries; it’s that he wants his average per carry to be improve.
Last year, Chiefs back Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing with Nagy as their offensive coordinator. Hunt currently ranks third with 683 rushing yards. Similar to Gurley with Goff, Hunt has helped quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Eliminate ugly miscues
Trubisky’s overthrows should improve with experience. Most of them required better timing and footwork. The Bears also would be more concerned if he wasn’t seeing then targeting open receivers.
What the Bears want Trubisky to eliminate immediately is his tendency to force plays in head-scratching fashion. The worst is still his decision to throw a pass to offensive lineman Bradley Sowell in the end zone against the Patriots.
Against the Bills, Trubisky was sacked and stripped by the sideline against the Bills on third down. He needed to throw the ball away. It cost the Bears a chance at a field goal.
“It’s a discussion … where you don’t want to take it all [his playmaking] away from him, but there is a point of a play where there is no longer a chance to survive,” Ragone said.
“It’s understanding where you are on the field and more importantly that the play is pretty much over, and there’s nothing that he can do.”
Handle the moment
To his credit, Trubisky has proven to be a quick study. He tends to correct his mistakes quickly, which is part of his development that his coaches rave about.
“I’ve been getting better with that,” Trubisky said. “I just feel like I’m continuously getting better as a player, and I can just go back to the theme of continuing to improve my eyes and footwork. Keeping them downfield, staying calm in the pocket — that’s just something that’s going to be huge for my growth and development.”
But we still haven’t seen whether he’s learned from arguably his greatest lesson this season from the Bears’ season-opening loss to the Packers.
Down 24-23, Trubisky had the ball with 2:08 remaining on the Bears’ 18 but only reached the Bears’ 42. And that’s despite receiving a second chance after linebacker Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty.
Trubisky said afterward that he focused too much on big plays instead of stacking completions. He’s improved since then but he’s yet to be in a similar situation.
Be a fantasy hero, again
The best way to silence critics – and Trubisky still has loud ones as this past week has shown – is by having big games.
Trubisky’s six-touchdown game against the Buccaneers was the glimpse that fans needed but he should be expected to produce more.
In a league that favors quarterbacks, the best ones now have several of those big games throughout one season.
“It’s going to be a good process with him as we go,” Nagy said. “It’s never going to end. He’s going to grow for the rest of his career. It’s just how much is that going to happen and how fast.”
Here comes help
Do the Bears have big plans for tight end Adam Shaheen when he returns from injured reserve? It certainly sounds like it.
“All-dimension tight end,” offensive coordinator Mark Hefrich said. “He’s blocked well. He’s run routes well. I’m just really excited about his future.
“I thought it was funny: his first job coming back [to practice] is to block [outside linebacker] Khalil Mack. So good luck, welcome back.”
Shaheen stood out against during the Bears’ joint practices with the Broncos. Of course, he was injured while being tackled after making a catch on a run-pass option play against the Broncos in their preseason game
“At that point in time, he was still digesting the playbook, but you saw some things that he was doing,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He was getting the ball a little bit, and he’s a nice-sized guy, so one-on-one battles he does well with.
“He was also learning how to play tight end and how to run some of the routes that we run in this offense, so it was tough to see him go down the way that he did because I thought that he was really one of those guys that was progressing pretty fast.”
Here comes Floyd?
In effort to help outside linebacker Leonard Floyd — who still is searching for his first sack this season — Bears outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said there is an emphasis on him being more decisive at the top of his rushes.
“It’s knowing where that tackle is and being able to finish the rush,” Staley said. “He’s putting himself in good positions.”
Now it’s just a matter of finishing what he started against those tackles based where they are in the pocket.
“It’s you transitioning your game, being on the attack,” Staley said.
But it’s apparent to Staley that Floyd still searching for a rhythm. Staley said Floyd’s injuries were a factor but they’re past them now.
“The biggest thing with a player if he’s struggling or going through a drought that Leonard is going on right now is really focusing on the process of each and every rush, each and every practice and each and every meeting,” Staley said. “That’s how you snap out of it.”
What’s with Mitch [Trubisky] during interviews with you guys. [When] multiple people ask a question, he begins to smile and laugh. Inside joke? — @Brandon_Eiff
A: That’s a good observation. Let me take you inside the Halas Hall media room. On days Trubisky talks — which are Wednesdays most of the time — it’s always packed. Every seat is taken. Some reporters stand off to the side. Every TV station in town is present. National reporters from the NFL Network and ESPN usually attend, too. Over the past several press conferences, Trubisky has laughed at how loud certain media members can get as they try to get certain questions in during the press conference. It happens every week. The “inside joke” for Trubisky, though, started with him seeing team website reporter Larry Mayer get beat by other reporters when trying to ask a question. It happened in back-to-back weeks in loud fashion. Trubisky found it funny both times, especially the second. What does this say about him? Well, he’s not Jay Cutler – or at least, the salty, moody version of Cutler that showed up during interviews during his early years with the Bears. Trubisky has a sense of humor, and he shows it. You also can see that in the way he interacts with his teammates in the locker room, too.
What is Dion Sims’ role on this team, other then taking up a roster spot? — @nwsidedan
A: Ouch. But I get your point. Sims has struggled. Some of his mistakes have been caught on broadcast replays, too. Overall, Sims didn’t do much to make up for the loss of tight end Adam Shaheen over the first half of the season. Sims made two catches for nine yards in the opener against the Packers. But he’s only been targeted once since then. That would be OK if Sims helped establish the Bears’ ground game behind Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. But the Bears’ rushing attack has been inconsistent through eight games. As far as Sims’ place on the roster, he has one more year remaining on his three-year contract, but the team can cut him this year without major salary-cap implications. They couldn’t do that this year. Sims has been ruled out with a concussion this week.