In a breakfast with reporters at the Arizona Biltmore in March, Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy issued a challenge.
“If you watch our season and you watch every play that we had – and you can take out the runs – just go through and watch the pass plays,” he said. “You’ll see how much Mitchell Trubisky grew. I think you will.”
Challenge accepted. Little did Nagy know, I was already two months into doing exactly that. Just days after the Bears’ stunning loss to the Eagles in the playoffs, I sat down in a Northbrook Starbucks on a cold January afternoon to start my yearly routine of re-watching the coaches’ film from the entire season. But as I started to watch the Bears’ first offensive series against the Packers, I felt an urge to narrow my focus on the quarterback. I decided that I would first go through the season by only watching Trubisky, removing all handoffs to running backs and receivers. Week-by-week and play-by-play, I meticulously took notes on 581 plays. I marked the good, the bad, and the plays that needed extra clarity or context.
And it didn’t take long to start seeing the big picture. With the loss to the Eagles fresh in my mind, I noticed something remarkable as soon as I re-watched the final series of the Bears’ Week 1 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field. Having just coughed up a 20-0 lead, the Bears trailed 24-23 and were backed up at their own 13-yard-line with 1:59 to go. This was a two-minute drill the Bears had practiced over-and-over again all training camp, but it didn’t go very far. The biggest gain came on a roughing-the-passer penalty by Clay Matthews. Trubisky didn’t look comfortable. He was inaccurate on a third down pass to Trey Burton and didn’t even get a throw off on fourth down. He got worse as the game went along, not better.
“You got Week 1 of the season, Week 1 of the Matt Nagy offense. It’s the first week that Mitch is running it, so you don’t really have an identity as a team,” backup quarterback Chase Daniel said. “And you don’t really have an identity as a play caller yet, because you’re not sure what we’re good at yet. You think you know, and you think you practice it in training camp, but it really takes three or four weeks, five weeks into the season, before you really have an identity as an offense.”
The fourth quarter at Lambeau Field was the exact opposite of what transpired in the playoff game four months later against the Eagles, when Trubisky led a go-ahead touchdown drive and later set up what should have been the game-winning field goal. After a rough first half, Trubisky got better as the game went along — a lot better.
“Looking at the Eagles game, (it was) Mitch’s comfort level with the offense, his confidence level, just out there playing and playing a full season in this offense,” Daniel said. “And what is really paramount is that we were running our bread-and-butter plays. If you watch that last drive, it’s stuff we ran in training camp of 2018. So he knows it like the back of his hand. I think that really helps, when a quarterback can own a play, he’s going to find a way to make it work.”
As you’ll see in the film study of the playoff game, the Bears were also running plays they ran earlier in the game. “Plays-on-plays” as Nagy and Trubisky frequently refer to.
“That’s the comfort level of those plays that Mitch felt, that’s why we kept calling them,” Daniel said.
The tape shows that as Trubisky got more comfortable in 2018, he got better. The goal now is to have him get more comfortable with more of the offense — going from “101 to 202,” as Nagy puts it.
To understand exactly what that means — exactly what Trubisky needs to improve on when he takes the field against the Packers Sept. 5 — you first need to understand what he experienced in 2018. What worked? What didn’t? And, why?
There’s a lot to see and analyze in 581 plays, so I’ve condensed the entire project into the following week-by-week digest, which I hope is the most extensive and, more importantly, most accurate review of Trubisky’s second NFL season — the first in Nagy’s system. Since the Bears still haven’t entrusted me with a copy of their playbook, I consulted many sources for this story, both on-and-off the record to get clarity on certain plays/situations that occurred in 2018, while also respecting the team’s desire to protect their playbook, strategy and tendencies.
So, before we all witness the jump Trubisky either does or does not make in 2019, let’s take one last look back at how the 2018 season really unfolded for the quarterback who just turned 25.
Week 1: Packers 24, Bears 23 — Lambeau Field
23/35, 171 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 77.2 rating, 2 fumbles (1 lost)
After Matt Nagy chose to sit his starters for the final two preseason games, Trubisky came into the Week 1 Sunday night matchup against the Packers on 21 days rest. The Bears were debuting a new offense that they showed very little of in the preseason, while the Packers had some secrecy of their own with new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine leading the Green Bay defense.
Watch the tape: Trubisky showed no signs of rust, going 4-for-4 for 54 yards on the Bears’ opening drive, which ended with the quarterback eluding two defenders on a zone-read keeper to score the first touchdown of the season. Trubisky clearly benefitted from the early script, which had the Packers on their heels. As a whole, the game was a mixed bag. In the third quarter, he did a nice job to avoid a sack and throw the ball away to ensure a field goal that put the Bears up 20-0. In the fourth, he didn’t see Trey Burton and scrambled instead. Later in the quarter, he used his legs to extend a 3rd-and-7 and hit Anthony Miller for 11 yards. But on 3rd-and-10 with 1:10 left, Trubisky led Burton too far, and the timer didn’t go off in his head on the final play, resulting in a game-ending sack/fumble (although no one was really open). This qualified as a game in which Trubisky’s legs were more dangerous than his arm.
The good: 1Q, 3:32 — Trubisky correctly read single-high coverage and threw a great back-shoulder pass to Allen Robinson on the slot-fade route for a gain of 33 yards. Great route, great throw, great catch.
The bad: 1Q, 0:20 — With the ball at the 3-yard-line, Robinson had his man beat on a fade to the back corner of the end zone, but Trubisky threw it too hot as the ball sailed over the receiver’s head. The Bears settled for a field goal.
The aftermath: A screenshot on Twitter appeared to show Trubisky not pulling the trigger with Trey Burton wide open in the end zone, but Packers defensive back Kevin King came to Trubisky’s defense, insisting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was closing and would have picked off the pass. Video review shows it was a much tighter window than the screenshot suggested.
Final word: “Yeah, that wasn’t open. That would have been closed in on, man. He knew that. He felt me. Everything looks good (on a screenshot). It wasn’t as open as you think it was. If a guy can’t get five yards (of space) on a throw that’s 20 yards in the back of the end zone, pardon me, but that play would have been made.” — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is now with the Bears, as he viewed the play for this story.
Week 2: Bears 24, Seahawks 17 — Soldier Field
25/34, 200 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 83.0 rating
Week 1 provided a good glimpse of the scrutiny Trubisky was going to face throughout the 2018 season and the spotlight stayed bright in Week 2 as the Bears played on Monday Night Football.
Watch the tape: For the second straight week, Trubisky had success with the opening script, ending the first drive with a touchdown. After his first throw sailed high to Jordan Howard, Trubisky came back with a third-down strike to Allen Robinson and followed that up with a great 17-yard scramble up the middle in which he eluded multiple tacklers. He survived a risky throw to Howard in the flat, but read the defense correctly on the shovel to Trey Burton to go up 7-0. Deep-ball accuracy issues popped up as he sailed a pass over a wide-open Taylor Gabriel downfield in the first quarter and under-threw Robinson down the right sideline in the second-quarter, resulting in an interception. In the fourth quarter, he executed a great read/fake to Howard before sprinting left and delivering a well-thrown pass to Anthony Miller for a touchdown.
The good: 2Q, 5:51 (2nd & 8) — With Trey Burton covered on the post as the first read, and Cohen slipping as he broke inside on his option route, Trubisky was forced to spin out of the pocket to try to read the other side of the field. He was immediately greeted by pressure though, so he looked back to the right where Cohen made a break downfield. With two pass rushers bearing down, Trubisky put excellent touch on his pass and hit Cohen over the shoulder for a gain of 17. This was a great example of the young quarterback’s athleticism and ability to keep plays alive.
The bad: 2Q, 1:18 (3rd & 6 at SEA 7) — Trubisky’s scrambling ability didn’t always result in good decisions. After spinning out of a sack that would have backed up the field goal, Trubisky forced a pass into a closing window and was really lucky it wasn’t intercepted. He also may have had more time in the pocket before scrambling. Gabriel sprung open early on a double-move, but Trubisky opted to scramble as he got to that read.
The aftermath: Overall, Trubisky showed improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and the Bears got their first win under Matt Nagy. The fourth quarter touchdown to Miller left a positive impression despite two interceptions.
Final word: “I feel comfortable on the move. It’s just another way to switch up the launch point in the pocket … I thought it was a great play call for that situation and it’s definitely something I’m comfortable doing so hopefully we’ll see more of it going forward.” — Trubisky on his fourth quarter touchdown to Anthony Miller.
Week 3: Bears 16, Cardinals 14 — State Farm Stadium
24/35, 220 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 73.5 rating
While the Cardinals would end up having the worst record in football in 2018, their defense was not a push-over early in the season and this turned out to be a tough test for Trubisky after quickly falling behind 14-0.
Watch the tape: The Bears failed to score on their opening drive for the first time as Trubisky looked the wrong way for his hot-read (Cohen was open) and took a sack on third down at the 13-yard-line before Cody Parkey missed a 46-yard field goal. “That one’s on me, for sure,” Trubisky said. Things got worse on the second drive as Trubisky had the ball swiped out of his hands and the Cardinals recovered. Two deep shots to Taylor Gabriel fell incomplete as he was well covered on both. At the goal line in the second quarter, Trubisky had four receivers vs three defenders on the right side, but threw an uncatchable fade to Robinson on the left side instead. Before halftime, Trubisky failed to lob a short pass over the unblocked defender (intended for Benny Cunningham in the flat) and it was tipped and picked off. In the third quarter, Trubisky rebounded with a dime to Robinson down the right sideline on the same corner-and-go double move that would end up working against the Eagles in the playoff game. Later, he was lucky not to be intercepted on an ill-advised throw back to the middle intended for Robinson.
The good: 2Q, 7:21(1st & 10) — Trubisky’s feet got tangled up with Jordan Howard at the mesh point on play-action, but he recovered to throw a strike to Trey Burton on the deep crossing route. The stumble prevented the underneath linebacker from biting on the play-action so this throw required precise accuracy to get over the top.
The bad: 2Q, 4:40 (1st & 10) — Taylor Gabriel broke free to the post on what should have been a 36-yard touchdown, but Trubisky overthrew him.
The aftermath: Matt Nagy went to bat for his quarterback, taking exception to the idea that Trubisky hadn’t shown anything “special” through three games: “I know he made a special throw to Trey Burton on the deep cross the other day that not many quarterbacks in this league can make. And so I’ll take that as special.”
Final word: “The problem with us right now is we need to make the routine plays routine. That obviously is magnified at the quarterback position and the blame and the praise is maybe unfairly put on that position and it always will. But (Trubisky) needs to make the layups.” — Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich
Week 4: Bears 48, Buccaneers 10 — Soldier Field
19/26, 354 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 154.6 rating
After only throwing for two touchdowns in the first three weeks and dealing with some deep-ball accuracy issues, no one could have predicted what was about to happen at Soldier Field.
Watch the tape: Trubisky was on top of his game from the very start, checking to a successful QB sneak on 3rd & 1 on the first drive. Nagy mixed in more “scissors” concepts into the game plan and the corner-and-go routes continued to work as Trubisky hit Burton for a 39-yard touchdown and Cohen for a 35-yard gain. In the second quarter, Trubisky showed excellent footwork and timing, selling a fake to Cohen in the flat before hitting Josh Bellamy wide open for a 20-yard touchdown. After missing Gabriel on deep passes in previous weeks, Trubisky connected with Gabriel multiple times downfield as the receiver won with his speed against single-high coverage. Execution of “Willy Wonka” with two quarterbacks on the field wasn’t a problem and Trubisky showed great timing on a screen to Cohen before dropping one in a bucket to his speedy running back down the right sideline on a wheel route. There were a lot of open receivers in this game, but Trubisky found them. This time, he hit the “layups.”
The good: 2Q, 2:18 (1st & 10) — Allen Robinson ran an excellent route to the back corner of the end zone, but cornerback MJ Stewart stayed pretty close, giving Trubisky little space to fit the ball in. The quarterback put excellent touch on the pass, hitting Robinson in stride for the 14-yard score.
The bad: 2Q, 10:09 (1st & 10) — Trubisky led Javon Wims too far on a short out to the sideline and was sacked on the next play with Cohen open as a check-down underneath. The route by Wims wasn’t crisp though and the protection broke down quickly on the sack. This is nitpicking in an otherwise outstanding game.
The aftermath: After Trubisky threw for five touchdowns in the first half and tied a franchise record with six in the game, Chicago went into the bye week feeling much better about their quarterback. In fact, for some fans, their biggest concern was making sure the quarterback kept wearing the sleeve he wore on his throwing arm to protect a cut that kept reopening.
The final word: “You play pretty well, some superstition, call it what you want. I also got a lot of threats that I have to wear it, so, yeah I’m going to keep it on. We’ll see what the color is. But it feels comfortable, gives me a little more swag or whatever. Just go out there and do your thing with the arm sleeve.” — Trubisky
Week 6: Dolphins 31, Bears 28 (OT) — Hard Rock Stadium
22/31, 316 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 122.5 rating
After a feel-good bye week, the Bears were greeted with a reality check on a very hot and humid day in Miami. An early ankle injury to Khalil Mack and a tiring defense meant Trubisky and the offense had to pick up the slack.
Watch the tape: The deep-ball accuracy issue popped up again as Trubisky overthrew Anthony Miller wide-open downfield on the second throw of the game. He showed good decision-making on a QB sneak and shovel to Trey Burton. Protection wasn’t as dependable and you could see Trubisky speeding up. Early in the second quarter, Gabriel was wide open on a busted coverage, but an unblocked blitzer prevented Trubisky from getting there in his progression. He came back with an absolute dime to Gabriel down the left sideline for 47 yards. After a scoreless first half, Trubisky threw back-to-back touchdowns in the third, with great execution of a fake HB pitch and shovel to Burton, before throwing a strike to Robinson on the next play. Hit Gabriel again down the left sideline, this time for 54 yards. Hit Tarik Cohen in stride on an option route, allowing a huge catch and run. Good back-shoulder completion to Allen Robinson (great catch). Forced a pass to Ben Braunecker in double-coverage and was picked off in the end zone. Survived another possible interception on an inexcusable pass across his body into double-coverage. Came back with a nice throw over the linebacker, connecting with Miller for a go-ahead touchdown with 3:23 to go. Finished strong.
The good: 2Q, 6:18 (1st & 10) — With the single-high safety not committing his help to either Gabriel’s outside fade or Miller’s middle post, Trubisky held him with his eyes just long enough to prevent him from getting to the left sideline as he threw a perfect pass to Gabriel. The wide receiver was well covered by the corner, but Trubisky’s pass was on the money and Gabriel pulled it in as he fell to the ground. This was outstanding execution by the young quarterback. “Taylor is really fast and when the safety stays in the middle of the field, that’s a one-on-one match-up that I like,” Trubisky said.
The bad: 4Q, 12:21 (1st & goal from the 13) — One play after a questionable “pick-play” penalty negated a touchdown pass to Cohen, Trubisky forced one into double-coverage and was picked off. Running four-verticals, Trubisky failed to look off the high safety as he tried to fit the ball in a window that wasn’t there. The pass was intended for Braunecker. It should have been a throw-away or a check down to Jordan Howard. Even a field goal on this drive would have put the Bears up by 11 in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Dolphins went down the field and tied the game at 21. This was a killer turnover. Trubisky: “Just thought the safety went with the over route. He made a good play. I lost him when I was stepping up, and I forced one in the red zone when I shouldn’t have.”
The aftermath: With Cody Parkey missing a game-winning field goal and the defense falling victim to some shoddy tackling, Trubisky didn’t take a lot of heat for this unexpected loss. The game put Trubisky’s raw talent on full display, but still featured some questionable decision-making and another miss on an open deep ball.
The final word: “He’s right. The safety was hanging over there on the seam route and I think the beauty of that is he understands there are progressions within the play and if you could pull that back, then he might want to go to a different receiver … We had to respond the right way and I thought afterwards, the rest of the game, they did that.” —Nagy on Trubisky’s explanation of his interception.
Week 7: Patriots 38, Bears 31 — Soldier Field
26/50, 333 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 69.8 rating
It’s never easy beating the Patriots, especially when you spot them two special teams touchdowns in the same game. This was a seesaw game in which the Bears led by 10 in the second quarter and trailed by 14 in the fourth. Ultimately, it came down to a completed Hail Mary that was just one yard short of the end zone.
Watch the tape: Bill Belichick spent the week warning people about Trubisky’s legs, but it didn’t seem to matter because Mitch was lethal with his scrambling in this game. He didn’t pull the trigger on a third down throw to Gabriel in the first, but picked up the first down with his legs. An eight-yard touchdown run in the box score was really a crazy, 70-plus yard scramble that very few NFL quarterbacks could pull off. Hit Burton for 17 on a crucial 4th-and-4. Forced a throw to eligible offensive lineman Bradley Sowell in the end zone that could have been picked off. The protection in this game wasn’t great, forcing a lot of scrambles, like the 39-yarder in the third quarter. Next throw — a fade to Robinson in the end zone — was nearly picked by Stephon Gilmore. With Robinson ailing through a groin injury, Trey Burton was a huge target for Trubisky (nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown). In the third, Trubisky saw the underneath safety roll back into Cover-2 and he hitsBurton on the post for a gain of 17. In the fourth quarter, Trubisky was guilty of under-throwing Anthony Miller on one pass and overthrowing him on another. This was another game in which Trubisky’s legs were more dangerous than his arm.
The good: 2Q, 12:49 (4th & 4) — On a crucial conversion, Trubisky correctly saw two defenders jump Miller underneath so he hit Burton’s dig behind it for a gain of 17. With field goals already becoming an issue, this play kept a touchdown drive going and helped put the Bears up 17-7.
The bad: 4Q, 13:12 (1st & 10) — This was actually one of the more significant plays of the season. Down by seven early in the fourth, Miller blew by his man on the corner route and Trubisky recognized it. This should have been a walk-in touchdown, but the ball was under-thrown, allowing safety Jonathan Jones to recover and intercept the pass. Jones gets credit for an outstanding interception, but Miller had him beat and it should have been a tie game. Instead, the Patriots went right down the field to go up 38-24.
The aftermath: Trubisky got credit for nearly finishing off a great comeback and the two special teams touchdowns received most of the blame for the loss. This felt like a missed opportunity for the Bears, but also served as an important measuring stick. Trubisky overcame a lot and was still one yard away from forcing overtime against the Patriots.
The final word: “I thought I could have put it out there a little further. I loved Anthony’s route he ran, and I threw it a little later than I wanted to because I had to check the protection to make sure I gave a slide call to make sure we could pick up the blitz that they brought through. And I just bounced back to the other side, so it was a little later than I wanted it to be.” — Trubisky on the crucial fourth quarter interception. (Nagy also referenced “some communication issues with the protection there.”)
Week 8: Bears 24, Jets 10 — Soldier Field
16/29, 220 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 102.7 rating
At 3-3, the Bears looked like a better team than their record and Trubisky and Co. started to get in a rhythm in what would begin a five-game winning streak.
Watch the tape: It was a choppy first half for the quarterback, who overthrew Miller down the left sideline in the second quarter and showed some confusion and poor mechanics on the very next play. He didn’t panic on the zero-blitz, executing a screen to Cohen that was the perfect call and went for a 70-yard touchdown. The second half was much better, including a back-shoulder touchdown to Miller in the third quarter. Trubisky’s mobility was on display all game and Nagy even called a keeper to the left sideline on 4th-and-1. Trubisky had a strong fourth quarter and found a connection with Josh Bellamy as Allen Robinson missed this game.
The good: 3Q, 7:19 (3rd & 4) — With good protection, Trubisky was able to let Miller’s corner route develop. With man coverage, he knew he had a one-on-one matchup and slot corner Buster Skrine (now with the Bears) was trailing with his back to the ball. Trubisky threw a great inside back-shoulder pass and Miller adjusted nicely for the touchdown.
The bad: 2Q, 4:36 (3rd & 10) — With it being 3rd and long, this was a longer developing play, but the protection was there and Trubisky had time to step up and deliver a throw to Miller on the corner route. He just overthrew it and Miller couldn’t make the finger-tip grab. These are the types of third down throws that Trubisky would improve on as the season continued.
The aftermath: Nagy was mic’d up for this game and the Bears released a video that revealed the head coach telling Trubisky at halftime: “I’m going to challenge you right now, these two quarters, for greatness. You got me? I want to see it come out you right here. You take this thing over right now.” After the touchdown to Miller, Nagy told Trubisky: “That right there, that’s special. That’s a special throw that you just made right there.”
Final word: “I think when he just pulled me aside, I think it really just honed me in, made me focus a lot more and just made me that much more motivated to focus in and do what I had to do to help the offense and really get us going. I got so much respect and love for Coach. He just said it and I needed to make it happen.” — Trubisky on Nagy’s challenge at halftime.
Week 9: Bears 41, Bills 9 — New Era Field
12/20, 135 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 76.0 rating
The Bears were never threatened as the defense scored two touchdowns. Robinson missed his second straight game.
Watch the tape: Mixed results early as Trubisky escaped and delivered a strike to Miller on the run, but then fumbled a few plays later. Hit Burton for 26 yards up the seam against Cover-3 on 3rd-and-15. Big play on a big down. Great execution in the third on a play-action rollout to the right, floating the ball to Gabriel. Poor footwork led to an overthrow of Burton on a third quarter interception — “I just sailed it,” Trubisky said. In the fourth, he had Bellamy open in the end zone, but the Bills brought a heavy blitz. Trubisky may have been throwing it away to be safe, but it looked like he could have completed the pass.
The good: 3Q, 10:54 (1st & 10) — Under center, the Bears ran a play-action bootleg to the right, taking advantage of Trubisky’s mobility and ability to throw on the run. The defensive end was unblocked and closed in fast, making this a very difficult throw despite Gabriel coming open on the crosser. Trubisky had to pump fake to get the rusher in the air and buy more time for the play to develop. He did, and then was able to float the pass about 23 yards downfield with all of his momentum going backwards. This was a great play by an athletic quarterback.
The bad: 1Q, 10:54 (3rd & 5) — In fringe field goal territory, the Bills only rushed four, but Trubisky faced pressure. It looked like Burton briefly came open on the dig, but Trubisky felt the backside rusher and was flushed out to his right. At this point, no one was open and the quarterback needed to throw the ball away. Instead, he tried to keep the play alive and fumbled as he was sacked. The Bears recovered the ball but were forced to punt after losing nine yards on the play.
The aftermath: Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi caused quite a stir the next day when he said on a podcast: “I’m not buying Mitchell Trubisky. You couldn’t get me to buy Mitchell Trubisky if you had him on a discount rack at Filene’s Basement. There’s no chance. There’s no chance. He can’t throw the ball inbounds half the time. I mean, it’s a joke. I was in Chicago this week and all I saw was Trubisky jerseys and I’m thinking you people are crazy. You’re going to be selling them in three years. There’s no way.”
Final word: “I think any time you are drafted as a quarterback early and high, you’re always gonna be critiqued. But again, the only thing that he needs to worry about is what I think about him and what people in this building think about him. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion and that’s OK, that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But as long as he just understands that the only thing that matters is what we think, nothing will affect him.” — Nagy, responding to the criticism.
Week 10: Bears 34, Lions 22 — Soldier Field
23/30, 355 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 148.6 rating
While Nagy and Trubisky were concentrating on a 12-day stretch in which they would play three divisional opponents — including the Lions twice — the rest of Chicago was still concerned with Lombardi’s comments. It set quite the stage for Trubisky’s best game of the season, especially after Lombardi referenced a Brett Favre quote about how “the great ones throw it through the key hole” of a door. “You think Trubisky can throw the ball through a key hole with that precision? There’s no chance, right? I just don’t see it,” Lombardi said.
Watch the tape: The first drive is littered with short passes, but they were accurate throws and the right reads — a classic example of playing point guard and getting the ball into the hands of the Bears’ playmakers. You could tell Trubisky was happy to have Robinson back. He correctly identified man coverage and hit Robinson on the slant for a 35-yard catch-and-run. Late in the first quarter, he hit Robinson for 36 yards on 3rd & 15 when the safety jumped the dig route and left Robinson one-on-one. Early in the second, Trubisky made a check at the line and threw a strike to Anthony Miller as two defenders jump Gabriel’s route underneath. This is essentially the same play/throw Trubisky overthrew Miller on against the Patriots, just to the other side of the field, and this time it went for a 45-yard touchdown. In the third, Miller battled through a sandwich, Trubisky saw the defender fall down and hit him for a gain of 55. Later, Robinson runs a gorgeous option route and Trubisky throws a strike in stride, allowing the receiver to catch-and-run for a 26-yard score. Trubisky’s accuracy was on point in this game.
The good: 1Q, 3:08 (2nd & 8) — Running four verticals against a zone, Trubisky held the safety in the middle of the field as Robinson got behind the slot corner. This throw required tremendous touch and accuracy. If he under-threw it, it would have been picked off by the nickel. If he overthrew it, it would have been picked off by the outside corner helping off Gabriel. You could even say Trubisky threw it through the keyhole.
The bad: 3Q, 11:18 (3rd & 7) — Robinson ran a great route to the post, but Trubisky overthrew it and it sailed high. A rare miss on a nearly perfect day.
The aftermath: Trubisky got his deserved credit for a great performance, but the spotlight was shared by kicker Cody Parkey, who amazingly hit the upright four times in this game.
Final word: “I thought Mitch probably had his best game of the season, without a doubt. He was on fire, he was efficient, threw the ball with conviction, his eyes were great. I’m really super proud of him for coming out here and playing that way. He played confident and I like that.” — Matt Nagy
Week 11: Bears 25, Vikings 20 — Soldier Field
20/31, 165 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 61.9 rating
Having won three in a row for the second time in 2018, the Bears were flexed to Sunday Night Football.
Watch the tape: Nice throw to Gabriel early while rolling right, but later he tried to go over the top to Gabriel and was picked off by the safety. Later, rolling right, Trubisky waited for Miller to get open, then flicked his wrist and completed the touchdown pass. It was slightly under thrown and Miller made a nice sliding catch. Trubisky’s legs were working in this game, but only when he needed them, including a 3rd & 1 pickup in the third quarter. Didn’t connect on a deep back-shoulder throw to Robinson as the receiver wasn’t looking for it. In the third, Trubisky forced a pass to Robinson on a curl route that was never open and it was intercepted. Big 3rd & 8 completion to Gabriel in the fourth. Was lucky not to be picked off by Xavier Rhodes on a what could have been a pick-6. Another huge 3rd & 8 completion with less than four minutes left, as the safety showed blitz and rolled into Cover-2. Trubisky hit Robinson on the dig underneath the Cover-2 safety. Awkward, slightly late dive/slide at the end of the game resulted in a shoulder injury as safety Harrison Smith was guilty of a late-hit.
The good: 1Q, 8:29 (2nd & 4) — The Bears ran a ton of play-action bootlegs in this game and this was the first one. It’s the same play they ran successfully against the Bills. This time the designed unblocked rusher didn’t close as quickly, but Gabriel wasn’t as open and Trubisky had to fit the ball into a window between two linebackers. This was partially because Miller took his underneath crosser farther upfield, getting too close to Gabriel. It once again showcased Trubisky’s athleticism and ability to throw on the run.
The bad: 4Q, 8:52 (2nd & 10) — Trubisky got away with a sidearm throw moving backwards, as Robinson initially sat down on his route before going out. Xavier Rhodes read it well and probably should have had the interception as he undercut the route. This very well could have been a Vikings touchdown in a 14-8 game. Nearly a disastrous play. “There was some man-zone concepts in there and both our wide receiver and Mitch were a little bit off base on what they thought the coverage was,” Nagy said.
The aftermath: Because Trubisky finished the game, no one but the Bears knew he had suffered a significant injury to his throwing shoulder. Nagy didn’t mention it the next day, so it didn’t become public until the Bears e-mailed out their injury report late Monday. With an extremely short turnaround to Thursday’s Thanksgiving matinee, Trubisky’s status was in serious doubt.
Final word: “(The Vikings) are ridiculous on third down … It was a big emphasis to convert on third down. I really liked the game plan and they’re a really good team on third down.” — Trubisky on the Bears converting 50 percent of their third down conversions against the best third down defense in the league.
Week 14: Bears 15, Rams 6 — Soldier Field
16/30, 110 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 33.3 rating
Like they did with most injuries in 2018, the Bears took a cautious approach with Trubisky’s shoulder and he ended up missing two games. Chase Daniel kept the Bears afloat by going 1-1 and Trubisky was set to return in another game flexed to primetime — this time against the Los Angeles Rams on a cold night at Soldier Field.
Watch the tape: Trubisky insisted he felt fine, but he was not sharp early, including with his short area accuracy. On his first quarter interception, he simply overthrew Josh Bellamy, who found an opening between two levels of the Rams’ defense. On 3rd & 5 in the second, he missed high to Trey Burton on the open dig and was nearly picked. On 3rd & 10 before halftime, he was intercepted as the slot corner undercut Gabriel’s route to the sideline — most likely a result of Trubisky thinking it was a one-on-one matchup instead of bracket coverage. Nagy adjusted to more RPOs (run-pass options) in the second half and it resulted in three straight completions to Robinson to start the third quarter. Trubisky ended the drive by hitting Sowell on “Santa’s Sleigh.” Late in the third, he overthrew Burton on the deep-cross and was picked off. With the score at 15-6, Trubisky only dropped back to pass one time after the interception. Excluding two kneel-downs, 11 of the final 12 plays were runs.
The good: 3Q, 10:01 (3rd & goal at the 2) — “Santa’s Sleigh” featured four defensive linemen on the field, with Akiem Hicks lined up in the backfield. Hicks had scored on a handoff the week before, so he had the full attention of the Rams’ defense. This time, Trubisky executed the fake to Hicks, sprinted to the right, and hit Sowell in traffic for the touchdown.
The bad: 3Q, 4:10 (2nd & 7) — This was a similar deep-crosser that Trubisky hit to Burton in Week 3. Unfortunately, Trubisky led his tight end too far on this one and it ended up in the arms of safety John Johnson. The Bears were fortunate to survive this one as it was a one-possession game and Johnson returned it to the Bears’ 27 yard-line.
The aftermath: Kyle Fuller picked off Jared Goff on the very next play, emphasizing how good the defense was in holding the NFL’s No. 2 ranked offense to just six points in Trubisky’s worst game of the season. Nagy, Helfrich and Trubisky all credited Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for his game plan, saying they played more zone than was expected. “They played us almost 100 percent differently than their tendencies. It was almost a 180,” Helfrich said. Trubisky cited his footwork as a problem: “Just got to keep continuing to follow through, weight shift and just make the throws that I know how to make. I think I was rushing my footwork a little bit.”
Final word: “I’m pretty disappointed in myself, the way I played, especially being out two weeks. I mean, it’s hard to be down when you get such a big win like that. You got to put your own selfish thoughts about how you played aside … I’ll get everything corrected. I’m going to go back to work this week, just work really hard to get it corrected, play a lot better.” — Trubisky on his performance.
Week 15: Bears 24, Packers 17 — Soldier Field
20/28, 235 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 120.4 rating
With the Packers having already fired Mike McCarthy, they came into Soldier Field with interim head coach Joe Philbin at the helm as the Bears had a chance to clinch the NFC North title against their rival.
Watch the tape: Trubisky eased into this game with a lot of short passes early. Great escape from pressure and throw downfield to Adam Shaheen in the second quarter. Big throw (nice catch) to Bellamy on the post in the two-minute drill before halftime. After Cohen shifted from left to right in the backfield, Trubisky saw the safety was in man coverage and playing far off the running back, who sat down on a curl. The pass wasn’t perfect, but Cohen made a nice catch and turned it into a touchdown with his legs. Trubisky played the point guard in this game, getting the ball to his playmakers. He picked up a first down with his legs on 3rd & 10 in the third. Threw a strike to Burton on a good corner route for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth.
The good: 2Q, 4:39 (3rd & 7) — Despite a protection error that led to an unblocked safety blitz, Trubisky improvised to make a big play. After slipping out of the sack, Trubisky sprinted left and twisted his body so he could hit Shaheen down the left sideline. Shaheen initially sat down in the flat, but turned upfield when he saw Trubisky scrambling. The quarterback put great touch on a difficult throw and threw a strike.
The bad: 3Q, 3:23 (1st & 10) — Protection broke down quickly on this play and Trubisky didn’t really have time to find his check down (Howard), but with three Packers about to sandwich him, he tried to unload the ball to Ben Braunecker in the flat and fumbled instead. The Bears were able to recover, but this was one where he needed to accept the sack.
The aftermath: Trubisky played a lot better and the Bears beat the Packers to win their first NFC North title in eight years so the celebration was on.
Final word: “What jumped out to me was how great of a game that Mitch played … Mitch made some great plays with his legs in the pocket where it broke down and then made the pass. Or made a scramble on a third and long there in the fourth quarter. I like where he’s at.” – Matt Nagy, the day after the game.
Week 16: Bears 14, 49ers 9 — Levi’s Stadium
25/29, 246 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 113.5 rating
With the division title locked up, the Bears were still playing for a first-round bye so this was still an important game against a 49ers team that had struggled all season.
Watch the tape: An early miss to Robinson on the corner route as he led him just a little too far. Despite the miss, it set up the next throw as Robinson got the same matchup against the safety, but this time ran the corner-and-go. The safety bit just enough for Robinson to blow by him and Trubisky hit him for a 43-yard completion (great diving catch) despite taking a hit as he threw. The second half was basically the Trubisky-Robinson show on third down. 3rd & 2: Trubisky threw a strike to Robinson on the dig. 3rd & 5: Trubisky threw a strike to Robinson on the bubble. 3rd & 4: Trubisky threw a strike to Robinson on the comeback (great throw/catch). 3rd & 3: Trubisky threw a strike to Robinson on the slant that should’ve iced the game, but Robinson fumbled after the catch.
The good: 2Q, 5:08 (2nd & 10) — With no one open, Trubisky was forced to scramble. First he went left, but then looped all the way back around to the right. Mizzell came open, but by the time Trubisky saw him, the safety was closing. Trubisky smartly bought time and waited for Mizzell to come back to him, squeezing one in along the right sideline.
The bad: 2Q, 8:58 (2nd & 1) — This was just a zone-read RPO gone horribly wrong. Trubisky correctly made the initial read to keep the ball instead of handing it off to Howard, but the 49ers simply had this entire play covered. Starting out of a T-formation, Cohen motioned left-to-right behind the mesh point and into a bubble route that was available to Trubisky after he kept the ball. Trubisky had nowhere to run, but the bubble was covered too. He threw it (backwards) anyway and Cohen couldn’t corral it just before getting hit. That made it a fumble and a turnover.
The aftermath: Like the Rams game, the coaches talked about how the 49ers drastically changed their defensive identity, but this time, Trubisky handled it much better. Trubisky did a good job of diagnosing the 49ers’ zones and finding the open man.
Final word: “That’s experience. It’s the thing that nobody ever wants to hear about but that will not occur unless it’s a real game situation. Last week is a great example, you go into it thinking, ‘these guys are 99 point whatever percent one thing,’ and they did the 0.1 percent almost the entire game. To react in the way he did, again without the turnovers is great. I think he’s ahead of the curve that way, more-so than I think people will give him credit for.” — Mark Helfrich
Week 17: Bears 24, Vikings 10 — U.S. Bank Stadium
18/26, 163 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 85.9 rating
With minimal playoff implications that changed shortly after kickoff, Nagy opted to play Trubisky the entire game, but didn’t dress Robinson and was careful with other players like right guard Kyle Long, who returned to action, but only for the first half.
Watch the tape: An early third down strike to Burton was later followed by an overthrow to Burton on third down. With a blitzing safety in his face, Trubisky delivered a beautiful pass to Kevin White, who had been a non-factor all season. Was throwing a “heavy ball” on short horizontal throws. Deep throw to Bellamy down the right sideline drifted out of bounds. With Robinson out, Trubisky stayed hot on third down with two fourth quarter completions to Javon Wims and one to Burton.
The good: 2Q, 7:43 (3rd & 6) — Trubisky saw single-high coverage and recognized a mismatch on the left side with Gabriel matched up against Holton Hill. This was just a simple deep fade in which Trubisky let the route develop and delivered a dime downfield for 40 yards. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but brought back to the 1-yard-line as Gabriel left his feet to secure the catch and slid into the end zone.
The bad: 1Q, 7:04 (3rd & 5) — Just a rare third down miss for Trubisky, who had Burton open on the out-route but sailed the pass out of bounds.
The aftermath: By winning this game, the Bears eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs, putting the defending champion Eagles into the playoffs as the last wild card team. Meanwhile, Trubisky was headed into the playoffs on a high note after putting together three good games in a row.
The final word: “Mitch had a great game. He was a leader of the offense. He’s been really, really strong in regards to and consistent with his progressions and his reads on third down the last two games. He’s doing great things and when you do that, you protect the football, you get conversions.” — Matt Nagy
Wild Card Round: Eagles 16, Bears 15 — Soldier Field
26/43, 303 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 89.6 rating
With Trubisky taking care of the football (zero interceptions in three straight games) and showing improvement, there was a real belief that the Bears could make a Super Bowl run behind the league’s top-ranked defense. Unfortunately, they had been playing without All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson since the Packers game and while he was active against the Eagles, he didn’t play. Complicating matters even more for Trubisky, tight end Trey Burton came down with a mysterious groin injury the day before the game and couldn’t play. This would have a major impact on how the Eagles matched up defensively.
Watch the tape: Staying hot on third down, Trubisky showed good timing and threw a strike to Robinson on 3rd & 5. Got away with a near pick-6 as he lobbed a ball to Howard while falling backward under pressure. Came up limping after a third down scramble in the second quarter, but it didn’t appear to be a big issue the rest of the game. Appeared to be intercepted as the corner undercut Robinson’s out route on a long pass to the field side, but the ball was juggled out of bounds. Deep back-shoulder to Robinson drifted out of bounds at the last moment. Delivered a great ball to Miller on the slot-fade on a weird play where the ball ended up coming back to the line of scrimmage because it was ruled a catch and fumble, but neither team recovered. Inexplicable throw across his body into the end zone that was dropped by the safety. Great double-move by Robinson and pump fake opened up a 45-yard gainer that Trubisky put on the money. Later, he had Robinson open but led him too far out of bounds and the Bears settled for a field goal. On 3rd & 11, Trubisky threw a strike to Gabriel on the dig as he took a shot from Fletcher Cox. Next throw was a 34-yard dime to Bellamy down the right sideline. Hit Robinson on the corner-and-go double-move for a clutch go-ahead touchdown in the fourth before going back to Robinson on the corner route to set up what should have been the game-winning field goal. On the last shot to the end zone before the field goal, he had to put the ball in the end zone and the pressure forced him to throw early, which meant Miller couldn’t run under the ball. Trubisky played a great fourth quarter in an enormous moment when the defense couldn’t hold the lead.
Positive: 4Q, 0:44 (2nd & 10) — Down by two at the Bears’ 42-yard-line, Trubisky needed to make a big throw. Nagy went back to the same play that worked on the touchdown, but this time Robinson ran the corner route (not the corner-and-go) as the Eagles were in zone coverage. With Burton out, the Eagles focused their attention on stopping Tarik Cohen and the corner showed just enough attention to the running back underneath that Robinson was able to find a small window between the corner and the safety coming over the top. There wasn’t a lot of room here, but understanding the situation, Trubisky delivered a perfect throw to Robinson that put the Bears on the brink of field goal range.
Negative: 2Q, 0:21, (1st & 10) — Gabriel and Robinson ran deep scissors, with Gabriel to the post and Robinson to the corner. The pocket broke down quickly on a play that required time to develop and Trubisky was forced to step up and throw on the run. With two timeouts, the check down to Shaheen would have been the safest option, but the corner to Robinson may have been open too. He at least could have thrown it out of bounds in that direction. Instead, Trubisky threw across his body to the middle of the end zone where Gabriel was simply never open. Somehow, safety Tre Sullivan dropped the interception and the Bears managed to salvage a field goal and take 6-3 lead into halftime.
The aftermath: It was all about the “double-doink” heard ‘round the world. Parkey’s missed field goal at the end of the game dominated the headlines — national and local — and even resulted in a controversial Today show appearance. Not many were focused on either Trubisky’s poor first half or his outstanding fourth quarter.
Final word: “We looked at each other with whatever time, under a minute to go, and we knew we were going to move the ball and go down there and have an opportunity, and he did that. He looked at me and he gave me a smile, and I just told him, this is where the story begins. He did it. He did a great job.” — Matt Nagy on Trubisky’s final drive.
The unpredictable bounce of a football has the power to determine outcomes and shape narratives that can last an entire offseason.
Trubisky isn’t the first quarterback to experience that and he won’t be the last. With one bounce off the left upright and another off the crossbar below, Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” created a kicking firestorm that hogged the attention away from something remarkably important: trailing twice in the fourth quarter of the most important game of the season, Trubisky shined, delivering clutch throw after clutch throw to put the Bears in position to win their first playoff game in eight years.
“When all 11 guys on our offense are on the same page and doing their job it gets to a point where we can be unstoppable,” Trubisky said recently when asked by WGN about the last drive of the season. “That’s just flat out execution, belief in one another and it doesn’t matter how big the stage is, if all 11 guys are on the same page and we believe in what we’re doing and we execute it, then plays are going to work.”
Outside the Bears’ organization, it’s almost as if Trubisky’s fourth quarter against the Eagles never happened. But inside Halas Hall, once the sting of the loss had subsided, the game was viewed much more positively.
At the same breakfast in Arizona where Nagy issued the challenge to watch Trubisky’s entire body of work, he was asked what gives him optimism about the quarterback’s future. The Bears’ head coach didn’t hesitate:
“The Eagles game.”
In a way, the playoff game was a microcosm of Trubisky’s 2018 season — it was a mixed bag, but he improved and looked a lot better at the end.
Consider these conclusions from this exhaustive film study:
- Early in the season, Trubisky had success with comfortable scripted plays early in games, but struggled as teams adjusted. By the end of the year, he was playing his best football late in games.
- Against the Rams, Trubisky struggled as the Rams surprised the Bears by going against their defensive tendencies. Two weeks later, when the 49ers tried the same strategy, Trubisky adjusted and had no problem diagnosing their zones and beating them.
- The improvement on third down throughout the season was remarkable. By sticking to comfortable “bread-and-butter” plays — ones opposing defenses could see all over the Bears’ film and still couldn’t stop — Trubisky showed poise and accuracy on third down, an underrated part of his growth in 2018. Two of these performances came against the Vikings — the top third down defense in the league.
Of course, the Bears still only managed 15 points in a playoff game. And Trubisky was still getting away with dangerous throws late in the year. In that regard, Nagy has been candid this offseason about the improvements that need to be made.
“There were a couple throws last year that he will be the first to tell you he might have thrown it across his body or he threw it into the end zone when we were in the red zone and we got points and it was a little iffy. We gotta eliminate those,” the head coach said. “And there’s others where there might have been somebody that was open that he overthrew … To make him a superstar we gotta have him always hitting those.”
Daniel also referenced getting better in the red zone, saying, “The windows are tighter, right? So we’re practicing those tight-window throws.” Meanwhile, deep-ball accuracy has been a constant Trubisky criticism. So what caused these issues?
“I feel strongly about this. None of it was a physical thing,” Nagy said. “It was all just him learning where to go with the ball. See, your clock goes so fast that everything you see… Boom! Ball’s out. You know? When you know what’s going on and things become slower, you can make that more accurate throw. None of it was physical. It was all just mentally learning the offense.”
In that regard, it explains the Bears’ excitement about the future, because the tape shows increased comfort and confidence with the offense as 2018 progressed.
“I can tell you how much he grew mentally,” Nagy said. “The huddle procedure, calling the play, at the line of scrimmage, making the “Mike” ID, making the checks, flipping it. All that. With that he did awesome. We have a little wordy offense at times. And he aced it.”
So what does all this mean for 2019? We’re about to find out. The belief at Halas Hall is now that Trubisky knows the offense, he’ll be able to spend more time focusing on opposing defenses.
“Last year he was so focused in on, ‘What do we do on offense? Hell, I’ve never run this offense before. What does that mean?,’” Nagy said. “Now, he knows it all and can take that next step of figuring out, ‘OK, here they come. They got a blitz, cover-0. Now, I know what to do, what to check to, I know the protections, all of that.’ That’s going to be the big one for him.”
The truth is, there’s just enough pessimism in this film study to fuel the haters who are convinced Bears general manager Ryan Pace reached for Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft. On the other hand, there’s also plenty of evidence of growth and positive development to suggest Trubisky will indeed take a big step forward in his second year under Nagy’s tutelage.
Back on Jan. 6, as Nagy stood on the Soldier Field podium with a stunned look on his face, he delivered a striking message to Bears fans:
“No one, not one person truly knows how far that kid has come this year than me. I mean, we’re lucky. We’re lucky to have him. I’m looking forward to the future. I really am, with him, because the city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback.”
We’re about to find out if he’s right.