Context is critical in life. Whether reading, observing your fellow humans, or studying football, understanding the big picture macro level is essential to diagnosing the micro level.
While the Chicago Bears were taking on the Denver Broncos on Sunday, I was driving out into northern Virginia with my father. We were headed to a concert together - the Game of Thrones live experience, and I would highly recommend it - and I was trying to keep track of the Bears’ game on my phone via various apps as well as Sirius XM. Twitter was, as one might expect, crushing Mitchell Trubisky. As were various radio hosts. Tons of short throws, no air yards, and another underwhelming performance.
When it came time to sit down and watch for myself, I was expecting the worst.
I was oddly surprised at what I saw.
Trying to look at this performance through head coach Matt Nagy’s eyes, we can used this question: Did Trubisky execute the game plan put in front of him? I think, after watching and reflecting on this game as a whole, the quarterback did exactly that. There was a concerted effort, due in part to fears over the Broncos’ pass rush, to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, attack the short areas of the field in the passing game and run the football to soften up that defensive front. Not only were there fewer passing attempts in this game as opposed to the season-opener (27 down from 45) but look at the distribution of the throws over the first two weeks. Here’s Trubisky’s passing chart from the Week 1 loss, thanks to Next Gen Stats:
17 throws over ten yards, or 38% of Trubisky’s passes that night.
Now, his passing chart from Week 2:
Seven throws over ten yards, or 26%. So we see a decrease there as well.
We can also see how this gameplan looked on film. Take, for example, this early completion from the first quarter. The Bears break the huddle with "11" offensive personnel and put Trubisky (#10) in the shotgun with two receivers to each side of the formation. The Broncos are playing off in the secondary, including Isaac Yiadom (#26) across from Taylor Gabriel (#18) who is split wide to the left:
(I should note that the All-22 this week has been spotty at best, so we will see a lot of the broadcast angle in this piece).
The Bears run a spacing concept, and Gabriel will be targeted on this speed out:
Trubisky knows pre-snap that the out route will be a great option for him, with Yiadom giving Gabriel a huge cushion. So that is exactly where he goes with the football:
Take what the defense gives you, get the ball out of your hands quickly and neutralize the pass rush. This is a play that I’m grading well if I’m Nagy.
Here is another play that I am grading well if I am Trubisky’s head coach. Late in the first quarter the Bears face a 3rd and 8, and put the quarterback in the shotgun once more while using a 2x2 alignment. Chicago runs a dual-field passing concept, with a curl/flat combination on the left with a Flat-7 Smash concept on the right:
Denver, on this third and long play, drops into a two deep coverage:
The safeties on this snap do a great job at staying over the top of the curl and the corner routes, the deeper options for Trubisky on this play. The QB opens to his left to read the curl/flat combination first, and seeing it covered he spins his eyes to the right to work the Smash concept. This is what he sees when he makes his decision to throw the flat route to Adam Shaheen (#87) in the flat:
The safety is deep over the corner route, and the cornerback has his back to the QB and is squeezing the deeper option from underneath. Given this, Trubisky gets to his third read and throws the flat route. Shaheen makes the CB miss in space, and picks up the first down:
Even if Shaheen is tackled there, and the Bears are forced to punt on fourth down, this is the right decision given all the information available to the quarterback. The importance of context.
If you needed more evidence that the Chicago offense was consumed with the pass rush off the edges from Denver, watch this first down completion from the second quarter. The Bears run a mirrored curl/flat concept on this play, and Trubisky makes a quick throw to Allen Robinson (#12) on a curl route. But pay particular attention to left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (#72):
Leno is determined to prevent Bradley Chubb (#55) from getting to Trubisky off the edge, that he mirrors him throughout the play ... even when Chubb is retreating into the flat to block the tight end.
Again, a focus on the pass rush, a determined effort to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, and making the right decisions with the football. That is what the Chicago offense was tasked with Sunday in the passing game, and they largely did their job.
Of course, there were missed opportunities. Early in the game Trubisky had a chance to hit Tarik Cohen (#29) on a vertical throw in a scramble drill situation. The QB does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield and creating time and space to make this throw, but he slightly underthrows it, and defensive back Justin Simmons (#31) - who had a fantastic game, and more on him in a moment - recovers to break up this play:
Cohen has to slow up for a half-step, and it is just enough for Simmons to recover and get his hands in there to prevent the big gain.
Late in the second quarter, Nagy called for a “Leak” design, with Gabriel crossing the flow of the play to run a vertical route the the backside:
Chicago uses play-action to try and influence the defense as well, with Trubisky coming out of a fake and rolling to the right. The Bears combine this leak route from Gabriel with a post route over the top of it. The idea is to pull the cornerback away from that side of the field and replace him in that - hopefully vacated - zone with Gabriel on this route. It largely works, but Trubisky misses on the throw:
What complicates things is Simmons. He is the backside safety on this play but recognizes it right away and tries to get the defense on the other side of the formation to defend the concept, pointing it out to the defense:
When the defense does not react, Simmons chases this down and gets there a step late. Even with this, Trubisky has a chance to complete it, if he just puts the ball on his target. He misses, and the Bears fail on a well-designed play called at an opportune moment.
Of course, perhaps the ultimate tiebreaker when it comes to answering whether the QB executed the game plan in front of him is this: Did the team win? Chicago did just that, and facing fourth and the game, Trubisky delivered:
The QB does a great job of extending this play, staying alive, and making a throw down the middle of the field to put Chicago in field goal range.
Context is key. Last week we used context to outline how Trubisky really was underwhelming in the debut, highlighting poor reads and poor decisions throughout the game. This week, the context of the gameplan and the tasks in front of the QB allow us to come away a bit more optimistic about where Trubisky is right now. He ran the offense as called and I’m willing to bet that Nagy, when he graded this game himself, came away largely satisfied with what his quarterback did.
Plus, the bottom line is this: Chicago won a road game in a tough environment and avoided an 0-2 start. The context of that fact might be the most critical of all.