It was Frank Robinson who first said "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Although the venerable baseball icon was talking about the diamond, Chicago Bears fans could be excused for using that phrase to describe the Bears’ 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots. A last-second Hail Mary throw from Mitchell Trubisky landed in the arms of Kevin White just one yard short of the goal line, preventing Chicago from potentially pulling off the upset. Some might take solace in pushing the Patriots to the brink, especially when you consider that the Bears spotted New England 14 points on special teams, but these are the kinds of games that good (or great) teams find ways to win.
As for his part, Trubisky had another up-and-down game. He was a true threat with his legs, finishing as the Bears’ leading rusher with 81 yards on the ground and a touchdown. In addition, he threw two TD passes on the day, including a late scoring play to Trey Burton to cut into New England’s lead. But Trubisky also threw two interceptions, had a few throws that could have been intercepted, and missed on some throws as well. Let’s take a quick look at some of the good, and some of the bad.
Trubisky the Dual Threat
Entering this contest the Patriots were acutely aware of the danger Trubisky posed as a running threat. For a team that has struggled in recent history dealing with mobile quarterbacks, the Bears’ QB was yet another challenge. In fact, New England’s linebackers coach Brian Flores, the defensive play caller and de facto defensive coordinator, addressed Trubisky’s mobility in a conference call last week:
"The first thing I would say is [Trubisky] throws a very good deep ball. He throws a good deep ball. He's accurate, an accurate passer. Obviously, we know him as an elusive guy in the pocket and someone who does a good job as a scrambler extending plays, and then he does a really good job of finding receivers down the field. So, he's been impressive — a good, young player, good, young talent, somebody who's getting better really week-to-week. It will be a challenge for us — you know, a guy who can scramble like this and extend plays, and then at the same time, find receivers down the field and put the ball on them pretty accurately. So, he's been impressive."
Let’s highlight two of Trubisky’s runs to illustrate how dangerous he was on Sunday.
The first is his TD scramble, which took place during a horrific sequence for the Patriots that included a fumble on a kickoff return and a fumble — and injury — involving first-round pick Sony Michel. The Bears face a third-and-goal after the Cordarelle Patterson fumble and they put Trubisky in the shotgun with three receivers to the left and just one to the right. New England responds with their 3-2-6 defense and they show interior pressure with both linebackers:
Trubisky drops to throw and wants to work a high-low concept with a dig route from Allen Robinson (#12) and a post route on top of that from Taylor Gabriel (#18). But pressure flushes him to the right, including Adrian Clayborn (#94) coming off the edge. Trubisky tries to buy time by scrambling to his right, but begins to run out of real estate. So, he spins away from his pursuers, which allows him to pick up a convoy en route to the end zone. So, despite retreating back to the 30-yard line, Trubisky is able to work his way in for six:
On the end zone angle you can see how Trubisky shows good feel for the backside pursuit on his spin, as well as the awareness from his linemen, including Eric Kush (#64), Cody Whitehair (#65) and Charles Leno Jr. (#72) to pave the road for him:
The touchdown run was impressive, but perhaps a more impressive scramble and conversion from Trubisky took place on Chicago’s opening drive. On that series the Bears faced a third-and-6, their first third down of the afternoon. They put Trubisky in the shotgun but faced another blitz look from New England, with both Kyle Van Noy (#53) and Patrick Chung (#23) down in the box:
When Trubisky drops to pass, only the linebacker, Van Noy, comes after him, as the safety peels off in man coverage on the running back. But the QB sees quickly some green grass in front of him, as the route combination coupled with the man coverage scheme from New England has pulled players in the secondary toward each sideline, opening up the middle of the field. Trubisky quickly pulls the ball down and picks up an easy 14-yards:
From this angle you can see the seas part for Trubisky, and he quickly exploits the situation and the New England blitz to convert:
When teams are willing to play man coverage against Trubisky he will have opportunities to pull the football down and exploit those moments with his legs. Right now for Chicago that would be a smart thing to do, when you consider how the offense seems to be struggling against man coverage:
Highest passer rating vs man coverage:— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) October 22, 2018
Ben Roethlisberger 118.3
Jared Goff 117.5
Russell Wilson 110.5
Sam Darnold 107.5
Drew Brees 104.7
Mitch Trubisky 54.5
Derek Carr 62.2
Josh Allen 63.8
Joe Flacco 65.3
Dak Prescott 68.5
Let’s turn now to some of the mistakes Trubisky made as a passer. We’ll look at one interception, one near-interception, and one miss to get a feel for the errors the young quarterback made on Sunday. Let’s start with one of his near-interceptions. Trubisky threw a couple of these on Sunday, two of which were in the end zone. The first came on a play-action flood concept and it hit linebacker Elandon Roberts right between the 5 and the 2 on his jersey, but the LB could not secure the football. The second was thrown in the direction of Robinson, and Stephon Gilmore was on the coverage.
Early in the third quarter the Bears face a first-and-goal on the Patriots’ 6-yard line. They line up with Trubisky in the shotgun and put Robinson in a compressed slot formation to the right with tight end Dion Sims (#88) outside of him. They will run a switch concept, with Sims cutting outside and Robinson peeling to the outside, and the goal is to create traffic on Robinson’s defender — Gilmore — to free up the WR:
That concept works, as Gilmore is a step or two late coming over. But Trubisky, rather than throw this more on a line and toward the boundary, puts a little too much air on this throw and leaves it more toward the inside, allowing Gilmore to recover and make a play on the football:
Trubisky missed on a touchdown opportunity here by not using the right trajectory and not putting the throw where it needed to be. If he puts this to the outside more, Gilmore (#24) cannot rotate over to make a play on the football. Robinson and Trubisky have pulled off those types of back-shoulder throws before, and if Trubisky went to that well again the Bears might have had six on this play.
Trubisky was not as lucky on this fourth quarter pass toward Anthony Miller (#17):
The Bears have a three-receiver bunch formation to the left and they run a Spot concept, with a route to the flat from Robinson, a snag or spot route from Josh Bellamy (#15) and Miller on the deep corner route. Chicago runs this out of a Y-Iso formation, as Trey Burton (#80) is the single receiver to the right. The Patriots are in a Cover 1 scheme and Trubisky initially does a great job of moving free safety Devin McCourty (#32) toward Burton and away from Miller’s corner route. But the throw from Trubisky leaves a lot to be desired, as Miller has separation on cornerback Jonathan Jones (#31). The underthrown pass gives the cornerback a chance to recover and he secures a one-handed interception. An impressive recovery from Jones to be sure, but if Trubisky leads Miller here the Bears are likely in the end zone.
This was not the only missed opportunity in the direction of Miller. After the Michel fumble, the Bears put together a scoring drive that was capped off by a short TD run from Jordan Howard. But earlier on that possession, Trubisky had a chance to hit Miller on a post route for a score, as the rookie receiver had gotten inside positioning against rookie defensive back J.C. Jackson (#27). However, Trubisky’s throw was high and it fell incomplete:
As you can see at the end of the play, Miller is demonstratively pointing toward the ground, indicating to his quarterback that the throw needed to be lower.
The Two Best
In the spirit of optimism we can close this piece out by looking at, in my opinion, the two best throws from Trubisky on Sunday. First is the late TD pass to Burton — which marries great design from Matt Nagy with great execution from the quarterback. Chicago faces a first-and-10 on the Patriots’ 11-yard line, trailing by 14 late. First off, they use '12' offensive personnel, as both Burton and tight end Ben Braunecker (#84) are in the game. That has the Patriots respond with a 3-3-5 nickel defense instead of a 3-2-6 package they like to use. Then the Bears return to the Y-Iso formation, putting Burton alone to the right, but they also put Tarik Cohen (#29) to the right of the quarterback in the backfield. On the left they have a three-receiver bunch look:
This is brilliant design from Nagy, by putting two matchup players on the same side of the formation, but putting the numbers advantage for the offense to the other side of the field. New England is forced to choose how to defend this look with an extra linebacker on the field instead of a sixth defensive back. They end up putting Jones, a cornerback, on Burton. Which leaves Cohen isolated against Roberts, perhaps New England’s worst coverage linebacker.
Trubisky throws to Burton for the easy touchdown after again looking McCourty off:
From the personnel to the design to the execution, tremendous work from Nagy and Trubisky.
We can end this with a bit of an interesting find. Trubisky’s best throw of the day came (according to both me and Dan Fouts up in the booth) on this Spot concept in the third quarter. On this throw to Miller, Trubisky was confident, looked off safety Duron Harmon (#21) in the middle of the field and delivered an absolute strike to Miller for a big gain:
If the phrase “Spot concept” sounds familiar, it should. We broke down this same design earlier in the game on the interception by Jones. Well, remember how I’ve written at length about Nagy returning to plays to show confidence in Trubisky? Well, just a few plays after this brilliant throw to Miller on the corner route in a Spot concept, Nagy called it again.
Trubisky threw the corner route to Miller again.
But Jones intercepted it.
Consider me very curious to see how often the Spot concept gets called by Nagy this week against the New York Jets.
In all, this was another performance filled with highs and lows from Trubisky, and one that ended up a yard short of perhaps pulling out a win. If Trubisky can continue to be a threat with his legs — particularly in those man coverage situations where the Bears seem to be struggling right now — and turn more of these misses into completions, the Bears will be in good shape heading into a critical November stretch with three divisional games in three weeks.