The Chicago Bears notched a blowout victory on the road Sunday over the Buffalo Bills, 41-9. But in terms of the development from their young quarterback, the outing from Mitchell Trubisky might have raised more questions than it provided answers. Trubisky completed 12-of-20 passes for just 135 yards and one touchdown, to go with one interception. Watching the second-year passer on Sunday, a main area of inconsistency was with his ball placement.
Trubisky is becoming a polarizing figure on both the local and national stage. Supporters point to his level of production and the fact that he is on pace to turn in the best season by a Bears quarterback — ever — to make their case. Detractors point to the scheme and the Bears’ defense to argue that Trubisky is being helped along. As with most things in life the answer is likely somewhere in the middle, but given how we have been very optimistic in our view of Trubisky, it makes sense to focus in on the accuracy issue, which was a big factor against the Bills.
At the outset, it is important to set some parameters for a discussion, because sometimes terms get cloudy and detract from the overall premise. Completion percentage alone does not equal accuracy. That’s our first rule. The second is that accuracy and ball placement are two different things. A throw can be generally accurate yet poorly placed, and there is a difference — which can be critical. Finally, not all throws are created equal. On a short out pattern you might require precision placement, but on the deep routes, you’re really just looking for general accuracy. It is hard to criticize a quarterback for putting the football on the wrong shoulder when throwing a 55-yard vertical route, but that is a fair critique on a 5-yard out.
Having set the framework, let’s look at four throws from Sunday that highlight some of the inaccuracy Trubisky displayed against the Bills.
Early in the second quarter, the Bears have a seven-point lead but face a second-and-11 deep in their own territory. They align with Trubisky (#10) in the shotgun and put three receivers to the right in a bunch look, including RB Taquan Mizzell (#33). They run a quick screen to the running back with the other two bunch receivers — Trey Burton (#80) and Josh Bellamy (#15) — blocking for him:
Look at the throw from Trubisky, and more specifically where he places this pass:
Horizontal screens like this, or tunnel screens and smoke screens, are difficult throws to make because the ball has to get out quickly. But as a quarterback you need to put this throw to the receiver's upfield shoulder, to give them a bit of momentum toward the line of scrimmage. Instead, Trubisky puts this throw low and behind Mizzell, forcing the receiver to make a twisting adjustment to the pass and stopping any momentum he has downfield. The running back manages to pick up five yards thanks to some quick moves after the reception, but this is an example of poor placement from the quarterback. It goes in the book as a completion and pads the completion percentage, but the placement leaves a lot to be desired.
Later in the second quarter, the Bears turned to play-action to try and hit on a deeper throw downfield. Following an interception thrown by Nathan Peterman, the Bears face a first-and-10 in Buffalo territory, on the Bills’ 38-yard line. They line up with Trubisky under center for a change and use a tight 2x2 formation:
Trubisky takes the snap and fakes an inside run to the running back, before looking to throw one of these routes:
This is the Yankee concept, a two-receiver combination that many teams are turning to because of the fact you can run it using maximum pass protection but still stress the defense from sideline to sideline and deep. Here, Trubisky tries to hit Anthony Miller (#17) on the over route working from right to left, but he misses this thow high and to the outside:
Again, look at his feet. We have seen this before from the young passer: When his feet are moving and/or unsettled in the pocket, the accuracy tends to dip. That is exactly what we see on this play. Right before the throw Trubisky is sliding his feet, and while he does reset them before pulling the trigger, this is another example of him missing with placement when attempting a set/reset/throw play. Plus, look at that left, or lead, step. It is more to the outside than toward the target, another issue we have seen in the past from the second-year QB.
For me, the most puzzling throw of the afternoon from Trubisky came just a few plays later, on a third-and-13 when he tried to throw a route in the left flat to Taylor Gabriel (#18). I would describe this passing motion from Trubisky as “uncharacteristically violent:”
We can talk about torque for a moment. One of the ways passers generate velocity on throws is with their upper body and chest. A sharp, crisp turn of the lead shoulder that pulls the passing arm through the throwing plane generates torque, which in turn generates velocity on the throw. Cam Newton is a perfect passer to study if you want to see this in action. Trubisky is not one who displays such violence in the upper body when releasing passes, but out of nowhere Trubisky shows that exaggerated sharpness with his left shoulder and upper body on this throw, and the pass sails wide and low of Gabriel and is incomplete.
Trubisky on this play reminds me of myself after a couple of...disappointing...holes during a round of golf. Maybe you have been there yourself. You’ve posted a few double-bogeys in a row, or even worse, and you get to the next tee and pull the head cover off the big stick. You’re determined to grip it and rip it down the middle, but you load up, overswing and dribble one into the woods just past the tee box. This is the same type of thing, just on a football field. Trubisky’s violent shoulder and chest turn here throws his entire throwing motion off, and results in the incompletion.
Poor placement was also an issue on Trubisky’s interception against the Bills. This was a play that Trubisky himself admitted was poor, stating that the throw just “got away from him.” As you are about to see, a familiar flaw rears its ugly head yet again on this turnover:
After a punt, the Bears start a drive in Buffalo territory. The look to a play-action design, with Trubisky meeting Tarik Cohen (#29) in the backfield at the mesh point, before Trubisky retreats into the pocket and looks for Burton on a deep crossing route. Trubisky’s feet are again moving here, as he is climbing the pocket before releasing this pass. But as we have seen before, when those feet get moving, the accuracy and/or placement dips. Trubisky air mails this one:
There does seem to be a bit of miscommunication between Burton and Trubisky on this play, as the tight end looks to throttle down for a split second before then getting back into gear. But even if Burton kept moving across the field the entire way, he was not getting to this throw. Again, when his feet are moving or he’s resetting himself just prior to the pass, Trubisky’s ball placement lags.
Now, as I have been known to do, we can end on a positive note. Despite the struggles with placement on Sunday, I’m still optimistic about the developmental path Trubisky is on. This play, from early in the third quarter, shows some of what Trubisky can do when he’s allowed to inject some of his athleticism into the moment:
The Bears start with Trubisky under center and run a play-action design, rolling him out to the right. He immediately faces some pressure off the edge, in the form of big Shaq Lawson (#90) in his face. Trubisky uses a quick little pump fake to get the edge defender in the air, which buys him just enough time and creates just enough space for a throw to Gabriel on a crossing route, working left to right.
Now, this is by no means a one-to-one comparison, but that play is shades of Montana to Clark on “The Catch.” Again, just shades of it, but when your quarterback can create on the move, your offense is in position to succeed even when plays break down and the QB is forced to create outside of structure.
Big picture? A road win in the NFL — especially one by more than 30 points — is a very good thing. Especially when your quarterback struggles a bit. Drilling down on Trubisky again, the main point to consider is the overall trendline. Quarterback development is not linear. There will be hiccups along the way, and that is how I would term his outing on Sunday against the Bills. Some mechanical inconsistencies seem to be leading to inconsistency with ball placement, and provided Trubisky sorts out those issues, his developmental path will just continue to trend upward.