“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
I told you last week that I like to read.
With those words, Charles Dickens began his 1859 classic A Tale of Two Cities, a work of historical fiction taking readers through the buildup to the French Revolution. However, Chicago Bears fans might be wondering if Dickens had them in mind over the past few days in the wake of Chicago’s 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions.
In that game, the much maligned Mitchell Trubisky played relatively clean, completing 16 of 23 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns, a game that by many metrics (such as quarterback rating, yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt) was his best outing of the 2019 season. After facing a wave of criticism from the outside, and leaving many wondering if the Trubisky Era in Chicago was drawing to a close, the young quarterback seemed to have stemmed the tide with this performance.
It was a game that led another Bears writer to a different quote:
Curious what percentage of Bears fans are feeling like Michael Corleone this morning after watching Mitch yesterday...?— Arthur Arkush (@ArthurArkush) November 11, 2019
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
If there was a moment that perhaps pulled the Bears’ fans back in, it was Trubisky’s touchdown throw before halftime. At that moment the hosts trailed the Lions - and backup quarterback Jeff Driskel - 6-0 and many were wondering if Trubisky was going to lose to Matt Stafford's clipboard holder. But this TD toss just could be the throw to turn the tide.
Bear in mind (pun intended) that the corner route is among the toughest to throw in all of football. Particularly down in the red zone. In a man coverage situation like the Bears face here, the quarterback is actually throwing this route into multiple defenders. The QB needs to get the touch and trajectory right to get the ball over the man coverage defender, but he also needs to drop this down in time before the end line and sideline come into play. In a sense, you are throwing into triple coverage.
Oh, and there is also the matter of the free safety lurking in the middle of this Cover 1 scheme Chicago faces here.
But facing a second-and-5 at the Lions’ 5-yard line, the offense empties the backfield with Trubisky (#10) in the shotgun. Three receivers are to the right, with tight end Ben Braunecker (#82) aligned as the inside trips receiver. Allen Robinson (#12) is the middle receiver in the trips while Anthony Miller (#17) is on the outside. To the weak side of this play, Tarik Cohen (#29) and Taylor Gabriel (#18) are in a slot formation and they run a pivot/smash concept, with Cohen on the pivot route from the outside while Gabriel angles for the corner:
Again, the Lions are in Cover 1 here, with free safety C.J. Moore (#49) reading the quarterback’s eyes.
That is where we need to go back in time a bit.
Back to Week 1.
That week my Trubisky recap piece was titled “Writing Angry.” I wrote angry because I was angry at the time, angry with Trubisky’s final throw of the night. If you recall, Trubisky attempted a red zone corner route in the direction of Robinson, but the throw never arrived:
… the Packers use a bracket on Robinson. Cornerback Tramon Williams (#38) drops off of Cohen to take an outside leverage position over Robinson, allowing free safety Adrian Amos (#31) to work slowly from the middle of the field, knowing he has help on Robinson from the outside.
Even still, this throw can be completed, provided the quarterback does something besides stare at Robinson from the snap to the throw. Trubisky is pulling the trigger in this second image, and perhaps he has not seen Williams peel off Cohen. Provided he has been smart with his eyes, there is still a chance.
Instead, he stares at Robinson the entire route, and you can see the jump Amos gets on this. If he looks elsewhere - at Braunecker, Cohen, the dude in the front row chomping on popcorn, anywhere else - this play might have a chance.
Instead he throws Amos a can of corn.
Again, writing angry.
It was not even my least favorite play from Trubisky that night, but it highlights an area of concern that remained with the quarterback heading into this season: His eyes. His failure to look off the coverage, and his insistence on staring down Robinson, led to the game-ending pick. If he brings his eyes anywhere else during the play - anywhere - the throw has a chance.
The throw against the Packers came on a route concept sometimes called Double In, or Double China 7. It pairs two in-breaking routes on the outside with a corner route from the inside trips receiver. Against the Lions, however, Matt Nagy calls for a different design. As you can see above, while Braunecker does run the corner route, Robinson runs a quick route to the flat while Miller runs a deeper pivot route. But again, the 7 route to the TE is the main read.
Now watch Trubisky’s eyes here:
Trubisky locks onto Moore in the middle of the field for a moment, before flipping his eyes to the outside to throw the 7 route. Why does this matter? Because it holds the free safety in the middle of the field for a step. Now, it is unlikely that Moore was going to make a play on this throw anyway, but it is a sign of growth. A sign of development.
A positive sign:
From the end zone angle we can see how the QB uses his eyes to influence the safety. Quarterback play often comes down to influencing defenders — and Trubisky does it perfectly here.
With the beauty of this animation from the NFL, we can see how Trubisky freezes Moore in the middle of the field to make this throw:
Of course, dear reader, it is one throw. In one game. In the middle of a season that still to this point looks like a potential lost opportunity for this franchise. But if you are holding out hope that perhaps Trubisky’s learning curve is finally rounding into positive territory, plays like this are what you want to see. Evidence that the quarterback is starting to do some of the little things that matter so much to play this position at an effective - let alone high - level. Maybe next week we’ll be back where we were a week ago, wondering if Trubisky should be used as the NFL’s modern Wing-T quarterback. But for one week, and thanks to one throw, perhaps Bears fans can dream again.