Hello again friends, how is everyone feeling this Friday?
We had some fun this week at PFW's Bears Insider. Tasked with putting on my Ryan Pace hat and addressing the Chicago Bears’ quarterback room, I put together some options for solidifying the QB position for the 2020 season and beyond. The reaction to the piece was such that we believed it made sense to open up a mailbag of sorts, addressing some of the reaction as well as additional questions raised by readers.
Let’s dive in.
Michael, that was the whole point of the piece. Did you not read it? You never read anything I put together ...
But since my wonderful co-host of The QB Scho Show on Bleeding Green Nation (yes, this is a shameless plug for one of my podcasts, a weekly show talking all things quarterbacks from an Eagles’ perspective) raised this again, I figure we can kick things off here by taking one last chance to make the case for my proposed plan of action.
For those like Michael who may have missed it, my prescription for the QB room going forward was to acquire a veteran passer and then select a rookie sometime on Day 2 of the upcoming NFL Draft. In terms of the veteran, names like Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton come to mind. For the rookie, Jake Fromm is certainly an option. Other names to potentially consider are Jacob Eason (who, in terms of another shameless plug, we will look at next week) and Jalen Hurts.
Why do I think this approach makes sense? First off, the relationship with Mitchell Trubisky may have taken a critical hit on Sunday night. Watching Matt Nagy talk to his quarterback on the sideline, as he sits him down late in a 10-point game, had me thinking of Drew Brees. Why? A few years ago, Matt Waldman, who I am lucky to know and work with, wrote a great piece titled “Ruining QBs.” He brought up Brees and his relationship with Marty Schottenheimer. Quoting at length from an NFL Network special on the coach, Brees said the following:
"I give Marty so much credit as far as my maturation as a quarterback in this league and he benched me three times,” says Brees on NFL Networks’ Marty Schottenheimer: A Football Life. “But there were times where I needed that. It was part of my growth. [During this interview segment with Brees, the director runs a sideline shot of Schottenheimer telling Brees during a game, “Listen to me, if it’s a one-score game, your ass will be out there, but I’m not putting you at risk in this situation. You hear me?”] I was still his guy and I felt that all the way through so I love him for that. That carried over to 2004, where we had one of our better seasons."
Now maybe I read this wrong, but pulling Trubisky in that moment is a move that might shred his confidence. Which is odd, given how Nagy has in the past tried to maintain his quarterback’s confidence by returning to plays he missed throws on, and giving him opportunities to play through some struggles.
Even if the relationship is not fractured, at a bare minimum, the young passer needs some competition to push him in training camp. Chase Daniel has been a fine backup to help Trubisky grow, but if the goal is to somehow make Trubisky better and rely on him, he needs to be pushed. Maybe tapping into the proverbial competitive fire will do the trick.
This is a good time to point out that many of you wondered about Teddy Bridgewater, who is also a very viable option. (Shameless plug No. three, I’ll be putting him under the microscope just in time for your Thanksgiving dinner next week). I included Bridgewater in an earlier piece this season about potential 2020 options, and should have included him in the piece this week. For that, I do apologize.
Now as for the rookie fits, there are reasons to add another young passer even at this point. One reason is that the acquired veteran might not pan out. Another is that Injuries happen. And it is never a bad time to start planning for the future. If Trubisky indeed is not this team’s quarterback in 2020, there will need to be a plan in place for life in 2021 and beyond. That starts with getting in a young QB to develop. I am always of the mind that a team should be acquiring young quarterbacks every other year or so, looking toward the future.
The New England Patriots are a perfect example. During the Tom Brady Era, they have drafted a quarterback almost every other season. What is the expression? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail?
Let’s move onto another bit of reaction, which was more common than I expected:
Now, these are just two of many such comments to the earlier piece this week. Many of you firmly believe that fixing the offensive line is the more important issue right now for this offense.
This is certainly a defensible position. Trubisky has been pressured a lot this season, more than most other quarterbacks in the league. Thanks to Pro Football Reference and their Advanced Passing Statistics, we know that Trubisky’s “Pocket Time” of just 2.3 seconds is tied for the second-lowest in the league. (This measures the average time of snap to either throw or the pocket collapsing, so while pressure is not the only factor, it is certainly a part). We also know that Trubisky has been hurried 37 times, which is ninth-most in the league. We know that he has been sacked 23 times - playing in just nine games - which is 15th in the league.
And yes, the quarterback plays a role in sacks, but still, there is evidence that the offensive line needs to do a better job of protecting the quarterback.
So the offensive line could use some work.
But is there evidence that Trubisky would benefit greatly when playing from a clean pocket? Statistics and film have shown us this season that that is not exactly the case.
For example, Pro Football Focus tracks quarterback performance when “Kept Clean,” i.e. when they are not pressured. Right now among qualified quarterbacks, Trubisky’s completion percentage of 69.0% when kept clean is good for 23rd in the league. His passer rating when kept clean is 92.8, which is good for 25th in the league. His adjusted completion percentage (defined as the percentage of aimed passes thrown on target, which eliminates the impact of drops) is 75.9, which is 24th in the league.
So even when he is protected, his performance is still subpar. This is something that shows up on film as well:
This is a clean pocket, and Trubisky is lucky the pass is not intercepted.
This is a clean pocket, and Trubisky cannot keep the throw inbounds.
Plus sometimes, the pressure is on the QB.
Trubisky has options here, but he fails to make a decision and time runs out.
This is not to say that the Bears can stand pat along the offensive line — they should certainly look to upgrade — but fixing it might not be the cure-all that many hope it could be for Trubisky.
Now what about the scheme? That was also a common thread in response. That leads us to this brilliant question:
This is a tremendous question.
As we will touch on in a moment, scheme fit is a critical component to the quarterback evaluation and development process. It is also often one of the toughest parts to get right. Part of my background in quarterback evaluation - aside from being a failed one myself - is from a program called The Scouting Academy. Started by Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout, this program teaches students how to evaluate players from a trait-based perspective just like NFL teams do. I took the QB module to get a firmer grasp on how the league views the position, and during that process Dan told me story after story about how scouts for teams would agree on a QB’s traits but often firmly disagree on the right type of offense or fit for the particular passer.
It is hard to get right.
But could Trubisky thrive in a different system? Perhaps one like the reader mentions here, a more pure West Coast offense like Kyle Shanahan’s?
If you look through a Shanahan playbook, and study the offense this season in San Francisco, you almost feel like you are being taken back in time. Many of his designs and concepts are lifted directly from the pages of an old Bill Walsh playbook. What is old is new again.
The problem, in my opinion, with dropping Trubisky into that kind of system is that we have not seen the ability from him to execute in the quick-read passing game with consistency. Just look at the third play highlighted above, which is a quick passing concept similar to many West Coast designs. Trubisky freezes, resulting in a sack.
The beauty of the West Coast passing game is that it is almost just an extension of the running game. The quarterback gets the ball out of his hands as fast as possible to a receiver and looks to create yardage after the catch. It places an emphasis on quick decisions and precision placement with throws. Timing is key. Don’t take that from me:
"The 3-step passes were vital to our possession passing game in San Francisco. These are the “long handoffs” or “dinks and dunks” people sometimes talk about when they describe the West Coast Offense. Because these plays were designed to develop so quickly, timing was more critical on these passes than any other," Joe Montana writes in his book, Art and Magic of Quarterbacking.
I’ll defer to Montana on this one.
We can close it out with this:
Many of you wanted to channel your inner Doc Brown.
While we do not have a spare DeLorean lying around, I more than understand this line of thinking. The play we have seen from Trubisky this season is one reason for frustration in Chicago, but it is not taking place in a vacuum. Making things worse is the fact that Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are growing into stars in front of our eyes, and both were available when Pace turned in a card with Trubisky’s name on it.
That ... stings.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. It is easy to sit here today and say that the Bears made a franchise-changing mistake in passing on those two quarterbacks. It is also easy to point out that many evaluators would have gone in a different direction. I can slip in another shameless plug and point to this piece from April of 2017, where I ranked the “Big Four” in the 2017 draft.
Trubisky was four.
But rankings, hindsight, shameless plugs, none of that really matters in the end. Pace and the Bears made the decision that they made, and all that can be done is to learn from that process, then apply those lessons to similar situations in the future. That is another lesson learned from The Scouting Academy: The lesson of self-evaluation. It is also a lesson taught to me by my own father, as I was a kid. Everything in life is a teaching moment, especially the mistakes.
That might be the biggest lesson of all from the Trubisky Era, and one that the organization - and Pace - need to fully digest. We all read the Tribune's recent deep dive into the decision to draft Trubisky. That process needs to be revisited, rethought and rebuilt going forward. If Pace and the front office can apply those lessons to the quarterback evaluation process in the future - and in the present - then they can get it right eventually.
Which might be the biggest bit of legacy from this period of time in Chicago.