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48 Attempts: Trubisky’s Career to Date

Mitchell Trubisky is pretty new to this NFL quarterbacking thing, but if we squint we can almost make out some details about what he is doing well and what he is not being asked to do just yet.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Reference credits Bears’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with 48 attempts. To put that number into a bit of context, there are already 14 single-game performances by a quarterback with at least that many attempts, and it’s not even halfway through the season, yet. 15 times so far this season, a quarterback has matched Trubisky’s 348 yards to date in a single game (that includes Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown). This means that almost any “trend” is insignificant, and all numbers are really a step away from being anecdotes, but despite that there are a few observations that can be teased out of his split scores, and some of those observations are worth making.

First, after his interception against the Vikings in his first career outing, he has had the opportunity to make plays at the end of a game only sporadically, and so there is no real way to assess his ability to bounce back from that mistake. Officially, he is only credited with 3 pass attempts inside of the last 4 minutes of games, but that ignores plays called back due to penalty and the various sacks he has taken. He has exactly one official pass attempt in the red zone (incomplete, 3rd and 3 against the Ravens at the 5-yard line). Trubisky might or might not be “clutch,” but there is not enough on the field to demonstrate this one way or another.

There is certainly enough there to suggest that the Bears’ leadership might not trust him with the football in scoring situations, but whether or not that lack of confidence is justified will have to wait until he or they are forced into more aggressive action. The Saints might be the team to force that to change, one way or another.

Slightly more illuminating is a the comparison of his passer rating from shotgun and under center. For 2016, the rough average of passer rating for all teams was around 89.3; the passer rating operating when operating just out of shotgun was 87.8. That’s not a very big difference. Meanwhile, Trubisky’s passer rating under center is 142.4 compared to an overall passer rating of 79.2. Some of this imbalance is an artifact of the fact that only a quarter of his passes have come from under center and that sacks and fumbles are not factored into passer rating. Another part of it is that his only career interception to date came out of shotgun, and with so few attempts that single throw has a big impact.

Still, there is enough there to at least start to question the idea that playing under center will be the young man’s undoing. This is especially true since--playing for the same team--Glennon had a 46.7 passer rating under center and an 84.8 passer rating operating out of shotgun.

On the other hand, the numbers are suggestive regarding another persistent rumor, namely that Trubisky is only asked to pass on obvious passing downs. Of the other NFC North quarterbacks (Rodgers, Hundley, Bradford, Keenum, Stafford, and Glennon), only one has had greater percentage of his pass plays come with 10+ yards to go, and that one player is Mike Glennon.

Overall, the other teams in the NFC North have seen only 57% of their pass attempts made with 10+ yards to go; the passers for Chicago have had 64% of their pass attempts in the same situation. Likewise, all of Trubisky’s sacks came when there were at least 6 yards to go, and 5 of the 9 sacks came with 10+ yards to go. Again, that’s not atypical yet. It does, however, suggest that the young man who played for North Carolina has yet to run a complete or balanced offense.

In the category of “way too small of a percentage to draw conclusions, even for these purposes” it’s at least fun to point out that a greater percentage of Trubisky’s passes made with 10+ yards to go have resulted in first downs than was true for Glennon, but not by a lot (20% compared to 18%). Likewise, he’s had 13 deep passes, but only one of them has gone left. In fact, 21 of his 48 passes have been short and to the right. Those aren’t strange numbers, but they suggest a predictability that merits attention, hopefully from either Loggains or his successor (I think I’d prefer the latter).

The good news is that the Pretty Boy Assassin’s deep middle game (4/4, 130 yards, 3 different targets) seems solid. Did I mention that these numbers are tiny? Unfortunately, if someone wanted to express concern about The Biscuit’s ability to throw left--short or deep--there is nothing in the numbers yet to contradict that (3/13, 27 yards).

Ultimately, Trubisky’s 48 pass attempts seem like an extension of the preseason, in that he’s mostly being asked to be do the least amount of quarterbacking possible. It’s tough to say if or when he is actually going to be asked to play to win. Only then will the Bears know what they have. Hopefully it won’t take until next season to find out, but if it does it’s worth reminding everyone of the transformation undergone by Jared Goff in the offseason. And, to be honest, it’s worth keeping in mind what it took for that transformation to happen.