Two days after the explosion of excitement that came with the announcement that talented young rookie Mitchell Trubisky will be starting Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings, I feel an unsettling calm. Mitchell Trubisky has a legitimate chance to be the best quarterback the Bears have ever had—and a high likelihood of being the best they’ve had in twenty years—and I can’t help wondering how it’s going to go wrong.
So what could go wrong? I suppose Trubisky could be bad. I have seen enough tape of him to doubt that will happen. But maybe he takes early sacks and gets spooked. Maybe the pressure causes him to break down his mechanical fundamentals and build muscle memories of bad habits. Maybe he gets so angry at receivers dropping his passes that he stops trying, trades in grandma’s Camry for a Mustang, and drives to LA to meet Johnny Manziel at The Nice Guy club.
I don’t see biscuit doing any of the above. He genuinely comes across as determined and realistic enough to face challenges calmly and pragmatically. No. The only way I see this going wrong is a devastating injury.
This is of course my pessimism getting carried away, but in the last year, three young starting quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and Cutler-enabler Ryan Tannehill) have lost significant time to injuries. If you count the slightly older crowd, both Andrew Luck and Cam Newton can be added to that list.
Add to this the fact that rookie quarterbacks are—unsurprisingly—getting sacked more than the average veteran. Currently Houston has a league-leading 17 sacks and Cleveland has 13. Most of these fall on their rookie quarterbacks, but those exact numbers are more of a hassle to get so I passed on looking them up. For comparison the slow-release and poor pocket presence we all complained about from Mike Glennon only led to 8 sacks.
Mitchell Trubisky isn’t the only one tasked with protecting the premium football-playing device his head rests upon. The offensive line certainly has their duty, as does the coaching staff—and the rest of the team to varying degrees.
But the question of whether Trubisky is ready to me has always been: Has Trubisky done everything he can off the field to learn how to avoid sacks?
More specifically, has he learned what is realistically possible about how to adjust blocking assignments pre-snap, and react to pressure appropriately post-snap, knowing when and how to dump off to his hot read.
Rewatching Trubisky’s preseason tape, I found things that were both reassuring and concerning. The first thing that stood out to me—especially after four weeks of watching MG8—was how impressive he is in terms of pocket awareness and poise under pressure. Many of his throws came the moment before a rusher would hit him, and almost all of them were delivered with the same accuracy as his unpressured tosses.
The image below presents this beautifully: Biscuit drives a pass forward unphased as an unblocked defender careens towards him. The result? A first down conversion on 3rd and 17.
Biscuit was sacked a total of three times during the preseason (he was credited with a fourth but it was really a botched snap that he fell on top of). None of those sacks had an obviously missed pre-snap adjustment. All of them had an open hot read that he had the potential to see and time to throw to.
The first sack was a play-action pass against the Arizona Cardinals. Cyril Richardson was beat by a defender right in front of Trubisky and Ka’Deem Carey was open running in the flat after the faked handoff.
In the image above, you can see that within Trubisky’s eye-line Cardinals 72 is beating Richardson with a straight line for Biscuit and Carey is right behind him running into a wide-open flat. In Trubisky’s defense, a play-action pass delays a quarterback’s opportunity to read the field, and Trubisky was likely just starting to look at his initial read. But when he sees both the pressure and the out with enough time to connect, he needs to pull the trigger and dump it immediately.
The second sack was also in the Cardinals game, and Trubisky actually began a throwing motion before pulling the ball in and taking the sack. The still below is just after he pulled the ball in, and right as Adam Shaheen makes the cut on his route to get open.
This was a third down play and Shaheen had the shortest route, which took a full two seconds to develop, so Biscuit didn’t have an immediate option when two extra Cardinals blitzed in immediately after the snap.
However, there was time to hit Shaheen before the pressure reached. I’m not sure what Trubisky was looking at when he initially pulled back, but my guess is it was a different receiver downfield. When he saw the blitz, he should have immediately turned to Shaheen as his first look.
Trubisky’s final sack of the preseason came at the end of game four when, according to everyone but the Bears’ coaching staff, he should not have been in the game.
That aside, he again had an opportunity to throw the ball instead of taking the sack.
The clock was at zero at this time. So it’s possible Trubisky chose not to throw to the open receiver because he saw downfield coverage that would prevent him from getting to the end zone. Instead Trubisky tried to scramble and ran right past a blocked Brown who was able to shed his block and tackle Biscuit immediately. This decision is probably in part a result of underestimating the competition with his limited NFL experience.
In truth, I can’t answer the question of whether Trubisky is ready. I hope the coaches are right when they say that he is. I will certainly be watching how well he gets rid of the ball under pressure on Monday. Maybe even more closely than I’ll be watching the score.
Football is a dangerous and unpredictable sport, and you can never eliminate all risks. I’m not advocating that the Bears don’t play Trubisky because there is a chance he will get hurt. I just believe it would be reasonable to hold back if there was still a decent amount of learning he could do to reduce that risk.
By all accounts, it’s time to let the rookie learn on the field. And hopefully win a few games while he’s at it. Just remember, Biscuit. Bears fans now care about your health as much as your mother does. Don’t go doing anything stupid.