Monday, October 9th, 2017 is essentially day 1 of the season for the Chicago Bears. Not only is the season starting anew, but a new era is beginning on the lake front. This date, for better or worse, will always be known as the day that the Bears’ largest investment in a quarterback started his career.
I don’t want to make this all about Mitchell Trubisky though. In fact, in order to properly gauge how this offense will operate moving forward, we will need to look into the past. Let’s start with the first four games of this season. Mike Glennon showed us that he — as we found out at the end of Return of the Jedi — has less good in him than the late Sith Lord, Darth Vader (or Anakin Skywalker if we want to get technical).
Yes, Mike Glennon was signed here to be a bridge quarterback. However, he appeared to be a bridge to far as it were. The plan was to sit Trubisky for his rookie season and see if Glennon showed enough to be able to flip him for a draft pick. Let’s just say that we know how that story ended. For the emotional health of Bears fans, I am not going to delve into that.
I remind us of those dark days because it sets the stage for what’s to come. Remember, the day is always darkest before the dawn, and those were some dark times indeed.
It was abundantly clear to anyone with eyes that Glennon struggled to run the offense effectively. So much so that Dowell Loggains had to scale back his game plans to fit the hapless quarterback’s meager skill-set. This is why we have to take yet another step back in order to look forward. The 2016 season may give us some more insight as to what we can expect from the offense henceforth.
Oddly enough, the game plans last season did not seem to change much with the quarterback. The unathletic Brian Hoyer was running virtually the same offense as the more athletic — but still less athletic than Mitchell Trubisky — Jay Cutler and Matt Barkley. Let’s enter the film vault and take a peek at how Dowell Loggains ran his offense last season.
Here we start with the running game. Now, through four games, the outside zone or stretch play has been almost completely abandoned. This was a bread-and-butter play for a running attack that led to Jordan Howard being the NFL’s second-leading rusher in 2016.
Another staple of the running game was based on the formation. Here is something that we definitely did not see with Glennon: the pistol formation. This was something that Loggains ran quite a bit with Cutler and Barkley — with a fake end-around — to give the defense a different look.
Here is Barkley running it...
...and Cutler ran some as well.
The final play that we saw a whole lot of last year — which is inexplicably missing from the playbook this season — is running from the shotgun. Truthfully, the Bears were one of the teams that ran the bulk of their offense through the shotgun last year. Wait, wasn’t that one of the strengths of Mitchell Trubisky’s game from college...?
Here it is with Hoyer...
...and Cutler, looks like the same draw play...
...oh, and Barkley handed off in the shotgun too.
As you can see, the zone blocking scheme (ZBS) is something that this offense needs to be effective. The lineman were brought in for this scheme and Jordan Howard thrives on finding the creases with his stellar vision. Howard has the patience as well to make this running attack truly formidable, and that has been missing through four weeks.
What did Loggains call in the preseason while Trubisky was in the game you ask? Well it looks a bit similar to what we saw above. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
Here is our old pal, the stretch play. Benny Cunningham — who has a somewhat similar running style to Howard — hits the hole hard here on a 3rd and short in the red zone.
Here is another powerful rush on the outside zone play, this time with Ka’Deem Carey. This was a stalwart for the Bears offense last season.
We will see a lot more of these edge running plays moving forward. Unfortunately, the running game in the preseason for Trubisky was — how shall it put this nicely — not of NFL quality (sorry Joshua Rounds). There weren’t a whole lot of good examples of running plays from the preseason, as I am sure you all remember.
Let’s take a look at the passing game. Loggains did an excellent job of using his scheme to get receivers open for quick, easy receptions. On early downs and mid-range 3rd downs, these are the types of plays we should expect to see Monday night and beyond.
Here is Cutler in shotgun, with a play-action pass to Zach Miller over the middle. This is the kind of low-risk, quick-hitting play that Trubisky would really benefit from, especially on first down.
Another good example of how Loggains is able to use a combination of formation, motion, and route concepts to pry loose a receiver. In this case Kevin White.
The other thing that Loggains showed quite regularly last season, was a moving pocket. Whether that be with a sprint rollout or a play-action bootleg, the basic concept was the same. Change the point at which the ball was thrown, and cut the read in half for the quarterback.
With some additional time to throw with the play-action fake, you see Cutler able to relax and wait for the route to develop. Deonte Thompson runs off the corner with a double move and breaks off the route to make himself a target. This was nice play design against soft coverage.
The play-action pass works especially well if you can run the ball. To date, the running game is lagging behind where I believe it can be. Some of that is due to injuries on the offensive line, some of that is due to the quarterback play. Certainly, the play design is different. I expect to get back to running that ball well thus creating time and separation for the receivers.
Case in point. Here is a nice easy pitch and catch for Barkley to Thompson.
The last part of the passing game I wanted to look at was the red zone. This has been a point of contention for many fans, and with good reason. The Bears struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone last year. That said, there were examples of what Loggains has done well and something that should play well with Trubisky at the helm.
This play design tends to work well in the red zone. A simple crossing route at the top of the video (right side of the offensive formation) gives Hoyer a free look at Miller in the end zone.
Here is an interesting wrinkle that I think we will see a bit more of. This is a very basic RPO (run-pass option). They used to call this a “sight adjustment,” where depending on the coverage that the quarterback sees, there is a “hot” receiver who runs a “0” route (stop and turn to the quarterback at the line of scrimmage) and is able to take advantage of a large cushion. Here Josh Bellamy makes the catch, puts his head down, and scores. Notice the 9-yard cushion pre-snap.
Loggains was able to show some different looks last year that I think will really fit into Mitchell Trubisky’s skill-set. The lack of legitimate weapons is a concern, but a lot of these plays were examples of good play design to the same receivers that are going to be starting the remainder of the 2017 season. With the right play design, call, read, and execution, this offense should be able to move the ball and score a bit.
Now let’s see what Loggains did with the passing game in the preseason. There were a lot of the elements used last year when Trubisky played. I would expect to see a lot of the same. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollypops though. Trubisky is still a rookie and he is going to have his ups and downs. Let’s start with the bad and work our way up, shall we?
As a primarily shotgun based quarterback in college, there was concern about the ability to take snaps from under center. This fear was realized in the off-season program. The games however, were much cleaner. The biggest snap-snafu was tripping over a lineman’s foot.
This doesn’t concern me that much, these plays happen. What I want to see though, is how he has progressed in reading coverages. There were a couple of passes that Trubisky got away with in the preseason that we shouldn’t discount.
While not a bad read or decision, this is simply a case of throwing the deep ball too flat, which is something that Trubisky struggled with in college. He doesn’t give Tanner Gentry a chance to make a play on the ball, and forces his receiver to commit a penalty to avoid a turnover.
On this play, Titus Davis slips. Without the all-22 film — which is not available for preseason games — it is nearly impossible to know what Trubisky saw here. Either way, I don’t think you can defend the decision to throw this ball. Davis was never open.
This play is emblematic of young quarterbacks and their inexperience with different coverages. The safety that is lined up on the tight end on this play, peels off and undercuts the throw. This is much less common in college than it is in the NFL. Trubisky will need to learn to “look off” his intended receiver when he sees a zone defender underneath his preferred route.
Now, back to the game plan. As stated earlier, I expect to see some short, well-designed passing plays, mixed with roll-outs, bootlegs, stretch plays, runs from the shotgun, pistol formations, screens and RPO’s. Here is a good mix of what I expect to see moving forward.
Here is a perfect quick pass to run on first down...
...look at the “sell job” on the screen...
...you cannot roll to your left better than this...
...this is the respect that defenses have for the movement skills...
...more boot-action to the tight end, it’s time they get involved more...
...Trubisky’s ability to move to his left, is pretty special...
...this throw is big time, not many quarterbacks can do this...
...the pocket presence, movement skills, and the correct way to check down...
...that deep ball though...
...and the scrambling ability.
I hope everyone is as excited as I am. I know that Dowell Loggains gets a bad rap from a lot of folks. Personally, I think this pair could thrive together. We get our first look at this duo on Monday night. I expect to see them move the ball better than at any point this season, and it should only get better as the season moves along.