By now, in his three years with the Bears, we've learned that it's never wise to take John Fox's words at face value. Most of the time, when he's speaking publicly, he's trying not to say anything of real meaning. It's his mantra. Never too high or too low.
That's why it's fascinating to hear the veteran coach talk about his rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky - the one everyone rails against him for constraining in Chicago's pop gun offense - in such high esteem. Whenever the 23-year-old Trubisky becomes a topic for Fox to discuss, he rarely minces words. As he did in his outward praise of the young face of the franchise following Trubisky's three-interception night against the Lions.
"He (Trubisky) played arguably his best game," said Fox on Monday of Trubisky's play against Detroit.
That sounds ludicrous at first statistical glance, but for once, Fox elected to elaborate as he cited control of the game and pre-snap alignment as to the reason he thought it was Trubisky's "best game".
"I've seen enough to think that Mitchell Trubisky is going to have a heck of a career," continued Fox.
Okay, now we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Anyway, given how often Fox is intentionally aiming for word salad, these kinds of comments following an up and down day for the quarterback he only has two games left with as a coach can almost always be taken with a grain of salt.
In this case, perhaps Fox was being sincere and telling the truth. That his turnovers were the result of a young quarterback pressing and trying to pick up his team.
Did Trubisky actually play the best game of his budding career? Let's take a look at the anatomy of his best and worst from his first ever start at Ford Field.
The first play takes us to the Bears' first possession of the second half with Chicago already down by 10. The Bears' ground game is getting stuffed by a mediocre defense. They're being forced to press and work outside of their comfort zones as an offense to get back into the game. So on 2nd and 8, Trubisky decided to take a bold chance.
It didn't work out.
Darius Slay, one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks who was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday, doesn't miss when given the opportunity to take the ball away. Thanks to this interception and a late garbage time addition, he now leads the league with seven picks. Trubisky, in hindsight, had the right idea. It was merely a poor throw with poor execution while rolling left.
As you'll see initially, Trubisky immediately feels the pressure from a lurking Ezekiel Ansah that beat Bobby Massie like a drum on the right side. With Jordan Howard's help coming late towards Ansah after taking the play action fake, Trubisky is forced to improvise much faster than he'd like. Since none of the Lions bit on the play action, he was then essentially forced to make a perfect throw for a positive play.
What ultimately leads to this interception is Trubisky seeing linebacker Jarrad Davis trail with Dion Sims on the rollout. Truthfully, the window wasn't so small that he couldn't fit it in with a reasonable attempt. It was more of a trust factor and wanting to put the ball in the hands of Kendall Wright - someone he'll always test first. The issue was that while Wright also had a window, Trubisky had to make an even more difficult throw between two defenders. With anything but a precise pass, that ball was always going to sail out of bounds or end up in the hands of a ballhawk such as Slay.
Perhaps if Wright was six inches taller, the Bears would've soldiered on. Unfortunately, quite obviously, he isn't.
We flash forward to Chicago's next drive after the Lions punched in a touchdown off the turnover to make the Bears' deficit 17. After an illegal 15-yard blocking penalty by Joshua Bellamy on a measly second down two-yard rush by Jordan Howard, the Bears are backed up at their own 15-yard line with a metaphorical mile (2nd and 20) ahead of them to convert the first down.
Here, Trubisky decided to get all the yardage back using Wright on one of his most impressive throws all season.
Tremendous patience and time afforded by the offensive line is what brings this play together It's what lets Trubisky see the tiny seam in the middle of the field. This throw through a layer of zone coverage is ridiculous. This is a quarterback reading the defense as best as you can and taking full advantage.
There was only one place Trubisky could fit this pass and that was right over the head of barely trailing cornerback Nevin Lawson while whizzing it just past Davis. And somehow Trubisky found it. The fact that Wright himself even finds the opening behind the two defenders is prescient in itself, as if he knew his young quarterback would know where to go.
Even though nothing would come of this drive, it's clear that when you give Trubisky a chance to wow you and metaphorically put the team on his back, he won't disappoint.
Following a fruitless Lions' possession, the Bears would get one last crack at it in the third quarter. Again, Trubisky enjoyed another of his best throws all year. (It's truly unfortunate that two throws like this came in a turnover-laden game.)
Chicago is facing a 3rd and 18 at their own 39 following a sack and incompletion to Bellamy. With the game already out of hand, it was even in more danger of a catastrophe without a conversion. Trubisky delivered with a dime in between three defenders to who else but ... Markus Wheaton?
The Bears, with no choice, are forced to use tight vertical concepts for every receiver. That means slow developing routes. That means even a pass rush depraved team such as Detroit having the chance to bear down on Trubisky, as they do. This is a play where Trubisky hung in until the end to take the hit from Anthony Zettel. Because he had to.
Trubisky isn't phased and he finds the one small spot in the Lions' prevent defense at the sticks. Another perfect throw in between Lawson and this time, linebacker Tahir Whitehead. All as he's getting drilled. The most shocking part had to be that Wheaton was open on his post route as he sat down, and that he caught the ball. A broken play rescued by the quarterback.
Last but not least, we get to Trubisky's most egregious error on the night. On his first interception, he made an errant throw with the right idea. Here, the ball should've never went in Dontrelle Inman's direction with another play coming after 3rd and Goal in the red zone.
He forced it, plain and simple.
I honestly don't know what Trubisky saw here. Quandre Diggs, the eventual interception culprit, is standing in Inman's route the entire time, watching Trubisky's eyes. Inman also creates zero separation against Slay to the inside. There was nowhere to fit the ball, even with a rifle of an arm. All Diggs has to do is step back and get the easy rebound.
Truthfully, with the situation in mind, this was Trubisky's worst throw and decision of 2017 by my estimation. Not by coincidence, it was his first ever pick thrown on third down.
I'll give Trubisky credit that he does go through his progressions to the right (albeit quickly), to no avail. It's what happens when he slides left. The Lions didn't even make the attempt to disguise Diggs. This wasn't a mix-up in coverage. This was a quarterback that should've thrown the ball away to keep likely points on the board, to live to fight another day, but instead forced the issue a bit much into double coverage. He panicked. Though, given where the Bears were in the game, I'll appreciate trying to make magic happen.
In the end, Trubisky's performance against the Lions wasn't nearly as good as his career-high 314 passing yards would indicate, as an overwhelming majority of those came on Chicago's last few possessions in garbage time. The definition of empty calories.
However, it also wasn't as bad as the box score and his three interceptions (one that came at the end with no real outcome) would say either.
This was a quarterback's learning experience about what it means to finally have a game firmly in his hands. 46 passing attempts, working the Bears' flawed offense pre-snap, and playing from behind in adverse conditions tell the real story for Trubisky. He knew some of the answers but didn't pass this test with flying colors. The good news is there'll be plenty of time to study to ace the make-up.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.