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Excuses Biscuses: A homer rebuttal to the Trubisky critics following week 1

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Plenty of upset fans and media hotheads have taken shots at the Beloved’s developing young gunslinger. I do my best to put up some bullet-proof glass.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
It looks like Biscuit is falling over here, but he’s running in a touchdown. Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving?

Everything happens for a reason. Or—more accurately—innumerable reasons, many of which will never be fully understood. When something bad happens (for example, a quarterback doesn’t perform well against an insufferable rival and a team loses) everyone reacts differently. Some people want to understand as many specific reasons as they can so they can make unbiased opinions about which are likely to become patterns, which might change over time, and which are so random they can be dismissed. Those people are definitely nerds and possibly robots.

The rest of us either come into the game with our minds made up and focus on the things that confirm our opinions or we form an often-emotional gut reaction at some point in a game and then notice the things that confirm this reaction.

I came into this game thinking Mitch Trubisky was an inexperienced quarterback (now up to 25 starts since high school!) with a lot of potential and the right attitude and work ethic to realize that potential. I left this game thinking the exact same thing.

The word “excuse” has different meanings depending on who you ask, but it’s almost always negative. Some people will take any reason you give for a poor performance or poor outcome and immediately dismiss it as an excuse. Others believe only a poor argument or one that doesn’t explain the result should be labeled as an excuse. I’m not calling my arguments excuses in an attempt to get ahead of the people who would inevitably do it anyway, and I’m not trying to reclaim the word excuses in a more positive light. I’m calling my arguments excuses because I thought “excuses Biscuses” was a cute pun and it’s hard to come up with a decent title sometimes.

Without further ado, here’s the criticisms I’ve heard of Trubisky’s play this Sunday followed by my excuses for each.

Trubisky is inaccurate!?

I started myself off with a softball because, quite simply, this statement is inaccurate. Trubisky has moments where he hurries throws and fires with bad mechanics, and in those moments, his ball can be wildly off-target. But when his mechanics and composure are right, Trubisky has great accuracy in terms of both completion percentage and ball placement.

When Trubisky was drafted, I looked at his 2016 college stats, excluding the game he played in a hurricane (because I’m a homer who wanted to bias in his favor): He had a 70% completion percentage and 7.5:1 TD to INT ratio. No quarterback drafted in recent years was better in both categories: only Andrew Luck had a higher completion percentage (71.5%) and only Marcus Mariota had a better TD to INT ratio (10.5). This was after excluding every game these QBs played in hurricanes.

In his rookie season, Trubisky had an overall 59.4% completion percentage, which included some rough learning-experience games against the Vikings and Eagles (around 50%) and some games where he showed his potential (over 75% against the Bengals and 49ers). On Sunday night, despite struggling for the final three quarters, he had a 66% completion percentage. Yes, were many screens and easy tosses called. There were also plenty of drops and throwaways.

In terms of ball placement, when Trubisky has a level head and good mechanics, he’s as accurate as anyone. This is demonstrated in a minimally-game-relevant youtube video of Trubisky throwing a football through a tire 30 yards away (special thanks to Panini America) but it’s also demonstrated in flashes every game he plays. Sunday night, a 33 yard pass to Allen Robinson can serve as an example. Pictured below, the ball hits Robinson in the back shoulder, outside of reach of the defender. It was described as a contested catch by the broadcast time, but the defender didn’t get a finger on it because it was beautifully played in the mitts of the newest great Bear receiver.

The best AR12 in Lambeau Sunday snatches a beautifully-placed 30 yard toss from the effortly-accurate Biscuit

Speaking of passes to Allen Robinson, Trubisky has a overthrowaway habit which I think is often interpreted as bad accuracy. I’ve noticed last year, and twice last night, when Trubisky is unsure of a throw (presumably because he’s not sure the receiver has the advantage or he’s uncomfortable in his mechanics) he tends to throw it just past the receiver in what comes across (to me) as a throw-away that is definitely out of range of the defender but maybe a heroic effort from a receiver could salvage. This happened twice with AR12. Once when he failed to beat Kevin King on a double move in one-on-one coverage, and the second time when he was open on the fade in the end zone, and Trubisky’s mechanics were off. My interpretation is that he is being overly cautious when he doesn’t like something. If you believe he’s aiming for the receiver’s paws and missing by 5-10 yards, I can see why you would think he’s inaccurate. I interpret it as a conservating tendency, possibly drilled into home by the Beloved’s adored former coach.

Trubisky choked!?

Trubisky played best in the first quarter. He was worse in the second half as the Packers started to make a comeback. He didn’t rise to the moment and win the game for the Bears on the final drive. One explanation for these facts is that he choked.

Lucky for us Tru believers, there are other explanations, some of which were offered up by Biscuit himself. First, Trubisky has always played better during the scripted plays at the beginning of a game. That has something to do with play calling, but is also likely a sign that Trubisky, like most humans, performs better in situations where he is comfortable and prepared. You know what tends to happen as someone who has a dedicated work ethic and watches their own tape religiously gets more experience? They tend to feel more comfortable and prepared.

The Packers didn’t have any tape of Matt Nagy calling the Bears offense to prepare for Sundays game. And the Bears didn’t have any tape of Mike Pettine calling the Packers defense. The later ended up hurting the Bears more than expected, as there were several times the Bears expected zone and saw man, and several blitzes that Trubisky had never seen on tape.

Trubisky does get flustered when he’s surprised by a blitz or defensive formation he’s not familiar with. When he’s flustered, he makes worse decisions, and he sometimes throws with bad mechanics. That’s not ideal. But as he gains experience, the number of things that fluster him will get smaller and smaller over time. Further, it’s plausible that he starts to get more comfortable even in situations that are foreign to him as he gets settled as an NFL quarterback and gets more familiar with his new teammates and new offense.

Is it possible that the pressure of holding on to a lead in a win that would be extremely important to the Bears’ franchise weighed on him? Is it possible that the crowd noise in Lambeau as Aaron Rodgers literally made a heroic one-legged comeback made Biscuit more prone to get flustered? Of course. That doesn’t mean he’ll never be able to rise to a moment and, say, scramble for 19 yards on a 4th and 13 or throw a last-chance game-winning pass to Kendall Wright in overtime against the Ravens.

Trubisky will never be Elite!?

Of all the critiques thrown at Trubisky, this one smacks the most of upset fans wanting to give up early because it’s too painful to hope. If that’s your situation, I can’t blame you. The Bears have given you little reason to hold out faith in their quarterbacks. The other population of people who love this take are national media folks or rival fans who want to be able to dismiss the Bears for convenience and choose this as the best excuse. I can and do blame them.

When evaluate a quarterback’s potential, it’s important to separate the things that can be changed and those that likely can’t.

Here are the promising traits that Trubisky possesses that are rarely gained later in a player’s career: accuracy, arm talent, humility and insight into areas of weakness with a relentless work ethic to improve, poise and decision-making when prepared.

Here are the traits where he is sub-optimal that are rarely gained later in a player’s career: poise and decision-making when unprepared.

And here are the traits he currently as underdeveloped that often improve throughout a player’s career: processing speed, blitz recognition, mechanics when flustered, flusterability.

Saying he will never be one of the best in the league is as silly as claiming he will definitely be great. There’s a lot left to see, but I’ll take the guy with promising traits who has shown he has what it takes to commit to the game and improve over a QB that flashes and wows early in his career.

Some people are saying his ceiling is Alex Smith. Look at Alex Smith’s first two seasons. He was literally a leaky composting bag of garbage with a helmet on top. A better ceiling comparison would be Drew Brees (despite Brees being shorter and less athletic then da Bisuit) who, as Ken pointed out in the Den comments today, had a worse completion percentage and passer rating than Trubisky so far in his first two years.

When Trubisky got on the bus after the Packers loss, the first thing he said to Matt Nagy? “How do I get better?”

I’ll take that.

Trubisky misses wide-open receivers!?

Much has been made on the twitter-sphere about a pair of plays where Trubisky “should have thrown” to Trey Burton or Tarik Cohen in the red zone. The Burton play was popularized by a screenshot shared by Athletic reporter Dan Durkin, showing Burton wide open with Trubisky looking in his direction. Here it is:

Trey Burton doing his best “open receiver” impression in an effort to make Trubisky look bad.

What this still doesn’t communicate that this is a play-action play in which Trubisky was facing away from the end zone prior to just turning around and that the Packer defender to the left has more momentum than Burton and will/can close on him quickly. It’s true that if Trubisky had recognized his window the throw to Trey immediately and decided to pull the trigger, he had time to hit him for the touchdown. The tape shows him cocking his arm back and hesitating, and I return to the theme of Trubisky needing to get more comfortable. That’s an opportunity he could and should have taken, but the still image makes it look like he was staring down an open receiver for seconds before opting to throw to Taylor Gabriel for a loss out of pure incompetence.

The next play I see frequently brought up is one in which Tarik Cohen was matched up against an outside linebacker (Reggie Gilbert) on a wheel route. The argument frequently raised is that Cohen against a linebacker is a “favorable matchup” and Trubisky should have taken that. The problem is, Gilbert actually had good coverage on Cohen for much of the route. The only time when Cohen was open was in the backfield at the begining of his route. You can argue that Trubisky should have thrown it to Cohen then and let Cohen beat the OLB in open space. I’ll stand by Trubisky’s choice to expect Cohen to smoke the linebacker and throw behind him—then move on in his progression when that didn’t happen. Gilbert impressed me on that play. It’s a shame it wasn’t Clay Matthews: that quarterback-roughing loser probably would have been eating grass before Cohen even reached him.

In Summary

There are a few more critiques of our precious Biscuit that I haven’t addressed, and there will always be more. Did Trubisky play scared and conservative in the second half? Probably a little, but not more than Nagy did with his playcalling. Can Trubisky throw to the left? Yes, but sometimes his mechanics are worse in that direction—this falls in the fixable category.

Ultimately my defense of Trubisky boils down to the fact that he has plenty of raw talent, minimal experience, and the right attitude to develop.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, but today I felt the need to shout it once in an ultimately-futile effort to combat the cacophony of voices I’m hearing calling for his head.

Luckily, Trubisky will play against a worse and more predictable secondary next week and I fully expect a bounce-back. Perhaps the short-sighted masses will jump on the Biscuit train when that happens?

PS. If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of excuses to explain why.