After a six-game losing streak, the Bears find themselves back in the playoffs for the second time in three years.
An upcoming Wild Card game against the Saints marks another opportunity for Chicago to redeem themselves after their last postseason appearance ended in heartbreak. The circumstances surrounding the Bears are a lot different this year than they were back in 2018, when the team was 12-4 and riding higher than nearly any team in the league. Now, they find themselves barely sneaking in as the No. 7 seed in the NFC after winning a tiebreaker with the 8-8 Cardinals.
A big part of why the Bears find themselves in the postseason comes from their late-season winning streak of three games, during which they scored an average of 36.7 points per game. After struggling for much of the year on the offensive side of the ball, Chicago managed to pull it together and score points on a consistent basis that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
As a result of this offensive hot streak, a vocal portion of the Bears’ fan base has been pushing for the contract extension of Mitchell Trubisky, the quarterback whose rookie contract expires at the end of the season.
While the Bears have improved on offense, and Trubisky definitely deserves some of the credit for that, he is still not a player worth giving a pricy extension to.
In the nine games that Trubisky started this year, he attempted 97 passes that traveled 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage: an average of roughly 10.7 passes from that intermediate-to-deep range. For reference, he attempted 297 passes all year, meaning that just 32.6 percent travelled more than 10 air yards past the line of scrimmage.
Out of those 97 passes, he completed 42 of them, resulting in a completion percentage of roughly 43.8 percent. 31 of those attempts traveled 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, and he completed just five of them: that’s a 16.1 completion percentage from deep. Two of those five completions resulted in touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions.
One interception that I didn’t count could be up for debate, seeing as though it was picked off in the end zone by Jaguars linebacker Joe Schobert in Week 16. Next Gen Stats does not have a passing charts for Trubisky that week, so I went back and checked that game myself. The play started off at Jacksonville’s 13-yard line, and it was picked off roughly half way into the end zone, which is 10 yards deep. Though the pass Trubisky threw travelled more than 20 yards through the air, he did so through scrambling and rolling out, thus adding more yardage to the throw. The interception appeared to be about 18 or 19 yards past the line of scrimmage, so without definitive proof that it reached the 20-yard mark, I didn’t count it.
Regardless, the fact remains that Trubisky struggles with stretching the field. Going 42-for-97 with three touchdowns and seven interceptions on throws 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage is abysmal. While the level of difficulty is higher on throws beyond 20 yards, completing 16.7 percent of deep passes is simply unacceptable for a starting quarterback.
Naturally, a quarterback’s completion percentage will go down with the more deep shots they take, simply because deep shots are tougher throws to make. As a point of reference, Patrick Mahomes had a completion percentage of 66.3 percent from the field, but from deep he went 36.2 percent on 69 deep attempts. He did throw for 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions from deep, albeit on a much larger sample size than Trubisky. Aaron Rodgers, another MVP candidate, completed 42.3 percent of his 78 deep ball attempts with 12 touchdowns and one interception.
On the flip side, Sam Darnold finished with a completion percentage of 29.4 from deep, completing 10 of his 34 deep attempts for two touchdowns and two interceptions in a sample size more similar to that of Trubisky. Carson Wentz, another former No. 2 pick who saw himself get benched this year, completed 43.8 of his 48 deep-ball attempts for five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Next Gen Stats tallied Trubisky’s passer rating from each third of the field and from each distance, and the results weren’t pretty. Save for the region in between the hashmarks from the range of 10 to 20 yards, he was well below league-average throwing beyond 10 yards. He fell far short of the passer rating mark in the intermediate range, and the results were even worse from deep.
Here’s Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating chart for the year.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) January 4, 2021
The chart shows the obvious: Mitch is accurate from short range, but he’s unable to stretch the field. That inability to throw intermediate and deep is not sustainable in the long run if the #Bears want to be contenders. pic.twitter.com/1dcGdt1tIM
He did thrive in short-yardage situations, which the Bears did execute plenty of when he was under center. He improved in each third of the field on short-distance throws from 2019, which is something he does deserve some credit for. Here is his passer chart from last year, for reference.
The fact of the matter is, though, Trubisky managed to regress in throwing the deep ball, which had been perceived as a weakness of his heading into the season, anyway.
For the sake of using another source for analytical data to diversify my analysis, let’s jump to PFF. Trubisky finished the regular season ranked 31st out an eligible 33 starting quarterbacks with a 62.0 overall grade. Sam Darnold and Nick Mullens were the only two players to receive lower grades. Nick Foles was included as the extra starter to round the list to 33, and he finished 25th with a 67.9 grade that was still well below-average. Out of the 37 quarterbacks who threw 200 passes or more in the 2020 season, Football Outsiders has ranked Trubisky 25th in the NFL in Defensive-adjusted Value Above Replacement, as well. He does beat out Foles in that department, however, who finished 29th.
Pro Football Reference is another useful tool for advanced analytics, and among their passing statistics involves intended air yards per attempt and completed air yards per completion. Trubisky has a respectable 7.9 air yards per intended attempt, ranking him 17th among 35 qualified quarterbacks. However, he only averages 4.9 air yards per completion, putting him 30th in the league.
Out of each of the 35 qualified quarterbacks in the NFL, Trubisky has the highest deficit between intended air yards and completed air yards at 3.0. Other notable “contenders” for that role include Dwayne Haskins with 2.8, Sam Darnold with 2.8, and Drew Lock with 2.8. Haskins got cut, Darnold is likely to be replaced, and Lock’s job security after his second season is in limbo. And yet, all three had a more impressive deficit than Trubisky did.
While this lone statistic isn’t enough to qualify a player as bad, it complements the other aforementioned analytics to complete an overarching impression that Trubisky simply cannot stretch the field. When a player has a decent total in intended air yards but one of the worst completed air yard averages in the NFL, that shows a major inefficiency on the deep ball.
That matches up with the 16.1 completion percentage on throws that travelled 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage. That matches up with the well-below-average passer ratings from deep. It’s one thing to argue that one analytics site having low grades on a player doesn’t definitively mean a player is bad, but when so many metrics all lead to the opinion that Trubisky is not a good quarterback? It’s hard to argue with such an overwhelming consensus.
An argument towards Trubisky’s potential extension has been his improved play upon coming back from being benched. While he did look better on tape from Weeks 12 to 16 than he did earlier in the year, let’s take a look at what he was going up against.
The bottom three defenses in DVOA for the 2020 season were Detroit, Jacksonville and Houston, in respective ascending order. All three were also defenses that Trubisky went up against in his hot stretch. Even in those games, he struggled with stretching the field! Over those three matchups combined, Trubisky went 9-for-24 with one touchdown and one interception when throwing from 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s an intermediate-to-deep completion percentage of 37.5 against the three least efficient defenses in the NFL.
Trubisky also attempted just six passes that travelled 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage, and he completed just one of them. Granted, that lone completion resulted in a touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham against the Jaguars, and two defensive pass interference calls were called in that game that could have helped Trubisky’s completion percentage a bit. The second interference call would have been catchable for Allen Robinson if not for illegal coverage by Greg Mabin, but the first call was thrown out of bounds and would not have resulted in a completion, either way.
Outside of those games, Trubisky didn’t exactly go up against the most dominant of defenses this season. The Vikings were ranked No. 18 in total DVOA, with the Packers at No. 17. In his first stint as starter this year, Trubisky faced the aforementioned Lions, the No. 19 ranked Giants, and the No. 14 ranked Falcons, the latter of whom he got benched against.
So keep that in mind: the best defense Trubisky went up against this year was average, and he still put up some of the worst numbers in the NFL.
Granted, to solely blame Trubisky for the Bears’ offensive woes is unfair and, quite frankly, untrue. Matt Nagy was rigid in his play-calling philosophies, refusing to make adjustments to not only attack opposing defensive weaknesses, but to cater to Trubisky’s strengths and weaknesses. That hurt the quarterback early on in the season. Bill Lazor did a better job of working his play-calling around the capabilities of his quarterback, and the Bears were able to put more points on the board because of it.
But is that a reasonable rationale towards paying considerable money for a quarterback? Sure, Trubisky played better in a scheme that worked around his limitations, but the fact that he has such limitations to begin with is the issue. A quarterback’s inability to make full-field reads and to stretch the field vertically severely limits the possibilities of success for his offense.
Now, it’s not entirely fair to rely just on numbers to tell the story about somebody’s play. After all, analytics and film study are meant to complement each other, not completely cancel out the other. So, out of fairness, I decided to watch each one of Trubisky’s deep passing attempts myself to see exactly how much of the blame falls on him, or whether there was little he could have done.
For reference, D&D means down and distance.
Mitchell Trubisky from 20+ yards, 2020
|Week||Quarter/D&D/Time||Score (CHI first)||Explanation||Completion?||Target Open?||Pressure?||Back Foot?||Verdict|
|Week||Quarter/D&D/Time||Score (CHI first)||Explanation||Completion?||Target Open?||Pressure?||Back Foot?||Verdict|
|1||Q1, 2nd and 7, DET 17, 1:47||0-3||Fairly clean pocket but Trubisky scrambles due to lack of open receivers. ARob tries to improvise in end zone but can't get open. Trubisky throws on the run and pass gets broken up. Given D&D and open lane he should've tucked and ran with it.||Forced Throw|
|1||Q1, 3rd and 7, DET 17, 1:39||0-3||Trubisky has a fairly clean pocket yet throws off back foot anyway. Nobody was open past the sticks. End-zone shot for Miller gets overthrown and to the left. Bad throw but nobody was open.||X||Good Coverage|
|1||Q2, 2nd and 12, DET 46, 11:03||3-3||Lions rush seven and Bears had six in pass pro. ARob was covered deep. Mooney was wide open on the checkdown drag route.||X||X||Forced Throw|
|1||Q2, 3rd and 12, DET 46, 10:57||3-3||Trubisky climbed the pocket to avoid speed rush, only three rushing. ARob covered tight and safety crashed downhill on route. Pass tipped and dropped INT. Monty open checkdown, Wims open on cross-field in route.||Forced Throw|
|1||Q2, 2nd and 7, CHI 14, 1:01||6-6||Lions rush four but collapse pocket. Trubisky throws off back foot and just overshoots Miller. Graham maybe possible option on curl but given clock may not have been best option.||X||X||Good Coverage|
|1||Q3, 1st and 10, DET 41, 1:49||6-23||Clean pocket vs. four-man rush. Trubisky follows through on delivery, delivers great ball to ARob in tight window. Risky throw with three defenders nearby and Trubisky delivered.||X||Good Throw|
|1||Q4, 2nd and 13, DET 43, 9:28||13-23||Trubisky slides right but sets feet before throwing. ARob relatively open on the go route. Trubisky underthrows which allows defender to get his hand on the ball.||X||Inaccurate Throw|
|1||Q4, 1st and 10, DET 27, 2:00||20-23||Clean pocket vs. delayed four-man rush. Trubisky follows through on a throw with fantastic touch. Miller tightly covered but ball was placed right where it had to be to deliver the completion. TOUCHDOWN.||X||Good Throw|
|2||Q4, 1st and 10, CHI 38, 13:09||17-10||Bears use play action in 23 personnel. Bootleg gives Trubisky time against five-man rush but still pressure. No open men. Trubisky throws ball to Dem. Harris' wrong shoulder but incompletion more result of defense.||X||Good Coverage|
|3||Q1, 1st and 10, CHI 50, 13:04||0-0||Bears use play-action bootleg but Massie gets beat. Pressure swarms and only two downfield WRs are covered. Ginn collided with Falcons defender. Great defense but throw was wildly inaccurate and should've been thrown away.||X||X||Good Coverage|
|3||Q1, 1st and 10, CHI 19, 0:49||3-6||Trubisky gets clean pocket to work with. Moves to second read after ARob covered across middle. Not bad touch on deep ball to Ginn but throw led him out of bounds. Cohen was open on release flat as a checkdown.||Forced Throw|
|3||Q1, 3rd and 7, CHI 22, 0:04||3-6||Empty backfield. Trubisky has chance to slide left against three-man rush but doesn't. Solid downfield coverage by Falcons but Miller open on deep post. Cohen covered deep and Trubisky misses him out of bounds.||X||Forced Throw|
|3||Q2, 1st and 10, CHI 35, 1:10||10-16||Trubisky delivers with good mechanics in good pocket. Bears want to score before halftime, but Miller gets wide open on a zig route, and Mooney covered on go route and overthrown. With all 3 timeouts, Miller was the best option.||Forced Throw|
|3||Q2, 3rd and 2, CHI 43, 1:00||10-16||Trubisky gets a clean pocket with trips on the far-side. Miller gets wide open deep with a deep over route but is overthrown. A completion would've had the Bears in the red zone.||X||Inaccurate Throw|
|12||Q2, 1st and 10, GB 38, 13:11||3-13||Trubisky has a clean pocket. Only two WRs downfield and both are covered. Trubisky takes a deep shot on double-covered Mooney and overthrows. Montgomery was wide open on checkdown flat on first down. INTERCEPTION.||Forced Throw|
|12||Q2, 2nd and 7, CHI 28, 3:54||3-20||Bears run play action and Trubisky has a clean pocket. He finds the soft spot in Packers' zone coverage and finds an open Mooney. Mooney slips and is unable to recover to get to the ball in time.||X||Receiver's Fault|
|12||Q3, 3rd and 11, CHI 25, 8:53||10-27||Clean pocket for Trubisky. Good coverage downfield but ARob possible option on in route. Miller is triple-covered yet Trubisky still targets him as his first read after staring him down and underthrows him. INTERCEPTION.||Forced Throw|
|12||Q3, 3rd and 10, CHI 25, 6:22||10-34||Trubisky has clean pocket to wait for his first read - deep in route by Mooney - to develop. Mooney gets open with a sharp-breaking cut. Trubisky times it well but underthrows Mooney and the ball lands just short.||X||Inaccurate Throw|
|12||Q4, 1st and 10, GB 18, 12:41||10-41||Pocket collapses a little around Trubisky and he throws off the back foot. Not a bad concept to try Graham in the end zone, but he's covered and overthrown. Mooney was open underneath on the drag route.||X||X||Forced Throw|
|12||Q4, 1st and 10, GB 43, 6:17||17-41||Rapidly collapsing pocket with Packers' seven-man rush. Kmet was the right read and Trubisky found him open but threw to the wrong shoulder and overshot. Inaccurate ball but pressure excuses that a bit.||X||X||X||Good Pressure|
|13||Q3, 1st and 10, CHI 34, 10:43||23-13||Trubisky has clean pocket. Mooney can't separate as Lions CB anticipates go route. Trubisky reads Kmet's covered and takes a deep shot on a covered Mooney and overthrows. Montgomery was open checkdown on a stab route.||Forced Throw|
|13||Q4, 2nd and 5, DET 24, 0:26||30-34||Decently clean pocket. Good coverage downfield by Lions overall. Miller could have been hit on the post. Trubisky stares down Mooney and overthrows him in end zone. With 2 timeouts, he could've afforded to hit Miller instead.||Forced Throw|
|14||Q3, 2nd and 3, CHI 20, 1:22||30-7||Clean pocket for Trubisky. Patterson is wide open on jet sweep-wheel route, but Trubisky delivers the ball too late. Patterson's man breaks on an underthrown ball and deflects the pass.||Late Diagnosis|
|15||Q1, 3rd and 3, MIN 32, 9:22||0-0||Trubisky has a clean pocket to work with. ARob gets open with single-move release and swipe on the go route at LOS. Trubisky delivers a dime and hits ARob in stride while placing the ball just in bounds.||X||X||Good Throw|
|15||Q2, 2nd and 4, MIN 17, 3:47||17-7||Trubisky runs play-action bootleg. Bears run hi-lo concept, both options are covered. Miller's doubled underneath until a defender charges Trubisky, leaving him open. Trubisky shoots deep for Mooney, overthrows in tight coverage.||Forced Throw|
|16||Q1, 2nd and 3, CHI 32, 7:51||0-3||Bears run play-action bootleg and Trubisky has clean pocket. Graham beats him man on the crosser but Trubisky just overshoots him.||X||Inaccurate Throw|
|16||Q2, 1st and 10, CHI 19, 4:30||10-10||Bears run play-action bootleg to the left. All three downfield options were covered. Trubisky under pressure hits Mooney deep, but he's out of bounds. Why run a bootleg left with a right-handed QB?||X||Good Coverage|
|16||Q3, 2nd and 7, JAX 22, 2:38||27-10||Trubisky goes play action and climbs pocket. Graham runs TE wheel route and beats a tripping defender. Pass would've been complete anyway with Trubisky hitting Graham beyond a DB's catch radius. TOUCHDOWN.||X||X||Good Throw|
|17||Q3, 2nd and 8, CHI 38, 8:37||13-21||Bears run play-action bootleg left. Mooney is the only open downfield receiver, and Trubisky throws across his body on the run. Ball underthrown a bit, but good enough to where it's out of the DB's reach. Mooney makes the grab.||X||X||Good Throw|
|17||Q4, 1st and 10, GB 44, 15:00||16-21||Another play-action bootleg left. Trubisky sets feet, finds Wims open. Some pressure comes and Trubisky throws off back foot. Wims open on crosser but Trubisky doesn't read the coverage, overthrows.||X||X||X||Inaccurate Throw|
|17||Q4, 2nd and 6, CHI 29, 3:23||16-28||Trubisky forces ball to first read in double-covered Kmet on go route. Overthrows Kmet for the pick. Montgomery and Miller open underneath. Deep ball makes sense with the score but decision was bad. INTERCEPTION.||Forced Throw|
All told, that leaves us with the following final tally out of 31 passes:
- Forced Throw: 13
- Inaccurate Throw: 5
- Good Throw: 5
- Good Coverage: 5
- Good Pressure: 1
- Receiver’s Fault: 1
- Late Diagnosis: 1
It’s also worth noting that, out of the five plays marked “good coverage”, four of them came when Matt Nagy was calling plays. The Falcons and Lions both played pretty well in coverage in their respective games against the Bears, but part of that falls on Nagy for his play-calling. He doesn’t get a free pass from all of this.
If you do happen to disagree with my assessments of the listed plays, then that’s fair. I tried to sum up the plays as simply as possible, but there may be other factors playing into each play. However, the general consensus from watching each of Trubisky’s deep balls is that, more often than not, he simply cannot stretch the field.
Such a limitation at quarterback can hinder an offense’s potential and prevent a team from getting the most out of its offensive weapons. An inability to move the ball down the field hinders the playmakers, and it hinders the coaching staff, as well.
That’s not to say that the likes of Nagy and Lazor have been perfect; far from it. The former played a big role in the offense’s struggles with both Trubisky and Foles under center, and while Lazor proved to be the more effective play-caller, he wasn’t flawless, either.
Trubisky has had a lot of the same issues that have plagued him throughout his NFL career. Despite having played in the NFL for four seasons and having played in Matt Nagy’s system for three seasons, he still forces throws like he did when he was a rookie, and he still delivers an inconsistent ball anywhere beyond 10 yards.
The Bears are in the playoffs for the second time under Trubisky, but the analytics and tape indicate that they are winning games in spite of the quarterback play, rather than because of it. With the talent they have on their roster, they should be a Super Bowl contender, not barely squeezing in as an 8-8, No. 7-seed Wild Card team. There is a lot wrong with the Bears’ organization, but the quarterback play is one of the most glaring issues.
Don’t let a couple of solid games against bad defenses fool you. Mitchell Trubisky is not the guy, and he probably never will be.