An In-Depth Look at the Trubisky Era in Chicago

Mitch Trubisky. Photo by Cameron Good. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

With the Chicago Bears declining QB Mitch Trubisky’s 5th year option there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the young player’s future in Chicago. Selected as the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 Draft Class that also produced stand out Quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, Trubisky has not played up to the standard of his selection. It would not be fair to call Trubisky a bust, but to describe his career up to this point, it has been disappointing to average at best. But is all the blame to be placed on Trubisky? There are other factors that need to be considered that may change some opinions on the struggles that Trubisky has faced. 


The 2017 Season

The Bears held the 3rd overall pick going into the 2017 Draft. The infamous draft day trade with the San Francisco 49ers allowed the Bears to move up to the 2nd overall pick at the expense of their 3rd and 4th round picks in 2017 and 4th round pick in 2018. With the 2nd selection the Bears took Mitchell Trubisky from North Carolina. Trubisky, a one year starter at North Carolina threw for 3,748 yards, 30 TDs, and 6 INTs.


 Heading into the regular season the Bears QB room consisted of veterans Mike Glennon (starter heading into the season), Mark Sanchez, and the rookie Mitch Trubisky. For Trubisky, there was not much guidance from a good veteran Quarterback, only veterans who have made their way around the league primarily as backups. The Bears performed underwhelmingly posting a 5-11 record mainly at the expense of offensive production. Glennon, who started the season, was benched after Week 4 of the season posting a 1-3 record. In Week 5 Trubisky made his debut in a prime time game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears lost 20-17 and Trubisky threw for 128 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. The remainder of the 2017 was a mix of blowout wins and losses. Quarterback play was not a huge factor for the Bears that continued to rely on their run game and their defense keeping them in close games. One highlight of the season was a season sweep of the AFC North. (Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, and Browns) Trubisky finished off the season with a 4-8 record as the starter. He finished with 2,193 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs along with 248 rushing yards and 2 rushing scores. 


There is not much to pull from this season as the Bears fired John Fox, a defensive grounded head coach at the end of the season. Under Fox, the Bears defense improved greatly, much from the guidance of Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, however the offense never took shape. The Bears hired Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Matt Nagy, who was instrumental in the scouting of Patrick Mahomes for the Chiefs. 


The 2018 Season

With Nagy named the new head coach he retained Dave Ragone as Quarterbacks Coach and brought in former Oregon Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich as Offensive Coordinator. Nagy was the main play caller for the Bears new offense. In the offseason the Bears acquired new weapons, Wide Receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel both signed with Bears. Robinson from Jacksonville and Gabriel from Atlanta. The Bears also signed Tight End Trey Burton from Philadelphia, known for his role in throwing the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in Super Bowl LII on the “Philly Special”. The Bears also had a turnaround in the quarterback room bringing in veterans Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, both having worked with Nagy in the past. Trubisky was named the starter heading into the season.


In the 2018 NFL Draft the Bears selected Linebacker Roquan Smith from Georgia in the 1st round. The majority of the draft was defense focused with the exception of the Bears’ 2nd and 7th round picks. (C James Daniels, WR Anthony Miller, WR Javon Wims) On September 2nd, the Bears made a splash trading multiple 1st round picks to the Oakland Raiders for Khalil Mack. 


In Week 1 the Bears jumped out to an early lead and went into halftime up 20-0. The Bears relied again on a rushing attack and the emergence of Khalil Mack as a force on the defensive side of the football. Trubisky finished with just 171 yards and a rushing touchdown. The Bears lost the game 24-23. The next 2 weeks the Bears struggled again offensively with Trubisky tallying just over 400 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and 3 interceptions against Seattle and Arizona. Both games resulted in victories, again from the performance of the defense.


Enter Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Trubisky put on a passing clinic against the Bucs in Week 4. The Bears won 48-10 with Trubisky tallying 354 yards with 6 TDs and a near perfect passer rating. Trubisky showed that he had the ability to work the deep ball in this game, connecting on several deep passes for scores. The Bears headed into the bye week at 3-1. After the bye week the Bears had back to back losses, to Miami in overtime and to the Patriots in which Trubisky completed a hail mary pass that was 1 yard short of potentially tying the game. In both games Trubisky threw for over 300 yards with multiple scores, but had turnovers as well. 


Trubisky again saw a decrease in statistical performance over the next 2 weeks against the Jets and Bills, however both of these wins were on the backs of the running game and the defense creating turnovers and scores. The Bears played host to Detroit the following week which again saw a near perfect performance from Trubisky, 355 yards and 3 TDs. Trubisky again showed the ability to throw the deep ball in this game. The Bears then played host to the Vikings. This was a more defensive and physical game. Trubisky struggled again only throwing for 1 touchdown, however the more important story from this game was late in the 4th, Trubisky suffered a shoulder injury and the Bears essentially ran the ball the remainder of the game. 


Trubisky missed the next 2 games against the Lions and the Giants with Chase Daniel starting in place. The Bears went 1-1 in these games, a narrow victory over the Lions and a tough loss to the Giants. 


Trubisky made his return in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. This prime time game featured two of the league’s best teams and defenses. In Trubisky’s return he struggled only throwing for 110 yards, 1 TD, and 3 INTs. The Bears still won the contest with Trubisky throwing for the lone touchdown and the Bears defense forcing 4 INTs and limiting Rams RB Todd Gurley. 


The next 2 weeks marked a return to good play for Trubisky as he threw for over 200 yards in both games against the Packers and 49ers as well as no turnovers. The Bears won both games and clinched the NFC North. Heading into the last week of the season the Bears, having clinched the division, beat the Vikings limiting the role of the passing game.


In their Wild Card matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears lost 16-15 on the missed Cody Parkey kick dubbed the “double doink”. Trubisky played a solid game with 303 yards and a passing touchdown. He was credited for bringing the Bears into field goal range on the final drive, making clutch throws throughout the drive. 


Trubisky finished his sophomore season with a 11-3 record as the starter. He had 3,223 yards to go with 24 TDs and 12 INTs. His performance was good enough to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl along fellow 2017 Draft Class Quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. 


What went right for the Bears in 2018? The balance of a rushing attack and a passing attack made things easier for Trubisky. Nagy developed a system that allowed the team to thrive on the offensive side of the football. Scheduling also was a major factor. Outside of the NFC North the Bears played the AFC East (Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets) and went 2-2. They played the NFC West (Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks) and went 4-0. They went 5-1 within the division and went 1-1 against the Bucs and Giants respectively to round out the season. The Bears were ranked among the top 10 in scoring and rushing, and middle of the pack for passing. Offensively, the Bears did just enough in the passing game to win games. The main highlight of the season was the play of the defense which was ranked among the best in nearly every statistical category. 


Adding key players through free agency and the draft was critical, the Bears now had a solid receiving core with Robinson, Gabriel, Miller, Burton, and Cohen who also in his own way had a breakout season. Trubisky played much better in this season due to the performance of a healthy offensive line that only allowed 24 sacks the whole season. Trubisky did show at times that he is inconsistent in his performance, this included passing accuracy, decision making, and limiting turnovers. The team was able to make up for that with defensive performance and the run game. There were concerns over Trubisky’s shoulder injury and a hip injury which may have hindered some of his mobility in the pocket, a skill that allowed him to stretch plays and escape pressure. Despite this the Bears finished the season at 12-4 winning the division for the first time since 2010. Trubisky showed growth as a full time starter and higher expectations were placed on the team heading into 2019.


The 2019 Season

The 2019 offseason began with the Bears maintaining much of their coaching staff. The biggest loss was Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio to Denver. The Bears brought in former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano as his replacement. The Bears were fairly quiet in free agency, their biggest additions on offense were Wide Receiver/Gadget type player Cordarrelle Patterson from New England and Running Back Mike Davis from Seattle. The Bears ended up parting ways with starting running back Jordan Howard who was traded to the Eagles for a 6th round pick. 


Heading into the NFL Draft the Bears were without their 1st and 2nd round picks as a result of the Khalil Mack trade with the Raiders. They traded up in the 3rd round and selected Running Back David Montgomery from Iowa State. In the draft they also selected Wide Receiver Riley Ridley in the 4th round and Running Back Kerrith Whyte Jr. in the 7th round. 


The Bears opened the season at home against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears lost the game in a defensive battle 10-3. Trubisky was sacked 5 times in the game and attempted 45 passes. This game was the beginning of a trend of the 2019 Bears. An emphasis on passing the ball despite the lack of success and yards generated. While Trubisky passed 45 times the Bears only ran the ball 15 times. Trubisky finished with 228 yards and 1 INT. 


The Bears went into Denver for Week 2 to begin a 3 game win streak. The Bears had a more balanced attack in this game with Trubisky only throwing the ball 27 times. He finished with just 120 yards. Notably in this game Trubisky also made big throws late in the game to set up the Bears for a game winning field goal. The Bears went into Washington the next week where they won 31-15. Trubisky finished the game 25-31 for 231 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT. Trubisky had a significantly better game, but another thing was becoming clear, the lack of yards gained on passes. In Week 4 the Bears played host to the Minnesota Vikings, on their opening drive, Trubisky sustained a shoulder injury on his non throwing shoulder that forced him to miss the remainder of the game. The Bears won 16-6. 


The Bears then traveled to London to play the Raiders, a game Trubisky also missed due to his injury. The Bears lost 24-21 and headed into the bye week 3-2. Heading out of the bye, the Bears had the toughest remaining schedule in the league and dropped their next 3 games. In Week 7 Trubisky returned as the Bears played host to the New Orleans Saints. In his return Trubisky threw the ball 54 times. He only completed 34 passes for 251 yards and 2 TDs. At this point of the season the Bears had one of the league’s worst rushing attacks. The Bears then played host to the Chargers in Week 8, another loss 17-16. Trubisky struggled again but saw improvement by completing 23 of 35 passes. He only tallied 251 yards and an interception. Playing calling was a major factor in this game, the Bears failed to score touchdowns multiple times while in the red zone and the final drive was ended with Trubisky kneeling instead of running the ball. The Bears missed the game winning kick. This was a loss in which the Bears statistically outperformed their opponent. The next week the Bears traveled to Philadelphia for last year’s rematch of the Wild Card matchup. The Bears again struggled in this game, the Bears finished the first half with only 9 total yards and 1 first down. Trubisky was able to connect on a 53 yard pass in the 3rd Quarter which accounted for nearly half his total yardage for the game. The Bears lost 22-14 and the Bears offense was lost without an identity. 


The Bears came back home to host the Detroit Lions in Week 10. The Bears won 20-13 and Trubisky played better going 16-23 for 173 yards and 3 TDs. Again short passes became something of a staple for the Bears offense. In Week 11 the Bears traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. The Bears lost this defensive battle 17-7 and struggled to put points on the board with multiple missed field goals. Trubisky again threw the ball 43 times for 190 yards and 1 TD and 1 INT. Trubisky was also pulled late in the 4th Quarter for backup Chase Daniel. The Bears fell to 4-6 but were not eliminated from playoff contention. 


The Bears returned home in Week 12 to take on the Giants. The Bears won 19-14 but struggled to score again on their first couple drives. Trubisky ended up going 25-41 for 278 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs. Trubisky finally had his breakout game of the season against the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The offense played better as the Bears won 24-20. Trubisky finished 29-38 for 338 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. This was Trubisky’s first 300 yard game of the season. The Bears ended their win streak against the Dallas Cowboys at home in Week 14. Trubisky went 23-31 for 244 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. The standout of this game was Trubisky’s 10 carries for 63 yards and 1 TD, his best rushing performance of the season. 


The Bears traveled up to Green Bay the next week in another offensive struggle. The Bears lost 21-13 which saw another slow start for the team that was trailing 21-3 at one point in the 3rd Quarter. Trubisky finished 29-53 for 334 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs. With this loss the Bears were eliminated from postseason contention. The next week the Bears played host to the eventual Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs. The Bears again struggled mightily to put together scoring drives. They punted throughout the first half and failed to convert fourth downs several times in the second half. The Bears lost 26-3 and Trubisky went 18 of 34 for just 157 yards. The Bears ended the season in Minnesota in a meaningless game for both teams. The Vikings locked in the 6th seed so they rested many of their starters and the Bears were already eliminated from playoff contention. The Bears won 21-19 and Trubisky went 26 of 37 for 207 yards. They ended the season 8-8. 


Trubisky ended the season with 3,138 yards, 17 TDs, 10 INTs. What were the struggles? Offensive Line play was one of the biggest factors facing the Bears in 2019. There was the inability to establish the run both from a line standpoint and a play calling standpoint. Trubisky was sacked 38 times which was an increase from 2018. Play calling was another factor, Nagy was 2018 Coach of the Year by several press agencies, mainly for his offensive innovation and turning the Bears around in 2018. The offense was without an identity throughout the 2019 season. Lack of establishing the run made it easier for defenses to strategize against the pass, forcing Trubisky to hit check down throws. Multiple times in the season Trubisky passed over 50 times, with many more games at over 40 times. The lack of completions and lack of yards gained on these plays stalled many drives throughout the season. Trubisky also showed mobility in 2018, to create plays on his own, or to create time in the pocket. There was a lack of this in 2019 with the exception of the Week 14 matchup against Dallas. There was some concern of injuries that were unknown or lingering from last season which might explain the lack of mobility. 


So what were the biggest factors? You can not put all the blame on Mitch Trubisky. When looking at 2018 to 2019, the Bears had a tougher schedule in 2019. Play calling was more balanced in 2018 as compared to 2019, which was pass heavy. Offensive Line play also regressed from 2018 to 2019. Trubisky dealt with injuries in both seasons which may have affected his confidence and play throughout the year. Another factor is the fact that Trubisky has been the starter since Week 5 in 2017, there was no competition or other player that was putting pressure on Trubisky to perform better in games, in training camp, or in practice. It is easy to label Trubisky a bust when you consider the success of Watson and Mahomes, but it is too early to give up on Mitch. He has shown flashes of greatness that needs to be backed up by consistency in performance and it starts with play calling. Only time and performance will tell what Mitch Trubisky’s future is both in Chicago and in the NFL, but one thing is certain the Bears starting Quarterback slot is open heading into the 2020 season.



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