In the first quarter of the Bears’ 41-9 rout of the Bills last week, quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s progress showed up on a third-and-10 conversion.
The Bills had seven men at the line of scrimmage but only rushed four. Linebacker Matt Milano beat running back Benny Cunningham and flushed Trubisky from the pocket. Trubisky then stepped up to his left, kept his eyes downfield and threw a 19-yard pass to receiver Anthony Miller, who was wide open between two Bills in zone coverage.
Part of the reason Trubisky was able to make the play was because the Bills were concerned about him running for the first down. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, in particular, focused on him. He was in coverage and stepped up when Trubisky moved to his left. Trubisky then threw the ball over Alexander’s head.
“You’ve seen teams scheme [against my running] the last couple weeks with a spy or just having defenders play more zone against us so they have defenders on the quarterback rather than on the receivers,” Trubisky said. “That’s just something they’re going to continue to have to account for — and something we’re going to have an answer for.”
Here are five things Trubisky must do in the second half, starting Sunday against the Lions:
Find a balance
One of the recurring criticisms of Trubisky is that he has been too quick to run when pressured. But against the Bills, he had just one carry — a six-yard run on an option play down to the Bills’ 1-yard line. It was his lowest rushing total since he had eight yards in Week 3 against the Cardinals. He also had shown improvement against the Jets the week before, gaining 51 yards on six carries, but only two on actual scrambles. Three were option plays, and one was a sweep.
Trubisky’s 302 rushing yards trail only Cam Newton’s 352 among quarterbacks. The Bears want Trubisky to use his athleticism, but they want him to use his legs and feet in the pocket first.
His first-down run on third-and-10 in the third quarter against the Jets is an example. Instead of running — which coach Matt Nagy was OK with — Trubisky could have stepped up, slid to the right and thrown a pass to a wide-open Miller.
“There’s a fine line with coaching a quarterback who has the ability to leave the pocket and make yardage for himself,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “There’s also a fine line when you’re supposed to leave and your eyes need to go from looking at receivers to who you’re supposed to make miss or get to the sideline.”
Get help from his backs
The Bears are often compared to the Rams because each has a young head coach and a young quarterback, but Rams quarterback Jared Goff also has superstar running back Todd Gurley, who has an NFL-best 868 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Trubisky hasn’t benefitted from the same caliber of run-game production. Jordan Howard ranks 17th in the league with 439 rushing yards this season. He’s the only back in the top 20 with an average below four yards per carry (he has a pedestrian 3.5). He only has one carry for more than 20 yards this season.
Nagy has said he’s trying to find what works best for Howard. It’s not that Howard needs more carries — it’s that his average per carry needs to improve.
Last year, Chiefs back Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing yards with Nagy as his offensive coordinator. This year, Hunt ranks third with 683 rushing yards. Much like Gurley helps Goff, Hunt has helped Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Eliminate ugly miscues
Trubisky’s tendency to overthrow should improve with experience. Most of the time, it’s because of timing and footwork. The Bears also would be more concerned if he wasn’t seeing, then targeting, open receivers.
What the Bears want him to fix immediately is his tendency to force plays in head-scratching fashion. The worst example is still his decision to throw a pass to offensive lineman Bradley Sowell in the end zone against the Patriots.
In the first quarter against the Bills, Trubisky was sacked and stripped near the sideline on third down on a play where he needed to throw the ball away. It cost the Bears a chance at a field goal.
“It’s a discussion where you don’t want to take [his playmaking] away from him, but there is a point of a play where there is no longer a chance to survive,” Ragone said. “It’s understanding where you are on the field and, more importantly, that the play is pretty much over, and there’s nothing that he can do.”
Handle the moment
Trubisky has proven to be a quick study, correcting mistakes quickly — a part of his development that his coaches rave about. But we still haven’t seen whether he has learned from arguably his greatest lesson this season, from the Bears’ season-opening loss to the Packers.
With the Bears down 24-23, Trubisky had the ball on his own 18 with 2:08 left but only reached the Bears’ 42. And that’s despite getting a second chance because of a roughing-the-passer penalty on Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
Trubisky said afterward that he focused too much on big plays instead of stacking completions. He has improved since, but he has yet to find himself in a similar situation with the game on the line.
Become a fantasy hero, again
The best way to silence critics — and Trubisky still has vocal ones, as this last week has shown — is by having big games. His six-touchdown game against the Buccaneers was a glimpse, but he should be expected to produce more.
In a league that favors quarterbacks, the best ones now have many big games a season.
“It’s going to be a good process with him as we go,” Nagy said. “It’s never going to end. He’s going to grow for the rest of his career. It’s just how much is that going to happen, and how fast?”
Here comes help
Do the Bears have big plans for tight end Adam Shaheen when he returns from injured reserve? It certainly sounds like it.
“All-dimension tight end,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “He’s blocked well. He’s run routes well. I’m just really excited about his future.
“I thought it was funny — his first job coming back [to practice] is to block [star linebacker]
Khalil Mack. So good luck. Welcome back.”
Shaheen stood out during the Bears’ joint practices with the Broncos in August before he was injured on a tackle after making a catch on a run-pass option play against the Broncos in their preseason game.
“At that point in time, he was still digesting the playbook, but you saw some things that he was doing,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He was getting the ball a little bit, and he’s a nice-sized guy, so one-on-one battles, he does well with.
“He was also learning how to play tight end and how to run some of the routes that we run in this offense. So it was tough to see him go down the way that he did, because I thought that he was really one of those guys that was progressing pretty fast.”
Here comes Floyd?
Linebacker Leonard Floyd is still searching for his first sack this season. Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said he’s being instructed to be more decisive at the top of his rushes.
“It’s knowing where that tackle is and being able to finish the rush,” Staley said. “He’s putting himself in good positions.”
Now it’s just a matter of finishing what he started.
“It’s you transitioning your game, being on the attack,”
But it’s apparent to Staley that Floyd is still looking for a rhythm. Staley said injuries were a factor, but Floyd is past them now.
“The biggest thing with a player if he’s struggling or going through a drought that Leonard [has] going on right now is really focusing on the process of each and every rush, each and every practice and each and every meeting,” Staley said. “That’s how you snap out of it.”
What’s with Mitch [Trubisky] during interviews with you guys. [When] multiple people ask a question, he begins to smile and laugh. Inside joke? – @Brandon_Eiff
A: That’s a good observation. Let me take you inside the Halas Hall media room. On days when Trubisky talks — which are Wednesdays most of the time — it’s always packed. Every seat is taken. Some reporters stand off to the side. Every TV station in town is present. National reporters from NFL Network and ESPN usually attend, too. During the last several news conferences, Trubisky has laughed at how loud certain reporters can get as they try to get certain questions in. The “inside joke” for Trubisky, though, is seeing Bears website reporter Larry Mayer beaten by other reporters while trying to ask a question. It happened in back-to-back weeks — loudly. Trubisky found it funny both times, and especially the second.
What is Dion Sims’ role on this team, other then taking up a roster spot? – @nwsidedan
A: Ouch. But I get your point. Sims has struggled. And some of his mistakes have been caught on broadcast replays.
Overall, Sims didn’t do much to make up for the loss of tight end Adam Shaheen over the first half of the season. He made two catches for nine yards in the opener against the Packers, but he has been targeted just one time since. That would be OK if Sims helped establish the Bears’ ground game behind Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but the Bears’ rushing attack has been inconsistent through eight games.
As far as Sims’ place on the roster, he has one more year on his three-year contract, but the team can cut him this year without major salary-cap implications. It couldn’t do that before this season.
Sims has been ruled out with a concussion for the game Sunday against the Lions.