When ESPN analyst Louis Riddick saw the now-infamous screenshot of quarterback Mitch Trubisky seemingly staring down a wide-open Trey Burton during the Bears’ Week 1 loss to the Packers, he knew exactly how to classify it in today’s NFL.
“That’s just people looking for a way to criticize someone who maybe they didn’t hold in the right regard in the first place — that being Mitch,” said Riddick, a former Eagles executive. “People look for stuff like that in order to then confirm what their bias was in the first place. I can’t stand when people do that kind of thing, because the game isn’t played in screenshots like that.”
It was an emphatic point that speaks to Trubisky’s current predicament, with the Bears preparing to host the Seahawks on “Monday Night Football.” Trubisky will be questioned and scrutinized until his play dictates otherwise. And while the expectations are great, he still lacks experience. The opener against the Packers was only his 13th career start — and his first in coach Matt Nagy’s offense.
“It’s one game for Mitch,” Riddick said. “I understand that expectations are high because of where he was drafted, too. We get all that. But people need to slow down, pump the brakes, keep it all in perspective and just let Matt Nagy do his work.”
Seeing how it’s done
Trubisky learned a lesson playing against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time.
“I should have had more of a completion mindset instead of trying to do too much,” he said.
Randall Cobb’s 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter began as an 11-yard completion from Rodgers. Given a chance to respond with two minutes, eight seconds left in regulation, Trubisky faltered twice. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty on fourth down wasn’t the saving grace it could have been; Trubisky completed only two passes in the final two minutes.
“I was thinking, ‘Try to make a big play. Win the game right here,’ ” Trubisky said. “And it should have been, for me, personally, ‘Stack completions. Get one more completion. One more first down.’ And then when you get that first down, just another first down.”
Trubisky arguably should had been thinking “field goal” from his first snap that late. But he now has experience with a kind of pressure that couldn’t be simulated in the preseason: his first start in a new offense, on prime-time television, at Lambeau Field and against two-time NFL MVP Rodgers.
“Every game, he’s learning something new about himself that hopefully he carries forward and builds on for the next game,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “Again, this is a process for him.”
That includes a weekly checklist for Ragone. He’s monitoring Trubisky’s eyes, footwork and more.
“Great quarterback play at this level, it starts with your ability to eliminate as you drop back in the pocket and then get through progression when need be,” Ragone said. “Every time he goes out there and plays and goes through another rep in practice or a game, that’s equity built into that. And obviously, the more equity he builds into plays, the easier those plays are for you.”
Learning and un-learning
In Week 6 of last season, Dowell Loggains, then the offensive coordinator, wanted Trubisky to forget about coach John Fox’s messages to be careful against the Ravens. Loggains needed Trubisky to be aggressive because the Bears needed to win. Trubisky delivered, eluding pressure and firing an off-balance throw to Kendall Wright for an 18-yard gain on third-and-11 from the Ravens’ 41 in overtime. After three runs by Jordan Howard, kicker Connor Barth made a 41-yard field goal for a 27-24 win in Baltimore.
That was Trubisky’s first career victory, in his second start. It was hope created by a throw over the middle.
The same later was said about Trubisky’s heroics against the Lions in Week 11. Late in the game, he had a 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 and fired a 15-yard pass to receiver Dontrelle Inman on the next play. (Barth missed a potential game-tying field goal for a 27-24 loss.)
But those feel-good plays matter only so much to analysts like Riddick. Fox, Loggains, Wright, Barth and Inman are all gone. Trubisky has new plays in a new offense.
“What he did last year doesn’t matter because last year’s system has no common correlation to this year’s system,” Riddick said. “Last year’s team has no correlation to this year’s team. If it did, and if they were so close and so similar, then the same staff would be there right now that was there last year, but obviously it wasn’t good enough. The kind of offensive football they were playing last year, they were setting football back a hundred years with some of the stuff they were doing. It’s a brand-new day.”
Still, some of Fox’s teachings persist. Asked about the play in the notorious screenshot from the Packers game, Trubisky explained that he had weighed how risky a throw to Burton would be. He considered a field goal on that drive “a big positive takeaway.”
“But moving forward, if I want to evolve into the quarterback I want to be, you’ve got to take the opportunity,” he said. “I’ve got to anticipate that even more.”
That’s where Nagy comes in. He wants Trubisky to be aggressive.
“It is an experience deal,” Nagy said. “For us, trying to be aggressive is important — teaching Mitch when to take [chances] and when to trust it, and if you do take one and it’s a poor result, it’s OK. You’ve got a great defense behind you that can get you back on track. You’ve got players that believe in you.
“We’re going to learn this thing as we go.”