Mitch Trubisky is intellectually curious and fancies himself as a good student. When he went off to college, he enrolled in a Portuguese class rather than Spanish, the language he learned in high school. So one would expect the quarterback to bristle at Matt Nagy’s declaration, which was reinforced Wednesday, that the Bears would cut back their playbook this week after three uninspiring offensive performances.
“No, not at all,” Trubisky said. “If a teacher goes, ‘Do you guys want an easy test?’ You’re going to say, ‘Heck yeah.’ Less you gotta study. ‘I’m gonna ace this test.’
“Maybe that’s a comparison you make. We’re going to pull back this week. Do I play faster? Do we play better? I guess we’re all going to see.”
On Sunday, Trubisky will need to show off the accuracy that caused general manager Ryan Pace to fall in love with him when he played at North Carolina. Nagy has seen flashes — he called Trubisky’s 25-yard completion to Trey Burton on a deep cross against the Cardinals one “not many quarterbacks in this league can make” — but he wants more.
Trubisky’s 69.2 completion percentage, which ranks ninth in the NFL, is fool’s gold, as 24 of his completions have failed to cross the line of scrimmage. His 77.8 passer rating, which ranks 27th among NFL quarterbacks, is a more accurate gauge of his struggles through three games.
The Bears are betting that refining the playbook allows Trubisky and his teammates to play faster and be more precise. The plan isn’t as simple as stressing fewer plays. The Bears also are whittling the playbook down to exactly what Trubisky does best.
It’s a delicate balance for the first-year head coach — simplifying the scheme without stunting the quarterback’s growth. Nagy has spoken often about how long it will take the offense to reach its full potential:
“We can’t put him in a situation where we’re trying to do too much and we take away from their talents — our players, all of them, not just the quarterback,” Nagy said. “So if we’re doing too much, making him think too much, they’re going to play slow and they’re not going to be efficient.
“So that’s part of what we’re doing. What we get paid to do as coaches is to know what that balance is. But you know it’s about production. And you have to produce, and you have to score points. And if you’re not producing or you’re not scoring points, you got to dig into the ‘why’ part.”
Nagy said during the preseason that he wanted to expose his quarterback to a broad playbook and then isolate what fit his skills. That’s still happening, though with increased urgency.
“What I’m doing now is understanding what the plays are that he’s doing well with, that might have been different with me in the past,” Nagy said. “What’s neat is that there are concepts that weren’t as good to us in Kansas City that are good here, that are working. I’m learning that, and now those are the ones I’m going to start to go to because I see that.
“And vice versa, there’s some that we did well in Kansas City that might not be as efficient now. So I have to adjust to how I do that, and that’s OK.”
Nagy and Trubisky each have their own favorite plays. Many overlap. Trubisky has found, though, that the ones he’s best at are the ones the Bears have been repeating since the spring.
“I’m a ‘rep’ person,” Trubisky said. “So a lot of the plays that I’m good at, it’s the ones that we’ve been repping since OTAs [and] training camp. And then we just have to get back to that, the bread-and-butters and repetition plays.
“And [Nagy] knows that, so we’re going to get back to that, throwing some new spices here and there and just continue to evolve throughout this offense and figure out what we’re gonna be. But it’s just constant communication between me and coach — me being completely honest with what I’m comfortable with, what I’m not comfortable with. Having those conversations honestly, and then there’s just no hurt feelings.”
That communication — that negotiation about the playbook during the week — will get better with time. Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, the former Jaguars and Falcons offensive coordinator, said such conversations center around trust. Players must be honest with their coaches and vice versa.
“If you sit in those quarterback rooms with those guys, the good ones will tell you,” he said. “Matt Ryan, he would tell me, ‘That’s too much.’ Or, ‘You’re full of crap. That’s not going to work.’
“You either have got to come to a peace treaty on it, or in my opinion, you have to acquiesce to what a quarterback wants. Because he’s the one that has to make it happen on Sunday.”
Trubisky is ready to make it happen.
“The studying and the preparing and just trying to be the best you could possibly be, it doesn’t stop every single week just because they want to condense the game plan or play faster,” he said.
“It doesn’t offend me or affect me at all. I want to play well. Whatever they think is best for this offense, I believe in that, and that’s what I’m going to do this week.”