Matt Nagy said last week Mitch Trubisky needed to complete a deep pass to gain the confidence to do it again. It was no different, he said, than making the first free throw in basketball game.
Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich went back to the basketball analogy this week when asked Trubisky’s popgun performance in the red zone.
“The problem with us right now is we need to make the routine plays, routine,” Helfrich said. “That obviously is magnified at the quarterback position. And the blame and the praise is, maybe, unfairly put on that position. And it always will.
“But he needs to make layups.”
So far, Trubisky’s been hitting the back of the iron. They’ve resulted in something that’s beneficial in hoops but not football: field goals.
“Gotta score touchdowns,” guard Kyle Long said. “We can’t leave it up to [kicker Cody] Parkey. He’s done a great job putting points up there but we can double those points.”
The red zone has been the intersection of the Bears’ two most troubling habits: Trubisky’s baffling inaccuracy and running back Jordan Howard’s inability to gain traction. The former is the most disturbing development of the Bears’ young season.
Trubisky’s Bears have scored touchdowns on 40 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the sixth-worst mark in the NFL. Three of the five are in last place.
No quarterback who has started all three games this season has thrown fewer than Trubisky’s two touchdowns. Both came in the same game — a 3-yard shovel to tight end Trey Burton in the first quarter against the Seahawks and a 10-yard throw to Anthony Miller in the fourth.
“We just have to finish in the red zone,” Trubisky said.
Against the Cardinals, the Bears ran 13 red-zone plays for 17 total yards. In three games, they’ve run 32 plays for 71 yards — an average of 2.2 yards per play.
“Right now we’re just not scoring touchdowns,” Nagy said. “It’s easy to magnify and try to figure out why from everybody, but we’re doing the same thing: ‘Why is that? And then we just try to improve on it in the games.’”
Nagy has tried to solve the problem with unique schemes.
The Bears scored on a Howard run in the season opener when left tackle Charles Leno split out right as a wide receiver. In Week 2, tight end Trey Burton took a snap as quarterback — but the team eventually settled for a field goal. Against the Cardinals, Nagy used four tight ends at the 2-yard — three ran pass routes while eligible tackle Bradley Sowell stayed in to block. Tight end Dion Sims was flagged for an illegal shift, and the Bears eventually kicked.
Sunday seems like the perfect time for an uptick. The Buccaneers allow touchdowns on 88.9 percent of their opponent’s red zone trips. Only two teams, the Panthers and Bills, allow a higher clip.
It takes special effort to score in the red zone, receiver Allen Robinson said.
“Execute and make contested catches,” he said. “Make plays. Turn plays that may not necessarily be a play into one. I think again, I think for us we’re really close. We just have to continue to do that.”
Scoring touchdowns instead of field goals would cover a lot of blemishes — not only on Trubisky, but a sputtering run game and a defense that has been tasked with winning games.
“I think we could be more efficient there, more productive,” Nagy said. “And that in turn—if you start getting touchdowns and helping your defense out and getting points on the board —then it’ll cover up some of the other stuff that’s getting magnified because we’re not producingpoints in the red zone.”