Mitch Trubisky has done this before, and virtually any professional quarterback can come up with an occasional big game like he had in the Bears’ 31-24 victory Thursday against the Cowboys.
The question for Trubisky, and the most significant variable in the Bears’ slim playoff hopes, is whether he can keep it going. What good was his performance against Dallas if it stops there? A one-hit wonder doesn’t do anything for the team’s chances this season or beyond.
Trubisky did everything the Bears have been waiting for and completed 23 of 31 passes for 244 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 115.5 passer rating — his ninth-highest in 38 career games.
It was one of his absolute best against a solid defense. Despite their 6-7 record
and abundance of dysfunction, the Cowboys entered the game No. 8 in pass defense. This wasn’t a case of bullying a lightweight like he has done against the Lions and
Plus, Trubisky revived his running game.
That tops the long list of things that made Bears fans arch their eyebrows Thursday night and ask, “Where’s that been all year?” One of the most perplexing parts of what mostly has been a season of regression was that Trubisky had presented little to no running threat.
“When nothing is there, pulling it down [and] getting what I can,” Trubisky said of his mindset against the Cowboys.
It sounds so obvious. And so easy. But there has been a glitch that has kept him from playing so freely.
Coach Matt Nagy and the offensive coaches have drilled into his head that great quarterbacks win in the pocket, and regardless of what they and Trubisky say publicly, it was consistently clear that he was either reluctant to run or too indecisive to take advantage when opportunities appeared.
He finally turned it loose against the Cowboys and racked up 63 yards on 10 carries, including a designed run play for a 23-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. His season total before Thursday was 80 yards.
“It was very evident that he used [his legs] as a weapon,” Nagy said after the game. “We saw some things that we liked in regard to the run scheme. Heck, whenever he’s able to use his legs like that, he becomes another running back.”
Friday at Halas Hall, Nagy said, “We don’t want him to become a running back.
“We want him to be a quarterback that uses his legs, and I thought yesterday was a great example of that combination.”
Nagy’s belief about winning from the pocket is true for many quarterbacks, but not all. Some who aren’t as proficient as passers can make up for it with their athleticism, or in the case of leading MVP candidate Lamar Jackson, more than make up for it. Trubisky isn’t Jackson, but his skill set has a similar blueprint.
Especially now, as the position has evolved, there’s no tried and true equation that says a quarterback must be 90 percent passer, 10 percent runner. It can be 70-30, 50-50 or whatever allocation works best for that specific player’s ability as long as the coach is willing to be flexible.
It has been obvious this season that Nagy wants Trubisky to be a conventional pocket passer, but the dual-threat role seems more suitable. Trubisky’s athleticism was a significant factor in the Bears trading up to draft him No. 2 overall, and he averaged 30.1 rushing yards per game last season.
Why reprogram him? How about a little more “Be You,” to borrow the coach’s motto, rather than trying to be something else?
The key for Trubisky is to recognize that the way he played against the Cowboys, or at least close to it, needs to be his new normal. He had brief eruptions against the Redskins and at home against the Lions, only to backslide into questionable decisions and three-and-outs.
“Mitch knows that throughout the season he could have played better,” Nagy said. “I’ve talked about trying to find that identity. We’re searching for it. We finally feel like the last several weeks we feel good about where we’re at. Are we perfect? No. But we feel good about it.”
Nagy usually steers the conversation away from Trubisky’s play to the collective failure or success of the offense, and of course he’s correct that it takes 11 men to make it work. But it hinges on Trubisky more than any other player. He’s the one with the most power to keep it afloat or sink it.
And if the Dallas game is another outlier, it only confirms that he’s not the guy the Bears need now or in the future. It can’t stop here.