Mitch Trubisky always has been a shotgun quarterback. He wasn’t under center often at North Carolina or Mentor (Ohio) High School or really when he played middle-school football.
But he might be there more now.
The Bears were in the shotgun 76% of the time last season, the sixth-highest mark in the NFL. On Sunday against the Lions, they were in the shotgun on 49% of their plays. Only three NFL teams did so less often — the Rams, Raiders and Patriots. On average, NFL teams were in the shotgun on 65% of their Week 1 snaps.
“That was the most I’ve probably been under center in my whole career,” Trubisky said Wednesday.
After an offseason of vowing to fix the offense — and hiring a new coordinator and three new position coaches — coach Matt Nagy unveiled his scheme change Sunday. The shift sprung from the end-of-season self-scouting session. The Bears realized they didn’t give as many pre-snap clues to the defense from under center.
“For us, it goes into one of those deals where now this is Year 3 for us,” Nagy said, “and you start looking as to, ‘What are your strengths of your players?’ ”
For the first time in Nagy’s tenure, the offense doesn’t feel geared exclusively toward Trubisky. Though the Bears always have admired his ability to throw on the run, being under center is certainly not a proven strength of his.
Yet they made the scheme change anyway to play to the strengths of linemen, running backs and tight ends.
Trubisky’s struggles in the first three quarters only reinforce the need to run the ball well. The less the Bears have to count on the quarterback to decide every game, the better off they’ll be.
Trubisky admitted it took repetitions to get his footwork right and make sure he hit the “mesh point” — where he could either hand the ball off to a running back or fake it — in stride.
He was more successful in the shotgun Sunday. The Bears’ 17-point comeback came with Trubisky lining up under center for only six of the final 24 plays. But that was more a byproduct of their against-the-clock scramble in the fourth quarter, not an indication of what next week will look like.
Giants coach Joe Judge wasn’t ready to label the offense — “They’re never going to stay in one standard formation, one standard look,” he said — but it’s clear a running game gives the Bears’ next opponent something to think about. The Bears’ 5.3 yards per carry was third-best in the league last week.
“They have to respect the run more,” Trubisky said. “I think some of the passing lanes were a little more open. Our O-line did a great job protecting from under center. So I don’t know if the pass rush isn’t coming as hard when they’re expecting more of a run play to come and we turn around and hit them with the pass. It’s just keeping the defense honest.”
The Bears believe that forcing defenders to run laterally will lead to play-action success. Trubisky completed two-thirds of his play-action passes Sunday, but the plays weren’t as explosive as the team wants.
Nagy has talked for two-plus seasons about creating an identity. Maybe being under center is it.
“You want to be able to keep things off balance,” Nagy said. “And we still have a lot of stuff from the ’gun. But as we’re trying to create this identity of who we are, you can probably feel there’s a little bit more of [under center], for sure, this year.’’