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Bears QB Mitch Trubisky eyes lights, camera, play-action

Through two games, the Bears have proof-of-concept that play-action works. Trubisky now needs to make them dangerous when they run it.

James Daniels (68) has started 32 consecutive games on the Bears’ offensive line — 24 at left guard, eight at center — since he was drafted in the second round in 2018.
Mitch Trubisky throws Sunday against the Giants.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s not natural for quarterbacks — particularly those such as Mitch Trubisky, who grew up in the shotgun — to turn their backs to defenders on play-action.

It’s not easy for them to sneak a peek at the defense as they’re faking a handoff, snap their heads around to see whether an inside linebacker or safety has taken the bait and deliver the ball with confidence.

It’s certainly not easy to learn all of that during an offseason without practices or preseason games.

But that’s precisely what Trubisky has done.

‘‘Really trying to draw those ’backers down, making it look like a full-out run,’’ he said. ‘‘And then hitting them with the pass and then still being on time with your feet and rhythm and your drop. It’s just continuing to get more detailed, making the run look like the pass and the pass look like the run.’’

Through two games, the Bears have evidence play-action works. Trubisky now needs to make them dangerous when they run it, particularly Sunday against the Falcons, who are averaging 32 points a game.

‘‘Let’s face it,’’ offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. ‘‘Offensively, we have a lot of growth we need to do if we want to win this week.’’

From Trubisky, they’ll need lights, camera and play-action.

Through two games, the Bears have run 21 play-action passes for 188 yards. Both figures rank sixth in the NFL. Trubisky’s passer rating on such passes, however, is 83.0, which ranks the Bears 21st.

Through two games, Trubisky has noticed defenders drop deeper than usual, opening up routes underneath, after a steady diet of running plays. When his linemen sell the fake well, his windows to throw are bigger. He suspects play-action puts defenders in ‘‘a little bit more of a panic’’ and forces them to ‘‘lose track of their assignments’’ on passing downs.

A successful play-action attack Sunday would use the Falcons’ greatest defensive strength — coach Matt Nagy called the unit ‘‘fast, fast and really fast’’ in pass defense — against them.

‘‘It’s just nice to keep the defense off-balance,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘And I think when you have a steady run game and the way our O-line is doing a great job controlling the line of scrimmage . . . it gives more stability to this offense.’’

The Bears are vowing to make their offense adaptable to different matchups this season after Nagy admitted they were too predictable in 2019. But it’s clear that, in their pursuit of stability, they prefer Trubisky under center to serve as a complement to an effective running game.

‘‘They changed the whole offense around Mitch,’’ running back/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. ‘‘Just focus on what Mitch is good at.’’

Play-action is a statistically solid approach. Even though NFL teams threw out of play-action 26.6% of the time in 2019 — down from 27.2% in 2018 — analysts typically embrace the strategy.

‘‘Statistically, I know there are a lot of people now that tally up a lot of things they see on film and publish that information,’’ Lazor said. ‘‘I think all of them would agree, statistically, it does hurt defenses.’’

A study by FiveThirtyEight at the end of the 2018 season showed play-action is more effective than other passes when the ball travels at least eight yards in the air — over the heads of linebackers, essentially — but not when the throws are shorter.

That’s another reason the Bears need Trubisky to be more effective. Through two games, he has averaged 8.9 yards per pass attempt.

‘‘The thing it helps you do is distort the defense,’’ Lazor said. ‘‘It helps you get a defender who has a particular run responsibility and a particular pass responsibility and try to put him in a position where he can’t do both.’’