The Bears spin quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s growth as a byproduct of his benching. Just last week, coach Matt Nagy said he “changed in such a positive way” during the seven games he sat behind Nick Foles. Trubisky, he said, was able to sit back, learn and prepare for his next opportunity.
On Sunday in the wild-card round of the playoffs, we’ll see exactly how much he learned as the backup. When the Bears played the Saints on Nov. 1, Trubisky spent all week as the understudy. What he remembers from that scouting report will go a long way toward mastering this week’s attack, even though both teams have changed in the last two months.
“I’m not sure if we can lean on anything there,” Nagy said Monday. “It does seem like forever ago when we were going through that. We’ll talk through that, kind of see where he’s at. We’re a little different right now than we were then.
“But that was part of the time right after everything where [Trubisky] was still going through a lot of stuff. And we had to give him that time. And now, I think he’s done a really good job getting to where we’re at now. . . . It kind of helps both teams that we’ve played each other already this year.”
But how much does it help Trubisky in particular? Minutes after the Bears lost to the Packers, Trubisky recalled one memory from the Saints game — the fact that he hurt his right shoulder on the one down he played, a run from the Wildcat formation. He hadn’t been on the field since Week 3 and wouldn’t return until Week 12.
“I’ll have to go back through my notes and see what else was going on in that game that I think can help us going into this week,” Trubisky said. “We have a great opportunity. We know we’re going down there to play a good football team. But I think we can just look at that game and what we saw from them, just learn from that and see what we can do better this time.”
The Bears’ offense is significantly different than it was with Foles at quarterback. The Bears have stressed an under-center running attack, flank attacks, crossing patterns and tempo since switching back to Trubisky six games ago.
“They’re doing a good job with play-action boots and nakeds off it,” Saints coach Sean Payton told New Orleans reporters Monday. “I think they’re playing well up front.
“Trubisky is someone that definitely can run, can flush out of the pocket, can pick up 15 yards, 20 yards. He’s a threat when he’s either handing it off, maybe in the read-option scheme.
“He’s got a skill set that’s obviously different than Nick’s.”
The element of surprise will probably help Trubisky. The Bears are 6-1 this year when Trubisky starts against a team for the first time — and 0-2 against the Lions and Packers when they faced him a second time around.
The Saints will lean on their experience from the game in 2019 in which they led the Bears 36-10 before Trubisky threw two garbage-time touchdown passes.
The Bears’ other offensive players will draw from this season’s game, though. And that, perhaps more than anything else, will help Trubisky. Only two offensive linemen, though — center Sam Mustipher and left tackle Charles Leno — started in the same position Nov. 1 as they will Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I think probably the biggest thing is just understanding that, whether there’s a one-on-one matchup or schematically things that they do, it’ll be a little different because of Mitchell vs. Nick,” Nagy said. “But also, it helps these guys. It helps the players more than anything because they know what they’re going up against. If it’s an offensive lineman or wide receiver, they kind of know who they’re dealing with.”