Go deep: Why the Bears’ offense is incomplete until Mitch Trubisky airs it out
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Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel lined up in the right slot Monday night and ran a deep cross, speeding past a linebacker and breaking left into wide-open grass.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky saw Gabriel with no one behind him — the Seahawks were playing a single high safety — and took his shot.
The minute the ball left his hand, Trubisky did a frustrated bunny hop. He knew he missed him. The ball sailed over Gabriel’s head 26 yards down the field.
“I think I got a little too excited and didn’t trust my timing,” Trubisky said. “So the ball came out a little sooner than it should have.”
On the list of Trubisky’s missed opportunities against the Seahawks, none loomed larger than the ball he threw over the head of Gabriel, who’s generously listed at 5-8.
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich agreed his timing was off — “Mitch was kinda in between throws,” he said — when Gabriel popped open.
“Quarterbacks, you’re kind of taught to anticipate things but not predetermine,” Helfrich said. “And that’s that fine line that you walk.”
If coach Matt Nagy’s scheme is going to thrive, the Bears need to be able to throw deep — starting Sunday at the Cardinals.
The threat opens up the rest of the offense.
“That’s been the emphasis after studying the first two games,” Trubisky said. “We’re doing a great job moving the ball well, but we definitely want more explosive plays. And that’s just me playing within the timing of this offense and getting it to the guys that are open.”
Last year, Nagy developed Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith into the game’s best deep-ball thrower. His 134.7 passer rating and 54.2 completion percentage on attempts of 20 yards or more were the best in the NFL, while his 18.6 percent touchdown rate was second-best. Not coincidentally, the Chiefs also had the league’s leading rusher.
Trubisky, meanwhile, is averaging 6.2 vertical yards per pass attempt this year, which is the sixth-shortest in the league, according to NFL NextGen Stats. The Chiefs’ new quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, leads the league with an average of 12. Only two quarterbacks in the NFL average less than Trubisky’s 3.5 vertical yards per completion.
Trubisky’s two completions of 25 yards or more came in the first quarter of the season opener. In the seven quarters since, he has completed only two passes for more than 15 yards — and they were both to running backs.
The Cardinals, who have allowed 58 points in two games, will make Trubisky beat them deep. Their edge blitzes figure to minimize what Trubisky does best, throwing on the run. Instead, he’ll have to take his shots from the pocket.
Nagy hopes all it takes is one successful shot downfield to put Trubisky back on track.
“It’s a confidence-builder — anytime you get that, it’s like shooting free throws,” Nagy said. “You make a couple of free throws, you’re going to make a couple more. You miss a couple of free throws, you’re going to miss a couple more. So that’s a confidence thing.
‘‘Anytime you get a chance to hit somebody downfield for a shot, it definitely helps you.”
Nagy believes in the power of the deep ball. He called a shot play on Trubisky’s first preseason snap, wanting to send a message to his quarterback — and to opponents.
Throughout training camp, Nagy didn’t want Trubisky to be afraid of going deep. He told him he didn’t care if he threw interceptions in practice. Better that, he figured, than having a timid passer.
“So now that we’re in games and it does count, we want to be able to make good decisions and take calculated risks on deep balls and stretching the defense,” Nagy said. “And now, when you have those opportunities, you need to make the most of them.”
Gabriel thinks they will.
“I’m pretty sure this week we’re gonna take it,” he said. “The deep ball opens up a lot of things. . . . I feel like we’ll get it going.”