Off and running: Reliable ground game only will help Bears QB Mitch Trubisky
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For Matt Nagy, moving the ball is moving the ball. It doesn’t matter how.
“The conventional side of it? No, I don’t worry about that,” Nagy said two weeks ago. “I don’t care about that. I really don’t.”
In other words, Nagy won’t hesitate to call “Santa’s Sleigh,” “Oompa Loompa,” “Willy Wonka,” “Freezer Left,” Freezer Right” or whatever else he has cooked up over the course of a game if it results in more points.
But it would be wrong to assume that the Bears’ modern, quarterback-centric coach who enjoys installing trick plays for all of his players — big and small — doesn’t appreciate having a good, old-fashioned running game to rely on.
It would be huge for quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s development and his offense overall.
“It would be really big for us to do that,” Nagy said Wednesday. “Any quarterback you talk to will tell you that to have that running game going, man, it makes things a lot easier. It opens up the play-actions, it opens up the shots downfield. The [defensive] line doesn’t just pin you all the time. The [offensive] line will tell you, ‘Let’s get the running game going.’ So we can go forward and not always go backward in the pass set.”
The absence of a consistent running game is what differentiates Trubisky’s developmental path from that of other young quarterbacks.
The Rams’ Jared Goff has Todd Gurley, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, and Carson Wentz benefitted from the Eagles’ third-ranked rushing attack during their Super Bowl run last season.
The Chiefs’ decision to cut running back Kareem Hunt didn’t slow down quarterback Patrick Mahomes the last two weeks — did you see his no-look pass? — but it certainly helped that backups Spencer Ware and Damien Williams combined for 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns in their victories against the Raiders and Ravens.
The Bears’ use of play-action pales in comparison to other teams, too. According to Pro Football Focus, 20.3 percent of Trubisky’s drop-backs have featured play-action, which ranks 23rd among starters. Goff is first at 36 percent.
Trubisky’s passer rating (103.9 to 88.9) and completion percentage (68.5 to 63.3) also are better with play-action than without it.
That’s why the production of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen against the Rams should be considered the silver lining in an otherwise subpar offensive performance. Howard’s 101 rushing yards were by far his most this season. His previous season high of 82 came in Week 1 in the Bears’ loss to the Packers.
“A lot was gained [against the Rams],” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “We want to see our guys do well and be successful and establish that run game. Being able to do that is definitely fun.
“Just hearing guys talk to Jordan throughout the course of the game. ‘Keep it going. Keep leading us. Keep making plays.’ That was a big part of our win last week, a very big part of it.”
It’s the help Trubisky needs as he re-establishes himself after his injury and continues to grow in his understanding of defenses. He said the Rams wanted to ‘‘zone us out,” which affected his passing but opened up more options on the ground. Howard and Cohen had their longest runs of the season with gains of 21 and 32 yards, respectively.
“They ran super-hard getting those extra yards,” Trubisky said. “So it was big for this offense, and it really opened us up to control the ball, run the clock out in some situations and pick up yards for this offense. It’s really good to see, and sometimes we realize that is how games are going to go. You just have to do whatever it takes to win.”