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Eagle Eye: Here's Why Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky Offers Hope For Bears

Posted Nov 23, 2017

When I watch this Chicago Bears team, I see a franchise with a lot of hope for the future.

They’ve emphasized building up the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Bears get after the quarterback defensively both with scheme and personnel. They run the ball really well. Most importantly, however, they believe they have their franchise quarterback, who has shown some really impressive flashes on film. Second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky was inserted into the starting lineup a few weeks into the season. While he’s not asked to do a lot, I think he’s had his share of positive moments in his very young career.

There hasn’t been a ton of buzz about Trubisky so far. Chicago’s record is just 3-7 and there is a perception that he is rarely asked to throw the football. In a win over Carolina last month, Trubisky attempted just seven passes. Since that game, Trubisky has attempted more than 30 passes in each of the last three contests (all one-score losses), but you’re starting to see signs of an emerging talent at the quarterback position. Here are some of the things I saw while studying his recent performances.

Trubisky helped march his team down the field to set up a game-tying field goal attempt in crunch time last week against Detroit. The Bears were down by three points with less than a minute left. The drive included a scramble on fourth-and-13 (a play I’ll show later in this piece), but here were the three most impressive throws from the drive.

On third-and-5, Trubisky displayed anticipation and accuracy on a curl route outside the numbers for a first down along the sideline, stopping the clock so the Bears didn’t have to waste a timeout.

On the next play, the Lions decide to send a zone blitz at the rookie passer. Trubisky starts to his left and sees an unblocked defender coming down the B gap right at him. He knows what he has, hits the top of his drop, turns to his right, and pulls the trigger to a deep curl route on the right numbers just shy of midfield.

The pass was nearly intercepted, but I like the poise and the awareness from Trubisky here. He didn’t panic or break down in the pocket. Instead, he gets to the back side and makes a throw to a receiver entering his break. The pass was just a bit rushed and inaccurate, but that can be fixed. I still like that he didn't get gunshy.

A few plays later, after his fourth-down scramble to keep hope alive, Trubisky faced first-and-10 with 15 seconds on the clock. The Bears need another first down to get into field goal range. Trubisky takes the snap, starts to his left on his first progression, gets to his second progression with the over route. He doesn’t like what he sees, and goes to his third progression, a deep dig route on the back side. The rookie hits his receiver in stride for a first down inside the 30-yard line to set up a 46-yard field goal attempt, which veteran Connor Barth promptly misses. Still, I like that Trubisky put the Bears in position to go to overtime.

The Bears have not been an explosive offense in terms of chunk plays. In fact, they rank 31st in the league with just 18 passes of 20-plus yards. However, they’ve begun to stretch the field a bit more as Trubisky has become more comfortable. Trubisky came from a shotgun offense at North Carolina, a place where he only started 13 times in his college career. The Bears have incorporated more seven-step drops with Trubisky lined up under center as the season has progressed, and he’s shown the ability to make these throws down the field for big plays.

One of the big concerns I typically have with quarterbacks who come from wide open spread schemes at the college level is that they tend to struggle throwing with anticipation. Things are so spread out across all 53 yards of the field, they don’t have to make many throws in tight windows. Making those kinds of throws forces quarterbacks to be able to see things develop quickly, often times before they even begin to happen. Watch some of these anticipation throws from Trubisky, and you can see how early he’s pulling the trigger. Now, granted, a couple of these are isolation routes on the perimeter. They’re not necessarily "tight window" throws against zone coverage across the middle, but for a young guy with just a handful of starts; it’s still good to see him making these plays.

The Eagles had to deal with Dak Prescott and his ability to make plays on the run last week, and they’ll face a similar type of threat in Trubisky this week. He’s not quite the athlete Prescott is, but Chicago likes to get him out on the perimeter in the bootleg passing game and he can scramble for positive yards. The long run at the end of the clip above happened in the two-minute drill at the end of the game against Detroit. This fourth-down run helped put them in position to kick a game-tying field goal. Trubisky can absolutely make plays with the ball in his hands.

While Trubisky is certainly the headliner, the focal point of this offense is the run game. The Bears rank fifth in the NFL in yards per game (131.8) and sixth in yards per carry (4.54). The Bears run the ball 62.6 percent of the time on first down, which ranks second in the league, so they want to establish the ground game and stay ahead of the sticks. Jordan Howard is the featured ball carrier, and the staple run scheme is the Outside Zone.

The running back starts with an east-west track, surveying the defense and looking for his cutback lane in Outside Zone. If no defender flashes outside, he’ll take that track and aim to get the ball to the corner. If he can’t get to the corner, the ball carrier will stick his foot in the ground and get north for positive yardage.

On this first run, you see that no "color" (an opposing jersey) flashes outside, so Howard is able to stay on track for a 16-yard gain. On the second run, Howard sees "color" flash on the outside shoulder of the tight end, so he sticks his foot in the ground and picks up a first down. More often than not, the Outside Zone results in an inside run play. It’s all about where the cutback lane forms for the back.

The Bears aren’t just a zone run team though. They like to get Howard downhill in heavy personnel sets on some "gap scheme" runs as well. Here are two examples of their two-back Power run game, with a fullback out in front of Howard along with a pulling guard. This scheme has resulted in a bunch of big plays on the ground this year.

If Howard is the "Thunder" back, then rookie Tarik Cohen is their "Lightning." Nicknamed the "Human Joystick" because of his career at North Carolina A&T, Cohen is flat-out explosive. He’s got outstanding speed and the Bears do a lot with him on the field. He lines up everywhere in the formation and is used as a runner and a receiver in their offense.

In the run game, Cohen will take some carries inside but they want to get him to the corner where he can leverage his speed in space. Whether it’s the Crack Toss, Flip plays (like the one above), the Zone Read, or their Outside Zone, look for Cohen to try and find room to work. He’s a cutback runner who is looking for a small crease to get downhill and find space to run through.

The Bears can get very creative with how they use Cohen. He lines up everywhere in the formation which gives the defense a lot to think about any time he steps on the field. Look at these plays and see how his presence impacts the direction of the play, opening up wide holes and creating space for Howard in the run game.

Here are examples of Cohen in the run game. How do you match up against him? When he comes on the field, do you treat him as a receiver or as a running back? The Bears will use him in the slot in the quick game, and with his change-of-direction skills and short-area burst; he’s a weapon within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. His long speed also makes him a huge threat downfield as well, where he can attack defenders vertically in the mold of a DeSean Jackson or a Tyreek Hill. The Eagles will have to game plan for him on Sunday afternoon.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices and opponents.

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