The Chicago Bears are heading into the bye week riding a wave of enthusiasm, kool-aid, and a hype train being driven into a nuclear power plant.
Why is this happening? Obviously, the defense. Specifically, the Greek god Zeus taking time out of his schedule to wear number 52 on Sundays. But this was the case through the first three weeks of the season. The Bears’ bandwagon really started to get crowded once their second-year signal caller, Mitch Trubisky, lit up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the tune of six touchdowns to five different receivers and 354 yards in about two and a half quarters of trying to score points.
This is clearly in stark contrast to his performance until that fateful Sunday at Soldier Field. So what made that showing possible? Tampa Bay’s secondary resembling the JV squad of a 0-9 high school team is part of it. But Trubisky wasn’t just hitting open receivers – he was hitting them in stride with on-the-money throws. And there is a simple yet crucial change that he made in order to vault the Bears to a blowout win.
Since the year began, number 10 in blue and orange has been subject to an extraordinary amount of criticism, the majority of which he deserved. What the problem boiled down to, in my view from watching film, was his mechanics. Specifically, his feet. There are tons of examples of this from the first three weeks, but I chose to only put the most egregious one here.
Kyle Long blocks the view of Trubisky’s feet a bit here, but you can still see them jump a tiny bit to your left and his right. This is a mechanical problem that coaches and analysts alike call “happy feet.” In layperson’s terms, this is the unnecessary movement of the feet as the ball is leaving or is set to leave the arm.
Happy feet causes a specific problem that can lead to one of two negative outcomes. When that unnecessary movement happens, it deprives the quarterback of all the strength on the throw he could have gotten from his lower body. This either causes an underthrow, which happened in the above clip because there ordinarily isn’t enough power from the upper body alone to make the throw.
Or it causes an overthrow because the quarterback attempts at the last minute to add extra arm power to over-compensate, causing him to sail the receiver. In this case, it’s the first result and it caused an underthrow and an interception.
Trubisky had all sorts of problems with this in the first three weeks, but it subsided substantially against the Buccaneers. Here are a few instances where he set his feet correctly and it led to some beautiful passes throughout the game.
On this clip, the touchdown to Burton, you can see Trubisky stumble after receiving the snap from Cody Whitehair but he recovers and his feet calm down. There isn’t any wasted motion and he looks quite tranquil in his drop back. He spies Trey Burton with a step on safety Justin Evans and, without any wasted motion, sets his feet, takes a step, and fires a bomb to Burton and hits him in stride.
Yes, Evans fell down after getting beaten on the double move. It didn’t matter in the slightest. Burton had a step and even if Evans kept his footing, this is a touchdown thanks to the throw.
Here’s another example where Trubisky does the same thing. He goes through his progressions, finds Tarik Cohen open down the sideline, takes a step to his left – something he previously had much trouble doing – and throws a perfect ball to Cohen, dropping it right in the bread basket between two defenders to set up first and goal.
While this throw to Taylor Gabriel didn’t generate as much buzz as the last two due to its lack of big-play consequence, it was arguably his most impressive of the day from a technique standpoint.
The Bears are running a “Quick” concept here, in which the play-side tackle tries to cut (a blocking technique in which the lineman tries to take out the defender’s lower body and prevent him from getting his hands up) the play-side defensive end.
To counter this, Trubisky sees his man open, sets his feet quickly (when a quick decision has to be made, Trubisky is susceptible to happy feet), takes a big step with his left foot to get some muster on the throw, and throws a necessarily high but still more than catchable ball to Gabriel on his back shoulder and the receiver catches it for an easy gain.
All this being said, Trubisky was not perfect on Sunday. He still had some instances where his footwork got away from him, like on this play, where he missed high to Gabriel. It’s subtle, but at the last moment, you can see a slight hop in Trubisky’s step. Because of this, he can’t put enough weight on his back foot to get lower body strength on the throw and he ends up sailing it over Gabriel’s head.
However, this game was nothing if not an example of Trubisky’s ability to overcome mistakes. On the very next play, he finds a wide-open Gabriel and sets his feet, delivering a strike and picking up a chunk play.
So what caused this improvement in his footwork? Much of it has to do with head coach Matt Nagy pulling back on some of the complexities of his new offense and letting Trubisky play and not think. Often, happy feet is the result of too much thought and a quarterback being uncomfortable in his reads or his pocket. Trubisky was noticeably more relaxed against the Buccaneers, and it showed in his footwork, his numbers, and most importantly, the final score.
James Daniels has to start
I’m a big fan of Eric Kush. He’s an excellent teammate and a very good backup offensive lineman. But he should not be starting over the second-rounder out of Iowa, James Daniels.
Daniels made his regular season debut in limited action and the difference between the two linemen was clear. I saw two plays that really jumped out to me as examples of Daniel’s prowess and potential.
I saw this in the preseason. There was a play at the goal line against Cincinnati where Daniels showed this exact trait that he showed on this play against Tampa Bay. It displays resilience and strength that Daniels has in spades.
He didn’t get a great jump on this Tarik Cohen run, but he gets the pancake anyway. Daniels fixes his positioning, has his hands on the inside of his opponent’s chest, put his helmet lower than his man’s, and most importantly, chops his feet harder and faster than the defender did. You can see a stalemate at first and then Daniels slowly but surely starts to win the battle, pushing his man back until he drives him into the ground.
The other aspect that has impressed me about Daniels is his ability to sustain blocks without holding. Like the pancake, his hand placement is perfect on this inside (at first) run to Tarik Cohen on which Daniels pulls. A key factor in offensive line success: if your hands are inside the defender’s chest instead of outside his shoulder pads, holding will not be called. Ever. If no part of the shoulder pad, armpit, or exterior jersey is grabbed, it will not be a penalty.
Daniels knows this better than the vast majority of linemen in the league. Initially, his left hand is on the outside but he fixes it quickly. He eventually positions his hands very well and holds his block long enough for Cohen to bounce the play to the outside and pick up a huge gain.
The defender helped him out by peeking to the inside but this is still a significant development in his blocking abilities. Even though his man lost contain, he didn’t lose him to his left and risk him blowing up the play in the backfield.
With Cohen’s speed and athleticism, a couple seconds is all he needs. Daniels gave it to him and he took full advantage.
-Tight end blocking update: I ran a segment here in the preseason about Adam Shaheen‘s blocking, and I’ll be sure to check in on that when he comes back from an ankle injury in midseason. But what about Trey Burton’s prowess in the run game?
With him, I saw a blocker with a good amount of brains but very little brawn. Long story short, his positioning is excellent but his sustainability is subpar. He’s good at cutting players chasing to the outside and walling off defenders on TE pulls like on Trubisky’s big first quarter run yesterday.
-It goes without saying that this was a stellar performance for the offensive line in pass protection and the film confirmed it. Charles Leno has developed into a fantastic football player and he and the rest of the line gave Trubisky all kinds of time to do what was shown above.
-The other much-improved part of Trubisky’s play was his confidence. I’d explain it further but someone else did a much better job than I can do: … me, but on twitter.
Can’t get enough of this play. Trubisky has Howard on the checkdown for an easy completion and maybe 6. If Robinson doesn’t have a half step on the corner, he should hit Howard but he shows complete confidence in his arm to hit Robinson, which of course he does. #DaBears pic.twitter.com/yBNr6Y253l
— Jack Soble (@JS_92_) October 2, 2018
-This. Is. What. Happens. When. You. Use. Your. Speed. For the first time this season, Matt Nagy used Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel to their full abilities and look what happened. The glorious thing about having not one but both of them is that when you game plan for one of them, you can’t account for the other.
No team has the personnel to shut down two guys on the same team who are as fast and as shifty as they are (Gabriel is faster but Cohen is more shifty) and that can lead to major problems for defenses as we saw in Week Four.
-My favorite play that Nagy has run all season wasn’t the Willy Wonka two-QB magic trick at the goal line but it did happen against the Buccaneers.
On the first play of Chicago’s third drive, the Bears lined up in a bunch to the right of Trubisky. The quarterback tossed the ball supposedly to Cohen but it was intercepted by Gabriel and he went the other way with it. That’s the kind of creativity I was looking for when the Bears hired Nagy. Now if only he can run those tight end screens as he ran in Kansas City successfully…
Low point: Soldier Field’s All-22 Camera Angle
I honestly could not find anything egregiously bad technique-wise or elsewhere to put in this spot this week. Trubisky missed a throw or two with poor mechanics but that was covered in the initial breakdown. So instead I’ll use this time to focus on and complain about the camera operator for Soldier Field’s “All-22” camera angle, which is one of the two that teams and NFL Game Pass uses for their film.
Teams, that is, except for the Bears when they play at home. Seriously, what is happening here?
This is from Trey Burton’s touchdown pass in the third quarter. About a third of the screen is field. The other two-thirds are the crowd and the Bears’ bench, for some reason.
Here’s another one, on an incompletion that isn’t even very far downfield this time (and another example of where Trubisky can improve).
There is no point in zooming out as drastically as this camera person does all the time. And from what I can gather, I’m not alone in airing my grievances on this and it’s been like that for as long as the NFL has been releasing All-22 film. This angle is virtually unusable for anything except for how the crowd reacted to big plays – which, I will say, is pretty cool.
Not very helpful, but pretty cool.
High point: Kevin White needs some syrup with that
It’s about time Kevin White did something spectacular.
White has been the best blocker on the outside for the Bears through four weeks but on Sunday he took that to an entirely different level with this destruction of safety Justin Evans near the tail end of a Tarik Cohen screen pass.
I wish there was some sort of subtle maneuver in positioning or hand placement or blocking technique I could point to and analyze but this is just a good old fashioned “I’m bigger than you, I’m stronger than you, and I’m going to put you on the ground” moment.
That’s all for this week. Be sure to read more of The Loop Sports’ Bears content as the team chases a playoff spot.
Follow Jack on Twitter–Featured Photo Credit: AP