It was the best of times and it was the worst of times in 2018 for the Bears’ young signal caller, Mitchell Trubisky.
He struggled mightily throughout the first three weeks, and even his most adament defenders would admit as much. That’s why it was such a relief to Bears fans that his coming-out party came so spectacularly against Tampa Bay, with six touchdowns and no picks. He then settled into an up-and-down season with extreme highs (offensive player of the week against Detroit, clinching the division against Green Bay) and lows (a dreadful performance against LA), leaving everybody to wonder just how good or bad Mitch Trubisky can be.
I took a look at three massive aspects of number 10’s year: what he did well all season, where he improved from Septeber to January, and where he still has to be better. There’s a lot to unpack in my review of Trubisky’s rollercoaster season.
What he did well all season
Show his talent
This is the only bullet point in this category because, again Trubisky stunk in the first three games. He constantly panicked under pressure and he tended to toss weak and/or innacurate passes that were picked or nearly picked.
Not to mention that his mechanics were beyond terrible. After Trubisky’s breakout game against Tampa Bay, I wrote about his problem with “happy feet” (and how he fixed it later on).
Trubisky did, however, give us at least one glimpse per game against the Packers, Seahawks, and Cardinals of his potential, like incredible play in Week Two.
📺: ESPN pic.twitter.com/jpB3T2dkBz
— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2018
Here’s the thing – that was awesome, but later on that drive, Trubisky did something similar (bailing from the pocket instead of stepping up) and almost cost the Bears three points.
These three games were solid gold for Trubisky critics because they were a negative scouting report that wrote itself. The main critique on him coming out of UNC was that yes, he has talent, but he’s extremely inexperienced and he won’t capitalize on his raw ability.
His supporters, meanwhile, rightfully pointed to these plays and noted that yes, he made his mistakes, but if you give him time, he’ll do stuff like the video shown above more often. And they were right.
Where he improved
Poise, comfortability, and reading defenses
The Loop Sports’ own Dan DeYoung wrote about Trubisky’s showing in the second Green Bay game (which you can read here). I bring this up because that was, in my humble opinion, Trubisky’s best game of the season. And I include the Bucs game and the Lions game in my assessment.
Mike Pettine, Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, decided to gameplan for that matchup exactly how he did in the first meeting. He threw dozens of different disguised blitzes at Trubisky, because he was confident in the opposing quarterback not being able to read them on his blind side. In the first game, Trubisky often chose to bail or make an ill-advised throw or take a bad sack.
This time, however, he sensed the incoming pressure, stepped up to avoid it, and made plays downfield. Two throws exemplify this best: one to Adam Shaheen against a corner blitz, and one to Taylor Gabriel with Clay Matthews breathing down his neck.
And of course, who could forget when, against the Patriots, Trubisky stayed calm 22 yards behind the line of scrimmage with multiple defenders chasing him and found his way into the end zone? Or when he fired a perfect throw with rushers in his face to his fourth read, Ben Braunecker, to pick up a first down against the Lions?
Regarding the defense-reading, my favorite example is against Minnesota’s blitz in Week 17. Trubisky recognizes that the slot corner is playing inside leverage with a blitz from that area incoming, and lofts a beauty to Kevin White of all people to pick up a third and long conversion.
This was an insane throw. 3rd down, pressure in his face. Delivers a 🎯 to White who makes a really good catch.
Trubisky has a tendency to be more accurate the more difficult the throw/pressure. Which is interesting. pic.twitter.com/tgNGWv2LLE
— Joe Tidei (@JoeyProspects) January 2, 2019
All these instances show that Trubisky is a much more poised, relaxed, and intelligent QB than he was in the early going.
Mechanics and Accuracy
See earlier remarks about “happy feet.” Trubisky was constantly working on these and still has a ways to go before he is perfect, but his mechanics got better and more consistent throughout the year. And as a result, so did his accuracy.
This area is where I think Trubisky compares most Philly’s Carson Wentz, who also struggled with mechanics as a rookie. Wentz was a much faster learner, but Trubisky is making similar long-term improvements.
Mitch Trubisky had two chances to lead a last-minute, game-winning drive this season. They came in Game One and Game 17. The difference was clear for a national TV audience to see. And before we were all reminded that god did not listen to Cody Parkey this season, he did this.
What a throw.
What a catch.
Here come the @chicagobears.
— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2019
If Trubisky becomes what Ryan Pace thinks he is, this throw to Allen Robinson will be what Bears fans point to as when they knew he would be great.
Where he still has to be better
Being stupid in the red zone
Trubisky needs to know when to give up on a play.
And at times, this shortcoming can be a positive. Patrick Mahomes, for example, will never say die. It can turn into fireworks, but if Trubisky isn’t careful, it can also become needless turnovers.
There were three separate times this season when Trubisky refused to chuck the ball out of bounds deep in opponent territory. Once against New England (when he forced a pass into double coverage to Bradley Sowell of all people) once against San Francisco, and finally in the playoffs.
Ironically, none of these boneheaded erros came back to haunt Trubisky. Two were dropped and the one you just watched was negated by defensive holding. Next year, though, he might not be so lucky. And it could cost his team dearly.
Nagy’s offense: Level Two
Part of the reason Trubisky made such a huge jump from Week Three to Week Four is head coach Matt Nagy’s decision to scale back his complex offensive scheme. This clearly paid dividends early, but in December and January, we saw why Nagy didn’t want to do that. Sure, it was preferable to John Fox’s dumpster fire, but it was one of two reasons (the other being Trubisky’s aforementioned struggles) that the Bears’ offense stunk in the Wild Card round.
Come September 2019, we should see Nagy open up the offense and allow for much more creativity, moving parts, and intricate route combinations.
If we don’t, it means that either Trubisky hasn’t taken the next step or Nagy isn’t the offensive mind that we thought he is. If we do, and Trubisky thrives, it could be the beginning of something special.
Follow Jack (@jacksobleTLS) on twitter