The Chicago Bears officially handed the keys to the offense to Mitchell Trubisky on Monday, when coach John Fox named the rookie as the team’s starting quarterback. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft replaces veteran Mike Glennon, who went 1-3 in four starts to open the season. Glennon was 93 of 140 passing (66.4 percent) for 833 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in that span.
Trubisky was spectacular during the preseason, completing 36 of 53 passes for 364 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He added some sizzle to the offense with his athleticism, playmaking ability and arm talent. Although he entered the NFL with only 13 collegiate starts under his belt, he appears to be a clear upgrade over Glennon and gives the Bears a chance to get back on track.
Here are the three things Trubisky will need to have success:
1) A strong commitment to the running game.
The Bears have a dynamic 1-2 punch at running back, with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen anchoring the league’s 12th-ranked ground game (117.5 rushing yards per game). Although those numbers aren’t necessarily impressive on the surface, the Bears have averaged 4.6 yards per carry (seventh best) and shown flashes of dominance on the ground. Howard finished second in the league in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016 (with 1,313) and has a 100-yard game on his resume this season. He has shown the ability to grind it out between the tackles while popping a big one on occasion when he gets a clear runway to the second level.
Cohen is an electric hybrid player capable of delivering splash plays as a runner or receiver on the perimeter. The rookie’s slippery running style makes him nearly impossible to contain on edge runs. He’s also rugged enough to pick up the tough yards between the tackles. With Cohen flashing home-run potential as a gadget player from the slot, the Bears can use a variety of misdirection plays (jet sweeps and reverses) to create headaches for the defense.
Remember, Trubisky was a highly recruited dual-threat quarterback (ranked seventh as a dual-threat quarterback in 2013) and is capable of executing zone-read plays on the perimeter. He is also an effective playmaker on designed quarterback runs, including sweeps and draws. Given the challenge of defending an offense with a mobile quarterback, the Bears suddenly have a potent multifaceted running game.
2) A ton of quick-rhythm throws and play-action concepts.
To maximize Trubisky’s dynamic game, the Bears must put him in his comfort zone as a playmaker by using simplistic concepts that are pulled straight from his college playbook. At North Carolina, Trubisky completed nearly 68 percent of his pass attempts as the director of a spread offense that featured a number of screens, quick passes (sticks, hitches and slants) and rhythm throws (speed outs, curls and digs) at short to intermediate range. The quick-rhythm nature of the passing game allowed him to “catch, rock and fire” without hesitation, which led to efficient and effective play from the young field general. Not only did Trubisky repeatedly carve up defenses with his pinpoint accuracy on these throws, but he kept the offense on schedule with his remarkable ability to string together completions. If the Bears want the offense to gobble up first downs while retaining possession of the ball, they would be wise to feature an assortment of high-percentage quick passes on early downs. If Trubisky can consistently knock down the layups, the Bears will avoid the long-yardage situations that lead to exotic blitzes and complex coverage from wily defensive coordinators.
The Bears should also consider using the “stretch-bootleg” play-action passing game to get Trubisky easy completions on the perimeter. The complementary play-action passing game will take advantage of opponents loading up against Chicago’s rushing attack while giving the young quarterback a few simplistic “levels” reads with a potential receiver available in the flat, or on an intermediate route running across the field (crossing route) or positioned on the sideline (deep comeback). With a few half-field reads or easy 1-2-3 progressions, the Bears can make life easier for Trubisky during his first few starts.
3) A clean pocket.
The Bears‘ O-line has rarely been discussed as one of the best units in football, but the quintet has been fairly solid in protection for most of the season. The Bears have only surrendered eight sacks, tied for 11th best, and their ability to keep defenders out of the quarterback’s face helped Glennon complete over 66 percent of his passes. With that in mind, the Bears‘ offensive line needs to continue to play at a high level with the rookie quarterback taking over as the team’s QB1. Young passers can quickly unravel when hit repeatedly by defenders in the pocket, so it is imperative for the Bears to win their one-on-one battles at the point of attack on passing downs. In addition, it will be important for the center (Cody Whitehair) to be able to identify potential blitzers at the second level, to help the quarterback correctly set the pass protection against five- and six-man rushes. While the Bears could consider putting all of the pass protection identification responsibilities on the center instead of the quarterback, the communication and execution between the quarterback and front line are critical to his success as a franchise player.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.