clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mitchell Trubisky: Chicago Bears quarterback the young QB blueprint?

What can the Giants learn from the Bears’ handling of Trubisky?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a copycat league. From the designs on the field to the roster construction in the offseason, if something works for one team, another organization is going to try and replicate that success. A growing trend in the league is pairing a young offensive-minded head coach with a young quarterback to try and speed up their development. Think Sean McVay and Jared Goff. With the benefits a team can get in terms of roster construction by playing a quarterback on his rookie deal, it is incumbent upon these teams to maximize the young quarterback’s effectiveness in this window.

When the New York Giants square off against the Chicago Bears on Sunday they’ll be facing another team following the McVay-Goff model. This offseason the Bears hired Matt Nagy away from the Kansas City Chiefs to pair him with their young quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky. With a cost-controlled rookie QB in place, the Bears were able to swing deals for players like Khalil Mack to bolster their defense, but to be truly successful they’ll need to squeeze as much as they can out of Trubisky during this window, which is where Nagy comes in. To date, the results have been impressive. The second-year QB is much improved from a year ago, and while there are still mistakes and areas that need to be developed, the results are a big reason for Chicago’s success this season. How Nagy has handled Trubisky this season provides a nice little blueprint for other teams that might, possibly, be developing a rookie quarterback in the next season or so.

Speeding up the process

An issue all young quarterbacks face when adjusting to life in the NFL is handling the speed of the professional game. For a quarterback like Trubisky, who had just 12 collegiate starts under his belt when entering the league, it was even more important to work on the mental side of the position. In his action last season, Trubisky’s processing speed was an area that definitely needed improvement. Far too often as a rookie he would lock onto his primary read and fail to move off that receiver, leading to interceptions and broken up passes. That also led to some missed opportunities with open receivers in other areas of the field.

To help Trubisky in this area, Nagy has utilized some mirrored passing concepts this season, most notably the curl/flat design. Termed the Hank Concepts, a mirrored curl/flat gives the quarterback some easily defined reads to both sides of the field, while still stretching a defense from sideline to sideline. Here is what this design looks like on paper:

In most systems the quarterback reads the “sit” route in the middle of the field first, and if the linebackers part underneath, the QB takes an easy throw over the football. Then he reads from the curl to the flat on one side of the field, or the other. Which side of the field he reads can be determined by coverage, or by “best look.” For example, if the quarterback sees a Cover 3 look he might try to work this toward the weak side of the formation, away from the safety rotation and perhaps against a weak side linebacker in space. If all things are “equal,” say with a Cover 2 or a Cover 4 coverage in the secondary, the quarterback might take his “best look,” throwing to either the short side of the field, or against a particular matchup the offense wants to exploit.

Here’s what that play looks like in action:

Here the Arizona Cardinals run a soft Cover 2 using man coverage underneath. Trubisky (10) takes the shotgun snap and checks the safeties in the middle of the field, confirming the coverage. Then, he flashes his eyes to the trips side of the formation, to work the curl/flat combination. Once he sees the linebacker vacate to the flat it clears a throwing lane to hit Taylor Gabriel (18) on his curl route, and Trubisky makes a good throw, on time and in rhythm. The quarterback we see on this play looks nothing like the quarterback we watched last season.

Because of how often the Bears use this play, out of a number of different formations, alignments and personnel packages, it should be no surprise that Chicago turns to this in pivotal moments. In the fourth quarter of their Week 11 game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears faced two different third down situations. Early in the fourth quarter the visitors have clawed back into the contest, and Chicago has just an eight-point lead after leading by 14 at the half.

With 10:20 left in the game the Bears face a third-and-8 on their own 37-yard line, and giving the ball back to Minnesota would not be the kind of momentum swing the fans at Soldier Field would like to see.

Chicago aligns with Trubisky in the shotgun, and they turn to a mirrored curl/flat design:

The Vikings show pressure and indeed they do blitz on this play, playing man free coverage in the secondary behind the blitz. Because of the pressure Jordan Howard (24), who would be tasked with running the sit route over the middle, is kept in to block. That gives Trubisky just the curl/flat to each side of the field. But he looks left to Gabriel, confirms the man coverage, and throws a strike:

If there is a critique here, Trubisky is a bit slow getting the ball out of his hands. He could anticipate this throw a bit better and get it out as Gabriel is getting into his break, which would give his receiver a chance to pick up yardage after the catch. He did not anticipate the route to perfection on this play.

But he did on Chicago’s final drive of the game, again on a third down, and again on a mirrored curl/flat design:

The Bears have a 22-14 lead with under four minutes remaining, but face a critical 3rd and 8 in their own territory. They run the mirrored curl/flat yet again, and this time the Vikings drop into a Tampa 2 coverage, with safety Harrison Smith (22) dropping deep off the line of scrimmage before the snap. Trubisky sees the safety rotation and anticipates this throw perfectly to Allen Robinson on the curl route, getting the ball out well before his break and giving him a chance to pick up a few more yards after the catch. This huge third-down conversion was pivotal to Chicago’s win, as they would cap off this drive for a field goal to extend their lead.

By using mirrored passing concepts, Nagy is finding ways to speed up the processing of his young quarterback, while getting him on familiar footing for pivotal moments. Given his familiarity with this concept, Trubisky is confident when this play is called, and it shows with the execution down the stretch against the Vikings.

Building confidence

Speaking of building confidence, another thing that Nagy has done with his young quarterback is geared specifically toward building confidence in his young QB. Trubisky’s season has been uneven at times, and he has struggled with ball-placement and missed some chances in the downfield passing game. Now, some coaches might handcuff their QB in those moments, taking those plays out of the playbook. Nagy has done the exact opposite, returning to those designs either in later games, or sometimes later in the same game, to give his quarterback another chance to execute at a higher level.

Take, for example, Chicago’s game against the Miami Dolphins from Week 6. On the Bears’ opening possession of the game, they face a third-and-8 in their own territory. They line up with Trubisky in the shotgun and implement a vertical passing design, with matching vertical routes on each side of the field, with a post route in the middle of the field from Anthony Miller (17):

There seems to be some miscommunication in the secondary on this play, as most of the defense looks to run a Tampa 2 coverage, but the safety to the weak side of the field drops down into a Robber alignment:

That leaves Miller wide open and uncovered, running free in the secondary. Chicago has a chance for a huge play on their first possession of the game, but the young QB just flat misses the throw:

Now, the way to ruin the confidence of a young quarterback is to ride him for a mistake like this, and to rip this page out of the playbook. That’s one method of developing a QB. Another method is the path Nagy has taken this season, which is to come back to the same play later to show Trubisky that he still believes in him, and that he’s the guy he trusts for the Bears’ offense.

In the fourth quarter of this game, the Bears face another third down, this time a third-and-9 in Miami territory. Under four minutes are remaining in the game and the score is tied at 21. Now, Nagy could run the ball here, play it safe, and trust that a field goal and his defense will get the job done on the road. He could do that.

Or, he could return to the same play that Trubisky missed on earlier.

He chooses the latter path:

This time the Dolphins are in a single-high coverage, but Miller is again running free. This time ... Trubisky does not miss:

Building confidence in your young quarterback is perhaps the most pivotal thing a head coach or offensive coordinator can do. As we have seen, from using mirrored route concept to revisiting plays, Nagy’s plan of attack this season is geared toward boosting the confidence level of Trubisky.

Using his trump card

Finally, a few quick words on quarterback trump cards. If you try and think about the great ones, the all seem to have a trait or two - perhaps even more - that they can turn to at moments to raise their level of play. Think Aaron Rodgers and his arm, or Tom Brady and his accuracy, or Peyton Manning’s mental approach to the game.

As he is developing, the trump card for Trubisky seems to be his athleticism. There are times when he will turn to his legs and pull the ball down, and that has led to some splash plays for the Bears’ offense, such as this long touchdown scramble against the New England Patriots:

Given his athleticism, Nagy has often called upon Trubisky as a ball-carrier, either early in game or early in drives, to get his QB into the flow of the contest and keep defenses honest. Just one example is this play from Chicago’s opening drive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Facing a second-and-10, Nagy calls an inside zone read play but uses an Arc block in front of Trubisky. Should the QB decide to pull the football, he’ll have Trey Burton in front of him blocking for him:

That’s exactly what happens:

Trubisky keeps the football around the right edge and Burton leads the way, and the QB picks up an easy 23 yards on Chicago’s opening drive. One they would cap off with a Trubisky touchdown pass to Burton on the very next play.

Given that this is a copycat league, and that teams are going to try and replicate the success young coaches have with young quarterbacks, some of what Nagy has done this season will be utilized by other teams developing their own rookie QBs. By using mirrored passing designs Nagy is improving Trubisky’s processing speed and building confidence in his QB. When Nagy returns to a play that Trubisky missed on earlier, he is demonstrating to his young quarterback that he still believes in him. Finally, by using his athleticism, Trubisky’s trump card, Nagy is getting his QB into the flow of games and finding yet another way to stress a defense. The Nagy blueprint might be another one to follow for teams that maybe, just maybe, will be developing a rookie of their own in the not-too-distant future.