Bears film breakdown: Why two outstanding throws by Mitch Trubisky are ‘vitally important’ to his development
Mitch Trubisky’s final stat line against the Buffalo Bills didn’t, on the surface, look as if he made much progress. Taken in a vacuum, 12 completions on 20 attempts for 135 yards with one touchdown and one interception isn’t all together impressive.
But there were three throws Trubisky made against the Bills that represent the kind of progress the Bears hope to see from their second-year quarterback. This week’s film review takes a deeper dive into two of them — a third-and-10 completion to Anthony Miller on the Bears’ first drive, and a third-and-15 pass to Trey Burton.
(Dan Orlovsky broke down the other one — a third-and-7 strike to Taylor Gabriel — here)
We’ll start with the Miller completion, which also showcased the progress Miller has made this year.
The Bills show blitz, but only rush four, dropping seven players into zone coverage. Miller recognizes the coverage and adjusts his route to get to the soft spot beyond the first-down marker.
Meanwhile, left tackle Charles Leno is able to route pass rusher Jerry Hughes upfield, giving Trubisky a lane to move up and to his left. Trubisky takes it, but keeps his eyes downfield. There isn’t room for him to take off and run, with three Bills defenders surrounding one blocker (Josh Bellamy) on the far side of the field. Instead, Trubisky picks out Miller and fires a strike to him.
The throw is on the money, and Miller goes up and makes a strong catch for a first down.
“(Trubisky) just stayed within the progression of the play,” coach Matt Nagy said. “They gave us a particular coverage and he kind of slid in the pocket, stepped up and Anthony shut down his route a little bit and Mitch made a great throw. Anthony made a strong catch with his hands and got hit from behind. But that was a good play. They stayed within the progression there.”
“Those certain plays to take out of it for the next how many games we play are vitally important,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “As his position coach, I can’t emphasize that enough to where we want him to be and where he wants to be as a quarterback — pulling those plays out, showing him over and over, and then showing the guys around him, receivers staying with him in those plays is just as important to understand that when he leaves or when he’s moving the pocket, the play might extend and then stay with your quarterback because there’s a chance to make plays.”
Part of the success of the play, possibly, was due to Trubisky’s proven scrambling ability and the Bills having to respect that. To some extent, that helped the window Miller found develop, and allowed Trubisky to make the throw into it.
“You have to (respect it) now,” Nagy said. “He’s shown that. I think he’s the second leading rusher by quarterback in the league behind Cam Newton right now. These aren’t design plays. These are just an added weapon for him within a pass game.”
As for Miller, wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said that catch was a sign of how well he’s developed over the first half of the season.
“He knew he had to go high because it was zone, he couldn’t flatten it off because everything that was underneath him,” Furrey said. “So again, that’s kind of the things you’re starting to see that he’s progressing at. So we all gotta remember, and so do I sometimes when I’m out there being critical of him, is he’s only been in this offense for six months or whatnot, and it’s the first time he’s doing all this stuff and the first time he’s learning defenses and the first time he’s learning how to do things. It’s been very impressive but we got a long way to go, and the cool thing is he’s really hungry about that and wanting to get better.”
The second throw we’ll look was deemed Trubisky’s best of the day by Nagy. Facing a third-and-15 after being gifted good field position, Trubisky threw a strike to Burton that teed up Jordan Howard’s one-yard touchdown plunge.
The Bills disguised their coverage, showing two-safety shell before switching to a single-high safety at the snap (red circle and arrow):
Going to the single high safety took Taylor Gabriel, who’s split out wide to the near side, out of the play. But Burton recognized it at the snap and quickly identified where the soft spot beyond the first-down marker would be.
Meanwhile, Trubisky is pressured from his right, but holds firm in a collapsing pocket, knowing he has an opportunity to make a throw to pick up the first down. As soon as Burton clears the two dropping defenders (yellow arrows), Trubisky lets fly the pass.
Trubisky perfectly leads Burton from then near hash to the numbers well beyond the line-to-gain. Burton makes the catch for a 26-yard gain.
“He had some guys in his face,” Nagy said. “That was an all-arm throw. He just completely used his arm and wrist and made a hell of an accurate throw. With guys in his face, and it was beautiful accuracy. That’s what he can do. And as we grow in this offense he’ll make more and more of those throws.”
As for Burton, his ability to recognize and beat zone coverage showed up in a big way, something tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said is a strength of his.
“Especially in zone coverages, his recognition of where the soft spots in the zone are (stands out),” Gilbride said. “And I think a little bit of that has to do with he’s very bright in general, but he also used to play quarterback so he’s used to the recognition, knows where the soft spots are in the zones and he understands how to take advantage of that.”
The final thought here: Any good throw and play Trubisky makes is, as Ragone said, vitally important to his development. And it’s not just about what Trubisky does on his own — he showed a strong trust in both Miller and Burton on these throws to be where he needed them to be, and then make the catch on difficult-but-accurate throws.
And that’s progress for Trubisky. It won’t always show up in the box score, but these are some of the reasons why coaches and teammates have, have had and will have such a strong belief in their quarterback.