“Okay, that’s exactly the way Carson was a year ago.”
Bears fans were likely stoked to hear Doug Pederson drop this soundbite when asked about Mitchell Trubisky earlier this week. Carson Wentz, as you may or may not know, is a very good quarterback—and according to Doug, Trubisky is on a similar path.
The full quote reads:
“We knew last year with Carson as a rookie that there were going to be growing pains and we were going to take some lumps. And also, listen, we just weren't very good as a football team last year, too, and didn't have the surrounding pieces around Carson. You kind of see in Mitch, you see the arm talent, you see the athleticism, the strength. You see good decisions, the accuracy. You see things that flash on tape that you go, 'OK, that's exactly the way Carson was a year ago.’”
I decided this week, for the enemy film review, to go in-depth on Mitchell Trubisky and see what his first NFL season looks like, and to what extent is he Wentz-y. I have to say, (spoiler alert), Doug was pretty on point. From the lump-taking, the flashes of special ability, and even the implicit shot at Chicago’s supporting cast, there are some solid parallels to be drawn between Carson and Mitchell’s first year.
Let’s get into the tape.
We’ll start with the good stuff. Look no further than Mitchell’s first NFL throw, and you can already see some of the goods that got him drafted 2nd overall (just like Carson).
That’s an NFL throw, right from the jump. The mechanics on the throw aren’t super clean—we’ll get there—but the ball comes off of his hand with extra mustard. Zing!
You’ll also notice how nicely this ball is placed: in “receiver only” territory. Trubisky has had his share of rookie interceptions and boneheaded errors this year, but he has shown excellent ball placement relative to coverage since his first start. That’s very exciting to see.
Because he has such a live arm, Trubisky is one of the best off-platform throwers that has come out in recent classes. Patrick Mahomes, a contemporary of Trubisky’s, has otherworldly arm strength from adjusted platforms, so it was easy to overlook Trubisky’s ability in this regard. It’s special as well.
That throw’s about 45 yards in the air, and it’s an absolute beauty. This play also serves as a nice example of the talent level with which Trubisky is working: Tre McBride has played some decent football for the Bears, but his OPI + drop combo here is a one-two punch of which Dorial Green-Beckham would be envious.
From here, we can nicely transition into another Wentz-ian strength of Trubisky’s.
Trubs can move, folks. In the opening game against the Vikings, on which we have focused our study so far, OC Dowell Loggains wisely got Trubisky out of the pocket on designed sprintouts and play action bootlegs. With these concepts, Loggains capitalized not only on Trubisky’s ability to throw a good ball on the move, but also cut the field in half, simplifying the reads for his inexperienced QB.
That’s a 3-man route concept, with a Hi-Lo read initially and a backside crosser in the intermediate level coming across late, all breaking to the same boundary. The pre-snap motion to the back side shifts the coverage shell enough that the corner (Trae Waynes) doesn’t maximize his single-high safety help, and Tre McBride runs a filthy route to separate. Trubisky puts a great ball on him for the first on 3rd and 10.
We should take a moment to note, as it will become of import later, that Trubisky is a bit late on this throw. He should have be able to watch both the out and deep corner routes at the same time. As such, when he sees Trae Waynes close hard on McBride’s route, Trubisky should know that McBride will break open, and he should begin to release the football. Fortunately for him, he has the arm strength to get the ball to McBride late, but still in bounds—that’s another Wentz-like talent—but we’ll keep an eye on Trubisky’s anticipation moving forward.
As we Philly fans know, play-extending mobility oft turns into heart-racing scrambling. In almost every single game in which he’s played, Trubisky has at least one awesome run.
Alright rook! 3rd and 13, and he gets on the horse and goes diving for the sticks. Love it.
For a young quarterback, I think Trubisky shows solid discernment when it comes to running the football. He knows how/when to slide, which is always good. He will occasionally break a pocket early, when simply climbing or shifting would have bought him the time he needed—however, Trubisky is probably a more accurate QB on the hoof than he is in the pocket, so you can’t fault him too much for going where he’s comfortable.
Trubisky will be, in my opinion, a little too quick to pull his eyes down and tuck the ball at times. Let’s start on that topic when transitioning into aspects of his game that have improved over his short tenure as a starter.
Full Field Vision and Progressions
A perfect example: As you can see, TE Zach Miller gets caught in some ugly traffic when working back to the play side, and is consequently a little late getting into the progression. Trubisky, feeling the heat of the pursuing defender, recognizes that his deep routes aren’t going to open up, pulls his eyes, tucks the football, and maximizes the play into a positive game. Tough to fault him for that.
But look at all of that green in front of Miller! There were a lot of yards lost on this play, even though it picked up three. Through experience, Trubisky will learn that when there’s that much open space on the field, there’s likely a receiver trying to get into that space—especially on a concept such as this. Rollouts are regularly tagged with a late crosser from the backside, to capitalize on this very point. Young QBs, often caught up in the flow, forgo that final option in their progression.
But as we said, this is an area in which we’ve seen improvement from young Mitchell. From the Saints game:
Is that ball well-placed? Not really. Is Trubisky late (again) getting to that read? I’d say so. Is it a great sign that he worked back to it? You betchya.
But there’s more to full field vision than post-snap progressions: Trubisky’s been up-and-down in his pre-snap diagnosis of coverages as well. Here against the Saints, Trubisky gets a 2-deep look that shifts at the snap to Cover 3. That’s tough on any rookie QB to recognize, but Trubisky struggles mightily on this rep.
He’s locked into the left half of the field, wherein he has a deep comeback from the boundary receiver, a little curl route from the RB, and a deep over coming across the field from the slot receiver (TE Zach Miller) on the strong side.
If Trubisky still thinks this is Cover 2, we’re in big trouble. That safety has rotated; it is clearly single-high. Maybe that deep over by Miller is an option route, with which he could have split the safeties on a seam route against Cover 2, so Trubisky made up his mind pre-snap that Miller was the target and has since failed to adjust post-rotation. That would make things a little better, but not much.
If Trubisky knows it’s Cover 3, I have no idea at what he’s staring. That left side of the field is going to be swallowed up by Cover 3, as the high safety will take Miller, the corner will ride the comeback from the WR, and the curl/flat defender will take the curl from the RB. If anything, Trubisky can hit the comeback—but if that’s the case, he should climb the pocket, set his feet, and deliver a strike. He doesn’t do that.
Meanwhile, on the right side, a perfect little rub concept that exposes the Cover 3 shell is wasted. The slot receiver forces the curl/flat defender to widen, and the boundary receiver sneaks right into that vacated zone.
Trubisky’s inability to quickly recognize a secondary rotation is one thing—and a concerning thing at that. His failure to move away from a covered area of the field to the later routes in his progression, however, is markedly more worrisome.
As such, he peels out of the pocket, missing both the boundary receiver on the slant and the slot receiver, who’s in a tight but open window on the sit route. No bueno.
But as the offense has opened more and more for Trubisky, he has improved in both his pre-snap recognition and post-snap swiftness. That’s a great sign for Bears’ fans, as the mental game is often the most difficult of hurdles for young quarterbacks to overcome. Trubisky is by no means there yet, but we’re well on our way.
Take this sequence, late against the Lions, in a game the Bears should have won last week: Trubisky has a clear Cover 3 shell from the snap, he gets good time in the pocket, and all of the Lions’ linebackers are playing forward. The middle of the field is OH-PEE-EEE-EN open.
But when that dig route from the isolated receiver (away from the trips) uncovers, Trubisky doesn’t pull the trigger. We know he has the arm to hit it. This goes back to the struggles with anticipation, but also begs the question—did Trubisky know this route was going to open up? Did he read the defense and understand the play design within the structure?
Very next play: 2nd and 18, DET 49: strong side dig from 3 x 1 formation v. Cover 3 (safeties rotate post-snap). Pickup of 17.
(Next drive) 1st and 10, CHI 31, :47 on the clock, down by 3, 3 timeouts: weak side dig from 3 x 1 formation v. Cover 3 (safeties rotate post-snap). Ball sails.
1st and 10, DET 43, :15 on the clock, down by 3, 1 timeout: weak side dig from 2 x 2 formation v. Cover 3 (safeties rotate with motion). Game-winning field goal attempt incoming.
This is likely some combination of good coaching on the sidelines, good play-calling during the final drive, and good quarterbacking. Fact is, Trubisky missed a wide-open read on one play, then came back to the well three times on two (if Connor Barth doesn’t miss a FG) game-tying drives in the 4th. Trubisky strikes me as the short-memory type—make a mistake, move on—and I’ve been impressed with his in-game growth in multiple contests. This sequence serves as a great example.
Let’s talk, however, about that throw that he sailed. Sorry folks, we’ve gotten to the “It’s not getting better yet; it’s just plain bad” segment of our breakdown.
Accuracy (i.e. throwing to the left) and Mechanics
Coming out of college, it was already known that Trubisky simply struggles to throw to his left. Don’t believe me? Go watch the first, oh, nine GIFs I posted and tell me which direction the play went.
The Bears know their quarterback: he’s much better throwing the ball right than he is left.
Unfortunately, defenses know the Bears’ QB too. On the Sunday following the rollout right, sprintout right bonanza that was Trubisky’s first start against Minnesota, the Baltimore defense decided they weren’t going to allow Trubisky such a long leash. Raven edge defenders stayed home against hard run looks to the left from under center, forcing the ball early and often out of Trubisky’s hand when he wanted to extend the play to the right.
As a result, Trubisky had to play the Baltimore game far more often in the pocket, and consequently had to attempt a pass or two to the left side of the field. And that didn’t go so well.
We see inconsistent footwork and mechanics whenever and wherever Trubisky throws (see that sailed ball above, which was to Trubisky’s right). Not unlike Carson, Trubisky’s feet will get stuck in the mud, and he’ll rely upon his arm to force footballs where he wants them to go. It’s easy to sneak away with that to your dominant hand’s side, as you don’t need to open up your shoulders and hips to throw that direction. It’s a different story for the non-dominant side.
It’s a common mechanical flaw in young quarterbacks—in all quarterbacks, really. When opening their hips to throw non-dominant, they end up “stepping in the bucket”—they begin with their hips too narrow and end with their hips too wide.
The ideal QB, mechanically, generates the power for his throw by transferring weight from his back foot to his front foot through the rotation of the hips. In such a movement, the rotational momentum generated by the hips—the torque—has to become linear momentum as it propels the movement of the ball. When you “step in the bucket,” you disrupt the line onto which that rotation momentum should be applied. You skew the line, slanting it, minimizing the power generated by your rotation, disrupting your throwing motion, and forcing your arm to do work it cannot do. And the ball sails.
In both the above GIFs, you can see how Trubisky’s weight seems behind his throwing motion, and how his follow-through is more circular than linear. This issue will rear it’s ugly head all over the field, but it’s especially gnarly to Trubisky’s left. For as long as it persists, Trubisky will limit his offense to two-thirds of the field, which will make defenses’ jobs all the easier.
Finally, Trubisky struggles with two most common rookie QB infirmities—at least, in my opinion, they’re the most common: anticipation and blitz recognition. Trubisky quarterbacked with decent anticipation in college, and still makes the occasional throw that demonstrates he has the capacity to throw WRs open.
Patient in the pocket, read the leverage, put it in a place where the WR can make a play: that’s A1 Trubisky right there.
However, Trubisky’s arm talent often allows him to mask his anticipatory issues—at least, his ability to attack tight windows allows him to throw with less anticipation (as we said, that’s quite the Wentz-ish trait).
On this 3rd and 10, Trubisky throws a great ball and picks up a key first down—but we scout (and trust) the process, not the result. This ball comes out late—you can see Trubisky hesitate, as he waits to see his receiver break before releasing—and the mechanics are pretty crummy, as he throws to his left.
Great ball. Bad process.
Finally, Trubisky has been downright abysmal recognizing blitz looks and deciding how to account for them. On this rep against the Lions, the box safety is suspiciously close to the line of scrimmage and lined up directly behind the nickel cornerback. You should be able to sniff out a potential rush here.
But even if you don’t, Trubs stares directly into the blitzer for a solid 2 seconds before bailing to—get this—the dig route v. Cover 3 and throwing up a prayer. This should have sealed the game.
Trubisky has little to no freedom at the line to move protection, from what I can tell. That ability will come with time for the young player, who came into training camp, preseason, and the regular season as the presumed “backup,” and only had one year of college starting experience to boot.
As I said, it’s a pretty solid comparison. In their respective rookie seasons, both players made the splash plays necessary to sell the fanbase, locker room, and coaching staff on their potential as a franchise piece. I think Trubisky places the football better than rookie Wentz ever did (as evidenced by only 2 INTs), and will likely be a more efficient passer if he pans out. Rookie Carson, however, saw the field better and processed quicker than Trubisky has so far in his debut year—at least pre-snap. Post-snap, the difference is a lot smaller. Carson is a stronger and more elusive athlete as well, I would wager.
Beyond that, the similarities between big-armed, mobile, playmaking QBs who struggle with consistent accuracy stand out. Like Wentz, Trubisky’s future will be tied to his mechanics. If he can’t clean up his footwork when working through his progressions or throwing to his left, he’ll forever be a limited talent. Wentz made shocking strides in this area after focused offseason work—I wonder if Trubisky will take a similar path.
All in all, I agree with Doug’s eval. Chicago fans, y’all should be pretty pumped: if you can get some better pass-catchers in the building and keep that offensive line healthy, there’s no reason to believe Trubisky can’t make the Bears competitive in the powerful NFC North in 2018.