A fair standard: While on pace for Bears records, it’s still okay to expect better from Mitch Trubisky
By Robert Zeglinski
Halfway through last Sunday’s win over the Jets, Bears head coach Matt Nagy closely embraced his young prodigy Mitchell Trubisky on the sideline. Like a quality father figure knowing when to push the right buttons and when to step in, Nagy brought Trubisky in close for a message he knew the 24-year-old needed to hear. It was time for tough, but gentle love.
It was Nagy’s time to shine as a mentor, leader, and galvanizing figure for a franchise learning how to launch.
“I’m gonna challenge you right now, these two quarters, for greatness,” said the 40-year-old coach to Trubisky.
After a struggle of a first half against an inferior New York squad where Trubisky went 2-of-9 in the second quarter, the passer needed all the encouragement he could get. This is a green quarterback still learning how to succeed as a professional. It can be easy to get lost in your own head. To take every failure to heart in response. A quarterback easing his way in and learning the ropes is as vulnerable mentally as it gets in football. Patience is key in this Bears developmental process, as is a slight push of higher expectations.
At the moment, Trubisky is on pace to break every single-season Bears’ passing mark ever. As long he finishes 2018 healthy, Trubisky’s projected line of 4,150 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions to go with 675 yards on the ground and five scores will be the best season by a Chicago quarterback ever. Full stop. 2018 will go down as the best a Bears quarterback has ever played. It only took several decades to join the 21st century.
Beating Bears quarterbacks isn’t a high bar to clear considering that Sid Luckman, a quarterback most prominently featured in the 1940s, is hilariously mentioned any time Trubisky does something good. But it’s a notable accomplishment nonetheless.
It matters that Trubisky is producing numbers at such a progressive level. It matters that he is indeed taking steps forward every week and getting control of the Bears as a team. It matters that he is keeping the 4-3 Bears in every game with his playmaking ability. There is demonstrative weight to what is slowly unfolding at Halas Hall and it should be appreciated fully. It’s everything you want out of a face of the franchise. Many current NFL teams would be envious of the Bears’ position.
That does not mean that one can’t be disappointed with Trubisky leaving plays on the field, or making seemingly the same mistakes every Sunday. Every quarterback leaves plays on the field and misses throws.
The Patriots Tom Brady, Packers Aaron Rodgers, and Saints Drew Brees? They all have plays they’d like back every week. For as dazzling of consistent fireworks the collective gold standard of the NFL pieces together, even they have their occasional duds that don’t light properly. Interceptions that flutter out of ill-advised throws. Sacks from holding the ball too long. Wilting against a defense that has them figured out. To act like Trubisky is unique in this regard would be disingenuous. This isn’t aspect of his play that will change as he becomes a seasoned veteran, it’ll just be minimized in it’s output.
That doesn’t change the fact that it shouldn’t be okay for the Bears’ future to continually be making the same mistakes halfway through a season. Seven games into a new offense with new weapons isn’t an excuse. Previous inexperience at this stage doesn’t factor in. Especially when those mistakes are compounded on top of each other. Teams have keyed in on Trubisky’s issues against the blitz week in and week out to this point, and he is still struggling with inaccuracy against that extra pressure. He is still leaning away from his throws. His deep ball is still on and off in the face of defenders. In the words of pop singer Katy Petty, he’s hot, and then he’s cold.
As productive as Trubisky’s been and as good as this season will look in Bears record books, his inconsistencies are the main reason why the Bears offense has had such slow starts the entire year before often picking themselves back up in second halves. They’re why a Bears team that expects to win now is seeing more competitive, close calls than they’d expect. They’re what will ultimately hold back the potential of a team that is capable of so much more than being a game above .500.
New offense or not, it’s okay to expect Trubisky to get off to faster starts and pick it up against pressure while also appreciating his flashes, such as dime throws to Anthony Miller. Or, when he continually picks up first downs on third-and-long. The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. There is nuance in taking the young quarterback’s successes in, while also lamenting where he is failing and needs to pick it up.
If you measure Trubisky against previous Bears quarterbacks, you’re always going to feel that much better about his play. Chicago’s franchise milestones that Trubisky will eclipse at the position aren’t that lofty with history in consideration. If you measure him to the standard of quarterback much of the rest of the NFL has become accustomed to, that’s when you see the blemishes and should like to see more. The latter sounds like a glass empty proposition, but that’s how a proper evaluation should work.
That’s because the numbers Trubisky has produced are closer to average in a modern pass-happy league, than they are of an MVP they were a decade ago. Everyone is thriving statistically in 2018. It has never been easier to play sports’ most difficult position. The game has evolved, as must the Bears.
Honesty in this sense, while taking note of how Trubisky picks it up tremendously when the game gets tight, is how the Bears will finally have a legitimate quarterback to build around. It’s a delicate balance that must be broached upon by Nagy and company to keep Trubisky humming along, and to get rid of his occasional issues with composure. It’s how the Bears will morph into a consistent contender and juggernaut that the NFL won’t have an answer for.
When Trubisky’s blemishes are far and few between, like with every great NFL quarterback, that’s when the standard will become something the entire league, not just a quarterback-starved city, can take notice of and be proud of.
Robert is a writer, editor, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.