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19 Oct 2017

Film Room: Mitchell Trubisky

by Derrik Klassen

Special quarterbacks tend to look the part right out of the gate. Since 2011, the NFL has been blessed with the rookie campaigns of Cam Newton; the famed 2012 quarterback class of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson; Jameis Winston; Marcus Mariota; and Dak Prescott. All of them proved to be electric in their rookie seasons and have since solidified themselves as quality starters, at the very least.

Early playing time is not always pretty or even present for young quarterbacks, though. Many prominent starters around the league either played poorly as rookies or did not play at all. Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith had atrocious rookie years, but later became quality players. Sam Bradford is in the same boat. The 2016 duo of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz appear to be on the same path. Others, such as Kirk Cousins, hardly got to play as a rookies, but bloomed into capable quarterbacks down the line.

Mitchell Trubisky of the Chicago Bears appears to be in the latter category. He has impressive traits and his peak plays are exciting, but the start to his career has been anticlimactic. Rather than put Trubisky through trial by fire, the Bears have opted to ease Trubisky very slowly into the offense. It is likely the right approach with a quarterback who started just one full season in college, but it does highlight some of Trubisky's current limitations.

Through his first two starts, Trubisky has thrown just 41 passes. He threw 25 times in his debut versus the Minnesota Vikings and 16 times in an overtime game versus the Baltimore Ravens last week. For comparison, DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns threw 47 passes vs. the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3. The absence of passing attempts from Trubisky is not the most damning piece of the puzzle, though. More incriminating is that the offense has been simplified dramatically to accommodate for Trubisky.

Trubisky can not throw to his left. In watching his college tape this offseason, it was clear he had mechanical issues when throwing to his left. He sailed throws high and wide at a much higher rate than when throwing to his right. The question was how much that would hurt him in the league and if he could fix it. Thus far, he has not fixed it and it has hurt him greatly. The coaching staff knows he can not throw to his left, too. Trubisky has been asked to throw beyond the line of scrimmage to his left just five times in two games, completing two of those passes. One was a short completion off of a scramble, while the other was an underthrown ball to a wide receiver crossing from right to left.

via GIPHY

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via GIPHY

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Both of these throws should have been easy, in-stride completions. Trubisky has space to work with in the pocket, and the receiver is comfortably open on both plays. As he reaches the top of his drop and begins to work left, Trubisky swings his shoulders wide open, but keeps his front foot slightly inside of his back foot. The discoordination makes it difficult to control his upper body through the throwing motion and create a stable release point. Instead, Trubisky's upper body hinges off of his hips and never gets a comfortable "snap" at the end of his rotation. The latter of the two throws was a completion, but the potential for yards after the catch was completed negated by the ball placement.

The Bears staff also knows Trubisky is not comfortable with reading the full field right now. Trubisky is best on the move and with minimal progressions. He has the arm talent to make throws, mostly to his right, but can get lost without the offense coaxing him toward the correct receiver. To accommodate the young quarterback, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains often rolls Trubisky to his right, either with a clean rollout or off of outside zone boot-action.

Baltimore was quick to sniff out Chicago's reliance on outside zone and split zone to set up boot-action rollouts. Trubisky was asked to do it plenty versus Minnesota, as well as in the preseason. Minnesota did little to combat it, but Baltimore's edge players were quick to attack Trubisky when he was rolling out.

via GIPHY

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This is how many of Chicago's rollouts ended up looking. Baltimore, a notoriously good defense versus rookie quarterbacks in the John Harbaugh era, zeroed in on Trubisky's best concept and shut it down. On this play, Za'Darius Smith (90) is the play-side edge defender for Baltimore. Smith is responsible for the player moving across the formation behind the line of scrimmage. On handoffs, Smith will try to secure the back side of the run. He must also be aware of when the handoff is fake and attack the quarterback accordingly. In this instance, Smith quickly recognizes the play fake and makes a beeline for Trubisky. The immediate presence of Smith gave Trubisky no shot at finding an open receiver or completing a pass.

The residual effects of a rigid and predictable game plan also hurt Trubisky on third down. Trubisky was responsible for 12 third downs: nine dropbacks and three rushing attempts. Trubisky converted a first down just four times. A 33 percent conversion rate would be fifth-worst in the NFL right now.

Baltimore knew they could blitz Trubisky on third down. He has the athletic ability to escape, and did a couple of times, but Baltimore was banking on Trubisky's inexperience leading to missed blitz reads. Baltimore was correct and got to Trubisky a number of times. Chicago's offensive line was not at its best on third down this week, but Trubisky's inability to adjust his internal clock was the key issue.

Trubisky should have an idea that a blitz is coming here. The defensive back lined up closest over the slot receiver (Lardarius Webb) is turned inward and aligned a step inside of the receiver. That is blitz tip No. 1. Blitz tip No. 2 is the strong safety rolling over to cover the soon-to-be vacated slot receiver, while the free safety trails off over the top. If none of that got his attention, the lurking linebacker near the line of scrimmage should have done the trick for Trubisky.

via GIPHY

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Nothing triggers for Trubisky. He does not see the blitz and adjust accordingly. He had two options to countering the blitz. First, he could have seen that the nickel blitz would leave one defender covering two intermediate receivers. One of them would have to be open. As the play unfolded, the receiver running down the seam came free, but Trubisky did not throw to him. Second, Trubisky could have recognized the blitz and looked immediately for his check-down option. Trubisky fails to play to either scenario, allowing himself to be strip-sacked.

All of Trubisky's current limitations can be etched away in time. Mechanics are usually the toughest thing to change, but we have already seen Carson Wentz make impressive strides in his footwork this season after a sloppy 2016. The predictable offense Trubisky requires right now manifests itself in different ways for different quarterbacks, but many rookies end up with offenses that are easy to counter. As he grows in an NFL pocket, Trubisky should also improve and speed up his internal clock so as to avoid unnecessary sacks.

Trubisky has shown flashes of great promise, too. Coming out of North Carolina, Trubisky was lauded for his arm talent and mobility. The way he could adjust on the fly and make throws down the field was captivating. Trubisky has already shown he can do that in the NFL.

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Many veteran quarterbacks can not make this throw. To be able to escape pressure so comfortably and make a 30-plus-yard throw on the move is no easy feat. Trubisky is not supposed to roll out on this play, but immediate interior pressure forces him to. The rookie makes a snap decision to move to his right while keeping his eyes downfield. Trubisky heaves up a throw as a defender closes in on him. The throw is placed perfectly between two Ravens defenders, giving Trubisky the second passing touchdown of his young career.

Trubisky also made a tough throw to close out the Baltimore game. Running back Jordan Howard sprung a 53-yard run on the first play of the final drive to get Chicago into opposing territory. Chicago still was not quite in field goal range, though, and they needed a nice chunk gain to get them there. Trubisky delivered just what they needed on a critical third-and-11.

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This type of creativity and guts are what Chicago fans should be excited about. Given the immediate pressure, Trubisky has no business completing this pass. Nevertheless, he is able to dance around before slinging a jump-pass to wide receiver Kendall Wright. Wright was required to make a spectacular catch, but quarterbacks ought to trust their playmakers to come through when needed, and Wright did. After a series of running plays to further set up a field goal, kicker Connor Barth closed out the game to give Chicago the win.

Where Trubisky goes from here is to be seen. For now, Trubisky is a talented ball of clay, waiting to be sculpted into a great quarterback. He needs to work on his footwork, timing, and spatial awareness if he is to become the player expected of the second overall pick. Trubisky is not the immediate superstar that Deshaun Watson appears to be, and that is OK. Trubisky can blossom in due time.

Posted by: Derrik Klassen on 19 Oct 2017

8 comments, Last at 26 Oct 2017, 6:40pm by JustBod

Comments

1
by Pat :: Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:10pm

I kinda think Trubisky was totally screwed on the Ravens blitz there, although the better option of course is throw it away, or at least see the blitz and take the sack. The blitzing corner's totally unblocked: there's literally no way for him to get any pass off in time. Trubisky's actually in the process of throwing to the RB when the corner hits him.

I mean, it's a blitz on the left side, and the offensive line didn't shift who they were picking up, and the center ends up standing around blocking air. Yeah, the Ravens were blitzing, but there were 5 guys blocking for 5 rushers, so nominally they should've been able to pick it up.

The biggest problem with that play is that he totally should've seen the corner coming and at least had the play end in just a sack. He was looking straight downfield right in the beginning, he should've seen the trouble he was in.

2
by dank067 :: Thu, 10/19/2017 - 8:54pm

Had he recognized the blitz before the snap, some sort of audible or check at the line to a hot route also works there. (Of course the coaching staff might not be allowing him any leeway to do that...)

4
by Pat :: Fri, 10/20/2017 - 9:53am

Yeah, having your rookie QB recognize blitzes and adjust things doesn't seem to be the best strategy to me. If the line had recognized it and shifted assignments, someone would've been available to pick up the blitzing CB - at least chip the guy, and he would've had enough time to hit the RB.

Of course that also points out the other thing here - it's not exactly the QB's job alone to recognize blitzes, and when you've got a rookie QB, it pretty much is going to fall entirely on the line.

3
by Chip :: Fri, 10/20/2017 - 8:38am

"He cannot throw to his left.... and the coaches know it"

Wow. That's a very big statement and needs much more explanation. I have yet to hear a scouting report that notes that flaw. Breakdown his mechanics further. Show multiple GIF examples. This is much more important than his highlights - I can hit sportscenter for that.

Is this a basic fatal flaw that teams will exploit - like Jon Lester can't throw to 1st base? Is it simply easier to throw on the run to the right for a RH QB? Or does it have more to do with comfort level?

Please explain. Because that's a big statement to make.

5
by Derrik Klassen :: Fri, 10/20/2017 - 1:17pm

"Cannot throw to his left" does not mean he will miss every throw to his left. Rather, it is one of his biggest weaknesses right now and the coaches seem to know not to ask him to throw there right now. That is not to say he can not or will not get better there, he just does not have that in his arsenal right now to a level that is to be desired of a starting quarterback.

It comes down to mechanics. He often brings his shoulders out too wide and does not drive into his throws as well when throwing to his left. His plant foot (left foot) tends to gradually swing open, as well. Trubisky is not the best straight vertical thrower, either, also due to mechanics. He tends to hold his weight on his back foot for too long and fail to bring his torso around comfortably, thus the ball ends up sailing.

I talked about this when he was a draft prospect, too:

- Ex. 1: https://twitter.com/QBKlass/status/831338247284461568

- Ex. 2: https://twitter.com/QBKlass/status/815432852808564736

Thank you for reading, and I hope this cleared up some of your questions/concerns.

6
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 10/20/2017 - 7:17pm

Fun with some ridiculously small sample sizes. Looking only at completions, incompletions, and interceptions:

All NFL passes, 2017 Weeks 1-6
38% thrown to the left, 62% completion rate, 6.74-yard average.
23% thrown to the middle, 66% completion rate, 8.15-yard average.
39% thrown to the right, 62% completion rate, 6.75-yard average.

Mitch Trubisky in two starts
9 passes thrown to the left, 33% completion rate, 3.00-yard average.
6 passes thrown to the middle, 83% completion rate, 11.83-yard average.
26 passes thrown to the right, 46% completion rate, 5.50-yard average.

7
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 10/20/2017 - 10:28pm

tems can do some thongs like overload blitzes. could kind of force trubisky to throw left.

yes, definitlely easier for rght handed quarterback to throwon the run on right side of field for most quarterbakcs.

8
by JustBod :: Thu, 10/26/2017 - 6:40pm

Re: The last play against the Ravens.

The TV angle certainly makes it look like Trubisky is locked on to Kendall Wright from the start, but from this angle, is it possible he just completely missed a throw to Tanner Gentry who is wide open 3 yards beyond the first down marker?