To move forward with even a sense of optimism in a division which includes some real heavyweights at the quarterback position those in Chicago almost have to blame John Fox for what went on during Mitchell Trubisky’s often painful rookie season.
To be fair there are plenty of reasons to believe Trubisky could take off for the Bears during his sophomore campaign, starting with the presence of a new offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy, who actually played the position himself and understands it, as well as a much-improved supporting cast when it comes to those catching the football with the influx of free agents Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, as well as second-round pick Anthony Miller.
The most obvious comparison takes you out to Los Angeles Rams where 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff was a disaster with the defensive-minded Jeff Fisher running things and then completely turned it around when Sean McVay came in with a college-style, check-with-me offense, heavily reliant on run-pass options and quick decision making.
On the surface at least, two antiquated defensive minds steering young QBs into the cliffs are replaced by young, excited offensive minds to save the day.
Now let’s add the context, both good and bad.
Compare Goff with what happened with Carson Wentz, the player selected right after the Cal product in 2016, in Philadelphia. Wentz, who was on the fast track to league MVP before suffering a torn ACL and LCL, ironically against the Rams on Dec. 10 of last year, hit the ground running thanks to the ecosystem he was placed in with the Super Bowl champion Eagles.
One NFL source close to the Eagles told GetMoreSports.com that it was essentially a QB incubator with Doug Pederson and Frank Reich having each played the position for over a decade at the professional level and position coach John DeFilippo also having experience playing QB in college and regarded as one of the brightest young offensive minds in the sport.
Furthermore, Pederson learned under teachers like Don Shula, Mike Holmgren, and Andy Reid over the years and played behind Hall of Famers like Dan Marino and Brett Favre. For Reich, it was Marv Levy and Jim Kelly.
All of that experience was validated when that brain trust pivoted midstream and got the pedestrian Nick Foles up to speed in record time en route to winning Super Bowl LII MVP honors. Today, Reich is now the head coach in Indianapolis and DeFilippo is on the fast track as the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.
As for Goff, he went from bust under Fisher to perhaps the move improved QB in the NFL under McVay and the link from Goff to Trubisky seems like a plausible one because Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who basically tied his wagon to Trubisky by trading up one spot to No. 2 overall in 2017 when he didn’t really need to, is copying what the Rams did by bringing in a coach like Nagy who is already used to accentuating the athleticism of a QB with roll-outs and RPOs thanks to his time in Kansas City with Alex Smith.
The major difference there is that the veteran Smith is as savvy as it gets after 13 years in this league while Trubisky remains as green as the practice-field grass at Halas Hall, perhaps even more raw than Goff coming to the NFL, who at least had far more playing experience at the college level at Cal.
Trubisky started just one season at North Carolina and was thrown to the wolves in Chicago last season after it became clear Mike Glennon was not a competent bridge option.
Fox, who was essentially coaching for his job, likely wanted no part of playing Trubisky that early, especially with such a poor supporting cast, and he did his best to hide the young QB, often instructing former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to cut the field in half with waggles or roll-outs and simple high-low reads.
The offense was incredibly run heavy and Trubisky was rarely allowed to air it out for good reason.
Now a former coach, Fox is free to tell the truth about what’s going on in Chicago and he wasn’t shy about the limitations the Bears have in the passing game when appearing on ESPN’s NFL Live.
“Their challenge will be their passing game,” Fox admitted. “That’s where they were deficient last year. That will be how fast they can adjust.”
With the pieces improved around Trubisky from both a personnel and teaching standpoint, the now second-year player has lost any insulation as a prospect and if there isn’t a dramatic Goff-like improvement in Year 2, the questions are going to start coming at the young signal caller in a fast and furious fashion.
“Just getting all those pieces in place to be more efficient in the passing game. Young quarterback [in] Mitch Trubisky, how efficient is he gonna be, how fast can he get used to those pieces?” Fix asked rhetorically.
In a deep and talented division, the Bears may be better than they were in 2017 but they are less likely to take a leap in the standings like Goff’s Rams did last season.
Out in the NFC West, the Rams were battling against descending teams like Seattle and Arizona, as well as a San Francisco team that was irrelevant and among the league’s worst, at least until Jimmy Garoppolo arrived.
The NFC North, on the other hand, is a murderer’s row at the QB position, one in which a $28 million player who has averaged well over 4,000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns over the past three seasons is regarded as No. 3 in the division. The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, however, inherits perhaps the best roster from one through 53 in all of football while Green Bay remains a threat any time Aaron Rodgers hits the field and Detroit might have the most under-appreciated signal caller in football with Matthew Stafford.
So the curve is going to have to be more about personal growth for Trubisky, not team success. And the nuance there, as opposed to the spike the Rams went through a season ago is almost certainly going to get lost in translation, at least when it comes to the emotions of the average Bears fan.
Trubisky almost has to improve with a coach who will be designing an offense to accentuate his strengths and mask as many deficiencies as possible.
For Pace, the hope is enough people take the time to notice any improvements, no matter how nuanced.
“He’s an offensive-minded coach,” Fox admitted when discussing his successor. “He did a wonderful job in Kansas City with that offense and that’s where the help is needed in the Bears, bettering that offense.”