The Chicago Bears’ 15-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams Sunday night served as a statement to the rest of the league.
The Bears are for real.
Sunday’s game showed that the defense can compete with top teams like the Rams and New Orleans Saints come playoff time. Vic Fangio’s crew not only held a top offense to just 214 yards, but they also picked off Jared Goff four times and sacked him three times.
But what about the other side of the ball?
While the Bears’ defense is Super Bowl caliber, the offense is still a work-in-progress because of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
After missing two straight starts with a right shoulder injury, Trubisky struggled Sunday in his return. The second-year quarterback threw for only 110 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Trubisky’s interceptions and inaccuracy came on sailed passes where he missed open receivers down the field. You could chalk it up to rust, but we’ve seen him overthrow open receivers a lot this season. The poor performance couldn’t be attributed to pressure from the Rams’ front seven. The Bears’ offensive line did an outstanding job in run and pass protection, bottling up Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald from start to finish.
His downfield accuracy has been erratic all year, but issues like that are expected from a young, developing quarterback. Not everyone is going to be a finished project out of the gate, especially someone who came into the league with only 13 collegiate starts under his belt.
However, at 9-4, the expectations have been raised significantly since the start of the season. The Bears defense can create opportunities against the best teams in the league. But can Trubisky do his part to keep the train rolling?
As the competition gets stiffer in the playoffs, the margin of error gets thinner. Even if the defense is able to hold a top-tier offense in the 20s, Trubisky can’t turn in a clunker or be mediocre against better defenses. He has to be the key catalyst in leading drive that end in points.
This isn’t an indictment on what Trubisky can be over the course of his career. Fortunately, we’ve seen some positives that show he’ll be at least a solid quarterback going forward.
For starters, he’s shown complete command of a complex offense. Despite his lack of experience and inefficiencies, he’s able to diagnose defenses quickly and change plays on the fly. That’s not an easy task for a young signal caller.
He also shown plenty of flashes with this season, whether it’s throwing into tight windows or making plays with his feet. There is no doubt that watching him is like being on a roller coaster, but isn’t that the story for most quarterbacks not named Brady, Rodgers or Brees?
The ebbs and flows were expected, but the new expectations have changed the way fans and the media view Trubisky at the moment. Instead of letting the development process play out, many are quick to make rash judgments on his long-term outlook.
The quick development of Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City also hasn’t helped matters. Mahomes, who was picked eight spots after Trubisky in the 2017 draft, leads the league with 43 touchdown passes and 4,300 passing yards. It’s hard not to play the “what if” game when one quarterback is playing at an MVP level while the other is still a work-in-progress.
The question over whether Trubiksy was worth the No. 2 pick seems like it’s been answered. He probably wasn’t. That doesn’t mean he still won’t be a solid quarterback long term. He’s trending toward the crop of signal-callers that features the likes of Alex Smith and Dak Prescott. It’s far from a bust but also far from a quarterback worth taking second overall.
Still, it doesn’t change the fact the Bears are in a great position this year and going forward. Trubisky hasn’t approached Mahomes’ level in terms of All-Pro consistently, but he hasn’t been detrimental to the team’s success.
You rarely see him turn in a catastrophic performance like we witnessed from the likes of Rex Grossman or Jay Cutler. When Trubisky struggles, he’s usually able to put together a drive or two that helps right the ship. In fact, Sunday was probably the worst outing of his Bears career by a country mile.
While it’s fair to question how far he can lead the Bears come playoff time, the good news is that the support system should only help Trubisky in the postseason.
Head coach Matt Nagy has shown a keen ability to scheme guys open, allowing Trubisky to get into a rhythm. With a solid cast of playmakers, Nagy can create multiple matchups to expose any defense’s weaknesses. There have been numerous occasions where Trubisky and the offense have jumped on opposing defenses, scoring quickly and in bunches.
Sure, no one should bank on the fact that Trubisky and the offense will catch a miraculous heater against upper-echelon competition. But the likelihood isn’t out of the realm of possibility either.
Another encouraging sign is that Trubisky has shown the ability to respond after bad games. For instance, he followed a rough outing against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 with a masterful six-touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And after he was mediocre against an inferior Buffalo Bills’ squad, he responded with a signature game against the Detroit Lions in Week 10.
Despite getting a key win, Trubisky said in his postgame press conference Sunday that he wasn’t happy with how he played.
“Yeah, I’m pretty disappointed in myself, the way that I played, especially being out two weeks,” Trubisky said. “I mean, it’s hard to be down when you get such a big win like that. You got to put your own selfish thoughts about how you played aside. Did you play well, play bad? It’s a bad thing about yourself. We got such a huge team win.”
He knows he needs to play better. He also knows that questions will linger about where he can lead this team.
If Trubisky responds in the postseason, the Bears will be poised for a deep playoff run. But if he can’t elevate his play, you can expect a quick exit.