There’s no way around it. Mitch Trubisky has been a well below average quarterback the first two weeks this season.
You can look for excuses and say the play-calling has been bad, the offensive line hasn’t executed, and the receivers aren’t getting open.
However, at the end of the day, your quarterback needs to be able to overcome all of that. The most important position in all of sports is supposed to elevate his teammates, not vice versa.
“Are you really going to give up on Trubisky after only two games!”
That’s the argument most commonly presented to me on Twitter. But … it’s been well more than two games. He has now played in 16 games over the course of the last two seasons (28 in his career).
I can see where people are coming from with this.
After all, at first glance his stat line last season looks pretty encouraging for a young signal-caller. He completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3223 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His 7.4 yards per pass attempt ranked 17th in the league while his touchdown percentage and interception percentage ranked 12th and 24th respectively. These numbers don’t blow you away but are definitely respectable especially given his lack of experience.
His numbers this season have not been so encouraging. His yards per attempt has dropped to 4.8 (32nd in 2019), he has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has been picked off once.
So who is Trubisky? Is he the up and coming gunslinger his 2018 numbers suggest? Or is he closer to this year’s version?
To answer this question let’s take a deep dive into Trubisky’s numbers.
First thing I did was look at the defensive rankings of each team Trubisky has played over the last two seasons. Specifically the teams defensive DVOA rankings. If you are unfamiliar with DVOA, here is a helpful link that will explain how it works
The short version, DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) calculates a team’s success based on the down-and-distance of each play during the season, then calculates how much more or less successful each team is compared to the league average.
I wanted to see Trubisky’s performance against different teams to see if I could make sense of the difference in stats between this year and last. Are this year’s numbers a small sample size fluke? Or are they a sign of things to come?
First I looked at Trubisky’s numbers against teams that finished in the top half of the defensive DVOA rankings (1 to 16). I wanted to see how he held up against the league’s best defenses. The numbers were, expectedly, not pretty in the six games he played against these teams.
Those numbers all would have been dead last amongst qualifying starters in 2018. At the same time, I wasn’t expecting his numbers to be that great here. After all, good defenses are hard to play against.
Then I looked at his numbers against the bottom half (17-32) DVOA defenses, and the numbers are predictably much better. He played 10 games against teams with bottom half defenses and here were the results.
These numbers would have been borderline top-10 amongst all quarterbacks in 2018.
Alone these numbers don’t tell us much.
Obviously, quarterbacks are going to struggle against good defenses and play better against bad defenses. The question is, did Trubisky struggle disproportionately to other quarterbacks? So I looked at the numbers of other quarterbacks across the league. In total, I looked at 33 quarterbacks (including Trubisky) who have over 450 passing attempts since 2017. I was then able to get the league average numbers over that span and could compare Trubisky’s numbers to the league as a whole.
His numbers against top defenses were predictably below average. Although I was surprised by how much. He did not finish higher than 27th (yards per attempt) in any category across the league.
He compared much more favorably to the rest of the league in games against bottom 16 defenses.
He was above average in all categories if you look at just the last two seasons and above average in three out of five for his career.
This seems to match the eye test with Trubisky.
When he has success early on in the game and gains confidence he tends to continue that trend over the course of the game and even sometimes into the next game. Unfortunately, even with these numbers he was still outside the top-10 in every category and was a middle of the pack quarterback even when at his best.
Yet, I still wasn’t satisfied. These players play different defenses. Maybe Trubisky played against better defenses than the other players?
To try and normalize the results I only looked at the players’ stats against teams that finished between 6 and 27 in defensive DVOA. Thus removing the toughest and easiest games on their respective schedules. The results were roughly the same and one could argue even worse for Trubisky.
Trubisky did not finish higher than 17th (touchdown percentage) in any category and was as low as 32nd (interception percentage). It is not only that Trubisky has not been able to perform against good defenses, but he also hasn’t found success against even average defenses.
Trubisky’s stats in 2018 were an illusion. They were bolstered by his six touchdown game against the Buccaneers who finished dead last in defensive DVOA in 2018 (And had the worst defensive DVOA since 2016). He had five games in 2018 against teams that finished in the bottom five in defensive DVOA and threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He had 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the other 9 games he played.
If you watch Trubisky play, the tape tells the same story as the stats above. I want to highlight specifically one play from last weeks Broncos game to illustrate where he is struggling.
With the All-22 out now for Sundays game I was able to take another look at Trubisky. It wasn't all bad but this play was a good example of where he's been struggling. Here he has Gabriel at the top of the screen in a one on one situation with a step and no safety over the top. pic.twitter.com/pyxze2i1MJ
— Stephen Letizia (@StephenLetizia) September 18, 2019
The play the Bears ran is a pretty standard Cover-2 beater with the outside receivers running verticals and the tight end running a seam. The job of the quarterback is to read the safeties. If they show a split look (such as Cover-2 or man coverage) the first read is to Shaheen over the middle of the field. If they run pretty much anything else you look at the outside verticals and then check down if need be.
The Broncos showed split safeties pre-snap but after the snap the safety at the top of the screen took away the middle of the field. Trubisky should have immediately realized this means Taylor Gabriel will have one-on-one coverage at the top of the screen. Gabriel had a step and Trubisky had a clean pocket to step up and take a chance. Yet you can see from the alternate angle in the video below, Trubisky never takes his eyes off Shaheen.
The Safety at the top of the screen takes away the middle of the field leaving Gabriel in single coverage on the outside. As you can see from this angle, Mitch never took his eyes off Shaheen. He had a clean pocket to step into and make a throw to Gabriel here. pic.twitter.com/Ygnu88abD0
— Stephen Letizia (@StephenLetizia) September 18, 2019
Trubisky continually stares down his primary read. This works against bad defenses because the primary read is usually open. But good or even average defenses are going to force you to move to your second or third reads often.
Trubisky has the arm talent, but the mental aspects of the position continue to elude him.
He has not been as bad as he’s shown so far this season.
However, if you were holding out hope he would be the “Pro Bowl” quarterback he was in 2018 it doesn’t look like that is the case either. Trubisky will be better over the next 15 weeks simply because he has to be. He is still young and raw and can certainly improve. But at this point, an improvement would still make him an average NFL quarterback.
With this defense, maybe that’s all we need?