Calling Bears Plays is No Tecmo Bowl Says Matt Nagy
There's no doubt Mitchell Trubisky looked more effective as a quarterback in three of the last four games, regardless of the low-quality opponent in three wins.
The key for the Bears' continued success the rest of this season and into the future can very well be found in those four games, and it has nothing to do with the arm of their much-criticized quarterback.
It's all about the running game.
The Bears are 29th in the league in rushing and it explains more about their offense's problems than their 26th ranking in passing does. Teams can't move the ball simply by coming into a game and throwing it every down like in a video game, as Matt Nagy reminded everyone Sunday at Halas Hall.
Trubisky's play might look questionable at times, but in the grand scheme it wouldn't have held back their offense as much when he struggled if they had even an average running game to go with his arm.
With an effective running game, defenses can't play zone coverage to the extent they have against Trubisky. Linebackers dropping in zone coverage are already giving up yardage against a run and are vulnerable to pass plays underneath for yards after the catch.
Trubisky showed on Thanksgiving what he can do against man-to-man coveragee.
Obviously the big problem the Bears have experienced has been establishing a push on the offensive line with their inside zone blocking scheme to get David Montgomery yardage. When they did it, they often were able to pass, as well.
It doesn't even have to be big yardage in the running game. They've averaged 77 yards rushing over the last four games and that's sufficient to balance out the attack.
It all makes Nagy look like a much more effective play caller when there is bonafide rushing yardage, especially if it's on first down.
In fact, it doesn't even have to be rushing yardage on first down all the time. But if it occurs, the mere fear they might run effectively on first down helps open the passing game and it also makes play-action passing possible.
"It makes it a lot easier, because it's open to what the next play call's gonna be based off of second-and-3, second-and-4, second-and-5," Nagy said. "It's way easier. You felt that (Thursday).
"Now, every week is different, because there's some weeks where you play a defensive line or a defensive front that's totally (different). You can't just put on Tecmo Bowl and all the sudden be playing this front on arcades. It's different fronts."
Ah, Tecmo Bowl, the Madden of the late 1980s and early 90s. Sigh.
What the Bears couldn't do with the Bo Jackson or Barry Sanders or Neal Anderson from those Tecmo Bowls. They do have Montgomery, though, and he has flashed the ability if they can only get him a bit of running room.
It would mean some rushing yardage on first down, or even the threat of the run but they're hoping they already have this.
"It's big because no matter who you are, you have to honor the run," Nagy said. "So every defense goes into a game wanting to stop the run. So if you just abandon and try to stop the pass every play, people drop, they'll hit draws, they'll hit traps, they'll hit different screens, etc. You still have to keep them honest."
Trubisky loves seeing the big gains on first down. With the run threat, he was able to pick about Detroit at will on first down by passing−although it seems just about any quarterback can pick apart Detroit's defense at will. But the run threat is just too much for many defenses to handle when combined with the pass, and Detroit is one.
Being able to run Thursday against Dallas and Rod Marinelli's zone schemes would be immensely helpful.
"First down is huge for us," Trubisky said. "We play a lot of teams, especially this week, that are good on third down. So in order to be in third down and manageable (distance), you've gotta be good on first and second down."
Being able to run and also avoid penalties on first down is the key.
"Staying ahead of the chains is something we preach and just doing that, it helps our offense out a lot," Trubisky said.
So if the Bears want to start fixing their offense in the offseason, it might not necessarily mean dumping Trubisky as many assume.
Of course, it couldn't hurt bringing in some competition for him. No one is hurt by actual competition, except maybe Chase Daniel, who would likely lose his job in that scenario.
But getting the running game to function might help make Trubisky look more like the quarterback they thought he would be this year.
Now, if you're going to fix blame for why the running game doesn't work like it did last year, well, that's an entirely different subject matter.
Both Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace will have a lot of explaining to do at the season-ending press conference in January as to why they gutted a perfectly fine running game that produced yardage on first downs for one they only hope is now finally coming together.
Hint: It has to do with someone's offensive preferences.
Preferences aren't always reality. This isn't a video game.