Bears Insider

Benching Trubisky ruined Bears' identity, playoff hopes


The Bears switched from building a competent, run-first offense to an incompetent, pass-first offense when Mitch Trubisky was benched for Nick Foles. Could the 2020 season have gone differently if, knowing what we know now, Matt Nagy didn't bench Trubisky in September?

5 photos

The Bears would have a much better chance of making the playoffs if Matt Nagy didn't bench Mitch Trubisky for Nick Foles in September. 

That's a sentence I certainly did not expect to write when Nagy pulled the 2017 No. 2 overall pick shortly after halftime in Atlanta. 

But in the wake of the Bears’ blowout of the Houston Texans on Sunday, colleague Adam Hoge wrote a compelling column that raised an important question:

Would this season have gone differently – for the better – if Matt Nagy didn’t bench Mitch Trubisky in Week 3?

Adam laid out a good case for the answer to that question being yes.

I want to expand on that thought here. Would the Bears be 7-6? 8-5? Or exactly where they are right now at 6-7, just maybe with fewer soul-crushing defeats along the way?

Before I get into why I think the Bears would be better than 6-7 right now, two things. First: I’m not blaming Nagy for benching Trubisky when he did, or for benching him at all. 

Trubisky had been given plenty of opportunities to prove his value as an NFL starting quarterback before Falcons cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked him off early in the third quarter in Atlanta. It was completely defensible for a coach to go with his gut and say, alright, I’ve seen enough. Time to go to the other guy.

And Nick Foles, after all, won the Bears that game in Week 3 - a game I'm not sure Trubisky would've won. 

Second, we’re only talking here about the Bears getting into the playoffs – not the Bears being a Super Bowl contender. This team’s plan for 2020 was flawed all along, as most plans are when you’re trying to cover for drafting the wrong quarterback second overall.

But what I (and most people inside and outside Halas Hall) didn’t anticipate when the Bears turned to Foles was just how much his presence would alter this team’s offensive identity for the worse. The Bears were in the nascent stages of building a run-first identity early in the season, and then completely blew it up upon inserting Foles into the starting lineup.


“It’s nice to have an identity,” Trubisky said after Week 2’s win over the Giants. “We know what we can lean on and that’s our run game.”

It was a small sample size, sure, but only three teams were more committed to the run in neutral situations – plays, essentially, where a run or a pass is not obvious – than the Bears in Trubisky’s first three starts.

David Montgomery in those games carried 42 times for 191 yards (4.4 yards/attempt). The Lions are 17th in rushing yards allowed per play, the Giants 8th and the Falcons 18th. 

Offensive identities are not built in a couple of games; often times, it takes four, five, six games for a team to establish that identity. So while the Bears’ identity didn’t lead to many touchdowns outside of furious comebacks early in the year, it stands to reason sticking with the run-oriented one we saw in September could’ve blossomed into something better in October and November.


The Bears pivoted into being one of the NFL’s most pass-heavy teams over the next seven games, all of which Foles started. Montgomery’s numbers plummeted – he carried 88 times for 281 yards (3.2 yards/attempt) in those seven games, one of which he missed due to a concussion.

The Bears went 2-5 in Foles’ seven starts and scored only 117 points – second-fewest in the NFL in that stretch, and only ahead of the woeful New York Jets (112 points).

There were issues with the offensive line that had nothing to do with Foles, to be fair. James Daniels went on injured reserve after Week 4; Cody Whitehair missed two games with a calf injury and COVID-19 and his backup, Sam Mustipher, got hurt too; Bobby Massie went on injured reserve and things got so bad in Week 9 that Alex Bars had to play center.

The Bears’ offense was always going to struggle with a patchwork offensive line. But struggle to the point of being as bad as the winless New York Jets? It takes more than a bad offense line to reach that depth of ineptitude.

The Bears had no identity to lean on – there was nothing they did well, nothing they could trust. And so they didn't score a meaningful touchdown against the Colts and Titans; against the Rams and Vikings, the offense didn't score a touchdown, period.  


The Bears went back to being a run-first offense as soon as Trubisky was reinstated as QB1. And there’s no mistaking the impact it’s had on Montgomery, who’s carried 39 times for 288 yards (7.4 yards/attempt) with three touchdowns over the last three games.

The trickle-down effect of that run-first identity has shown up with the entire offense, passing game coordinator Dave Ragone said.

“You've got a guy (Trubisky) right now who feels comfortable when he's throwing the football and he's putting it where he wants to put it,” Ragone said. “And you've got guys around him who are also not just making the catch but they're getting yards after the catch. And again when you're able to run the football and you're now all the sudden running after the catch obviously you start to put some points on the board and I think we're starting to do that.”

But what if the Bears kept building on the identity they were constructing back in September, instead of pivoting into a brutally-ineffective, pass-heavy scheme?

This is where I want to look at what could’ve been for this team had Trubisky never been benched – and Nagy stuck with a run-first offensive identity all season.


The first question I have here: Would Nagy still be calling plays? 

Nagy gave up playcalling before the Vikings game, and while offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's transition into that role wasn't an immediate success, it does look like he's found some solutions - with Trubisky's input. 

"I just thought it was a good idea to get Cole (Kmet) more involved, to get David more involved, to get A-Rob more involved," Trubisky said. "You just gotta get the ball to your playmakers out in space and stretch the field horizontally and vertically but also keeping the defense off balance and I think the change in tempo really helps this offense. I think moving the pocket really helps me and helps our offensive line and also helps create run lanes.

"So these are things I’m very comfortable with, things I’ve been asking for and I think everyone’s buying into it and I think we’re starting to build an identity and we just need to keep getting better and better. At the end of the day when we play 11 guys as one and we’re playing as a unit and we’re executing, that’s when the good plays will continue to happen."

Maybe getting Kmet, Montgomery and Robinson heavily involved in the offense would've happened anyway as an identity was built. Or maybe if Nagy hadn't given up playcalling, Trubisky wouldn't have had as much input. 

But regardless of who's calling plays, I think the Bears still lose to the Colts, Rams, Saints and Packers with Trubisky at QB. Those four teams are in a different class.

Trubisky started the second Lions game and fumbled it away at the end – after the defense gave up way too many points – so I think that’s still a loss, too.

The Bears still beat the Panthers and Texans here, adding to those wins over the Lions and Giants to start the season. So that gets us four definite wins and five definite losses.

I’m not convinced the Bears would’ve came back against the Falcons had Trubisky not been benched, so we’ll count that as a loss, too.

Would the Bears have lost to Tampa Bay without Foles? Maybe. Foles made a tremendous throw to Montgomery to set up the game-winning field goal, and the Bucs’ defense is outstanding – they’re fifth in DVOA – so there is a possibility that game would flip to a loss, too.

But that win over the Bucs was more defined by Khalil Mack scrambling Tom Brady’s brain than anything else. I’m still going to count it as a win.

That leaves two games up in the air: Week 9 at Tennessee and Week 10 vs. Minnesota.

I think the Bears go into Tennessee and win with the Trubisky-led offense they’ve been running lately, one which has played well against bad defenses, sure. The Titans have a bad defense, and the Bears held Derrick Henry in check and Tennessee’s offense to 17 points.

Montgomery didn’t play against the Vikings, which is a wrinkle here. But even if the Bears scored 20 points – only 13 on offense when adding in Cordarrelle Patterson’s kickoff return – they would’ve won. That’s not too tall a task, although it was for the Bears’ offense with Foles in at quarterback.

So that gets the Bears to 7-6, tied with the Arizona Cardinals going into the final three weeks of the season and feeling a lot better about their chances of making the playoffs. We’re probably not wondering if Nagy or Ryan Pace will get fired at the end of the year, because it’s not something George McCaskey is thinking about.

Nagy said after the Bears beat the Texans that Trubisky’s progress has been “real” recently. And, knowing what we know now, wouldn’t it have been nice to find out if he could’ve made that “real” progress in October, and not in December with the season on the brink?

"You can’t change the past, so we are where we are now and the offense is progressing over the last few weeks and all we can do is try to stay on this path that we are now and keep getting better," Trubisky said. "Can’t change the past. I can’t put myself back in the game a couple weeks ago or anything like that." 

Contact Us