Mitch Musings: Was Trey Burton open? Why that question misses the larger picture for Trubisky


Mitch Trubisky knows you’ve probably seen that screenshot.

You know, the one of Trey Burton seemingly wide-open in the end zone on the Bears’ second drive of Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, a play that resulted — instead of a touchdown — in a five-yard loss, then a field goal. 

In a game lost by one point, that four-point swing from a touchdown to a field goal is magnified. There were loads of takes that followed as that still image pinged around Twitter — some using it as evidence that the Bears drafted the wrong guy, others pointing out that Burton, actually, wasn’t as open as he looked:

Trubisky, on Thursday, provided perhaps the most clear-headed explanation of anyone on that screenshot, and the play on which it was taken:

“I’m sure everyone saw what I saw and they’re like, ‘Oh, Mitch, throw to the wide open guy in the back of the end zone.’ Trust me, I wish I would,” Trubisky said. “Tarik was the first option in the flat. It’s one of those plays where (you think), ‘How risky are you going to be, are you going to take care of the football?’ I checked it down, we lost five yards, but we got three points out of it and went up 10-0. So that was the big positive takeaway for me. 

“But moving forward, if I want to evolve into the quarterback I want to be, you’ve got to take the opportunity and I’ve got to anticipate that even more. That wasn’t something that happened in practice at all that week. But you’ve got to know as a quarterback if that opens up, take your chances and get it to the guy wide open. 

“But it’s a little less wide open when you’re playing it full motion on film. When you’ve got the still picture, which I’m sure a lot of people saw, it looks like I don’t know what I’m doing. 

“Trust me, I’m hard on myself. You want touchdowns, not field goals. But I thought I put myself and my team in a good position in that instance, first quarter, check it down, three points, we’re up 10-0.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, but the biggest takeaway: While Burton wasn’t as open as he looked in a split-second image, Trubisky wants to be able to make that throw. He wants to anticipate where Burton will be and make that throw with conviction next time and not settle for a field goal. But his thought process of not wanting to force a throw that could’ve been picked off on a third-and-goal situation, especially with the Bears having all the momentum at that point, is sound, too. 

Coach Matt Nagy said Burton was further down Trubisky’s progression on that play, and by the time he would’ve clicked to the tight end Packers safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix would’ve been in position to make it an ill-advised throw. 

“Trey on that play is one of the options but he’s later on in the progression,” Nagy said. “That’s not Mitch’s fault for seeing that. I know there’s some — I’m going to go to the bird’s eye view, it’s easy to say yeah he was wide open.”

Own worst critic

The point of going back to this one play from Sunday isn’t necessarily to debate if Trubisky was right or wrong to check down to Taylor Gabriel, take a five-yard loss and get a field goal. It’s more to get a window into the Bears’ quarterback’s approach to self-evaluation, of which there’s plenty in that lengthy quote above. 

Another example: Trubisky, after Sunday’s game, mentioned he felt like he got “happy feet” in the pocket on some occasions. On Thursday, he addressed his pocket presence and his tendency Sunday to take off and run: 

“I think, one, it comes from me wanting to take care of the football, and then, two, not taking sacks,” Trubisky said. “Yes, it helps our offense in some areas, but it can also get me into trouble when I don’t need to. I’ve got to find a kind of happy median, and in practice it’s going to be pocket movement, moving around defenders in the pocket and continuing to keep my eyes downfield so you can find receivers. 

“You try to simulate that as much as possible but the best place to do that is in the game. I just take a bunch of notes on the game film, and just keep in my head when would be a good time to move.

“But I’m going to continue to use my natural ability, keep plays alive, because there could be a lot more big plays from a scramble as well, but I’m trying to stay in the pocket and become a lot better passer in the pocket and continue to move around, very subtle movements with calm feet,  to find receivers. That’d be something I’ll be working on in my career but definitely more emphasis this week.”

Or, when asked about the Bears’ final drive — after Aaron Rodgers’ 75-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb — Trubisky said he wished he had a different mindset about how he approached it (the Bears only needed a field goal to win, had they got in position for one). 

“I was thinking, try to make a big play, like win the game right here,” Trubisky said. “And it should have been, for me personally, I think just like stack completions, get one more completion, one more first down. And then when you get that first down just another first down. And like we saw from the other team, you just dink it down underneath, a missed tackle can turn into a big play. I should have had more of a completion mindset instead of trying to do too much. And that comes from me. I’ve just got to stay within myself, stay within the offense, fire completions and move in the two-minute drill.”

Why this matters

Trubisky won’t become the quarterback he wants to be solely based on a good feel for self-criticism and noticing his mistakes. He knows what he has to fix, and what he has to do differently, which is good — but it’s one thing to identify the mistakes and another to prove, over the course of a season, you won’t make them twice. 

“You won’t find a guy that cares more about his job or what he does in this building than Mitch,” backup quarterback Chase Daniel said. 

All last year, we heard about how Trubisky was having weeks of learning experiences, whether it was being baited into throwing a late interception in his debut or failing to deliver (with a sub-optimal supporting cast around him) in a number of close losses. 

But this learning experience, in NFL start No. 13, did feel a little different for the second-year quarterback. 

“I just feel like we were a lot closer this last game and personally I felt like I was a lot closer,” Trubisky said. “I knew what I had to do, I knew how to do it, I just didn’t quite do it with execution.”

Thirteen starts is not enough time to determine if a quarterback is going to be good or not. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on a conference call with Chicago media last year, said he figured it takes about three years for a quarterback to establish himself in today’s NFL. That sounds about right. 

There are certain things that Trubisky has done, to date, that are concerning. He’s aware of those, like the happy feet or not always throwing with conviction or getting out of the offense in a big moment. But there also are some good things we’ve seen him do, too (to cherry-pick one: remember that jump pass to Kendall Wright to set up a game-winning overtime field goal in Baltimore last year?). 

So starting Monday, and going through the course of the 2018 season, the Bears need to see Trubisky accentuate the positive things he’s done while fixing the negatives. We’ll have a better idea of if he can accomplish that goal later this fall, so for now: Patience will be a virtue when it comes to the long-term future of the Bears’ quarterback. 

“There were a lot of good plays and then there’s plays in there, too, that we can learn from and correct,” Nagy said. “And that’s very natural in his position with where we’re at in this offense, that’s going to happen.”

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