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QB Trubisky continues to show growth
It would be an exaggeration to say quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears offense have been "in a zone" when it comes to the passing attack lately.
But in a very literal sense, it has been true about opposing defenses when they face Trubisky.
Trubisky is learning to play the cat-and-mouse game of correctly reading and reacting to defensive schemes employed by NFL coordinators, and most recently various zone coverages.
The Bears can only hope their quarterback has it down by the playoffs, because it's been a bumpy learning experience despite the team's 11-4 record.
"It's never going to be exactly what they show and that's how it is in the NFL, they're always going to come up with new things and new defenses and come up with different ways to stop us and slow us down," Trubisky said. "But we just have to adjust and communicate."
Defenses had first blitzed Trubisky heavily while playing man-to-man coverages or even variations like man-to-man with a safety over the top.
It's all changed the last few weeks, and both this week's game with the Minnesota Vikings and the Bears' first playoff game will be the ultimate test of how well Trubisky has figured out how to combat defenses.
"So, we're studying hard throughout the week to get a tell of what the defense will do, and if they come out and don't do that and do the opposite, then I think over the last couple of games that we've played (well) when teams have done that," Trubisky said. "The offense and myself have adjusted quicker."
Trubisky found the San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers all went with more zone coverage, and the Bears were able to make them pay the price to some extent.
Against the Packers it was apparent on the scoreboard with a 24-17 win. Against the 49ers and Rams it was more of gradually taking control of the game by adjusting and varying the attack.
"It's a testament to him," head coach Matt Nagy said. "It helps him grow as a quarterback because you make more decisions. Not that you don't do that vs. man, but there's holes in the zone areas. Now are the holes, are they short, intermediate or long with how they're doing it with their scheme?
"He's continuing to get a lot of looks. And I truly believe that only in the long run, him getting these zone looks that's he getting right now, he's getting better and better at them."
The offense is ranked 21st overall in Nagy's first year, worse than any division leader or current wild-card team except Dallas. They're 20th in passing. It's still better than being 30th in offense and last in passing, like last year.
A better start and knowing how to adapt to changes could have made those numbers better.
"I think it was kind of a learning process for us going through that and changing our game plan a little bit," Trubisky said. "And just switching some things up on the fly and knowing when to adjust and saying, 'OK, you're going to have to identify pre-snap and post-snap a little bit more with your eyes and trust what you are seeing out there and just play within each play and try to find a completion and do your job.'"
Trubisky has a passer rating of 96.0, which puts him 14th among NFL passers with at least 250 attempts. Last week he became the sixth Bears quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season.
The Bears record for passer rating with at least 250 attempts is 93.7 by Rudy Bukich in 1965. Josh McCown had a rating of 109.0 in 2013 but only started five games and had 224 throws.
One major lesson Trubisky has learned while trying to get the offense moving against changing defenses is to expect the unexpected.
He said, "We are learning and making mistakes and growing, this is an ongoing process, but because of his experience and how he's teaching this offense I think we're further along than some offenses usually are in their first year. I think that's a credit to him and his staff and us working hard to pick up this offense, and as players, when you understand it and you believe in what your coaches are teaching you, that gives you confidence and it allows you to go out there and play fast."
The Bears might find they're playoff-ready if they can beat the Vikings at home Sunday in a game the Vikings have to win. There's no doubt Minnesota's defense is peaking now with linebacker Anthony Barr playing and healthy. He missed the first Bears-Vikings game.
It's possible the Bears offense will know it's arrived when it can completely dictate to defenses rather than read them and react.
"We've gotta build that consistency and that mindset that we want to impose our will on defenses and whatever we call and whatever we're playing, we gotta go with the mindset that it can't stop," Trubisky said. "I think you've seen it some games and other times we've been a little inconsistent."
Trubisky is maturing within the offense to the extent he can put away old grudges, or not hold any.
The Vikings' Harrison Smith injured Trubisky's shoulder in their last game with a personal foul hit during a slide. The Bears were without their starting quarterback for two games.
"I didn't even consider it illegal or anything malicious of that nature, but put it behind me," Trubisky said. "And this team has come a long way since then.
"I'm just lucky and fortunate I'm healthy and back where I am, in the lineup out there with my guys. We're just focused on winning this week. There's nothing we can do about the past games that we won or the past games that we lost."
SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season game. Vikings lead series, 60-52-2. The Bears won the last game 25-20 on Nov. 18 at Soldier Field. Minnesota has won three of the last four. The Vikings have won the last six in Minnesota, and the last Bears win there was on New Year's Day, 2012. There has been one playoff game in addition to the 114 played. On Jan. 1, 1995 the Bears upset Minnesota in the Metrodome, 35-18.