Last week, the New England Patriots defense faced one of the brightest young stars in the NFL in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes. While their upcoming week seven opponent – the Chicago Bears – do not have a quarterback with quite the same tremendous credentials this season as the Chiefs’ MVP candidate, Mitchell Trubisky is still a passer capable of doing plenty of damage with his right arm and his legs.
What stands out in particular when it comes to Trubisky is his ability to accurately challenge the deep parts of the field. “I think one thing he does really well, he throws a great deep ball,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said earlier this week. “I think they design some good plays and I think he does a good job of seeing that and understanding where a safety is or where this guy is – ‘If I can just get him to look one way, I’ll open it wide up.’”
“He does a really good job of finding receivers down the field,” added New England’s de-facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores. His unit has generally fared well when it comes to stopping the big play this season, but showed some obvious weaknesses against Mahomes and the Chiefs last week. “It will be a challenge for us – you know, a guy who can scramble like this and extend plays, and then at the same time, find receivers down the field and put the ball on them pretty accurately.”
This ability allowed the Bears to regularly challenge teams deep through their first five games of the season. Overall, the team therefore registered 18 pass plays of more than 20 yards – six of which resulting in touchdown, while only one deep attempt was intercepted. Let’s take a look at two of those plays to find out what makes Chicago’s deep passing game so dangerous and productive.
2-10-CHI 33 (10:31) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass deep right to A.Robinson II to ARZ 28 for 39 yards (T.Boston).
Down 14-3 during their week three game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bears were able to create some much-needed offensive momentum on a deep pass to wide receiver Allen Robinson II. The play starts with Chicago having an 11-personnel group on the field with a trips formation to the offensive left, one running back offset in the backfield, and Robinson (#12) as the single pass catcher on the weak side:
Trubisky’s initial target on the play appears to be tight end Trey Burton (#80), who runs an in-crossing pattern from the three-man bunch. However, the Cardinals flood the underneath zones well in their cover 3 scheme which forces the young passer to go through is reads and look for Robinson. The former second-round pick was chipped at the line of scrimmage but able to get open down the field on an out-and-go combination:
The play in itself is not spectacularly designed or particularly badly defended by Arizona – even though the deep-field cornerback Jamar Taylor (#28) could have been less aggressive on the out-route – but it shows a lot of the traits that make Trubisky a dangerous deep passer. Facing a four-man rush that is picked up well by the line, the second-year man remains calm despite his initial reads not being open.
Instead of panicking, Trubisky simply works to the other side of the formation – to Robinson – and re-sets his feet to bring himself in a position to deliver a pin-point throw. His mechanics stay sharp throughout the process, which allows him to put the pass right in the bucket for a 39-yard gain:
2-7-CHI 28 (15:00) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass short middle to T.Cohen to MIA 22 for 50 yards (R.Jones).
As Brian Flores mentioned during the aforementioned conference call, Trubisky also is a dangerous passer when moving off the spot. However, he was rarely moved noticeably off the spot on his 18 deep pass attempts this season which speaks for his patience in the pocket but also for the protection he enjoyed. A fourth quarter play from last week against the Miami Dolphins shows just how much damage Trubisky can do when given the time.
Chicago approached the second down with its preferred offensive package – 11 personnel – aligned in a 1x3 formation:
Miami counters with a cover 1 look with deep safety Reshad Jones (#20) shaded slightly to the defensive right. At the snap, Trubisky is able to freeze the defensive back by initially looking towards wide receiver Anthony Miller (#17) on his crossing route from the right side slot. With Jones left in a vacuum, the Bears’ quarterback feels comfortable in the one-on-one matchup between running back Tarik Cohen (#29) and cornerback Torry McTyer (#24) down the offensive left sideline.
What helps Trubisky was the offensive line holding up well to give the passer enough time to make a play on the longer-developing concept. This, in turn, made it possible for the second-year man to step into the throw and deliver a high-arcing pass to his running back for a gain of 50 yards – another big play for the Bears offense and their young quarterback that was well executed by all players involved:
What makes the Bears’ deep passing game – as illustrated by those two plays – so dangerous is the team’s ability to keep its quarterback well protected, and Trubisky’s vision and sound technique on the throws. For New England, it will therefore be imperative to get pressure on the passer and to be physical with his targets at the point of attack to disrupt the timing of plays. Trubisky, when given the time and seeing an opening to exploit, is able to make all the throws.
New England should also take a similar defensive approach as it did with the aforementioned Patrick Mahomes: trying to confuse the young quarterback before the snap in order to test his decision making and potentially force him into errant throws. Against Kansas City, this worked well – at least initially – as the Chiefs turned the football over twice in the first half. A similar result would go a long way to help the Patriots leave Chicago victoriously.