The Minnesota Vikings’ biggest game of the year will come against the team that has done the most impressive worst-to-first transformation in the NFL.
Last season, the Vikings’ defense twice dominated a sorry Chicago Bears offense, which finished 2017 29th in points scored. Through nine games, the new-look Bears now rank sixth in scoring and has already produced more points than all of last year.
The explanation comes in the form of a huge step forward for quarterback Mitch Trubisky under new head coach Matt Nagy. Chicago also put an impressive supporting cast around their second-year quarterback, signing tight end Trey Burton and receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in the offseason. In addition, the Bears drafted an impressive receiver in Anthony Miller.
Trubisky has nearly tripled his touchdown total from his rookie year and his quarterback rating has jumped from 77.5 to an outstanding 101.6.
But the former North Carolina quarterback has had an Achilles heel: The blitz.
According to Pro Football Focus, his rating is 106.4 when the opponent does not blitz and 89.9 when facing a blitz. Trubisky sees a drop of nearly 18 percent in completion percentage against an extra rusher. On 100 dropbacks against the blitz, the top pick in the ’17 draft has only 45 completions (per Pro Football Focus). Another interesting note is that PFF credits Trubisky with seven sacks allowed at Chicago’s O-line with five.
While the Vikings have not had much success against quality offenses this year — the highest rated offense in a win this year is 20th — Trubisky’s struggles against the blitz have the potential to play into Mike Zimmer’s hands.
Over his career in Minnesota, Zimmer has generally dominated inexperienced quarterbacks, in part because of his pressures in key situations, especially third downs.
Against rookie Sam Darnold, the Vikings blitzed 13 times, allowed just three completions. It was a similar result the week before versus first-round pick Josh Rosen. They blitzed 12 times and allowed a total of 53 yards passing and sacked Rosen three times.
In Trubisky’s rookie campaign, he saw 18 Vikings blitzes and completed six passes.
Let’s have a look at some of the areas the Bears’ quarterback could struggle against Minnesota’s blitzes or five-man rushes and the ways he could give the Vikings trouble when they bring pressure.
On the play below, the Patriots send five rushers after the passer and create pressure by having the left defensive end and defensive tackle rush inside and then the middle line backer comes all the way off the edge to get in Trubisky’s face.
One issue the second-year QB can have at times is inaccuracy when he doesn’t set his feet. Despite his quality traditional statistics, Trubisky ranks 20th in passing grade by PFF. Notice when he finally spots the linebacker, the young QB throws off balance and misses an open target down field.
Trubisky can have a tendency to be aggressive when blitzed — at times to his detriment.
That was evident against the New York Jets, who routinely blitz the QB. Below is an example of Trubisky on third down throwing out of a bunch formation. He has one receiver coming underneath, which he ignores on third-and-6 n favor of launching a deep ball down the sideline.
It’s always easier on tape than in fast motion, but on the Jets’ side of the field, the shorter option might have been more effective, especially since his offensive line did a good job of picking up the Jets’ rush.
Here is another example of Trubisky missing a check down option that could have resulted in a big play. New York’s rush is effective, so he has to make a quick decision, but running back Tarik Cohen leaks out into the flat with no defenders in his area. Trubisky instead fires the ball to a covered receiver for an incompletion.
Notice the blitz comes from the cornerback on the right side. Cohen goes right into his place. The linebacker carrying the tight end across the field leaves the offense’s left open.
Sending extra pressure is hardly a lock to throw the up-and-coming QB for a loop. The Bears rank No. 2 in the NFL by PFF grades in pass blocking. If they are able to protect Trubisky against opposing team’s blitzes, he can create big plays and plenty of headaches.
This example below comes from his three-touchdown performance against the Dolphins. On a third down, they send an extra man off both edges. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. blocks the defensive end and gets just enough of the blitzer to give Chicago’s receiver time to get open in the wide open middle of the field. On the right side, the running back picks up the defensive back’s rush. Trubisky sets his feet and drives a perfect throw down field.
Trubisky is also one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s gained 320 total yards on 7.8 yards per carry. If the opposition gives him a lane, the speedy QB will take it and create first downs even if no one was open.
On the play below is a perfect example:
The Vikings are not always a big blitzing team — and with Everson Griffen back, Zimmer’s defense may be able to create enough pressure with the front four to throw off Chicago’s QB. Two weeks ago against Detroit, the Vikings only blitzed seven times. Nine of their 10 sacks of Matthew Stafford came on four-man rushes.
Chicago will also have home field advantage, which makes it easier for a quarterback to set his protection and for tackles to hear the snap count.
No doubt Zimmer’s scheme to fluster Trubisky will be one of the most intriguing things to watch on Sunday night.