It’s very popular to hate Mitchell Trubisky. Whenever he does something wrong, every lounge chair analyst brings up the fact that he was drafted before Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. They then suggest that he should be replaced as soon as possible. And when he plays well, those same people write off that success as a fluke. Now, I’m not about to claim that Trubisky is secretly a top-five quarterback on the verge of taking the NFL by storm. However, he has played well the last couple weeks, and if he continues to do so, Trubisky could force the Chicago Bears to reconsider him as their franchise quarterback.
Trubisky has played at an elite level in the last two games for the Chicago Bears
Trubisky’s run of solid play started last week against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. His conventional statistics through the air were almost impeccable, with 338 yards, three touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 76.3%, while only throwing one interception. Looked at in a vacuum, those are elite statistics. On paper, any quarterback would be happy with that day.
And Trubisky followed that excellent performance with an encore against the Dallas Cowboys. His passing statistics were almost identical, with 244 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and one interception to go along with a completion percentage of 74.2%. Those statistics aren’t quite as impressive as what he produced against the Lions, but they still represent a better-than-average outing for a starting quarterback.
Examining Trubisky’s games with the OSM
Anyone who has read my work in the past will know that statistics can often be misleading. As an extreme example, a quarterback could theoretically throw 50 screen passes for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. However, just looking at the statistics wouldn’t tell you that the quarterback’s skill position players did most of the work in creating those statistics. PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) attempts to solve this dilemma by using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats to determine how responsible a player was for their own production.
The most relevant of these advanced statistics to Trubisky’s grades is what the NFL calls “expected completion percentage”. The NFL calculates how likely each throw a quarterback attempts in a game is to be completed. From there, they can determine what percentage of their passes that the player should have completed in theory. We can then compare that player’s expected completion percentage with their in-game completion percentage to determine how much more (or less) efficient they were than they should have been.
What Trubisky’s OSM grades show
In Trubisky’s case, his OSM grades matched his conventional statistics almost perfectly. Against Detroit, in what was arguably his best game of the season as a passer. His grade of 37.14 made him the second-highest graded quarterback of the week. As I already mentioned, the primary factor involved in producing that grade was his expected completion percentage, which was 11.2% higher than expected, the second-highest increase of the week. That level of efficiency can easily be the difference in a close football game. Even more remarkable was the fact that Trubisky achieved this feat despite the fact that he threw the ball into tight windows on 21.1% of his passes in Week 13. So, despite attempting low-percentage passes at a very high rate, Trubisky managed still to complete more than three-fourths of his passes. It was a truly impressive day for a much-maligned player.
Trubisky’s advanced metrics from the game between Chicago and Dallas tell essentially the same story. His statistics were slightly worse, and as a result, his OSM grade was worse as well, at 27.79. He threw the ball into tight windows even more often at 25.8% of the time but was less successful when it came to completing those attempts. Because of this, while his actual completion percentage was almost identical to the week prior, it was only seven percent higher than expected. That is still well above the average, but not quite as good as the week prior. As a passer, Trubisky was merely good, rather than great, in Week 14.
Of course, that isn’t an entirely fair representation of his play overall, because OSM grades do not take into account a quarterback’s rushing statistics. So, while it’s true that his OSM grade was slightly lower than against the Lions, Trubisky compensated for that by having what was easily his best game of the season on the ground, rushing for 63 yards and a touchdown. When you combine that success with his moderately effective game through the air, his impact on the game increases dramatically, and Trubisky’s dominance over the last two weeks becomes crystal clear.
How Trubisky can prove he can be the Chicago Bears franchise quarterback
The major caveat to all of this, obviously, is that Trubisky’s recent successes have come against inferior competition; the Lions are currently 3-8, and after their loss on Thursday, the Cowboys are 6-7 (although that is somehow still good enough for first place in the NFC East). Playing well against them, while commendable, does not show that Trubisky is the franchise quarterback that Chicago so desperately needs.
However, Trubisky will have ample opportunity to prove himself during the last three weeks of the regular season. In that three-game stretch, the Bears play the Green Bay Packers, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Minnesota Vikings. Those three teams have a combined record of 28-11, and if the season ended today, all three of them would make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Bears have not yet been eliminated from playoff contention. In fact, they technically still have a chance to win the NFC North. It isn’t guaranteed, but if Trubisky can lead the team to wins in each of their last three games, he would give Chicago a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. At that point, regardless of how the Bears season ends, Trubisky will have made a strong case to be kept around for the foreseeable future.