CHICAGO – The intention of the Green Bay Packers defense Sunday at Soldier Field was to make Chicago Bears' second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky beat them.
They wanted him in the pocket, to push the ball down the field and challenge the secondary with passes that could be deflected, intercepted or frankly thrown awry. Unfortunately for the Packers, Trubisky rose to the occasion by doing the opposite in the Bears’ 24-17, NFC North division-winning victory.
“Mitch had outstanding pocket awareness today,” Packers corner Tony Brown said. “He was very accurate with his throws. He picked up some blitzes. He moved well. He had a really good day.”
Trubisky will be credited with a robust 8.4 yards per pass attempt, but he rarely challenged the back end of the Packers’ secondary.
Which on one hand, could be taken as a compliment. On the other hand, it spoke to Trubisky’s discipline. Someone was going to be open, eventually, even if was the shorter — safer — option. After that? Let his pass catchers handle it.
“Don’t do anything crazy, don’t try to make a splash,” Trubisky said of his mindset. “Just completions after completions and it resulted in first downs and it helped create a rhythm within the offense that I think helped all day.”
Jaire Alexander shrugged.
“It was smart by him,” the Packers rookie corner said, “We expected him to take the shots. I mean, that way he’d beat us through the air, but when you just dumping it off here and there it’s hard. It’s harder to make plays on the ball.”
Instead, Trubisky’s pass catchers made plays with the ball. In the first half, Packers defenders caromed off advancing Bears like pebbles off the grill of a Mack semi truck. Allen Robinson shook off Alexander for 30 yards. Safety Eddie Pleasant fell off Jordan Howard for 15. Howard ran powerfully, shedding linebackers and defensive linemen. The Bears scored 14 points in the first half, broken tackles a root factor.
“It was very frustrating,” Packers corner Bashaud Breeland said. “We couldn’t get them off the field.”
Which all contributed to Trubisky’s best performance since a Nov. 11 victory over Detroit (he missed two games in that period with a shoulder injury). He outplayed Aaron Rodgers with a 120.4 rating and 71.4 completion percentage for 235 yards.
He threw no interceptions, the first time he has accomplished that since the Lions game (though he did have one fumble recovered by the Bears).
And he did all that by playing the position, taking what was given and hitting the open receiver. That included a 13-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown to Trey Burton to put the Bears up 21-14, a play Brown said was a backside progression on the Packers’ Cover 2 defense that caught Brown playing too shallow and Josh Jones not quite wide enough.
Coming to the sideline, Bears head coach Matt Nagy grabbed his quarterback’s face mask with a strong message.
“That’s a throw that he just made right there with conviction,” Nagy said. “When he does that, he’s tough to stop.”
On paper it was a solid game plan for the Packers.
Despite the Bears’ success, Trubisky had been uneven throughout the season. He had thrown 12 interceptions heading into Sunday for a 3.4 percent interception rate, and there had been four times in his previous six games that he completed 60 percent or fewer of his passes.
Pleasant, whom Trubisky evaded on a key third-and-7 play with under five minutes to go in the first half that resulted in a 23-yard completion to Adam Shaheen, agreed with the assessment that the Bears quarterback had tremendous pocket presence Sunday, running as needed, when needed.
“That comes with the game of football, being able to adjust,” Jones said. “You don’t really always get what you want in the game plan. Obviously they didn’t do everything we expected them to do.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment the Bears made was a concerted effort to avoid third down, at which point Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could dial up looks that would create problems for Trubisky. And when the Bears fell into third down, Pettine did, as the Packers held the Bears to just 3-of-10 on that down.
But 15 times the Bears converted a first down on either first or second down — including seven times where they needed 10 yards or more and another four times where they needed 6-9 yards to do so.
On their three touchdown drives, the Bears converted a first nine times on first or second down. On those plays, Trubisky was an impressive 6-for-6 for 83 yards.
“Mitch had a great game,” Brown reiterated. “He played awesome, so hat’s off to him.”