Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears’ quarterback taken second overall in the 2017 draft, should reveal his career potential this season. Though his passer rating shot up from 77.5 to 94.5 last year, you don’t hear many people saying he’s heading toward being a top-tier NFL gunslinger.
While Trubisky hasn’t wowed people, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes either. In each of his games against the Packers last season, he distributed the ball around to eight separate receivers, and avoided any interceptions. In Game 1 he went 23 for 35, but only for 171 yards through the air – yielding a passer rating of 77.2. On December 15 at Soldier Field, however, he was much more effective: 20 of 28 for 235 yards and a 120.4 rating.
The QB’s primary weapon, Allen Robinson, who came over from Jacksonville to the Bears last season, was held to 4 catches for 61 yards and 7 for 54 yards in the two games against Green Bay last season. Drafted in the second round by the Jags, Robinson recorded 90 catches, 1,400 yards (17.5 average), and 14 touchdowns in just his second year, but he’s never come within 500 yards of that total in the three years since.
The Packers’ Davante Adams, drafted 53rd overall in 2014 – eight picks before Robinson – would appear to give Green Bay a decided advantage at WR1. It’s the two scatbacks who worry me. The Packers are often victimized by little water-bug types, though Green Bay has a lot more defensive speed now than in recent years.
Running back Tariq Cohen was an All-Pro returner last season in just his second NFL campaign. The 181-pounder doesn’t knock people over, but he excels in open space. Though he had 10 catches in the two games against the Pack last year, he was nicely held in check, with just 47 yards gained.
Then there’s Taylor Gabriel. The sixth-year receiver is another recent Chicago addition, coming to the Bears last year, when he registered 67 catches for 688 yards. Taylor makes Cohen look large: he’s listed as 5’8” and 165 pounds – that’s undersized for a middle-school player. How does the undrafted receiver do it? With 4.27 speed! He too was largely a non-factor against Green Bay last year, with 8 catches for 58 yards in the two games.
Though the team’s final preseason game, against the Chiefs, was played by second- and third-team players, I noticed that the Packers’ DBs were consistently late in covering running backs and receivers who drifted into the right or left flats. Such easy completions almost invariably resulted in gains of from 8 to 12 yards – but the Packers’ coaches never corrected the problem.
The short passes, whether to wide receivers, tight ends, or running backs, allowed the Chiefs to out-pass the Packers 294 to 211 yards. The Chiefs resorted to dink-ball, with only two completions going for more than 13 yards. With all their youth and speed, maybe the Packers starting DBs will jump all over the short passes that I expect from Trubisky.
Another thing to watch for: will cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, or others, at times contest receivers at the line of scrimmage? That’s something Packer fans have seldom seen in recent years, including under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The last Green Bay DB I can recall who tried to hold up receivers at the line of scrimmage was LaDarius Gunter – but he didn’t have the speed to catch back up with them once they got by him.
Sports Illustrated ranks the Bears’ WRs/TEs 22nd among the 32 NFL teams. For that matter, they rank Chicago’s QBs 21st and their RBs 22nd. Thursday’s game will be an opportunity for Mike Pettine’s guys, including his three spendy new starters, to throttle one of the league’s more suspect offenses.
With Coach LaFleur intent on the Packers having a better balance of run and pass plays, it could be a low-scoring affair.