The only thing worse in the NFL than being sure that you don’t have a franchise quarterback is being in the purgatory of not being sure that your quarterback is actually “the dude.”
That the Bears are facing this question in year No. 3 of Mitchell Trubisky’s career is perhaps an answer in itself. In other words, if you don’t know 31 games into a career whether your signal-caller is that coveted difference-maker who is worthy of being paid like one, he probably isn’t.
It’s not as if the Bears have much longer to decide whether to fully commit to Trubisky and offer him a lucrative second contract. After all, this summer, the Eagles and Rams each signed their 2016 top picks — Carson Wentz (second overall) and Jared Goff (first overall) — to nine-figure deals. If that’s the new standard, the Bears would have to make the call on their second-overall 2017 draft pick after this season.
Trubisky has started five games for the Bears this season, including one he left early with an injury, and the team failed to generate 300 yards of total offense in any of them. The Bears also failed to reach that relatively modest yardage mark (teams are averaging 351.2 yards this year) in the game started by Trubisky’s backup, Chase Daniel. Only one other Bears team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the 1975 squad, had this long a streak of offensive ineptitude to start the season.
Trubisky is missing open throws. His downfield passing has declined appreciably from last year, measured by average depth of target (6.7 yards from scrimmage compared with 8.8 in 2018) and air yards per completion (4.0 versus 6.3). He’s no longer presenting a viable running threat (just 21 yards all season, down from more than 400 in 2018).1
The Bears passed on both 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes and 2019 MVP candidate Deshaun Watson to select Trubisky in the 2017 draft. So it’s not surprising that fans are frustrated by his lack of progress, especially after his performance in Sunday’s 36-25 loss to the Saints, when his stats were boosted by two meaningless scoring drives long after the game was decided. Head coach Matt Nagy said he understands that there are no more excuses for either him or his quarterback nearly a season and a half into their tenure together.
But Trubisky’s performance was one game against one of the league’s leading defenses. To more fairly assess Trubisky, let’s look at the other first-round quarterbacks selected this century and see where they were in cumulative passer rating through their 31st game. We also note the NFL-wide passer rating in the season in which these QBs played their 31st game.
|Through 31 games|
|Player||Draft year||Season||Avg. rtg. that year||Player Passer rtg.|
By this measure, Trubisky ranks 10th among the 48 first-round quarterbacks. Those he has so far exceeded in passer rating through the same career point include Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Eli Manning.
But passer rating has risen steadily this century. When you compare each passer to the benchmark of the league average rating in the season in which they played their 31st game, Trubisky drops to 19th — and is then ahead of only Luck and Manning from that list.
By yards per attempt, Trubisky’s 6.8 career mark would rank 20th, leaving him ahead of only Manning in that group. But if Manning was viewed as a franchise quarterback — and, of course, he did win two Super Bowl MVPs after his 31st career game — it’s hard to say that Trubisky definitely will not be one.
But it’s clearly not out of bounds for Bears fans to question Trubisky’s long-term viability. He does rank behind a number of first-round busts who never saw a sixth season with the clubs that drafted them in the first round, including Jason Campbell, Byron Leftwich and Josh Freeman.
Trubisky’s passer rating, as indicated by his garbage-time-inflated number of 86.3 on Sunday, may not be the best measure of his quality of play. ESPN’s Total QBR looks at the success or failure of every play and the points that play is expected to generate. Measured this way, Trubisky ranks 30th on the season at just 34.2 (100 is the highest possible number), quite a distance from the QBR average of 54.2. Trubisky’s QBR is suffering this year partly because of his lack of running. Last year, Trubisky raced for 29 first downs, second on the team. This year, he’s gained just one.
Trubisky will try to find some way to spark the offense. But right now, he seems lost. “I mean, right now we have no identity,” Trubisky said after the Saints game. “We’re just searching.”
If his team keeps searching like this, it might be searching next for a new quarterback.
Looking Ahead: Week 8
Best matchup:2 No. 14 Philadelphia at No. 13 Buffalo (-2.5), 1 p.m. ET Sunday
Packers-Chiefs — a rematch of Super Bowl I — was looking like the week’s marquee matchup, but Patrick Mahomes’s injury spoiled those plans. Instead, the top game of Week 8 features the Bills and Eagles, two teams that are right next to each other in our Elo power rankings despite having wildly different records. Buffalo has tallied a 5-1 mark so far, making it one of only five teams with one loss or fewer this season, but the Bills have done it against a ridiculously weak schedule. Their opposing slate rates as the NFL’s second-easiest in Football Outsiders’ rankings and third-easiest according to Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System. So Philly is actually much tougher than the Bills’ typical opponent, even though its Elo rating is barely better than average. And from the Eagles’ perspective, that’s a pretty disappointing status. They went into the season with Super Bowl aspirations but have gone 3-4 thus far, as QB Carson Wentz has been up and down and the team’s defense has not impressed. After a humiliating loss to Dallas on Sunday Night Football, Philadelphia needs a strong showing on the road in Orchard Park just to stabilize its flagging playoff odds. But there is good news: That’s hardly an impossible task, even after such a mediocre start to the season. We give the Eagles a 42 percent shot at the upset, which is the highest of any underdog this week.
|Favorite||Underdog||Favorite’s Win prob||Quality||Evenness||Importance||QBs|
Biggest playoff implications: No. 22 Oakland at No. 9 Houston (-7), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
Potential shift in playoff odds: 23.9 total percentage points
Last week, we wrote that Houston had the chance to really solidify its status as AFC South front-runners with a win at Indianapolis. That didn’t happen, though. Now, Deshaun Watson and the Texans find themselves in the most crucial game of Week 8, against a Raiders team with a surprising .500 record and a lot to gain from an upset here. Our model thinks Oakland’s postseason chances would go up from 27 percent to 48 percent if Derek Carr and Co. can engineer the win — something we say has a respectable 26 percent chance of happening. (With Mahomes out and K.C. only a game and a half up on the Raiders in the AFC West, Oakland fans at least have something to dream about, right?) At the same time, the pressure is on the Texans to avoid any further slippage in their playoff odds. We give them a solid 64 percent chance right now — sixth-highest in the AFC — but that number would fall to 40 percent with a loss to Oakland, and their division odds would drop to just 23 percent. Watson is the better QB, and Houston is the better team, so they should hold serve at home. But if not, this matchup has the potential to shake up the AFC playoff picture.
Best QB duels: No. 2 Matt Ryan* (ATL) vs. No. 5 Russell Wilson (SEA); No. 4 Deshaun Watson (HOU) vs. No. 13 Derek Carr (OAK); No. 10 Philip Rivers (LAC) vs. No. 17 Mitchell Trubisky (CHI)
* Ryan may not play because of injury.
FiveThirtyEight vs. the Readers
As a weekly tradition here at FiveThirtyEight, we look at how our Elo model did against everybody who made picks in our forecasting game. (If you entered, you can find yourself on our leaderboard here. I am currently in 835th place!) These are the games in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the field last week:
|OUR PREDICTION (ELO)||READERS’ PREDICTION|
|PICK||WIN PROB.||PICK||WIN PROB.||Result||READERS’ NET PTS|
|LAR||54%||LAR||62%||LAR 37, ATL 10||+4.9||
|JAX||54||JAX||61||JAX 27, CIN 17||+4.4||
|CHI||54||NO||52||NO 36, CHI 25||+4.2||
|NYG||58||NYG||54||ARI 27, NYG 21||+2.8||
|SEA||65||SEA||62||BAL 30, SEA 16||+2.2||
|SF||75||SF||84||SF 9, WSH 0||+1.9||
|KC||64||KC||68||KC 30, DEN 6||+0.8||
|NE||75||NE||82||NE 33, NYJ 0||+0.8||
|BUF||83||BUF||87||BUF 31, MIA 21||-0.2||
|GB||75||GB||71||GB 42, OAK 24||-4.3||
|HOU||52||HOU||55||IND 30, HOU 23||-5.0||
|DAL||55||DAL||51||DAL 37, PHI 10||-5.9||
|MIN||57||MIN||52||MIN 42, DET 30||-6.1||
|TEN||55||LAC||52||TEN 23, LAC 20||-8.6||
After a batch of picks undone by one disastrous outcome in Week 6, FiveThirtyEight readers did better in Week 7 — though they still lost to Elo overall. They were more bullish on the Rams and Jaguars than the algorithm and were rewarded for it, and they rightly picked New Orleans to beat the Bears at Soldier Field. But the readers also bet on the Chargers and lost, lacked faith in the Vikings and perhaps overcorrected after the Cowboys’ loss to the Jets, undervaluing Dallas against Philadelphia. Adding it up, the average reader lost to Elo by a margin of 8.1 points in Week 7 — a third straight loss (and fifth of the season) for the field after picking up back-to-back wins in Weeks 3 and 4.
Even so, congratulations are in order for Carl Kuhl, who led all readers in Week 7 with 219.3 points, and for John Ahlfield, who pulled into the full-season contest lead with 527.6 points. Thanks to everyone who played — and if you haven’t, be sure to get in on the action! You can make picks now and try your luck against Elo, even if you missed Week 7.
Check out our latest NFL predictions.