Are Bears in danger of losing locker room if Mitchell Trubisky continues his futility?

Terez PaylorSenior NFL writer

Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy entered his team’s road test against the Philadelphia Eagles with a simple goal for Mitchell Trubisky, his struggling starting quarterback:

Trust your eyes, he told him, and throw with conviction.

Over the first 30 minutes of the game, Trubisky did neither as the Bears accumulated an embarrassing nine total yards of offense before heading into the break down 12. It was, by any measure, the ugliest half of offensive football of 2019, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do considering the entire rules are slanted toward offense now.

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That’s how bad things have gotten in Chicago, as the Bears’ second-half rally fell short in a 22-14 loss to the Eagles.

Mitchell Trubisky isn't getting the benefit of the doubt after recovering from a shoulder injury. (Getty Images)
Mitchell Trubisky isn't getting the benefit of the doubt after recovering from a shoulder injury. (Getty Images)

At 3-5, the Bears are miles away from 2018, when they went 12-4 and won the NFC North under Nagy in his first year at the helm. And make no mistake about it, Nagy’s ability to coax the best out of the athletic, strong-armed Trubisky — whose uneven mechanics and questionable field vision were scrutinized before the Bears made him the second overall pick of 2017 — was the driving force behind the Bears’ seven-game turnaround a year ago.

Not that I was surprised about that. After visiting Nagy and the Bears in training camp last year, I came away thinking Nagy was coaching a younger, more athletic version of Alex Smith, the quarterback Nagy helped turn into one of the league’s best passers over the previous five seasons in Kansas City. But I also came away from that visit realizing that Trubisky, like Smith, is a thinker at the position, perhaps too much of one. A tendency to overanalyze keeps some quarterbacks (like Smith) from ever cutting it loose at the position, though I figured Trubisky’s overall athleticism and aptitude would help him get the job done more often than not with Nagy’s help.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Trubisky, who was indefensibly taken before two bonafide stars in Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, looks more like the NFL draft’s version of Sam Bowie.

As evidenced by a disastrous first half Sunday in which Trubisky regularly failed to throw with anticipation and often seemed to doubt what he saw, which caused him to throw inaccurately, throw late or, even worse, eat a sack, like he did on one first-down play midway through the opening quarter:

Two plays later on third-and-14, Trubisky was checking it down to David Montgomery when he inexplicably pump-faked with 15 yards of green space ahead of him:

It’s rare to see an NFL quarterback so gun-shy, so timid in the pocket. Look at how long it takes Trubisky to get to this checkdown:

These are the things that defenses see, too. They notice a quarterback who looks timid, which explains why the Eagles spent the whole game in a disrespectful one-high coverage look designed to snuff out the run and wipe out underneath throws, all while daring Trubisky to connect deep, which he finally did a little in the second half, when it was too late.

Now, here’s the deal: I’m not willing to buy that this tentative, ineffective quarterback is who Trubisky wholly is. He’s wearing a giant black harness on his left shoulder — he dislocated his non-throwing shoulder a month ago — and he generally did not play like this last year.

Even assuming that’s the best-case case, if that injury is affecting his ability to execute the basic NFL throws, then perhaps he shouldn’t play. Trubisky is looking so inept that despite the fact that everyone knows about his injury, he’s not even being given the benefit of the doubt in the court of public opinion. This is bad because when a pissed-off fan base decides a quarterback stinks, that fan base also tends to stop buying tickets, which means changes have to be made to get fans excited about the team and spending money again.

What happens if this keeps up, and the Bears end up being terrible?

Well, fans are already questioning the competence of general manager Ryan Pace, who took Trubisky over Mahomes and Watson. It’s only a matter of time before they start questioning the competence of the coach, too (though that that shouldn’t be the case).

The easiest fix for the Bears will be to replace the quarterback or, at the very least, add legitimate competition for Trubisky this offseason. As painful as either choice would be, they may not have a choice since continuing to run an ineffective quarterback out there is one of the quickest ways to lose a locker room.

We saw this happen last year in Jacksonville. The Jaguars lost to Kansas City in Week 5 due to Blake Bortles’ incompetence, and a kickass Jaguars defense promptly went to hell as it realized that Bortles’ shortcomings would cap their ceiling.

The next week, the Jags got their butts kicked 40-7 against Dallas, and the Jaguars, who reached the AFC title game the season before, finished 2018 with a 5-11 record as Bortles put the finishing touches on a career-ending effort (as a legit NFL starting quarterback, at least).

If Trubisky can’t turn it around, the Bears are potentially facing the same fate for 2019. The tenor of the room will become increasingly negative, like it always does when a season goes south, and players will be pointing fingers.

Nagy has been coaching in this league long enough to know this, and you can bet that’s why he spent part of his postgame presser stressing the importance of sticking together. The Bears are not quite in football hell yet. But they’re on the precipice.

“I’m learning right now that our team is very, very strong, very strong — they’re built tough,” Nagy said. “We’re being challenged right now, it’s not easy and we hate it, it sucks but it is what it is. We’ve got to just rally around each other, support one another. We’re being as tested as we’ve ever wanted to be, but we’ll see how we respond to it.”

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