How Bears' Mitch Trubisky turned into one of NFL's hard count wizards

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Cam Ellis
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How Mitch Trubisky became master of the hard count originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Midway through the second quarter of last week's game, Mitch Trubisky and the Bears' offense found themselves in an unpleasantly-familiar situation. Despite being nine plays into their drive, progress had stalled: the last four had been run inside Minnesota's 20, with the longest being a three-yard run from David Montgomery. Facing 3rd and 7, the offense broke the huddle and lined up in shotgun as Trubisky began his cadence. What happened next has, to the delight of Bears fans, become commonplace in Trubisky's late season 'resurgence:' using a hard count, the QB managed to draw Vikings defensive end D. J. Wonnum into jumping early. The refs caught it, threw a flag for neutral zone infraction, and just like that, 3rd and 7 became 3rd and 2. 

One play later, the QB picked up the first down with his legs. Three plays after that, David Montgomery punched it in from one yard out. It wasn't the seminal moment from Sunday's win, but Trubisky's hard count played an integral role in rewarding a 13-play, 76 yard drive with all seven points. It was also the latest example of what's quickly becoming a handy weapon in Trubisky's arsenal – a hard count that, right now, seems to be working as well as anyone's. Since Trubisky took over for Foles three weeks ago, the Bears have drawn five neutral zone infractions. In the five weeks prior? Zero. 

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"We’re using it as a weapon," Matt Nagy said. "When it works in your favor, which it is right now for us, you’re gonna continue to try to find ways to do it. He’s done a great job and put his own twist on when and why he uses it throughout the week of practice and in the game, and it’s been a great weapon for us.” 

There's no special secret to why Trubisky's hard count has started working, he claims – just practice. And if you don't believe him, take it from someone he's spent most of his career practicing against. 

"He does a good job with his voice inflection and all those different things," Khalil Mack said. "Just understanding what's at stake and understanding how the tempo of the game goes, how the momentum changes. All of that kind of affects the hard count, and that's what makes all of the quarterbacks good at it in those particular situations. Understanding what it is and what the defense is thinking and they want to get off one ball, it's all those different things.

"I can't really put my finger on it but it's him and what he does"

That's all well and good, but for someone who maybe didn't know what a hard count was before he became the second overall pick, the evolution of Trubisky's cadence has been impressive to watch. The key for him, he says, actually has nothing to do with voice inflection. In fact, he thinks it doesn't really have a whole lot to do with him at all.

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"We’re dictating the tempo out of the huddle," Trubisky said. "So we have a lot of these plays when we’re getting the ball off pretty quick or going no-huddle, and the defense has to respect that and get set and show us their hand – whether it be rotation or showing a blitz or really getting set in the defense." 

The next step in dethroning Aaron Rodgers as hard count King of the North (admittedly no easy task) is taking those moments to attack the defense downfield, something Rodgers is legendary for. That being said, there's more to hard counts than squeezing out the occasional free play – as Nagy pointed out, it keeps defenses off-balanced and guessing. Especially for an offense that, on its face, isn't particularly complex, the Bears are happy to take any competitive advantages they're given.

"You’re able to either draw guys offside or really see what kind of set that the defense is in and what kind of look they’re trying to give," Trubisky added. "I think our tempo in and out of the huddle, and how we’re changing it and going fast and sometimes going slow, mixing up, just to keep them off-balance, gives us the advantage there."