With the Chicago Bears looking to halt a four-game losing streak and remain in the mix as the playoff chase heats up, it’s time to turn back to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback for Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Trubisky lost his starting job in Week 3 against the Falcons when he was benched in the third quarter in Atlanta. But replacement Nick Foles has struggled, and the last we saw of the veteran, he was being carted off the turf at Soldier Field after suffering a hip injury in the final minute of the Nov. 16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Foles did not practice Wednesday, while Trubisky was a full participant, healed from the right shoulder injury that sidelined him the last two games. Coach Matt Nagy called Foles “day to day” and declined to name a starter for Sunday or provide a timeline for a decision, but all signs point to the 2017 first-round pick.
“It was good to see (Trubisky) out there, and he looked good and the tempo and the rhythm was good,” Nagy said.
Foles’ health could be a legitimate issue this week, and the team could choose that lane to explain a switch, but this should be a performance-based decision.
It does not really matter when or how the Bears choose to justify it — whether they cite Foles’ injury, performance or both — because his production has been as jarring as the big hit he took from Vikings defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo at the end of the Vikings game.
Trubisky was operating on what turned out to be a short leash for Nagy at the start of the season, and Foles has had ample time to breathe life into the offense. For multiple reasons — and it’s not just on him — nothing has clicked with any acceptable level of consistency.
It’s impossible to fault Nagy for benching Trubisky when he did after a bad interception to open the third quarter that helped stake the Falcons to a 26-10 lead, a hole Foles dug the Bears out of with a fourth-quarter rally.
The offense struggled before that in victories over the Detroit Lions and New York Giants, and the highly publicized quarterback competition in training camp didn’t produce great results. Trubisky was benched because the issues that plagued him this season were the same ones the Bears wanted fixed after 2019.
The problem lies in the reality that the offense is even worse now than it was. The Bears are reeling and risk going from a 5-1 start to sub-.500 before the calendar turns to December. An upset Sunday night would pull them within one game of first place in the NFC North. A loss would drop them three games back with five to play, and they would be a long shot for a wild-card spot even with the postseason field expanded to seven teams in each conference.
Foles’ experience in the system hasn’t led to the kind of steadying effect the Bears envisioned when they traded a fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire him in March, reworking his contract to guarantee him $21 million — $9 million of which will still be owed after this season. He has struggled in the face of pressure behind a patchwork line. He has looked shaken even when the pocket has been clean. And the running game, a major point of emphasis in the offseason, has been nonexistent.
Nagy put down a trail of breadcrumbs Monday when asked how the two quarterbacks had affected the running game.
“You look at the first couple games, really the first three games, we were able to get that run game established,” he said. “And that helps out when you’re able to get that going. And I thought our protection was pretty (good) too. A lot of that was before some of the injuries that have happened and/or the COVID. And then we made the move at the quarterback position and we ended up struggling to run the ball against the Colts and Tampa Bay, and for, again, different reasons.
“I just felt like looking back at it, we were never able to just establish that identity, per se. We were just kind of, ‘Hey, well, we’ve got to get the run game going.’ Well, we get that going and then we weren’t able to pass the ball, our protection would break down or whatever it was. Or next week we’d get great protection and then we’d struggle for different reasons to run the ball. Also, at the quarterback position and at the wide receiver position, we just weren’t jelling as an offense in general.”
The numbers are jarring. The Bears have 375 rushing yards with Trubisky at quarterback, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. They’ve run for only 407 yards with Foles and have been more than 2 yards worse per carry at 2.87.
Offensive line coach Juan Castillo has been forced to juggle starters, and the Bears could be making more moves up front this week, but soon they will be out of combinations to try. What they have to switch now is the quarterback, understanding that Trubisky might make some mistakes but knowing they’re going nowhere with Foles, who might not have been at full strength recently when playing with what appeared to be thick rib-cage padding.
To be clear, this isn’t a move that should be made depending on Foles’ availability. The change should be based on the increasingly problematic woes of an offense that has regressed.
Nagy has praised Trubisky consistently for how he handled the demotion, and he said a different view from the sideline can lead to improvement.
“Big picture for him, these are great opportunities,” Nagy said of Trubisky potentially playing. “It’s a great opportunity for him to just go out and play quarterback and play it with really an appreciation for what he lost — when something is taken away from you, how do people react? There are different people that might get angry and they might not have handled themselves well for the last seven, eight weeks and now they’re not prepared.
“I feel like it is the opposite for him. (If) he gets a chance to be the starter, he’s going to use the stuff that he’s learned from and use it to help him make better plays on game day, and so that’s what I feel about where he’s at with this opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for him if he gets a chance to play.”
The Jaguars are turning to Mike Glennon as their starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. The Bears benched Glennon for Trubisky in Week 4 of the 2017 season, and the Jaguars are moving to Glennon after benching first Gardner Minshew and now Jake Luton. Foles, of course, lost his starting job to Minshew after returning from an injury last season.
That’s what happens when you’re one of the have-nots in the NFL as it pertains to quarterback play. You spin the wheel and hope to come up lucky.
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