The Bears Already Have the Key Ingredient For Early Trubisky Success

mitch trubisky game plan
Credit: Chicago Tribune

There can be no doubt the Chicago Bears Mitch Trubisky game plan is simple enough. Keep him on the bench until he shows them he’s ready. Given his limited starting experience in college (13 games) that sounds ideal. At the same time it’s almost never that easy. There are any number of ways he could get on the field sooner than anticipated.

Mike Glennon could struggle, which wouldn’t surprise given he was a backup for most of the past three seasons. Or he could get injured. That may sound like a long shot until people look back to last season when both Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer each suffered season-ending injuries. It can happen.

So that leaves the million dollar question. Are the Bears prepared for that eventuality? Can they ensure a smooth transition for Trubisky to the starting job? Some are skeptical of this, citing serious concerns with the receiving corps and it’s lack of proven options. That’s fair but history shows there are ways around that problem.

Mitch Trubisky game plan centers on running game

What is the key to a young quarterback getting off on the right foot? There is no single answer, but a popular one is giving him a strong running game. This cuts down his exposure both to fierce NFL pass rushes and also allows him to utilize play action, giving him more open throwing lanes for big completions. That builds confidence.

As it turns out this methodology shows a direct correlation throughout Bears history. Look back at all of their first round draft picks. It turns out the most successful ones have the same thing in common. Yep, they all had good running backs at their disposal.

Sid Luckman (1939)

The greatest quarterback in Bears history got lucky from the outset. He had not one but two Pro Bowlers to hand off to. The first was bruising fullback Bill Osmanski and then there lightning fast George McAfee. The latter eventually landed in the Hall of Fame. No small feat given he missed three seasons of his career thanks to World War II.

Johnny Lujack (1946)

He could’ve been remember so much more had he not chosen to retire early. Still, Lujack went to two Pro Bowls during his brief career. Much of that thanks to having McAfee still in the backfield along with underrated fullback Don Kindt. Not the same premier backfield Luckman had, but still effective.

Bob Williams (1951)

Two issues largely ruined Williams’ promising NFL opportunity. The first was the untimely rise of the Korean War, which he served in during 1953. The other was a rather lukewarm backfield led by Fred Morrison and Chuck Hunsinger. Morrison never really fit the Bears scheme and found greater success in Cleveland. Hunsinger was out of the league after three years.

Jim McMahon (1982)

What really needs to be said? Jim McMahon had Walter Payton when he was still in his prime. That makes life easy for any quarterback. In fact he averaged just 28.85 passes per game during his rookie season. That allowed him to go 3-4 his first year and didn’t throw an interception the final three games. Certainly an easy way to build confidence.

Jim Harbaugh (1987)

He didn’t quite have the same success McMahon did in Chicago. Likely because he didn’t quite have the same caliber of back. Even so Neal Anderson was a four-time Pro Bowler. That security blanket allowed Harbaugh to be brought along slowly and as result he went to the playoffs twice in 1990 and 1991.

Cade McNown (1999)

Two words:  Curtis Enis. To this day he’s renowned as one of the biggest Bears draft busts in the Super Bowl era. A top five pick that looked like a future star who accomplished nothing. So it’s safe to say that Cade McNown, who needed a lot of work as a pro passer to begin with, was left to be a sitting duck. He was sack 45 times in 15 starts and never got off the ground.

Rex Grossman (2003)

He didn’t start a lot of games through his first two years, but Grossman had some stability in the backfield whenever he did. As a rookie he had Anthony Thomas, the former 2001 Rookie of the Year who went for over 1,000 yards that season. A year later a man by the name of Thomas Jones arrived. Not a bad succession.

Thus we come back to Mitch Trubisky himself. Who does he have? While not a Sweetness, there is no doubt he got lucky. Jordan Howard is already a Pro Bowl back and considered one of the best runners in the NFL. Not only Mitch but the coaches know that if things aren’t going well for the young QB, they don’t have to worry. Just give the ball to Howard.

It really is that simple when teams have a star at running back. This isn’t an isolated incident either. Look around the league at most of the top quarterbacks. All of the greatest ones almost universally had a great back to lean on when they first started.

  • Matt Ryan had Michael Turner
  • Ben Roethlisberger had Jerome Bettis
  • Eli Manning had Tiki Barber
  • Drew Brees and Philip Rivers had LaDainian Tomlinson
  • Cam Newton had DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
  • Russell Wilson had Marshawn Lynch

History shows that young quarterbacks benefit greatly from having dependable running backs to lean on through their first few seasons. The Chicago Bears don’t always take that lesson to heart, but in this case they seem to have nailed it.

Erik Lambert
Brainwashed by the sports culture as a wee lad, Erik was educated to be a writer at the prestigious Columbia College. He has spent the past 10 years covering the Bears.