Matt Nagy is a tremendous play caller and he deserves the credit he gets. There were stretches last season where the guy was brilliant at finding openings for Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. However, even the geniuses have their faults. In this case, it is Nagy not doing enough to utilize a section of the passing game that Trubisky is actually quite good at. That being the use of the play action.
For those casual fans who need a quick clarification, play action is when the quarterback fakes a handoff to a running back or receiver with the intention of passing the ball instead. Few things have proven more consistently effective at catching defenses off guard that a good fake. Especially when your offense has been running the ball well and they’re forced to respect it.
The Bears were 11th in rushing in 2018. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for over 1,300 yards on the ground. Yet the Bears ranked 22nd according to Football Outsiders in play action usage, doing so in just 22% of their total passing plays. Why is this such a big deal? Most due to the fact that Trubisky has proven himself quite dangerous off play action.
Mitch Trubisky has done a lot of damage off play action
Here are a few stats to chew on. Since taking over as the starter in 2017, Trubisky has thrown 31 touchdown passes. No fewer than eight of them came off play action. It would’ve been nine had the Zach Miller catch in the end zone against New Orleans been ruled correctly. Last season Trubisky completed 72.6% off his passes off play fakes, ranking him the 6th best in the NFL. This isn’t even counting two touchdowns he has as a runner off run-pass options.
Suffice to say the 24-year old quarterback is consistently effective in this style of play.
Now one hopes this is why the Bears made such a concerted effort to overhaul their running back position this offseason. Yes, it was to improve their presence in the passing game, but one problem that persisted with Howard and Cohen was neither proved great runners between the tackles. Something that is important in a run-pass option style of offense. It helps to make those play action fakes more effective.
No doubt David Montgomery and Mike Davis should be able to help with that. If so, then hopefully Nagy will begin to run this more often. Trubisky has a knack for it and the job of any coach is to put his quarterback in the best position to succeed.