Khalil Mack will get all the press this week, but the Minnesota Vikings must account for the rising second-year quarterback.
The Minnesota Vikings will have their biggest challenge to date this Sunday when they travel to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.
The Bears have been a revelation this season and have been able to use a strong defense to go with an innovative offense to guide their way to a 6-3 record and the top spot in the NFC North.
Heading into this matchup, a lot of the press will be on outside linebacker Khalil Mack. The All-Pro pass rusher has added a jolt of energy to Chicago’s defense after coming over from the Oakland Raiders last August and the Vikings will have to account for him, especially with their shaky offensive line.
While Mack’s presence will be a key talking point in Minnesota’s meetings this week, there’s another topic that many would not have expected to have back in August. That would be the rise of second-year Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Trubisky was a polarizing prospect coming out of North Carolina and that aspect hasn’t changed much since the Bears took him with the second pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. As a guy that couldn’t beat out Marquise Williams at UNC, many felt like his tools were exaggerated by scouts, making him the next big reach.
During his rookie year, that looked to be an accurate observation as Trubisky struggled under the archaic rule of head coach John Fox, throwing for 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions over 12 games.
After Fox was shown the door, the Bears hired former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to help utilize Trubisky’s athletic abilities and added better weapons around him such as tight end Trey Burton and wide receiver Allen Robinson.
So far, the results have been good under Nagy.
In nine games, Trubisky has thrown for 2,304 yards, 19 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He’s also seen major jumps in his quarterback rating (101.6 in 2018, 77.5 in 2017) and completion percentage (65.5 in 2018, 59.4 in 2017) while guiding Chicago’s offense to fifth in the NFL in points per game at 29.9.
Still, it would be understandable if Vikings fans didn’t take Trubisky as a threat on Sunday.
While he’s had games where he’s looked like Peyton Manning (six touchdown passes vs. Tampa Bay in Week 4, 355 yards and three touchdowns vs. Detroit in Week 10), he’s also had games where he’s looked like Blake Bortles (26-for-50, 355 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions vs. New England in Week 7).
That leaves the question as to who is Mitchell Trubisky and how can he hurt the Vikings?
His strength lies in his athleticism. With 320 rushing yards on the season, he currently stands as the Bears’ second-leading rusher. He also has the ability to get out of the pocket and make plays either with his arm or his legs in the same fashion that Aaron Rodgers does for the Green Bay Packers.
This could be a problem for Minnesota’s defense. The last time we saw the Vikings, it was dominant against a Lions team that appears to have mailed it in for the 2018 season. If there was one area to nitpick though, it was the Vikings letting Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford get out of the pocket and convert on a couple of third and fourth down rushes on broken plays.
Perhaps that’s the drop-off between someone like Eric Wilson starting for Anthony Barr, but Minnesota will need to account for Trubisky’s mobility. If the Vikings can do that, the young quarterback will have to trust his arm. Which, despite his gaudy numbers, has had mixed success this year.
While Trubisky has been magnificent on short to intermediate throws, his deep ball accuracy has been less than desired. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, his numbers take a severe drop-off once he throws downfield more than 10 yards.
Minneosta’s best plan of attack for Trubisky may be to flood the intermediate areas of the field and make him have to connect deep with the likes of Robinson or Taylor Gabriel, who is also a strong deep threat for the Bears.
Yes, Khalil Mack will be a bigger priority for the Vikings when they line up on the field this Sunday. But, if Minnesota is not careful, they could get a surprising performance from Trubisky that might not be as surprising as some may have been led to believe.