Chicago’s Annual Quarterback Crisis Is Threatening To Derail Another Season

This image is a derivative of Chicago Bears Mitchell Trubisky by Jack Kurzenknabe (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

With a life lived of Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman and Jay Cutler,  and with sprinklings of Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Josh McCown, Todd Collins, Mike Glennon and Caleb Hanie, it feels extremely correct that the Chicago Bears season is about to be defined by a deathly ping pong game between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles.

Gnawingly bad, inescapable quarterback situations have always haunted the Bears. Their all-time leader in passing yards - by a lot - is Jay Cutler. The last quarterback to take them to the Super Bowl is Rex Grossman. They've had to go to war in playoff games with Mitchell Trubisky and Caleb Hanie. Hanie marching down the field in the 2011 NFC Championship, trying to go blow for blow with Aaron Rodgers, was an apt snapshot of the Chicago Bears Experience.

Now the Bears find themselves tied to Nick Foles, a Super Bowl MVP who no one has ever been entirely certain is actually good.

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Monday night presented a handy comparison when Chicago faced the Rams. Foles and Jared Goff are both very upright, not especially mobile pocket-passers. Neither, likely, is good enough to transcend a hopeless context, but both are good enough to thrive in good situations.

At least that was the thought with Foles, who has a top-tier, true number one receiver in Allen Robinson, several other skill position weapons, an offensive line that was expected to be solid enough, and a creative playcaller who would put him in positions to succeed. 

On Monday, at a glance, Foles and Goff looked similar, but Goff played with a little more verve, a little more speed, with a little more rip on his passes. In a game controlled not by the quarterbacks but by Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, Goff did enough, and avoided the catastrophic mistake. 

Foles meanwhile looked rattled, his second interception a fitting end to the night, feeling the pressure and heaving the ball hopelessly in the general vicinity of some bodies, with Ramsey's hauling it in. When he wasn't throwing interceptions – as he has in each of his past five games – he was overthrowing open receivers. His offensive line, overwhelmed by Donald and LA's defensive front, poured gasoline on the fire, with Foles constantly under pressure and forced to innovate.

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At his best - a kind of legendary best, given what he did in 2018 - Foles has been able to play with remarkable poise, control and courage. He's been fearless in the past, standing in the pocket and waiting until the last possible moment to unleash the game-changing pass, knowing that his body is going to need to pay a brutal toll for waiting until the route breaks.

The Wild Card playoff game in 2019 where Foles and the Eagles won in Chicago against Trubisky is an illustration of what Foles was hoped to be for the Bears - imperfect but capable, a confident presence who can march down the field to win a game at the end.

Chicago hasn't seen that player yet, the player that ended their season in 2019. Since replacing Trubisky in Week 3, Foles hasn't been any better than Trubisky - if anything he's been worse, because he's not the rushing threat Trubisky is. Foles has always been a high variance quarterback - Super Bowl MVP one day, candidate to be replaced by Nate Sudfeld another day. He has brilliant games and unwatchably bad games. The Bears, though, haven't gotten this variance - Foles has just been reliably mediocre in 2020. Trubisky, still just 26 years old, remarkably, might now represent the higher ceiling of the two. 

Chicago’s reckoning is coming, with their next four games: New Orleans, @Tennessee, Minnesota and @Green Bay. A 1-3 stretch there will have them on the edge of the playoff race and in danger of missing out for the second straight year. 

The Bears defence is ranked 6th in DVOA. It’s not the league-wrecking group of 2018, when it was the best defence in the game, forcing 27 interceptions, one of the few defences of the past decade to feel emphatic and dominant enough to carry a team by itself. But Mack is still in his absolute prime, on a short-list with Donald and Myles Garrett as the most disruptive defensive forces in the game, and the secondary, despite having taken a step-back, is still imposing, with the Bears having the 3rd ranked passing defence by DVOA.

All the defence needs is an offence that can tie its shoes. Trubisky’s offences in 2018 and 2019 ranked 20th and 25th by DVOA, and this year the Bears’ offence ranks 26th, equally bad rushing and passing.

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Not since 2015 have the Bears had even a top half of the league offence- the Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery era. 2013 was the last time the Bears had a truly elite offence, with Cutler and McCown heaving the ball up to Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

Another Chicago season is threatening to leak away, slowing slipping towards another quarterback crisis between two bad choices. It’s become almost warm and reassuring, the reliability of a dreadful quarterback situation in Chicago as seminal a part of the NFL as watching Tom Brady stand tall in the pocket.

Maybe Foles will go on another one of his miracle runs, or maybe Trubisky will heroically re-emerge as the player he was always hoped to be. Or maybe everything will be as it always has been, and the Bears will begin in earnest the search for the next Grossman, Orton and Hanie?

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Jay Croucher

Based in Denver, Colorado, Jay splits time between worshiping Nikola Jokic and waking up at 3am to hazily watch AFL games. He has been writing about AFL, NBA and other US sports since 2014, and has suckered himself into thinking Port Adelaide was the real deal each year since.

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