Bears film study: When will defenses catch up to bootleg play calls?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky played well last Sunday at Minnesota, relying on the bootleg for several plays.

    Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky played well last Sunday at Minnesota, relying on the bootleg for several plays. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/25/2020 6:12 PM

Mitch wins again, but how? Let's check the coaches film from last Sunday's win at Minnesota:

Trubisky unleashed

 

There seems to be a growing belief that the key to unlocking Mitch Trubisky's talents is to roll him out of the pocket. That's debatable, but the Bears did love calling the bootleg pass against the Vikings -- 11 times by my count.

The bootleg pass is a basic play that every NFL team runs. It's a play action with the offensive line pushing one way, then the QB fakes the handoff and rolls the other way. Typically, a receiver races across the formation and runs with the quarterback and is the target of a pass.

The unofficial tally at Minnesota was 6-of-9 for 61 yards and a touchdown while running the bootleg pass, with a couple of QB scrambles. The Bears threw in some wrinkles Sunday. A couple times, Trubisky threw to a deeper receiver instead of the guy running in front of him. They also ran it a couple of times with Darnell Mooney starting on the same side Trubisky was rolling, and he just changed direction instead of cutting across the formation.

The bootleg pass is good because it gives the quarterback some space and Trubisky has been accurate while throwing on the run. The drawback is a good defense will begin to anticipate it, keep an outside linebacker at home and blow up the play. Minnesota does not have a good defense. The Vikings had a guy in place to bring pressure a couple of times, but Trubisky did a nice job the past few weeks of getting an accurate pass away with a rusher in his face on the bootleg.

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Keep in mind, Trubisky's best throws against the Vikings came from the pocket. His top pass was a sideline route to Allen Robinson for 24 yards on the first touchdown drive. The Bears also had two big gains to Mooney and Robinson, both running simple over routes in front of the Vikings' soft coverage.

Three seasons of film study have proved what Trubisky needs most is time to throw. He's never been able to scramble out of trouble and improvise big plays like Russell Wilson or Patrick Mahomes. If bootleg passes buy him time, great. But defenses are going to adjust quickly.

Must-have linemen

The win at Minnesota might have been the best performance by a Bears offensive line in the past two seasons. So why is the line clicking when it was terrible a few weeks ago?

Two reasons: The competition is weaker and a new lineup has built some chemistry. Center Sam Mustipher has been a revelation and the middle three of Mustipher, Cody Whitehair and Alex Bars are playing really well. Again, though, the Vikings don't have a great defense. This group probably wouldn't have the same success against, say, the Colts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mustipher and Bars played together for three years at Notre Dame, including 2017 when the Irish won the Joe Moore Award for college football's best offensive line. Neither was drafted and they joined the Bears practice squad in 2019. Who says GM Ryan Pace neglected the offensive line?

One of the best moments for the Bears' run game all season happened when David Montgomery covered 25 yards on two straight carries to score their first touchdown of the third quarter. On the 14-yard scoring run, Whitehead pancaked his guy, Mustipher double-teamed, then bounced over to pick up a linebacker. Charles Leno Jr. got out on a linebacker, Mooney successfully cut the defensive end and Cole Kmet even held his block on a safety. Mike Ditka should be proud.

The replacements

One interesting part of Sunday's game was the Bears played without both cornerback Jaylon Johnson and nickel back Buster Skrine. The stat sheet doesn't tell a happy story on pass coverage. According to pro-football-reference.com, the Vikings completed 8 of 9 passes for 101 yards when targeting Duke Shelley, and 4 of 5 passes for 31 yards when targeting nickel replacement Kindle Vildor. Regular CB Kyle Fuller was targeted just 3 times, not surprisingly.

The one Shelley incomplete might have been the time Kirk Cousins pump-faked him out of position, then fired it in the end zone to TE Irv Smith, who somehow dropped a good throw.

The good news is Shelley, a sixth-round pick in 2019, made some impressive tackles. He stopped Cousins a yard short of a first down on a scramble, setting up a fourth-down stop in the first half. Then with the Bears clinging to a 30-27 edge in the fourth quarter, he made a nice tackle on Dalvin Cook, setting up as third-and-one and eventual turnover on downs.

Random thoughts: The Bears made a nice play on fourth-and-one late in the game when Brent Urban chased Cousins into an incompletion. But the previous play was also impressive, when Robert Quinn took on a block from the tight end cutting across the formation and stopped Cook for no gain. ... DT Bilal Nichols is making a bid to be the Bears' most improved player this season. He had 7 tackles, 3 pressures and a sack on Sunday. ... The Trubisky interception in the fourth quarter happened on one of the Bears' least successful play calls of the season: Five receivers run straight lines, stand in the end zone and hope Robinson can make an amazing play. Didn't work, again.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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