The expectation with the hiring of Matt Nagy in Chicago was an improved Mitchell Trubisky operating a high-flying, Chiefs-like offense born out of Star Wars-like formations. For several weeks we've questioned whether or not that timeline might actually exist, with Trubisky largely struggling outside of the heavily-scripted opening drives.
Wipe that idea away because Trubisky broke out in a big way on Sunday to throw for five touchdown passes in the first half of a game and winding up with a half dozen scores.. It was a game that featured Trubisky becoming the second-youngest quarterback
The first score was a beautiful opening salvo, a deep shot to Trey Burton that was a walk-in touchdown thanks to Tampa safety Justin Evans falling down, but I love the play-action aggressiveness to get Trubisky comfortable and confident on the first drive.
With just over two minutes left in the first quarter, Trubisky would find Allen Robinson for his second pass, a red-zone completion to the left side of the field, erasing a pair of Trubisky's bugaboos in one fell swoop.
Let's peak at the formations real quick, via the always wonderful and handy NFL GamePass (get a free seven-day trial by going right here). Here's the Burton TD, which sure looks a lot like something the Chiefs would do with Travis Kelce. Line him up in a heavy trips setup to the left side, motion him to the right, identify the coverage, run play action and take a shot when he's in a single coverage mismatch.
On the second touchdown pass to Robinson, Kelce came in motion as well. And when he wasn't trailed, it indicated zone coverage. Robinson ran a great route with an outstanding fake inside, everyone for Tampa clotted up the middle and Trubisky put the ball where only Robinson could get it.
I find the third touchdown the most interesting one, because it was set up by a long pass to Tarik Cohen, where the running back, who has drawn Tyreek Hill comps for this offense, lined up in the slot and got loose on a wheel-style route up the left sideline. Trubisky hit him and it nearly resulted in a big score.
Cohen got his anyway, though. On the next play, he lined up in the backfield and ran a Texas route for an easy score. Taylor Gabriel pulled the linebacker away with a crossing route and Trubisky had another easy score.
That's pretty basic stuff. But what interests me is we've now seen Jordan Howard's snap counts drop each of the first three weeks this season, but Cohen had yet to get really involved in the offense. On Sunday he exploded, leading the team in rushing attempts (13) and receiving yards (121). He was also Trubisky's top-targeted weapon, seeing eight targets and hauling in seven of them for catches. Like Hill, he's a diminutive speedster who can operate out of the backfield or line up as a receiver. And like Hill, Cohen was moved around frequently to create mismatches all day. The Bears set up another touchdown by running a play-action wheel route to Cohen when he was lined up in the backfield.
My gut says we could start to see a more permanent shift here and that it's possible Cohen eventually becomes more of a 1A than the backup he looked like the first few weeks of 2018. His presence gives Nagy more freedom with the playcalling and ability to move guys around in a more similar fashion to what we saw from the Chiefs.
Also notable was the pair of touchdown receptions for Taylor Gabriel. Gabriel, another offseason addition in free agency, picked up a "receiving" touchdown on a jet sweep pitch play for Trubisky's fourth score. And he was also the recipient of Trubisky's sixth touchdown pass, a little flare out that was a smartly-designed first read for Trubisky as he sprinted to the right looking for a short touchdown.
The whole thing just felt like a coming out party for the Chicago version of the Chiefs/Rams that Ryan Pace was trying to build over the past two years. Part of that -- and a large part, if we're being honest -- is on a terrible Buccaneers defense that was so bad it got, including himself. Tampa maxed out its resources to try and make the defense better. It is not. But the Bears just play the team in front of them, and the attack they used to defeat the Bucs was impressive.
Gabriel and Cohen were moving all over the place and getting the ball on screen plays, swing plays and other creative routes designed to get them the ball in space, where they are both lethal. Cohen finished with 173 total yards from scrimmage. Another one of Trubisky's passes went to Josh Bellamy, which is a perfectly random Chiefs-ian guy to catch a touchdown pass amid an offensive explosion. All told Trubisky threw a touchdown pass to five different guys, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw five touchdown passes at least five different receivers in a single half. Trubisky also joined Steve Young and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks to throw for 250 yards and rush for 50 yards in the first half of a game.
Making snap judgments about the growth of Trubisky and the implementation of the offense is a dangerous game. Trubisky probably will not throw six touchdown passes every game the rest of the year. He probably won't throw six touchdown passes in any game the rest of the year. Call it a historically-based hunch.
But I do believe we could start to see a trend where the Bears use Cohen more, allowing Nagy more freedom in formations and diversity in how he deploys his personnel. The result should be better performances moving forward from Trubisky. We always jump to conclusions on young quarterbacks, but Sunday showed how much upside the second-year quarterback has in Chicago when Nagy and Trubisky use their shiny, new toys.
RIP, LOB: Part Deux
As he was being carted off the field, Thomas was spotted being patted on the back by Cardinals players and firing a single-finger salute back to his own sideline.
No doubt Thomas was sending a message to Pete Carroll and the rest of the Seahawks brass who declined to pay him before the 2018 season began. Thomas was seeking a contract extension from Seattle but never got it, ending an offseason/preseason holdout prematurely and reporting to play. He was putting up big stats early and there was even chatter about Seattle potentially paying Thomas now that he was impacting games again. Maybe there was too much bad blood, but money is like winning; it cures a lot of ills.
Now, instead there's even more bad blood. Thomas will have to spend the rest of his season rehabilitating from a broken leg and then try and get ready for free agency in March. It would be stunning if he returned to Seattle at this point.
The Seahawks should probably just avoid going to Glendale from now on. The Seahawks dynasty crumbled because of the Malcolm Butler interception of Russell Wilson in the Super Bowl there, Richard Sherman tore his ACL against the Cardinals last year in Arizona and now Thomas likely played his final play on the Cardinals field.
Are we seeing a wholesale change in terms of how aggressive NFL head coaches become in certain game situations? We might be -- at the very least we saw something of a seismic shift in Week 4, which was a really interesting test case for some coaching decisions late in games.
The most curious -- because I legitimately don't know how to feel about it --in overtime that essentially cost his team the game.
With the Colts (1-2 at the time) and Texans (0-3 at the time) tied 34 all in the extra period and Indy holding the ball on their own 43-yard line with 27 seconds left. It was fourth-and-4 and and the Colts were in no-man's land. You're too far to kick. Punt and you're essentially taking a tie. Go for it and get it and maybe you get a look at a game-winning field goal. Go for it and miss and you're probably giving the Texans a game-winning field goal. Reich choose door D and let Andrew Luck, already well north of 400 passing yards, try and get the first down.
The Texans ran one more play and promptly kicked the game-winning field goal. Reich basically handed a division rival a free win. But he was quick to defend the move after the game.
"I'll address it now: I'm not playing to tie," Reich said. "I'll do that 10 times out of 10. That's just the way it's got to roll."
"I think that's who we're going to be as a team; we're going to be aggressive," Reich added. "That's a mindset that we have. That's the only way to win in this league I think."
Even the staunchest proponents of aggressive coaching were taken aback by Reich's move, although multiple people noted as it was happening they liked the play. He's been ripped since, and plenty. I genuinely didn't know what the Colts should do, although I probably would have punted and think 90 percent of NFL coaches would punt. As someone holding a Texans +1 pick in the SuperContest, I was hoping for a punt. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.
If Reich picks this up and the Colts proceed to get another first down or two, or even just a single chunk play, they get a look at a field goal for Adam Vinatieri. Make that and Reich is getting praise heaped on him for being bold in a boring, conservative league.
I think it's still fair to question this particular move, but the players in the Colts locker room loved it, and if Reich is going to be consistently aggressive, I'm on board with him shooting his shots. Punting would have been conceding the tie.
Similarly, Mike Vrabel of the Titans declined to play for a tie, and he his getting the praise that could have been headed Reich's way. The situation was different: the Titans had the ball on the Eagles' 32-yard line in overtime, trailing by three points and facing a fourth-and-2 situation. That's prime for a kick, which would have tied the game up, but it would have also given the Eagles the ball back with more than a minute remaining, plenty of time to get in range for a Jake Elliott field goal.
Vrabel eschewed the kick, Marcus Mariota hit Dion Lewis for a short pass that ended up getting 17 yards and four plays later Mariota whipped a ball into the end zone on third down for a walkoff touchdown pass to Corey Davis.
The football gods giveth and the football gods taketh away: being aggressive will not always pay off. The goal is simply to increase your chances of winning. We can't heap praise on Vrabel because his aggression worked and bury Reich because his resulted in a loss.
Decisions like these need to be process-oriented, not results-based.
Bill O'Brien's team won, but you can argue he shouldn't have based on how the Texans operated in the last minute of regulation. With 45 seconds left and the game tied, the Texans, who didn't have any timeouts but who did have Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins on their roster, decided to run a draw play to Alfred Blue. It didn't pick up any yards, the clock kept running and on the next play Watson scrambled around a bit before hitting Hopkins for a long gain.
The draw was a "let's not screw this up in regulation" play. It reeked of someone scared to lose and calling something else -- an aggressive play down the field, or even just a pass -- would have given the Texans a better look. They won anyway, but it was despite themselves.
A happy medium exists here in terms of being aggressive, but I do think there is some truth to the notion that keeping your foot on the gas and not flinching in these situations gives you an upper hand against an opponent that might not be prepared for the aggression. We've seen a proliferation of newer coaches, headlined by Doug Pederson, who are willing to be hyper aggressive.
The NFL coaching ranks aren't just going to wildly fluctuate to an aggressive standard, but we might be seeing some legitimate change in terms of how coaches approach these situations.