Quarterback Dilemma in Chicago: Nick Foles vs Mitch Trubisky


The Chicago Bears had been rumored for weeks to be in search of a veteran quarterback to push Mitch Trubisky as the starter. After going 12-4 and winning the NFC North in 2018, Trubisky regressed as a passer the following season, as Chicago finished with a disappointing 8-8 record considering their expectations.

While the Bears were never contenders for bigger names like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers, they were interested in options such as Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater ultimately signed with the Carolina Panthers, leaving the Bears to explore the trade market.

Chicago eventually struck a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, acquiring former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles in exchange for a compensatory fourth round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Foles signed a four-year, $88 million contract with Jacksonville in March of 2019 en hopes of becoming their franchise quarterback. However, he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1, forcing Gardner Minshew into the starting role. Foles only started three more games after returning from injury, losing the position to Minshew based on poor play.

Foles finished 0-4 as a starter with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his brief Jaguars tenure.

From a football standpoint, bringing in Foles makes a lot of sense. If he can impress in training camp and the preseason, he could be Chicago’s starter. If Trubisky wins the job, Foles would be an extremely solid backup option if things were to head south. After all, Foles won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles after being forced into the starting job late in the season.

As described by Bears General Manager Ryan Pace, the starting job between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky is an “open competition”.

But if the season were to start today, which quarterback would give the Bears the best chance to compete for a playoff spot?

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The Case for Mitch Trubisky

Over the last two seasons, Trubisky is 19-10 as a starter. While his 8-7 record in 2019 was surely disappointing for many fans, some franchises would kill for a quarterback that could hold a .500 record.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Trubisky took a step backwards last season. He saw his completion percentage drop from 66.6% to 63.2%. He passed for seven less touchdowns despite playing one more game. His yards per attempt fell from 7.4 to 6.1.

It’s disheartening to see a young quarterback move backwards instead of forwards. On paper, there is no reason to suggest Foles would be an immediate upgrade.

Comparing their 2019 numbers, which are obviously a limited sample size for Foles, tells the same tale twice: Two quarterbacks who failed to push the ball down the field. The 6.3 yards per attempt for Foles is hardly an upgrade over Trubiksy’s 6.1 yards per attempt. The completion percentage advantage for Foles of 2.5% may not have held up over the course of a full season.

Foles is 26-22 in his career as a starter, winning 54% of his starts. Trubisky won 53% of his starts in 2019, and 56% of his career starts.

Foles has also routinely struggled when playing for teams not named the Philadelphia Eagles. His 26-22 career record quickly drops to 5-11 if you only include his starts for the Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and the then-St. Louis Rams.

Chicago was also said to be looking for starting experience when searching for a quarterback this season. Foles has 48 career regular season starts, but Trubisky isn’t far behind with 41 himself. Of course, Foles does have six playoff starts, a Super Bowl victory, and a 4-2 record in the postseason.

Based on recent play, Foles’ passing abilities appear to be only the slightest of upgrades from what we saw from Trubisky in 2019. When the competition is that close, you would have to think the incumbent quarterback would have the advantage. From familiarity with the playbook to chemistry with the current wide receivers, the experience Trubisky has running the Bears offense would give the team the best chance to win.

Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

The Case for Nick Foles

The Bears won the NFC North in 2018, and were a missed Cody Parkey field goal away from beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

With a strong defense and a quarterback entering just his third season, the Bears had their sights set on the NFC North once again, hoping for a deeper playoff run along with it.

Instead, Trubisky regressed in almost every way, as the Bears sputtered to an 8-8 finish. Without strong effort from a defense that was stretched ultra-thin, there’s no way the Bears could have even finished at .500 with Trubisky’s passing game. His abysmal 6.1 yards per attempt were a testament to his struggles completing passes more than 10-15 yards down the field.

With obvious room for improvement, Foles could potentially re-ignite the Bears passing game.

The 2019 season for Foles ended before it ever really started. Even though he did return from a shoulder injury, the rhythm and routine that’s usually built over months of training camp and games were halted in the season’s opening week.

At worst, Foles’ limited production in 2019 was slightly more efficient that that of Trubisky. Using per game statistics to minimize the fact Foles only started four games, he edged Trubisky in many key categories.

  • Foles (4 starts, 0-4): 65.8% completion percentage, 6.3 yards per attempt, 2.6% touchdown rate, 1.7% interception rate, 184.0 yards per game
  • Trubisky (15 starts, 8-7): 63.2% completion percentage, 6.1 yards per attempt, 3.3% touchdown rate, 1.9% interception rate, 209.2 yards per game

Trubisky’s biggest edge is obviously in his team’s record for games he started. However, that’s comparing apples and oranges. Would Trubisky have done much better in Jacksonville? Would Foles have been able to lead the Bears to more victories if he was their quarterback in 2019?

At worst, Foles appears to be an even trade-off at the quarterback position. Just a year earlier, as the Eagles starter for five games, Foles put up impressive numbers. Using the same statistics for consistency:

  • Foles in 2018 (5 starts, 4-1): 72.3% completion percentage, 7.2 yards per attempt, 3.6% touchdown rate, 2.1% interception rate, 282.6 yards per game

If the Bears offense was getting 250 passing yards or more from the quarterback position on a consistent basis, they would easily be a playoff team in 2020. At his best, Foles can be highly accurate, push the ball down field, and win games for his football team.

So far, his best success has always come in Philadelphia, but there’s still a prime opportunity for Foles to shine once again in Chicago.

News Tribune Images

Who Should be the Starter?

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is in no rush to name a starting quarterback for the 2020 season. The decision will be largely impacted by the two quarterbacks’ preseason performances and how well they’re connecting with receivers in training camp.

However, if we had to make a decision right now, I’d go with Mitch Trubisky.

There is no guarantee Foles will spark the passing game overnight. If the Bears season heads south early with Foles under center, there’s no reason to believe Trubisky would provide a huge spark as the second option either.

Familiarity with the offense and timing with the receivers gives Trubisky a narrow edge between two quarterbacks who, at the moment, appear to be at similar skill levels.

I do think the leash should be relatively short for Trubisky though. If the Bears aren’t at least 3-3, or a very strong 2-4, through six weeks, Chicago should pull the plug quickly and see if Foles is the solution.

Again, I don’t like the idea of starting with Foles in Week 1, because Trubisky would be less of a wild card as a backup option. The Bears pretty much know what they’re getting when Trubisky takes the field, for better or worse. So far, he’s been winning games slightly above the .500 mark. If he can keep up that pace, especially with seven NFC playoff teams set to be in this year’s playoffs, it should he be his job to lose.

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