Trubisky's rise, Bears '800 plays' on offense challenge Vikings

EAGAN, Minn. -- Among the biggest additions to the NFC North this offseason was the handful of pass-catchers the Chicago Bears added in free agency and the draft.

In came veteran receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel through free agency along with dynamic tight end Trey Burton. In April, Bears general manager Ryan Pace scooped up one of the biggest steals in the draft, receiver Anthony Miller, who went in the second round.

The Bears knew Mitchell Trubisky’s growth in his second season at quarterback would rely heavily on the weapons around him. After throwing two touchdowns on 167 passes to wide receivers during his rookie year, Trubisky has 11 touchdowns on four fewer passes to that same position group in 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

What stands out most among this group and the entire Chicago offense is how fast plays are developing. Their team speed is different.

"This isn’t 2 yards and a cloud of dust deal," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of the Bears' offense.

First-year Bears coach Matt Nagy is tapping into running back Tarik Cohen’s skill set as a receiver (he leads the team with 435 yards), and he has a quarterback who can run with 320 yards, second in the NFL among QBs to Cam Newton.

The Vikings' defense is in for a different challenge on Sunday night against the fifth-best scoring offense than in years past.

"Guys are way faster so the tempo of the offense can be faster," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "Guys just running, running pretty damn fast if you ask me."

Trubisky’s first start as a rookie came against Minnesota in Week 5 last season. With a new coach and system as well as the benefit of the experience that comes with being in his second season, Trubisky looks much different than the quarterback the Vikings dismantled twice in 2017. The reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week has thrown 19 touchdown passes against seven interceptions with a QB rating of 101.6. He's on pace to set franchise records in passing yards (4,096) and TD passes (33).

"He gets the ball out with accuracy," Zimmer said. "There’s other times he looks like Fran Tarkenton scrambling. Some of the runs he’s made are unbelievable. They’re obviously using him in a bunch of different ways. I think the command of the offense is probably his biggest thing is being able to go through progressions more, now. When they’re in their no-huddle, they’re telling him what plays to call and things like that. It’s a little bit of that style."

Much of that has to do with the way Nagy has brought Trubisky along in his second season. Chicago’s scheme combines concepts Nagy brought with him from his years in Kansas City, notably the sheer volume of new plays every week. They've become even more dangerous with the amount of pre-snap motions, shifts and misdirection plays they’ve used to confuse defenses.

"There’s no way you can practice every one of their plays," Zimmer said. "They’ve got 800 of them for every game."

Before their Week 10 bye, the Vikings' defense set a franchise record against the Detroit Lions by sacking Matthew Stafford 10 times. Nine of those 10 sacks came against a standard pass rush of four or fewer rushers.

In the midst of a three-game stretch of division opponents that continues into Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings’ pass rush is critical to their success.

"I feel like we can hit our stride more and more," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "These games, we got to start putting W's on the board. Each game gets bigger and it means something more. Divisional game. We just got to go out there and just execute our assignment and do our job."

But it’s their rush plan for Trubisky that might look different. The Vikings don’t blitz often, but Zimmer excels in finding unique ways to pressure younger quarterbacks. Against Cardinals rookie Josh Rosen, Minnesota’s third-down blitz package suffocated him. On 12 blitzes in that game, Rosen was sacked three times and completed 53 yards. A week later against Jets rookie Sam Darnold, the Vikings’ 13 different blitzes held him to three completed passes. The defense also forced him into throwing three interceptions.

It was a similar result for Trubisky in both games against Minnesota last season. He only completed six passes when blitzed 18 times. He’s improved under pressure this season, notching a perfect passer rating on six pass attempts when the Lions' pass rush got to him in Week 10, according to Pro Football Focus. But the blitz is an area in which his passer rating has dropped considerably (from 106.4 to 89.9).

The Vikings hope to replicate the success they had against Stafford into their first game coming out of the bye on Sunday night. Rotating in players along the defensive line will be critical against a mobile quarterback like Trubisky.

"It’s important," Zimmer said. "You kind of roll those guys a little bit. It’s also important to have athletic guys in there. All of our ends are pretty athletic, so I’m sure that will be a huge factor for us hopefully. But it’s being able to rush him the right way. If you just rush and you don’t care where he’s at, then you’re going to have a bad day, a bad night in this case."