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Can Mitchell Trubisky Throw to His Left? An Important Ringer Investigation

The Bears’ third-year passer flopped in Week 1 against the Packers. Is that because he’s the NFL QB version of Derek Zoolander?

The Bears spent this offseason believing that their biggest problem was at kicker. This made sense, as Chicago went 12-4 in 2018 only to lose in the first round of the playoffs on the infamous Double Doink. In the opening game of the 2019 season, however, the only Bears player capable of scoring was the kicker. Chicago lost to Green Bay 10-3, finishing Thursday night with one field goal, one interception, two turnovers on downs, and eight punts. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky went 26-of-45 passing for just 228 yards, an average of 5.07 yards per attempt, the fifth-lowest figure of his career. If you include the five sacks taken and the 107 penalty yards lost, the Bears gained only 147 yards on 65 plays.

Trubisky’s brutal performance ended with a brutal interception. With Chicago approaching the end zone in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Trubisky had a chance to tie the game and maybe steal a victory on a night when the Bears offense had produced next to nothing. Instead, he floated a deep ball into double coverage and—this is important—to the left. It soared over wide receiver Allen Robinson’s head and into the hands of former teammate and current Packers safety Adrian Amos.

The pick reinforced a surprising story line that’s developed during Trubisky’s three-year career: that he is incapable of reading the field or throwing to his left. It’s become somewhat of a meme that Trubisky is the QB version of Derek Zoolander, or my dog when she pinched a nerve in her neck a few weeks ago. (I realize this is a less popular reference than Zoolander, but I promise you she couldn’t turn to the left.)

The first mention I can find of Trubisky’s alleged inability to throw to his left comes from this 2017 Football Outsiders post, in which author Derrik Klassen breaks down tape from the first few games of Trubisky’s pro career. “Trubisky can not throw to his left,” Klassen wrote. “In watching his college tape this offseason, it was clear he had mechanical issues when throwing to his left. … Thus far, he has not fixed it and it has hurt him greatly.” Klassen noted that Trubisky went just 2-of-5 on throws to the left beyond the line of scrimmage during his first two NFL games.

The thread was then picked up by Vikings reporter Arif Hasan at the start of the 2018 season.

Soon, people began to compile highlight reels of Trubisky’s sinistral struggles.

Now, Trubisky’s inability to throw left is widely accepted internet fact.

But is this internet fact actually true? Does Trubisky skew as hard to the right as Fox News? Is he like Zayn Malik or Harry Styles, who started their careers dependent on One Direction and moved on? Or is he like, uh … one of the other guys from One Direction? (I think one of them was Irish?)

It’s fair to say Trubisky experienced issues going to his left as a rookie. Here’s his passing grid from the 2017 season, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

You’re probably raising your eyebrows at the 118.8 quarterback rating on passes of 20-plus yards to the left, but that’s skewed by an extremely small sample size. How small? As small as you can possibly get! Trubisky threw one pass to the left that traveled more than 20 yards in 2017, completing it for a 45-yard gain to Tre McBride. Go to any online quarterback rating calculator, and you’ll see that a QB who goes 1-of-1 for 45 yards with zero touchdowns or interceptions will have a passer rating of 118.75. Meanwhile, on the rest of Trubisky’s passes that were described as “deep left,” he went 5-of-11 with no touchdowns and a pick. That Trubisky attempted just 12 “deep left” passes out of more than 300 total attempts suggests that he was uncomfortable throwing in that direction.

NFL’s Next Gen Stats website doesn’t seem to have a passing grid from Trubisky’s 2018 season—a conspiracy to hide the truth?!?!?—but it’s clear that the QB was more comfortable throwing to his left in 2018 than he was during his rookie campaign. He had seven 30-plus-yard completions and seven touchdown passes that went to his left last season. However, the longest of those touchdowns would have been embarrassing to miss:

Trubisky also threw five of his 12 interceptions to the left. Touchdowns to the left accounted for 29 percent of his total, while interceptions to the left accounted for 41 percent of his picks. And Sharp Football Stats finds that Trubisky was significantly worse throwing to the left than he was to the other portions of the field, and worse than the league average.

So, yes, Trubisky has been worse when throwing to the left than to other parts of the field. But he’s also been subpar throwing to the right, and only significantly above average when throwing short passes to the middle of the field. On Thursday night, throwing to the left was not the problem. Trubisky’s three longest completions all went to the left, including this sweet deep ball to Robinson.

The problem, quite frankly, was that Trubisky wasn’t good at throwing to the left … or the middle, or the right. Trubisky went 7-of-13 for 102 yards (7.82 yards per attempt) when throwing to his left in the Week 1 loss to the Packers; he was actually worse throwing to other parts of the field, going 19-of-32 for 126 yards (3.93 yards per attempt).

While Trubisky showed discomfort throwing to his left early in his career, I believe that he’s developed to the point where he’s now willing to throw in that direction. What’s more concerning is that Trubisky has generally been an average passer at best when throwing to any part of the field, finishing the 2018 season ranked 12th or worse among qualifying QBs in yards per attempt, passer rating, adjusted net yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and interception rate. He’s holding back a franchise that had the best defense in the league last season, which seems especially bad given that the Bears traded up in the 2017 draft to take him with the no. 2 pick—eight spots ahead of Patrick Mahomes and 10 spots ahead of Deshaun Watson.

I like the Trubisky Can’t Throw Left meme, because, well, it’s funny to imagine a quarterback whose passing grid is as lopsided as a tennis player’s biceps. It’s entertaining when a QB’s failings are unique and inexplicable. But it seems the truth isn’t that Trubisky Can’t Throw Left; it’s that Trubisky Can’t Throw Particularly Well In Any Direction.