Deshaun Watson has struck an early claim as the NFL’s next great young passer. The Texans quarterback has lived up to the reputation he set while leading Clemson to a national title in January. Through four starts, he’s just 2-2, but he’s getting better each game. On Sunday night against the best team in the NFL, he threw five touchdowns, tying his rookie record of five total touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) the week before.
In Week 5, the quarterback who went 10 picks ahead of him in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft will try to play catch-up in primetime. Mitchell Trubisky, the one-year starter at North Carolina and No. 2 overall pick, will see his first pro action on Monday Night Football when an underwhelming Bears team plays host to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings defense has been stingy against experienced QBs
It’s a major coming-out party for the young passer for whom Chicago paid dearly. Trubisky has waited on the sidelines as Mike Glennon, the free agent who received a three-year, $45 million contract, threw checkdown passes for an ineffective offense. Now, the onus of carrying the Bears receiver-devoid lineup falls on Trubisky. The rookie was electrifying in the preseason against second-stringers but has yet to face the speed, intensity, or pressure of a regular-season NFL game.
His first start comes against an opportunistic Vikings defense. Two weeks ago, Minnesota took advantage of Jameis Winston’s mistakes to intercept the young quarterback three times in its biggest win of the season so far. Winston is the only QB the Vikings have faced — in a lineup filled with big-time passers (Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford) — who has thrown for more than 300 yards against them.
Minnesota has also allowed opponents to post a 92.7 passer rating, a mark that ranks 18th in the league but looks much better when you consider the quality of quarterback it’s had to face. If the Vikings were able to limit Stafford to 209 yards on 31 passes, what will a debuting quarterback with only 13 collegiate starts under his belt do?
Trubisky shined during the preseason, but ... preseason
We got a good idea of what Trubisky brings to the table this preseason, albeit against a litany of role players and roster hopefuls. He completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 364 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. More importantly, he showed off play-extending mobility in the pocket:
He also had accurate touch on passes long and short and a feel for big plays downfield that Glennon has been unable to replicate.
Even if he struggles, he’ll be a high-upside alternative who can’t be much worse than the ineffective Glennon. The Bears aren’t expecting him to be a cure-all, either:
Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains: "Mitch Trubisky is a very good young player, but he is not a magic wand."— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 5, 2017
The Chicago offense has relied on a two-headed rushing attack led by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Even with opposing defenses stacking the box and opening 1-on-1 coverage downfield, the former Buccaneer failed to capitalize.
While his game-manager style of passing contributed to an overtime win against the Steelers and a near-upset of the Falcons, last week’s two-interception, two-fumble performance against Green Bay spelled the end of Glennon’s starting tenure. In four games, he’s thrown four touchdown passes but turned the ball over eight times. He’s averaged just 6 yards per pass this fall — an entirely Brock Osweiler-ian mark. No Glennon completion has gone for more than 29 yards.
Trubisky at least gives the Bears hope for the future
In 2016, Trubisky threw a pass of 44 yards or longer in 10 of his 13 starts. He’ll have a tougher time against a different class of defense and one of the league’s least intimidating receiving corps, but his presence makes the Bears eminently more watchable.
And that’s important because Week 5 marks their first Monday Night Football appearance of the season. Chicago embarrassed itself last Thursday as Glennon did his best to ensure the Packers had every opportunity they needed to find the end zone. The Bears will play before an even bigger audience against the Vikings.
That puts plenty of pressure on Trubisky, who finds himself in a key NFC North game broadcast nationally on ESPN. Sink or swim, his makes the Bears a more interesting team. He can also give the Bears a little hope for the future.
He’ll have the opportunity to prove himself as a franchise cornerstone starting Monday — and there couldn’t be a better time to make his debut.