There are few more graphic examples of a coaching staff hindering and then helping a quarterback than the two Jared Goff has had. The Los Angeles Rams quarterback had a nightmarish rookie year under head coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Rob Boras, in an impossible situation where limited route concepts and horrible protection made Goff look like a bust.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the schematic designs put forth by Sean McVay, Fisher's replacement. McVay not only gave the Rams a new and much-needed face of the team, but he also gave Goff a playbook that was both more complex and easier to digest. McVay presented the second-year quarterback with an easy first read on every play. As he got comfortable and confident, the coach helped him thrive in route concepts that opened the entire field up for him to see.
Goff's touchdown rate went from 2.4 percent to 5.9 percent. His yards per attempt went from 5.3 to 8.0. He threw seven interceptions in both seasons, but he had just five touchdowns in his rookie campaign compared to 28 in his second.
It was one of the most impressive turnarounds by a quarterback in NFL history, and it should provide hope to Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who is heading into his second season. Trubisky was the second overall pick of the 2017 draft. In his rookie year, he completed 59.4 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns to seven picks in 12 games—not too different from Goff's first NFL season.
And just as it was for Goff, Trubisky was severely limited by his coaching staff in his first year but has the potential to break out in a big way in his second. Former head coach John Fox and his staff struggled to find schematic options that would help their rookie, which went against what we saw in the preseason.
Based on Trubisky's preseason tape, I thought the Bears' 2017 staff—led by offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains—would play to the young quarterback's strengths. With just one season as a starter at North Carolina, Trubisky was going to be playing catch-up when it came to reading the field and assessing what defenses were arraying against him. So, when Loggains set him up with advantageous route concepts in the preseason, I thought things would work well for Trubisky. Not that Loggains did anything revolutionary, but the crossers and motions and effective play-action routes didn't make it to the regular season.
So when the Bears replaced Fox with former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy on January 8, it had the look of a commitment to the quarterback similar to the one the Rams had made a year before. Regarded as one of the sharpest offensive minds in the game, Nagy was the man behind an explosive offense that made a superstar out of speed receiver Tyreek Hill, turned rookie running back Kareem Hunt loose on the league and, per Pro Football Focus, surprisingly helped Alex Smith become one of the most effective and prolific deep passers in the NFL.
Trubisky is understandably excited about the change.
"Just watching the Kansas City offense last year, what Coach Nagy brought—I was able to meet him through the draft process last year, and we really connected," Trubisky told 670 The Score (h/t the Chicago Tribune) in March.
"I think [the Chiefs] utilized an athletic quarterback. A lot of things they do in their offense fit my strengths, and we also have a lot of pieces within our offense that will create explosive plays that the Kansas City offense ran. So, it is a very exciting time. … The guys we have coming in, the coaches, they're just very creative."
The guys the Bears have coming in? That's another reason for Trubisky to be positive about his sophomore season.
Chicago signed Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency as Trubisky's No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. When he was healthy with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Robinson was one of the most gifted targets in the league, and Gabriel was an estimable deep threat with the Atlanta Falcons. Add to that the signing of former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton and the second-round selection of Memphis speedster Anthony Miller, and it's clear Chicago is looking to rebuild its offense from the ground up.
Nagy will also have a better sense of how to use hybrid running back Tarik Cohen—he had a very similar player in Hill, who blew up in 2017 with 75 catches for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. As an option running threat, Hill also forced defenses to adjust to his pre-snap movement quite often, leaving holes in coverage for other receivers to exploit. Cohen has taken to the comparison, per the Chicago Tribune, and Nagy said at the scouting combine in early March that he's all in with making Cohen his moving chess piece.
"Well, No. 1, size-wise you see that and you say, 'OK, they're pretty similar, right?'" Nagy said, per ESPN's Jeff Dickerson. "And then you have the speed, the shiftiness, the moves, everything that they do. They're similar in the fact that you can move them around and do different things. As you see on tape, the one thing if you go back and look at simple numbers, you're going to see that Cohen can run the ball a little bit more from the backfield. Not that Tyreek can't.
"So they're different. So I don't think it is fair to compare them, but I do understand why people compare them, and for me, I am very excited to coach both of them and look forward to working with Cohen."
When looking at the Chiefs' big passing plays in 2017 and examining how the concepts might extrapolate to Chicago's 2018 offense, it's remarkable how often Hill is in the picture, as a receiver and occasionally as a distraction to the defense.
This 78-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Kareem Hunt in Week 1 against the New England Patriots was the play that defined Kansas City's 42-27 upset of the defending Super Bowl champs. Hunt's deep route from the backfield was a great call, but when you add in Hill motioning to the right from the left slot, you can see how New England's defense hesitates on Hill's movement and how it leaves things open for Hill downfield.
As Hill goes in motion, you can see safety Duron Harmon (No. 30) scream down from the center field spot to move with him and cornerback Eric Rowe (No. 25) replacing Harmon in that spot from the right side. As Hunt starts to run his deep route, he's covered by defensive end Eric Lee (No. 55), which is a mismatch from the word "go."
Rowe eventually comes up to meet Lee to try to tackle Hill along with linebacker Kyle Van Noy (No. 53), but Hill just turns on the jets and hits the open field. With running back Jordan Howard as his new Kareem Hunt, Nagy should be in a very good spot to establish similar misdirection schemes, leading to big plays downfield.
Another way Nagy can scheme downfield openings for Trubisky and his targets is by forcing defenders to respect the width of the field and spread out accordingly. The Chiefs rolled the Los Angeles Chargers for a 64-yard Hill touchdown reception in Week 15 with a nice combination of a spread formation and route diversity.
Pre-snap, the Chiefs are showing a five-wide look, spreading San Diego's defense out and forcing coverage mismatches to the right side. Cornerback Casey Hayward (No. 26) is one-on-one on Hill outside, and defensive tackle Darius Philon (No. 93) drops out from the line to deal with tight end Travis Kelce (No. 87).
Kelce runs a quick in route from the right slot, which takes slot man Adrian Phillips (No. 31) toward Kelce and away from Hill.
Hayward is one of the league's best cornerbacks, but he's not equipped to win a footrace with Hill—few in the NFL are. Hill blows right by his defender for a touchdown that was made easier by scheme.
Nagy's offense has it all: effective zone-running schemes, short- to deep-passing concepts that leave receivers open for quarterbacks and option ideas that mirror the Eagles, who used them all the way to a 2017 Super Bowl victory. The Chiefs used run-pass options on 17.3 percent of their 2017 plays, which tied with Philadelphia for most in the league, per Pro Football Focus. The Bears could have taken advantage of Trubisky's size, mobility and toughness by using more option stuff last season, but they didn't—they ran RPOs on just 2.7 percent of their plays.
This 15-yard touchdown flip pass from Smith to Kelce in Kansas City's 27-20 win over the Eagles in Week 2 shows how Nagy and the Chiefs staff used RPO concepts to fool even great defenses. Pre-snap, Hill goes in motion from right to left, and then back to the right side, to help Smith determine the Eagles are running man coverage.
Smith fakes the handoff to receiver De'Anthony Thomas (No. 13), who's in the backfield. Smith is reading right defensive end Derek Barnett (No. 96), who's charging hard on an edge rush.
Smith flips the ball to Kelce, who moved inside from an H-back position, and...
Kelce rumbles through the confused Eagles defense for the score.
Trubisky didn't get the personnel or schematic support he deserved last year, which led to a problematic rookie season. He's got the raw talent to be much better, and it's understandable why Nagy is eager to get rolling with his new young quarterback and an offense that has been redefined specifically for his overarching vision.
Trubisky will benefit from all of this just as Jared Goff did last season.