The New York Jets must avoid the embarrassment of letting Mitchell Trubisky cook them. Here’s how they can dodge that fate.
Mitchell Trubisky’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers is off to a rough start. Through three games, Trubisky is ranked last out of 32 qualified quarterbacks with an average of 5.5 yards per pass attempt. He is also 31st with a touchdown pass rate of 1.94%, throwing only two touchdowns across 103 attempts.
Luckily for Trubisky, he is about to face an exploitable defense that could allow him to break out: the New York Jets.
The Jets have made opposing quarterbacks look very good this year. They are allowing the seventh-most yards per pass attempt (7.7), the second-highest touchdown pass rate (7.53%), and the fourth-highest passer rating (105.9).
Trubisky has been dismal in all three of his starts as a Steeler. He has yet to exceed 207 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown, an 81 passer rating, or 6.5 yards per attempt in a game. The Pittsburgh offense is equally consistent at being unproductive, as it has scored no more than 17 points in a game.
This is an opportunity for New York to right the ship just as much as it is for Trubisky. The Steelers and their quarterback have shown no signs of life. It would be embarrassing to let them have their first quality performance of the season.
If the Jets defense gets shredded by this quarterback and this offense, it will be rock bottom for Jeff Ulbrich‘s disappointing defense. (Until they find another, rockier bottom underneath, to quote BoJack Horseman.)
Here is what the Jets defense must do if they want to avoid the dreaded distinction of becoming the first team to let Trubisky play well in 2022.
Do not blitz him (to start out)
To start the game, there is no reason for the Jets to sacrifice reinforcements in coverage for the sake of blitzing Trubisky. He is having a very hard time making plays when he isn’t blitzed.
When facing four rushers or fewer, Trubisky is ranked last among qualified QBs in yards per attempt (5.2) and passing EPA per dropback (-0.35). This is despite the fact Trubisky has taken the fifth-lowest pressure rate on non-blitzed plays at 15.5%.
What this tells us is that, as a defense, you don’t need to get overaggressive to beat Trubisky. If you let him sit back there, he’ll beat himself – even if you don’t create much pressure. Trubisky isn’t showing the necessary field vision to succeed against seven-plus defenders in coverage.
Here’s Trubisky throwing an interception from a clean pocket against a four-man rush due to an underneath linebacker undercutting his pass. You want that extra traffic in coverage to bait him into poor decisions.
Mills picks off Trubisky. pic.twitter.com/I1KNAwJQxL
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports2) September 18, 2022
Where defenses have run into some trouble against Trubisky is when they do try and get aggressive with blitzing him, lessening the number of coverage defenders he is forced to work against.
Trubisky has been far more competent when blitzed. Against five rushers or more, Trubisky is ranked 20th among qualified QBs in yards per attempt (6.8) and 13th in passing EPA per dropback (+0.11).
The Bengals rush six on this crucial overtime play and Trubisky makes them pay. He quickly finds his best option and delivers the throw against one-on-one coverage.
— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) September 11, 2022
New York should plan to rely on its four-man rush to start out. Make Trubisky prove he can execute without the blitz opening up windows for him.
But here’s the catch: They must be ready to adjust if this plan doesn’t work.
Quickly switch things up if the four-man strategy isn’t working
I suggested a similar plan for the Jets in Week 2 when they were preparing to face Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Like Trubisky, Brissett’s splits dictated it was better to avoid blitzing him.
That’s exactly what the Jets ended up doing. They did not blitz often and preferred to rely on their four-man rush.
However, as the game went on, things did not transpire as expected.
The Jets’ four-man rush struggled mightily to create pressure, and Brissett took full advantage of those clean pockets. His accuracy was shockingly excellent as he rarely (if ever) misfired on a throw. He did not beat himself like he did against Carolina the week prior.
At some point, the Jets should have realized their gameplan was not working and made the adjustment to start blitzing Brissett more often. The four-man rush was not winning and Brissett was red-hot. It was time to acknowledge these things and make a corresponding change.
They never did. The Jets kept trying to win with four rushers to no avail as Brissett stood around in the pocket and torched them all afternoon.
Ulbrich needs to be ready to switch things up against Trubisky if the initial gameplan doesn’t work out. Any quarterback can get hot unexpectedly, as Brissett did in Week 2. If Trubisky gets hot and the four-man rush isn’t making his life difficult, you have to start bringing the heat. You cannot just sit back and continue getting cooked while praying things will get better.
Keep him in the pocket
Another essential key to stopping Trubisky is containing him in the pocket. He’s a great athlete who is doing a nice job of making things happen when getting outside. When contained, though, he is doing absolutely nothing.
Trubisky currently leads the NFL with 239 passing yards on throws from outside of the pocket. This is largely because he has attempted a league-high 27 of these passes, but he has been efficient, too. Trubisky is 10th in passer rating (97.6), fourth in yards per attempt (8.9), and sixth in EPA per play (+0.04) when throwing from outside of the pocket.
When throwing from inside of the pocket, Trubisky is last in all three of passer rating (71.5), yards per attempt (4.4), and EPA per play (-0.37).
Trubisky’s mental processing from the pocket typically isn’t good. Watch here as he misses a chance to hit Diontae Johnson on a deep over route as he checks the ball down early for a loss of yardage.
Yankee concept here from the #Steelers late Q3. Johnson and Claypool a bit clunky running it. But Trubisky doesn't even really give it a chance to develop in a clean pocket. Hold the football a tick longer and Johnson is wide open on the over route. pic.twitter.com/XZjldMAJwU
— Josh Carney (@ByJoshCarney) September 19, 2022
Keep him in the pocket and he will make plays like this.
How do the Jets prevent Trubisky from doing damage outside of the pocket? That brings us right back to our first key: keep blitzes to a minimum.
It’s on blitzed plays where Trubisky is doing most of his mobile damage. When he isn’t blitzed, Trubisky is not nearly as productive on the move.
On outside-the-pocket throws against five rushers or more, Trubisky is 7-of-9 for 123 yards with 11.8 Y/A, a 118.8 passer rating, and +0.81 EPA/play. On outside-the-pocket throws against four rushers or fewer, Trubisky is 12-of-18 for 116 yards with 6.7 Y/A, an 84.5 passer rating, and -0.28 EPA/play.
Blitzes seem to be opening the door for Trubisky to find escape lanes and deliver throws on the move to receivers in one-on-one coverage. When Trubisky escapes against four or three-man rushes, he isn’t apt at making things happen due to the increased number of defenders in coverage and his inability to make good decisions against them.
Watch Trubisky try to scramble against this four-man rush (after missing a wide-open player from the pocket). With an extra defender in coverage, his weapons are in a 2-on-3 on the side he scrambles toward, discouraging him from trying a throw. He takes a bad sack.
Play right before half where Trubisky takes a bad sack when trying to get into FG range.
Running a rub route at bottom of the screen against cover-1 robber. Pats defenders truck each other.
— Tyler Wise (@TriggeredWise) September 20, 2022
But if you send that extra defender into the backfield, Trubisky is much better at making plays after things break down. Here, the Browns rush five and Trubisky gets outside of the pocket. With less traffic to mess with his field vision, Trubisky finds Chase Claypool in a one-on-one and is able to deliver the ball accurately for a 14-yard gain.
The bottom line for the Jets is clear: do not blitz Trubisky. But if things aren’t working, change the plan quickly. Do not allow another Brissett situation to transpire.