Antagonize enough Chicago Bears fans on Twitter and eventually one of them will mention to you that Mitchell Trubisky, who was not good last season, finished 3rd in QBR. That’s a true statement as only Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees finished higher than Mitch, but it’s also not useful information. To wit:
- QBR is essentially an attempt at WAR for football, and anyone looking at the numbers should be skeptical of any attempt at WAR for football due to sample size issues and lack of equal distribution of positional value in the NFL.
- QBR overvalues quarterback rushing to an absurd extent.
- QBR is trash.
If we just look at passing QBR (again, hot trash), Trubisky falls to 10th, where he is statistically indistinguishable from Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, and Dak Prescott. He was fine as a passer, but hardly anything special. Meanwhile, his rushing QBR trails only Josh Allen, who, as a passer, was the statistical equivalent of QBR, which is to say hot trash. Trubisky just edged out Aaron Rodgers in rushing QBR, and that’s where things get...uncomfortable.
You see, Trubisky created a ton of value with his scrambling, and for most QBs that’s not a great or sustainable way to create value. Of the leaders in rushing QBR, the only veterans in the top 7 are Rodgers and Dak Prescott, with Blake Bortles, Russell Wilson, and Jameis Winston rounding out the top 10. Rodgers is the only “old man” of the group, and only Trubisky and Josh Allen have in excess of 20 QBR rushing. Running declines pretty quickly as you age, it gets you hurt by exposing you to contact, and it also indicates that you’re spending too much time giving up on passing plays.
The thing is, everything I just said about Trubisky is as true for the 2018 version of Aaron Rodgers, who ranked third in rushing QBR despite having an injured leg for the entirety of last season. And according to QBR, Rodgers as a passer (24th), was still worse than Trubisky (10th). DVOA is kinder to Rodgers the passer (and a harsher critic of Trubisky) but the inescapable conclusion on the two quarterbacks is that they produced the bulk of their value more or less in the same fashion.
I’m not sure who should be more insulted. Of course, it’s Rodgers, who should at the very least be able to significantly out-pass the accuracy-challenged young Bear. But for those touting Trubisky as an up-and-comer, this should give you pause. (Yes, comparing Mitch Trubisky to Aaron Rodgers should give you pause about being too optimistic about future of Mitch Trubisky, and this is the darkest timeline.) In terms of DVOA, Trubisky sits in a tier with Derek Carr, Cam Newton, and Matt Stafford. In terms of ANY/A, it’s Cousins, Winston, and Prescott. That running ability is a weapon, but it really does disguise just how bad he was as a passer, just as it did with Rodgers last season.
Rodgers is better by the advanced stats strictly because of how much they penalize interceptions and how few he throws, but Rodgers defenders should also view this skeptically. To some extent, he is gaming the system twice, first through his running ability, and second through his extremely conservative decision-making. If we discount interceptions, his actual play-to-play performance last season was one of the worst of any passer when he wasn’t running.
Trubisky and Rodgers put up practically identical 7.4 yards-per-attempt numbers last season, tied for 15th among starters just below Eli Manning. The league’s actual productive quarterbacks were all at least in the upper 7s and most were above 8. I suspect Bears head coach Matt Nagy has an idea of what he has in Trubisky, and has built his offense to compensate for it. He’s a smart coach, and they will likely be efficient if unspectacular, leaning on their defense, running game, and some smart play calls. Rodgers was, I’m sure, victimized by poor play-calling from Mike McCarthy, but he’s been playing this game of never taking chances for years now. Given how much they count on him, and how much he’s paid, he’s going to need to start throwing the ball down the field again.
If neither changes, Trubisky will continue to produce like an elderly Aaron Rodgers and Rodgers will continue to produce like a slightly worse, if slightly more careful, Mitch Trubisky.