EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Five weeks into the season, rookies still are adjusting to life in the NFL, complete with a new schedule, new rehab regimen, new playbook and new ways of preparation.
The Chicago Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky is faced with a more difficult transition than most. The first-year quarterback, who started only 13 games as a senior at North Carolina, will replace Mike Glennon as the starter when the Bears host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. Without having played a single snap in the regular season, Trubisky will go up against one of the best defenses in the league.
How’s that for a warm welcome?
But the challenge isn’t solely on Trubisky. Other than the preseason, Minnesota doesn’t have much film of the rookie in action, which makes constructing a game plan an experiment.
“Each quarterback that you play is different,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “[Trubisky] is probably more inexperienced. But you try to fool the experienced guys too. I don’t know if it’s one more than the other. It’s not how much you can figure out on the blackboard, it’s how much can your players execute.”
Trubisky will be the third rookie quarterback to make his first career start against a Mike Zimmer-led defense, dating back to 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, he drew up a game plan for the debuts of Joe Flacco (2008) and Jimmy Clausen (2010).
The results were split. Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens beat the Bengals as he completed 15 of 29 passes for 129 yards. Clausen walked away with a loss after throwing for 188 yards on 16-of-33 passing and an interception. No quarterback who has started his first NFL game against Zimmer’s defense in the last 10 seasons has thrown for a touchdown.
In total, rookie quarterbacks won six games and lost seven with a completion percentage of 58 percent and average pass of 6.8 yards against Zimmer and the Bengals. Those rookie QBs threw 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
Last season, Minnesota faced two rookie quarterbacks, each of whom walked away with wins.
After going 5-0 to start the 2016 season, the Vikings' first loss came at Philadelphia. Carson Wentz, the Eagles' rookie quarterback, was held to a season-low 138 yards passing and passer rating of 52.4 after throwing a touchdown and two picks. Six games later, the Cowboys barely escaped Minneapolis with a 17-15 victory behind Dak Prescott, who had 139 yards passing and a touchdown with a 108.3 passer rating.
In the preseason, Trubisky made the most of his opportunity to garner reps in four games, completing 67.9 percent of his attempts for 364 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
But that was the preseason. Monday is prime time.
Minnesota’s defensive line put together its best performance of the season when it sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford six times for a loss of 55 yards in Week 4.
Pressuring an inexperienced rookie into tough situations is obvious. But how does the defense get there? By making last-second adjustments before the ball is snapped to force Trubisky out of rhythm? By disguising coverages? Utilizing more blitz packages?
Maybe. For now, the Vikings are sticking to the same mindset of what’s worked for them to become the third overall rushing defense and ninth in points allowed.
“You just rush,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “They’ve got a good running game. [Jordan] Howard, he’s a strong back. He likes to hit the hole downhill -- north and south runner. They’ve got some good wideouts they can get the ball to, but at the end of the day, we have to stop the run. They’re going to run the ball against us and they’re going to let him throw play-action passes. I don’t think they will give us dropback passes at all, but who knows.”