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Data Responds: Bears at Ravens

| October 15th, 2017

It wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but the Bears got their first road win since 2015 behind an impressive effort by the defense. Baltimore had no business being in the game, but managed to push it to overtime after an impressive series of self-inflicted mistakes by the Bears in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Bears found a way to get Mitchell Trubisky his first career win and improve to 2-4 on the season. Let’s look at some key takeaways from the game.

Offense

  • The Bears continually put their offense in position to fail. There’s no other way for me to say this. They continually run the ball with predictable plays against 8-9 man boxes, which is why their running backs averaged less than 3.5 yards per rush.
  • This led to a number of 3rd and long situations, which was about the only time they actually let quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throw. It seems to me like 3rd and long pass attempts is not a great way to build your rookie quarterback’s confidence and get him into a rhythm.
  • The offense continues to be far too predictable. 1st and 2nd down are almost always runs, regardless of the defensive look. They never run out of shotgun, and rarely pass out of heavy sets. 90% of Tarik Cohen’s carries come to the outside. That leads to a lot of plays where the defense knows exactly what to expect, which is a death knell in the NFL.
  • With that said, credit offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for a beautiful trick play that led to the first offensive touchdown. Tarik Cohen took a pitch, stopped, and heaved a 21 yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach miller, who was wide open in the end zone. That’s the second week in a row the offense pulled off a successful trick play. Now if only the other 99% of his play calls weren’t terrible.
  • Chicago’s personnel usage continues to be baffling. Their best pass catchers are Kendall Wright and Zach Miller, but both are playing limited snaps. The reason they’re not playing is that there are better run-blocking options, but sooner or later you need to give your quarterback somebody to throw to.
  • Given all of this, it’s difficult to evaluate Mitchell Trubisky’s play at quarterback. The coaches are basically not letting him play the position, and are putting him in position to fail when he does. He only had 16 pass attempts, plus 4 sacks and 4 scrambles for a total of 24 plays where he was asked to do anything other than hand off. Several of those were screens, which are basically extended handoffs, and Trubisky had to throw it away several more times.
  • You saw Trubisky’s physical skills with some nice throws down the field, including a pressured bomb on the run to Dion Sims for a touchdown, and some impressive scrambles. He also saved a Baltimore touchdown by corralling a bad Cody Whitehair snap in the end zone, breaking a tackle, and throwing the ball away. You also saw the inexperience as he had trouble from inside the pocket. Trubisky’s only turnover on the day was a fumble when he was hit from the blind side after somebody whiffed on a block. I don’t think you can pin much of that on the quarterback.
  • I had all that about Trubisky written up before OT. Now I have to add a separate point for the outstanding pass he made to Kendall Wright to put Chicago in FG range in overtime. He was forced to throw on 3rd and long after two stuffed runs (surprise surprise), and Baltimore brought the heat. Trubisky avoided the first rusher and made a beautiful pass to Wright for the first down. That is a big-time play that not very many NFL quarterbacks can make.
  • A game plan like this does very little to develop your rookie quarterback. It feels like the Bears need to take the shackles off and let him make mistakes and grow, but a win is a win.
  • Speaking of bad Cody Whitehair snaps, what gives there? He had several more today, continuing a season-long sophomore slump. At first, he had the excuse of bouncing around between guard and center, but he’s been squarely at center now for 3-4 weeks in a row and has no excuse left.
  • Jordan Howard had an outstanding day, with 36 carries for 167 yards. He was able to pick up some yards despite consistently pounding into a stacked box, showing his trademark patience and vision and running through tackles. He also put the team on his back in OT with a 53 yard burst after breaking a few tackles near the line of scrimmage. I can’t help but imagine what he could do if the defense respected the Chicago passing game.
  • Of course, Howard did have a boneheaded play at the end of the 4th quarter, where he ran out of bounds on 3rd and 20 to stop the clock and force Chicago to punt instead of letting the clock run out. It was shades of Marion Barber from 2011, but thankfully the miscue didn’t hurt the Bears this time.
  • Let’s also give a special incompetent shout-out to Chicago’s 2 minute offense at the end of both halves. In the 1st half, they had 1st and 10 at the 35 with 2:07 to go and two time outs left. Predictable run, predictable screen (which Trubisky had to ground since Baltimore was so ready or it), sack, and the Bears had to punt after -9 yards in only 27 seconds. That left Baltimore enough time to get points before the half. Then in the 4th quarter, they got the ball with a tie game at the 25 yard line, 1:37 and two time outs left. The first play was a running back screen to the middle of the field, then a bad snap, then a sack, then a run out of bounds instead of running out the clock. That’s poor coaching and poor execution, a killer 1-2 punch.

Defense

  • Chicago’s defense didn’t give up any points (or even a first down) on the first drive today. That makes the second fast start for the defense in a row, which has been a consistent problem for them under this regime. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been able to stay competitive in both games.
  • Another consistent problem for Chicago’s defense under these coaches has been an inability to force turnovers, but that was not an issue today either as they took the ball away from Baltimore three times. On the first, linebacker Christian Jones caused a fumble, which Danny Trevathan recovered. On the 2nd, safety Eddie Jackson forced a drop with a hard hit, and Bryce Callahan was able to come down with the interception. The third and final turnover was forced by a Kyle Fuller deflection; safety Adrian Amos took advantage with the easy interception, which he returned for what seemed like a game-clinching touchdown. With an offense that struggles to score points, the defense needs to make big plays like that week in and week out.
  • DE Akiem Hicks continued his monster season with several big run stops and a sack. He’s now up to 5 sacks on the season, and is on pace to hit double digits, an impressive feat for a 3-4 defensive lineman. Hicks didn’t get enough national recognition for his breakout season last year, but he absolutely should be in the Pro Bowl (and possibly an All Pro) if he keeps this up.
  • Rookie safety Eddie Jackson had another solid game, but he did have one horrible angle that allowed Baltimore to break off a 30 yard run. Still, he broke up a few passes and had solid tackling in other situations. Jackson has already established himself as Chicago’s best safety.
  • Cornerback Kyle Fuller also continued his bounce-back season with an outstanding game. He provided solid coverage throughout the game, including three straight targets in the end zone that Baltimore was unable to complete, and laid out several defenders with big hits. Fuller was also consistently around the ball, logging 3 passes defensed and tipping a ball to Adrian Amos for an interception.
  • 2nd year safety DeAndre Houston-Carson got a few defensive snaps today as a 3rd safety. I’m surprised that came ahead of Deon Bush, and will be something to watch going forward.

Special Teams

  • It was an ugly day for the special teams, as they gave up not one but two touchdowns. The first came after Chicago had just scored to go up 17-3, and Ravens return man Bobby Rainey hit the ground after being tripped up by his own blocker. All the Bears stopped, assuming he was down, but Rainey got up and ran for an easy touchdown to get Baltimore back in the game. Then they gave up a long punt return touchdown where nobody even got close to return man Michael Campanaro. That’s just inexcusable incompetence.
  • Punter Pat O’Donnell had himself quite the game, at least in regulation. He repeatedly pinned Baltimore inside their own 20 when given the chance, and flipped field position in the 2nd half with a booming 67 yard punt.  he then shanked a 33 yard punt in OT, giving Baltimore excellent field position.
  • Special teams ace Sherrick McManis got injured early in the game and did not return. The Bears said it was a hamstring injury, and we can only hope it’s not serious. Running back/special teamer Benny Cunningham also left the game with a hamstring issue.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Steelers

| September 24th, 2017

 

  • Bears win! It’s been so long I’ve forgotten what that looked like. Hell, I had forgotten what it looked like for them to have a lead, as this was the first game that happened at any point since the first half of week 15 last year.
  • Good teams find ways to win close games, and bad teams find ways to lose them. Despite trying their best to throw this one away with a litany of stupid plays, the Bears still found a way to win. Hopefully they can build off of this going forward.

Offense

  • We’ll start with the good and focus on all three running backs, starting with a monster day by sophomore Jordan Howard, who looked like his rookie self for the first time this year. He ran hard, was decisive, and finished runs with power. Holes were there better than they’ve been so far this year, but credit Howard for playing better as well to take advantage of it. Howard did have a 3rd quarter fumble (though on replay it looked like he was down) that let the Steelers back in the game, and he had to leave the game twice with his injured shoulder in the 2nd half. Still, he came back and finished the game in OT, and finished with 138 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Just for good measure, Howard also led the Bears with 26 receiving yards.
  • Tarik Cohen rebounded from a poor week 2 effort as well. He made a big play in the first half and a huge play in OT that jump-started the Bears’ offense and should have won the game (he was incorrectly ruled out of bounds, costing him a tochdown). His electricity showed up in limited touches (though 16 is still too many). Perhaps equally important, the Bears finally started using him properly. His small size means that he can’t sustain as many touches as he’s been getting, so this week they started using fakes to him to open things up for others. They ran him around on a fake reverse several times, and this helped open up the running game for Howard.
  • While we’re talking about running backs, Benny Cunningham was back from an ankle sprain today and made a few nice plays on 3rd down. Twice he caught checkdown passes way short of the sticks and turned them into a new set of downs for the Bears.
  • Now for the quarterback, which is a lot less fun to talk about: it’s been 3 weeks and 3 bad games for Mike Glennon, who completed 5 passes (none of them to wide receivers) on 8 pass attempts for 31 yards in the first half. Despite this incompetence, the Bears still held a ten point halftime lead; just imagine how good this team could be if their quarterback wasn’t completely terrible. It stunts their entire offense, from the play calling to the run game.

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Three More Thoughts on Bears v. Lions

| October 4th, 2016

Gave the Bears win against the Lions a second look. Had three thoughts.

#1. Bears have to be optimistic about their young, developing cornerbacks. And a lot of that credit goes to secondary coach Ed Donatell. Bryce Callahan looks like he might be the long-term answer at nickel and Deiondre’ Hall continues to flash on tape. Why Hall wouldn’t be starting now over Glenn is beyond me.


#2.  Adam Hoge Tweeted this: “My highest #Bears grade through the 1st quarter of the season: Josh Sitton. What a huge addition. Easy Pro Bowl selection right now.” Couldn’t agree more, though he’s not getting Pro Bowl votes. Sitton was dominant up front for the Bears on Sunday. While Cody Whitehair is still going through growing pains at center (but is way better than many think), the middle of the Bears offensive line is finding their rhythm.


#3. The biggest disappointment of the first quarter is Willie Young. For those who love the preseason, Young looked poised for a big season as a pass rusher. But he’s been a non-factor. And with Leonard Floyd being used far more in coverage, Lamarr Houston in the hospital and Pernell McPhee out a few more weeks, the Bears need Young to get to the quarterback. He hasn’t been close.

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Two

| August 17th, 2016

When the Bears were fighting with themselves, I thought it was annoying. Now that we’re seeing them get one of the most disciplined teams in the NFL to lose its cool, I think the Bears just might be developing an identity.

The Bears are going to be scrappy, just like the defenses Fox built in Carolina and Denver. They’re going to push the envelope and they’re going to frustrate their opponents.

And it just might be great.

There is a thin line to walk. The Bears certainly don’t want to be known as a “dirty” team like Jim Schwartz’s Lions were. There certainly is a point where the personal foul penalties get to be too much, but if they can continue to be aggressive and scrappy, they’re going to be the team nobody wants to play. If they keep adding talent, they’re going to be the team hardly anyone can beat.

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Turn the Beat Around: Words of Wisdom From the Hired Hands

| June 20th, 2016

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ADAM L. JAHNS (THE L IS SILENT) ON KEVIN WHITE

From his piece in the Sun-Times:

How does Kevin White look?

Like a work in progress. His physical gifts are apparent. He’s fast and imposing. But his drops stood out, especially when Jeffery was out of town. White is under pressure to be a difference-maker and is clearly learning the finer points of being an NFL receiver. But I’ll say this: when Jeffery did return for minicamp, White’s play seemingly improved.

Many have larger expectations for White in what will be his rookie campaign. None of those expectations are possible if he doesn’t catch the ball. Whilst other writers – including one for this site – have been leading the White Hype Train, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

BIGGS (TOM) CALLAHAN

From his piece in the Tribune:

Cornerback Bryce Callahan, defensive end Akiem Hicks and, not surprisingly, wide receiver Kevin White consistently flashed during the spring. Callahan is the leading candidate to be the nickel cornerback, a position he played last season. He took advantage of ample time working outside while an undisclosed injury sidelined Kyle Fuller. Callahan led all defensive backs with four interceptions in the offseason, a statistic kept on the wall of their meeting room.

“That’s one of the main things Vic (Fangio) was preaching,” Callahan said. “We need more takeaways and more interceptions.”

Callahan has added nearly 10 pounds of muscle to his upper body, getting to him 193 pounds. He felt being under 185 might have led to getting dinged last season. While he’s not tall at 5-foot-10, he has a 41-inch vertical jump and is fluid in the middle of the field.

Callahan’s emergence would greatly improved the backend of the Bears secondary, still the team’s least talented meeting room.

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Postseason Positional Analysis Part VIII: Secondary

| January 20th, 2016

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Here are a few sentences I never thought I’d write, or think, in 2015:

  • The Bears really struggled covering the slot without Bryce Callahan.
  • Tracy Porter is playing like a corner who wants a contract extension.
  • The secondary has been the best level of the Bears defense several games this season.

My predictions were (1) the Bears would field the worst secondary in the league and (2) perhaps one of the worst secondaries in the organization’s history. Neither of those predictions were accurate. Neither was even close.

WHO IS BACK

Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos both had up-and-down 2015s but both will be prominent members of the Bears secondary next season.

Tracy Porter isn’t a top tier corner but his ability to close on the football is somewhat astounding. If Calvin Johnson does actually retire this offseason, does Porter’s value increase?

Antrel Rolle doesn’t actually cost the Bears much in 2016 so it wouldn’t make sense for them to cut bait before Bourbonnais. Even if the Bears target safety in free agency or the draft, Rolle could provide cheap depth off the bench.

Bryce Callahan was arguably the defense’s most pleasant surprise and a player the Bears coaching staff will surely want to continue developing.

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