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Data Responds: Bears vs. 49ers

| December 3rd, 2017

The Bears led for almost the entire game, but pretty much everybody watching the game knew what was coming when San Francisco got the ball back down 14-12 with just over 4 minutes to go. The 49ers methodically marched down the field and longtime Chicago kicker Robbie Gould drilled his 5th field goal of the day to send Chicago to their 5th straight loss.

Offense

  • Chicago’s offense came out on the first possession and ran the ball twice in a row out of heavy sets. Anybody who’s watched Chicago this year can already guess how that ended: with Chicago in 3rd and long. That led to a sack of QB Mitchell Trubisky for a nice quick three and out.
  • Speaking of running on first down, the Bears did it 11 times in 14 chances today. Only one of those runs went for more than 3 yards; most went for 0 or 1.
  • It looks like any confidence rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky earned from the coaching staff completely evaporated after a bad game last week. They finally opened things up two weeks ago, and the offense shockingly had their best game of the year. Now they’ve had back to back terrible weeks after reverting to horribly predictable play calling.

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Data Responds: Bears at Eagles

| November 26th, 2017

Well that was ugly. This one felt like a few drubbings the 2014 Bears received after the Bears had quit on Marc Trestman. The John Fox era is officially over, though we almost certainly still have to endure 5 more games before it becomes official. Hopefully those games aren’t all this ugly.

The Bears were never going to win on the road against the best team in the NFL, but they looked completely unprepared in every possible way. They picked up penalties, had zero creativity or imagination anywhere, and were generally outschemed, outcoached, and out-executed.

I’m not going to focus much on coaching, because this staff is obviously finished, but one particular atrocity deserves special attention. Facing 3rd and 17 from their own 1 yard line, the Bears called time out to save half a yard from a delay of game penalty. That’s bad enough, but the worst is the offense had only 10 men on the field after an injury time out gave them more than 2 minutes to prepare. That’s a team with comically inept coaching.

I’m going to focus most of my specific observations on the first half, because quite honestly I didn’t pay as much attention after that. The 24-0 halftime deficit meant the game was over by then anyway (honestly, it was over well before halftime).

Offense

  • Mitchell Trubisky threw an early INT on an inaccurate throw, and it caused the coaching staff to turtle back into their worst habits. It was a long time before they let him throw past the line of scrimmage again, and even then that only came on 3rd and long. Instead, they chose to repeatedly run out of heavy sets into loaded boxes. You might be surprised to learn this was not an effective strategy.

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Data Responds: Bears at Saints

| October 29th, 2017

The Bears played pretty evenly with the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints on the road, but a series of missed opportunities (helped by one atrocious call by the officials) cost them the chance to enter the bye at 4-4.

Perhaps most important to Chicago going forward, the loss was a costly one for the Bears. Four starters left the game with injuries and did not return, including guard Kyle Long (hand), center Cody Whitehair (arm), cornerback Bryce Callahan (knee), and tight end Zach Miller (leg). We’ll wait to see how serious the injuries are, though I can say fairly confidently that Miller’s gruesome leg injury means his season (and likely his career) is finished.

Still, the best news to me from the game was that they kept fighting. When they went down 17-6 early in the 4th quarter, I expected them to roll over and quit, but from that point on the defense forced two turnovers, the offense scored a touchdown, and the special teams picked up a big return to keep Chicago in the game. The attitude on the team is changing, and the importance of that can’t be overstated.

Offense

  • The Bears were forced to ask for a bit more from rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this week, and we saw some of both good and bad, as should be expected from a young quarterback. We saw the talent leading to some big plays, and we saw the rookie mistakes leading to missed opportunities and/or negative plays. The overall stat line (14/32, 164 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 46.9 rating) looks ugly, but his performance was not that bad. Notably, Trubisky threw 2 touchdowns, but one of them was taken away by a terrible officiating call and one of them was inexplicably dropped by a wide open Jordan Howard.

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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. Vikings

| October 10th, 2017

In rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s debut, the Bears got the ball to start, and marched right down the field. Trubisky looked sharp on several impressive throws, including one huge third down completion to Tre McBride that set Chicago up on Minnesota’s 9 yard line.

Except a holding penalty by center Cody Whitehair brought the Bears back to 3rd and 20 out of field goal range. One screen pass later, they punted, costing themselves at least three points.

That would lay the foundation for a frustrating first half of missed opportunities, when a long list of penalties (some more dubious than others) led to Chicago getting no offensive points despite passing midfield on four drives.

Unsurprisingly, those missed opportunities came back to haunt them in the second half, as a late Minnesota field goal led to a 20-17 win.

Coaching

  • They get their own section again, which usually means bad things. And we’re starting here, because it was terrible.
  • John Fox took too long to decide whether to go for it on 4th and 2 in the first quarter, which forced the Bears to call a time out. Out of the time out, they took too long to get the play in, resulting in a delay of game and punt. That was an ugly sequence that was 100% the fault of the coaches. Then in the 2nd half, they had to burn a time out when the Vikings had 1st and 19 due to confusion with defensive play calls.
  • The Bears were also incredibly sloppy early on, with several early penalties negating big plays and/or putting them behind the chains. Some of the calls didn’t seem particularly great by the officials, but overall they need to get out of their own way and stop beating themselves. That’s the mark of a poorly coached team.
  • Dowell Loggains also had a terrible game. He fell into predictable patterns we’ve seen through four games, with obvious runs on 1st down and too many horizontal passes. They ran out of heavy sets and threw out of shotgun, with not enough variability mixed into those sets. This routinely set the Bears up in 3rd and long situations, which is not where you want a rookie quarterback (or any offense, really) to be. To his credit, Loggains did have a beautiful play call on a game-tying 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter, but overall he had a rough night.

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Gronk Comp is Crazy, but Expect Shaheen To Be Productive

| June 28th, 2017

If you’re expecting Adam Shaheen to be Rob Gronkowski you’re going to be disappointed. But the 2017 second round pick should be able to produce for the Bears as a rookie.

No player has drawn more rave reviews than Shaheen simply because his combination of size and athleticism have been so incredibly difficult for the Bears defenders to match up with. That is an advantage he’s going to maintain throughout the early part of his NFL career.

The reports from beat writers and others is that Shaheen has been borderline dominant and hasn’t dropped a single pass. His teammates have also gone on record as being impressed by the second rounder from Ashland.

Shaheen enters the league with the nickname “Baby Gronk”. That’s not really an accurate comparison — Gronk is significantly faster —  but that label and early camp play have some fans going crazy with their expectations for him. I don’t expect him to be Gronk, but history suggests he has a good chance at being productive early with bigger things on the horizon.

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Suddenly, Tight End Looks to Be a Position of Strength for the Bears

| June 1st, 2017

Zach Miller got injured in 2016. Because if it’s a year, and Zach Miller is playing football during it, he’s going to get hurt. His injury left the Chicago Bears with a crop of tight ends that could be described as…”Who?”

Logan Paulsen was supposed to be a blocking option but caught three passes (and dropped around three hundred). Harvard UDFA Ben Braunecker wasn’t supposed to see the field. Four catches. Daniel Brown showed up out of nowhere and caught a touchdown pass. I still don’t know who MyCole Pruitt is.

The Bears established an offensive identity last season. Tough, physical offensive line anchoring a power run game on the back of Jordan Howard. But that identity lacked a crucial component once Miller was admitted into the infirmary: a tight end that could both be a force at the point of attack and a threat through the middle of the defense.

Outside of quarterback, where his aggressiveness will define his general management tenure, no position was attacked with more fervor this off-season than tight end by Ryan Pace.

  • Dion Sims only has 74 receptions in four seasons but the Bears (a) signed him primarily for his physicality/blocking ability and (b) believe he’s capable of far more productivity if given the opportunity.
  • Adam Shaheen may have been a surprise second-round selection but early reports – from Adam Jahns and many others – are that Shaheen has been the early star of rookie camp/OTAs. He’s a massive human being with great hands, a perfect complement to what Sims provides.
  • Zach Miller is still here! And Zach Miller is still a very good player. But one should not expect Miller to contribute more than 8-10 games of healthy football.

And in case you were missing the Follies of ’16, worry not! Brown, Braunecker and Pruitt are all slated to be in Bourbonnais next month.

Do the Bears have a star tight end? It’s certainly possible if Shaheen becomes the player the Bears expect him to be. But one thing is certain: one of the biggest roster weaknesses in 2016 looks to be a major position of strength in 2017.

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