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Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

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Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s Defense

| November 6th, 2017

Now the defense.

Chicago’s defense has generally been good so far in 2017. They’re 8th out of 32 NFL teams in yards per game and 14th in points per game. They have been pretty solid both against the pass (10th in yards per game, 16th in passer rating, 15th in yards per attempt) and run (11th in yards per game, 14th in yards per carry).

These basic stats are easy to look up, but there’s a lot of information that they don’t tell you. In order to break it down a little bit further, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s defensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing success by areas of the field to see both where they are targeted the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Run defense

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense so far in 2017. The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses (all ranks through week 8 only). The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12. Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.

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Midseason Marks: Defense

| November 1st, 2017

The DBB team is evaluating the entire organization at this well-placed, exactly midseason bye week. The catch? Each of us is limited to ONE SENTENCE for each position group. Today we move on to the defense.


Defensive Line

Jeff: Impossible to say a negative word about this group, with Goldman arguably the league’s best run-stuffing interior lineman and Hicks mounting a serious campaign for Defensive Player of the Year.

Andrew: Hicks and Goldman are studs, Unrein is solid and Bullard and Robertson-Harris have both shown flashes.

Data: Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman might be the best interior DL combo in the NFL.

DBB Grade: A


Inside Linebackers

Jeff: This was the position of greatest depth on the roster and that depth has been severely tested through eight games. Christian Jones has looked like a new player in the absence of Freeman, Kwik and Timu. (Yea that’s two sentences but it’s my blog so go away.)

Andrew: Danny Trevathan is having a career year and young inside backers also making an impact.

Data: Chicago has gotten a surprisingly high level of play out of this group considering they’ve had to rotate through 5 different bodies here due to injuries and suspensions.

DBB Grade: A-


Outside Linebackers

Jeff: Bears ask their outside backers to do a lot, including extensive coverage duties, but this group will always be judged by their ability to get to the quarterback and they’re getting there to the tune of 11 sacks.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Panthers

| October 22nd, 2017

Well that was fun.

Chicago’s defense scored not one but two touchdowns and shut Carolina’s offense down, staking the Bears with an early lead that held up for the entire game. Even though the offense never really got anything going, this was the Bears’ easiest win in a long time.

Offense

  • The Bears were up 14 points before the offense was really asked to do anything. That shifted an already conservative game plan even farther to the safe side, making them even more predictable. As a result, they went three and out with regularity, picking up only 153 yards and 5 first downs on the game. This forced the defense to spend too much time on the field and get tired; credit them for holding up under those conditions.
  • Credit to the coaching staff for not sitting on a 14-3 lead with just over 3:00 left before halftime, like we all expected after watching their conservative approach this season. They came out and let Mitchell Trubisky throw deep to Tarik Cohen on 1st down, resulting in 70 yards and 1st and goal from the 5 yard line. They were unable to finish for the touchdown, but a field goal (plus a little rest for the defense) on that drive was key.
  • The second half offense was just plain offensive. Prior to the final drive that ran out the clock, the Bears had the ball 5 times, picked up 3 total yards, and went 3 and out five times. At least they didn’t turn the ball over, I guess, and they were able to run out the last 3:36 of clock with two 1st downs on the ground. Read More …

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Bears Defense Should Take a Big Step in 2017

| May 8th, 2017

While they didn’t attack that side of the ball the way many people thought they should in the draft, the Bears defense should still be significantly improved in 2017.

Just last week the Bears made a significant addition to their front seven adding Jaye Howard from Kansas City. Howard is a bull against the run and has shown some ability to rush the passer, finishing with 5.5 sacks in 2015. He missed half of the 2016 season, but passed a physical and appears to be ready to go. Howard will start for the Bears and has the ability to play in their nickel packages, rotating with Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks, representing a significant upgrade over Mitch Unrein.

Howard will also push second-year player Jonathan Bullard. Bullard has the potential to be a stud but was terrible as a rookie. If the Bears — with one of the best defensive line coaches in the league in Jay Rodgers — can develop Bullard, they might have the best front seven in the league.

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Across The Middle — Week 10

| November 9th, 2016

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The hole is too deep for the Bears to win the NFC North this year, but they just might have the best team in the division.

The Bears are like the 2015 Detroit Lions in that the Lions were probably the best team in the division in the second half of last year, but their 1-7 start prevented them from making any moves. The sky was falling until they finished 6-2 to save coach Jim Caldwell — and possibly quarterback Matthew Stafford’s — job. The Bears are in the same situation with their team, their coach and their quarterback.

Like last year, there is no dominant team in the NFC North. I’m not even sure there is a good team. They’re all hovering around .500, which is likely where the Bears would be if Jay Cutler hadn’t missed most of the season. They almost certainly won’t be able to get back in the playoff hunt, but the Bears just might be able to have a significant impact on who gets in.

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Three

| August 24th, 2016

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Dennis Green: “Who the hell takes the third game in the preseason like it’s bullshit?”

Me: Raises hand.

I used to believe we could get something meaningful from the third preseason game. There are dozens of reasons why that’s wrong, but the strongest was one I realized just a month ago. It doesn’t mean anything to the players who aren’t fighting for jobs or coaches.

I challenge anyone to watch a regular season game, follow it with the third preseason game and try to tell me there isn’t a significant difference in the product. I did just that a month ago, choosing to re-watch the Bears’ third preseason game against the Bengals last year. It’s just a different game.

This is true for many of the same reasons why none of the preseason games matter. Maybe there’s more game-planning in the third preseason game. Maybe teams do a bit more schematically. Maybe. But it isn’t a lot and whatever it is they do isn’t done with the same urgency as the regular season simply because it doesn’t have to be.

The Bears have most of their starters figured out already. They know what they’re doing schematically. The practice and simulation of a game-like atmosphere should help them. But this is preseason. The coach won’t lose his job, neither will the starters. It’s a practice and should be treated as such.

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Ranking the Bears Positions of Needs as Legal Tampering Begins Monday

| March 4th, 2016

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The Bears have needs. Many needs. So I’ve decided to apply a point value to those needs. 0 points would mean the Bears have absolutely no need to address this position during free agency. 10 points would mean the Bears are in trouble come 2016 if they don’t make a significant move. Here are the rankings, with a single sentence of rationale for each.

9.2 Defensive Line

Yes, Eddie Goldman looked like a long-term contributor for the Bears up front, but this unit was the least explosive on the entirety of the roster in 2015.

8.3 Inside Linebacker

McClellin, Timu and Anderson each had moments last season but the Bears need a true run-stuffing thumper in the middle of their defense.

8.1 Offensive Line

With so much talent available in the middle of the line (Mack, Boone, Incognito) the Bears would be doing their run game in 2016 a tremendous disservice by entering the season with so many question marks along the line.

8.0 Tight End

If Martellus Bennett is truly headed out the door (as the whole world is reporting) the Bears not only need to sign Zach Miller but also pair him with another player to threaten the middle of the field.

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Postseason Positional Analysis Part VI: Defensive Line

| January 18th, 2016

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BIG EDDIE

The development and production of Eddie Goldman was one of the best things to happen to the Bears this year. Goldman was billed as a run-plugging nose tackle and a two down player. He proved to be much more. He had 4.5 sacks and was third on the team with nineteen quarterback pressures, according to the official statistics released by the team.

He’s technically listed as a nose tackle, but he’s just as much an end in the Bears defense, lining up over the guard as often as he lined up over the center. Outside of what is considered their base defense, Vic Fangio used Goldman similarly to how he used Justin Smith. Forget about what positions they’re listed at, Smith was Fangio’s anchor in San Francisco and Goldman may be his anchor in Chicago.

THE REST OF THE GUYS…

The Bears have a few players who could be rotational but no other lockdown starters.

Jarvis Jenkins won fans over with a 10-tackle, two-sack performance against Seattle in Week Three but really didn’t do much the rest of the season. He was fourth on the team with 17 pressures, but a major liability against the run.

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Bears Beat Bucs, Put Sixth in Win Column (Rapid Fire)

| December 28th, 2015

Bears won their sixth game. Is it the biggest win in franchise history? Of course not. But a glance at their sideline as the clock wound down Sunday proved how important this win was for them. Loss after loss was tiring a staff and roster that knew they were improving but needed some tangible evidence. Rapid fire…

  • Adam Gase has a bully offensive line and a trio of talented running backs. Why does it seem like he runs the ball against his will? It sure seems like he’d prefer to throw those awful bubble screens on first down instead of pounding Langford behind Kyle Long.
  • My lord is Kyle Long something in short yardage. When is the last time the Bears had an offensive lineman who could move multiple defenders at the goal line?
  • John Timu, still making plays.
  • Pernell McPhee wants it. I get that. But why the hell are Pace and Fox marching him out there? Rich Campbell pointed out to me on Twitter that doctors have assured the Bears McPhee can’t do more damage to his knee but what about the rest of his body? He’s running at 8% speed! (He’s also a substantial financial investment. Why not protect it?)
  • If Kevin White turns out to be a star the Bears grabbed two first round picks in the 2015 draft. Eddie Goldman is that good.

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