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Data Responds: Bears at Bengals

| December 10th, 2017

Is this real life?

The Bears dominated on both sides of the ball, scored 30 points for the first time in over two years, and generally rolled over the dormant Cincinnati Bengals.

I know Cincinnati is bad and banged up, but so are the Bears, and this was a lot of fun. More importantly, this as led largely by young players for the Bears, which bodes well for the future. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Offense

  • The Bears came out and threw it on their first 2 plays! The first resulted in an awful Jordan Howard drop (drink), while the second was a beautiful play action rollout to Josh Bellamy for a 1st down. This unsurprisingly caught the Bengals’ defense off guard, and they backed off the defense into standard 7 man boxes instead of loading 8-9 up. As a result, the Bears ran it the next two plays for about 40 yards and a touchdown. That marked the first time this season that the offense scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game.
  • Before I get too down on Howard, how about giving it up for a great game from Chicago’s stud running back? He had his 12th 100 yard rushing game in 26 career starts and passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 2nd year in a row, making him the first running back in Chicago history to start his career that way. That’s pretty remarkable when you think of the great running backs who have played in Chicago.

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423 Comments

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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219 Comments

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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170 Comments

Across The Middle: The Argument for Firing Fox

| November 15th, 2017

Forget clock management. Forget the stupid challenges. Most of all, forget the play calling. John Fox gave fans — and team management — the only ammunition they’ll ever need to fire him last Sunday. In a big game they had plenty of time to prepare for, his team was sloppy. That doesn’t happen to a good coach.

With the loss, the Bears dropped to 0-3 after their bye week under Fox with a point differential of -36. In two out of the three, the Bears went into the bye week with momentum and hopes of turning the season into something but fell flat on their faces.

Of course, Denver fans know the pain all to well. They saw Fox’s team get embarrassed after a week off before the Super Bowl in 2013. They also saw his teams get beat after first-round byes in 2012 and 2014, his last game with the team. In all, Fox is 5-6 after byes since 2011 and they’ve been outscored by 28 points.

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600 Comments

Data Responds: Bears vs. Packers

| November 12th, 2017

Chicago came out of the bye flat, acting like nobody actually wanted to play a football game against their biggest rival. Their terrible kicker was good, but nobody else really was. The only thing that kept this game somewhat close was the fact that Green Bay is terrible, but they still won fairly comfortably on the road.

Let’s break down this embarrassing effort.

Offense

  • The first drive was simply awful. After two weeks to prepare, they ran into a loaded box on 1st down and lost a yard. After a nice pass picked up a first down, they again ran into a stacked box and lost a yard. The next play was both an illegal formation and a hold, setting Chicago up in 2nd and 21. At that point, the drive was over thanks to a combination of poor play calling and dumb penalties.
  • Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky actually had a pretty good start to the game. He made good throws and got the ball to players in space. That changed as the game wore on and Green Bay dialed up the pressure. Trubisky got happy feet and starting pulling his eyes down from scanning the field too quickly. He also refused to throw the ball away, making him completely inept under any sort of pressure.
  • Green Bay’s five sacks weren’t all on the offensive line, but they were bad today too. Hroniss Grasu, making a start at center and shifting Cody Whitehair to right guard with Kyle Long out, was routinely pushed back into the backfield. The unit also picked up way too many penalties, with a nice mixture of pre-snap, during the play, and after the play mixed in.

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236 Comments

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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248 Comments

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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191 Comments

Across The Middle: That’s More Like It

| October 18th, 2017

They did it. They finally did it. The Bears defense delivered a dominant performance; the kind of performance I’ve been begging for.

The Bears have a good defense. I don’t think that’s disputable. But they were far from great and really hadn’t shown any signs of that changing until last week. Their fine performances  always included major blemishes.

Not Sunday. Sunday they were terrific.

This is what we should expect. The Bears are in Year Three with a defensive head coach and a coordinator who came in with a sterling reputation. They’ve rebuilt the entire roster with players the coach and coordinator had a big role in picking out. They should be great and they had just been good until last week.

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Chicago Wins Ugly Affair in Charm City (Rapid Fire)

| October 16th, 2017

Tommy Gilligan – USA TODAY Sports

Listen, it was an ugly affair at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The Ravens offense isn’t capable of playing a pretty game. The Bears coaching staff had no interest in one. Thus you get a game like that. Thoughts…

  • Bears ran the ball 54 times, with 50 called runs. I won’t reiterate what Data wrote well post-game regarding the predictability of their rushing attack. I will just say this: the Bears have to stop coaching like Mike Glennon is under center. Their offense seems to be a combination of 1943 and gimmicks. Take the cuffs off Trubisky and let him play football.
  • Someone told you the punt game would play a pivotal role in this game. Who was that again?
  • Jordan Howard, prior to his 53-yard run in OT, was averaging just 3.25 yards per carry. Completely a product of play-calling. Running on obvious running downs and throwing on obvious passing downs won’t beat a team with a competent offense.
  • Kendall Wright is the Bears best receiver. Why can’t the coaching staff see that?
  • Trubisky’s big mistakes in his first start were trying to do too much when the play broke down. Love that he showed growth in his second start and didn’t hesitate to fling it out of bounds.
  • Also loved Trubisky’s slide technique. Don’t take hits you don’t have to, kid. Just look around the league. Quarterbacks are falling Antietam. (Too soon?)
  • Down around the goal line, Loggains has to let Trubisky’s legs be a weapon. These quick, one-read calls have to go.
  • Adrian Amos played his best game as a Bear but my game ball would go to Kyle Fuller. The former first-round pick looked like a complete, shut down corner. Why did Flacco keep throwing at him?
  • Good to see Pernell McPhee flying around. Looked like a different player from the guy on Monday night’s tape.
  • Akiem Hicks has the same number of sacks as Von Miller. He has more than Khalil Mack and Geno Atkins. It’s early in the season but Hicks is starting to put himself in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. That’s how good he’s been.

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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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