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Data Entry: Turning Over the Turnover Problem

| March 13th, 2017

This is the 3rd installment of a monthly offseason piece I’ll be doing here at DaBearsBlog, helping fill the content void of the long offseason. Each one will be a numbers-crunching look at something Bears related in which I attempt to earn the “Data” moniker so kindly bestowed on me by the comments section regulars and, more importantly, answer a Bears question that I’ve been wondering about. If you have anything you’d like me to look into, let me know in the comments or email me at woodjohnathan1@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do.


Chicago’s defense has significantly improved in the last two years from the disaster that was the Mel Tucker era, but there is one area where they have actually regressed: forcing turnovers.

Tucker’s defenses in 2013 and 2014 actually forced turnovers at a slightly-above average rate (Tucker can probably thank the leftover Lovie Smith-trained players for that), while Vic Fangio’s defenses have forced fewer turnovers in the last 2 years than any other NFL defense. In fact, 13 defenses have forced as many turnovers in one season (28) as the Bears’ defense has the last two seasons combined.

The problem was particularly pronounced last year, when the Bears forced a measly 11 turnovers, tied for the fewest by any defense in the NFL in the last 10 years.

Given the strong and well-established relationship between winning the turnover battle and winning football games, this is a real problem for Chicago. All of this research looks at turnover differential, not just turnovers forced. But forcing turnovers is half of turnover differential and it’s the part I want to focus on today. Avoiding turnovers is largely a product of your quarterback (and luck for fumbles/fumble recoveries). That’s a separate issue that has already been discussed on here at length.

Setting it up

Here’s my question: What is the history for teams the year after they have forced as few turnovers as the Bears have recently? Does the defense continue to struggle generating turnovers, or does it improve quickly?

Here’s how I approached the study:

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“Things Must Change”

| August 18th, 2015

John Fox has assumed command of the 2015 Chicago Bears without running away from the defensive disasters of the previous two campaigns. He is not taking a “those weren’t my teams, I don’t worry about them” approach. He is now the head coach of this proud franchise and seems to have accepted with that role all of the organization’s history as his own. From Adam Jahns’ piece in the Sun-Times:

The strongest message is on the binders of the defensive players: ‘‘Things must change. Be part of the solution, not the problem.’’

What must change is the passivity that has defined Bears defense for longer than a decade. Lovie Smith, while certainly an able-minded defensive coach, frustrated fans with his soft, Tampa-2 approach. During his tenure the Bears defense always seemed willing to allow the opposing offense to dictate the terms of play, waiting for mistakes instead of creating mayhem. Mel Tucker attempted to execute the same concepts, only with older and oft-injured versions of once great players.

51-23.

55-14.

On two nights in front of the nation, this decade of passivity reached its version of rock bottom. It is from those depths from which Fox must operate. And his acknowledging the existence of those depths is the first step in what will surely be a lengthy recovery.

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Who Survives This?

| December 5th, 2014

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There is no reason to dissect the most recent Chicago Bears humiliation – this time at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. The individual drives, plays, moments do not matter. Because despite having beaten five teams over the course of their 2014 journey this Bears team has cemented their place as one of the worst in the proud lineage of the organization.

Now the only questions to be answered are ones of survival. Can Marc Trestman survive being the head coach of a team so noncompetitive week after week after week? Can Phil Emery survive having put Trestman in charge? Can Mel Tucker survive the weekend? Can the McCaskey family and Ted Phillips survive the public relations nightmare of making no changes?

This is all that’s left. Not talent evaluation. Not playing with pride. Nothing. The only relevant moment remaining in 2014 will be the announcement of who is not returning in 2015.

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Position-by-Position at the Bye: Coaches

| October 31st, 2014

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The following is part of a series of position-by-position breakdowns at the halftime point of the 2014 season.

This coaching staff, through eight games, has not been good. Here are the questions that should be asked when issuing a grade:

(1) Are they getting the most out of their offensive talent?

Absolutely not.

(2) Are they getting the most out of their defensive talent?

No, their deployment of linebackers has been misguided. There’s nothing they can do with the secondary.

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A Win For the Maligned: Rapid Fire Recap of Bears Season-Stabilizing Victory over Falcons

| October 13th, 2014

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This was a win for the maligned, the individuals who have suffered the slings and arrows of fans/media for weeks and in some cases years. Rapid fire recap of a massive, impressive road victory for the Chicago Bears.

  • Maligned #1: Mel Tucker. Called his best game as Chicago Bears defensive coordinator and utilized the team’s 5-6-7 options at linebacker expertly. Darryl Sharpton jumped off the screen but the main reason was Tucker putting him in positions to make plays all afternoon long.
  • Maligned #2: Joe DeCamillis. While the Twitter terrorists killed Joe D for a blocked extra point (one of the dumbest reactions in many a year) it was Joe D’s punt coverage units brilliantly handling the greatest kick returner that’s ever lived that impressed me. Pat O’Donnell is a weapon.
  • Maligned #3: Jared Allen. That was a four-quarter performance from a player who’d been showing up in spurts. Getting into the sack column should be the springboard for the remainder of his 2014 campaign.
  • Maligned #4: Jay Cutler. Flawless.

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Bears at Falcons Game Preview Addendum: A Note on the Possibility Stopping Julio Jones

| October 10th, 2014

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A NOTE ON STOPPING JULIO JONES

This is what I wrote in yesterday’s game preview:

Do the Bears have any hope of stopping Julio Jones? The answer is unequivocally no. The Falcons line up  Jones everywhere and run him on as creative an array of routes as you’ll see designed for a premier wide receiver. He’ll run a go from one side, a slant from the other and a shallow cross from the slot on three consecutive plays. Will the Bears deploy Kyle Fuller on Jones for the entirety of the game? Doubtful. Jones is too good to isolate in man over the full sixty minutes. I’m having a hard time not envisioning a 10-catch, 140 yard performance.

I’ve thought about this paragraph for a day or so. On the heels of Tim Jennings referring to the defensive approach against Carolina as “vanilla” this is the Sunday for Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker to go Rocky Road…or Rum Raisin…or pick the ice cream flavor of your choice since they are all infinitely less boring than vanilla. How do I mean?

Julio Jones leads the league in catches (40), targets (T-1, 57), yards (552), first downs (28) and plays of 20+ yards (12). This is not a good wide receiver the Bears are facing Sunday. This is, as of this moment, with Calvin Johnson ailing, far and away the best wide receiver in the league.

Can you stop him? Probably not. Can you make his life miserable for sixty minutes and force Matt Ryan to look elsewhere? Absolutely. Remember, I am not an X’s and O’s football writer. There are plenty of people out there to read if that’s what you’re looking for. My belief continues to be football is a sport where coaches put players in positions to make plays and the ones who make them are the ones who are successful. I continue to argue scheme/play-calling is the most overrated aspect of the NFL.

Let me show you, in crude drawings, how I might approach Jones Sunday.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Woodson, Jersey Sales, Tucker & Trestman Quotes

| September 30th, 2014

Player Trades In-Season Are Rare But…

The Oakland Raiders are dreadful while Charles Woodson is playing every snap at an apparently high level. From an ESPN mailbag:

Woodson, who turns 38 next month, has been one of the Raiders’ best and most reliable defensive players. He has played every defensive snap. That is remarkable for a player of his age. When the Raiders brought him back in 2013, they were just hoping for some leadership and situational help on the field. But Woodson is giving him so much more. He is ending a Hall of Fame career on a high note. It’s really cool to witness.

Does he really want to wrap his career on a 2-14 Raiders team? If you’re Phil Emery, and you know what you’re fielding at safety, why not make an offer? Woodson would not only be the Bears best safety by a wide margin but also has a brilliant knowledge of the divisional opponents and leadership the secondary is now lacking with Peanut’s absence.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Stats, Forte “Struggling” & Lovie Smith with Personality

| September 23rd, 2014

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SOME STATISTICAL STUFF

  • Two quarterbacks will play Sunday at Soldier Field. One has completed 66.1% of his passes for 750 yards and a TD-INT ratio of 8-2. Passer rating? 98.2. The other has completed 62.7% of his passes for 697 yards and a 5-1 ratio. Passer rating of 95.1 Heading into Bears v. Packers, Bears have the quarterback playing at the higher level.
  • Through three weeks, the Bears have the league’s sack (Willie Young, 4) and interception (Kyle Fuller, 3) leaders.
  • Bears defense has not allowed a second half touchdown.
  • Bears offense is 27th in yardage and 9th in points. If you read this site you know how I feel about quantifying offensive performance with yardage gained. It is nonsensical, especially in the current NFL where yards simply aren’t that difficult to gain. How an offense performs in the red zone is how that offense is defined. Points matter. Yards don’t.

ON MATT FORTE’S “STRUGGLES”

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Chicago Bears at New York Jets Game Preview

| September 18th, 2014

Jonathan Hughes is a die hard New York Jets fan. On Sunday, as the Jets sprinted ahead of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, I sent him a text message.

Jeff: J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!

Jon: Best start in ten years. Both sides of ball.

I haven’t spoken to Jon since.

Now the Bears travel to the New Jersey swamplands, in the shadows of my hometown, smells that define my childhood, air pollution that will inevitably land me at Sloan Kettering.

Why do I like the Chicago Bears this week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

WHY ELSE?

  • Jets may field their worst collection of corners in recent memory. Antonio Allen vs. Alshon Jeffery? Self-proclaimed great corner but actually terrible player Dee Milliner vs. Brandon Marshall? Hell, Darrin Walls or Kyle Wilson will struggle with a motivated Santonio Holmes. (Not to mention Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte will be a nightmare for the Jets in the passing game.) Once the Packers realized the Jets had no chance to cover their wide receivers they went on the attack and were borderline unstoppable. If I’m the Bears my approach from the onset is getting the ball in the hands of the weapons on the outside and forcing the Jets corners to make plays.
  • Jets will approach this game by believing they can run the football right up the gut of the Bears defense – especially if Jeremiah Ratliff is inactive with a concussion –  and they’ll give that game plan ample time. Chris Johnson was their high profile acquisition this off-season but Chris Ivory has been the far more productive back and I expect them to test Jon Bostic’s gap discipline all night long. Bears had a few breaks Sunday night, causing their run defense to look better than it actually was.
  • Rex Ryan is considered by many to be the most dynamic blitz schemer in the NFL and I don’t have the time or wherewithal to dispute that opinion. You know they’re coming. And you know they’re coming from every direction. But when Ryan blitzes he often either (a) leaves his corners on an island or (b) puts his safeties (Dawan Landry, Calvin Pryor) in the uncomfortable position of either defending over the top or covering tight ends they have business being matched up against. When Ryan’s group doesn’t hit Cutler, Cutler will rip them to shreds.

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Mel Tucker Will Return as Defensive Coordinator in 2014

| January 13th, 2014

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From Adam Hoge at CBS:

Head coach Marc Trestman announced that Tucker will return for the 2014 season, but defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar have been let go.

The remainder of the coaching staff will remain in place for next season.

“We thank Mike and Tim for their effort and dedication,” Trestman said in a statement. “They are men of high character and integrity. These are not easy decisions and we do not attribute our lack of success on defense to two individuals. We need to improve in all areas defensively and that will be a focal point for us this offseason. The process starts with me as the head coach. Our search for a defensive line and linebackers coach has begun and we will be looking for the best candidates whose experience can bring the most out of our veteran and young players in both areas.”

I don’t blame the defensive deficiencies of the 2013 season on Mel Tucker. I blame the defensive deficiencies of the 2013 season on the guys playing defense. I am players first, coach second when it comes to the complicated riddle known as the blame game.

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