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ATM: Bears Need More at the Tight End Position

| February 19th, 2019

It was a simple play. But the fact that the Eagles were able to pull it off was telling.

Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert easily beat PFF-favorite Adrian Amos for one of the only touchdowns in the game, a home playoff loss for the upstart Bears to the reigning champions. The play proved to be significant in the low-scoring game, but even more significantly it illuminated what the Bears are trying to do as compared to what the Eagles have already accomplished.

The beauty of what Doug Pederson and company have built in Philadelphia is they have a passing game capable of hurting teams any which way they choose. Matt Nagy’s Bears just aren’t there yet and a lack of firepower at the tight end position is a big reason why.

TE has always been an important part of the offense the Bears are running. That’s why the Eagles spent a second round pick on Goedert despite already having Zach Ertz. They knew once Trey Burton went to the Bears, they’d be in trouble without Ertz. Ironically the Bears didn’t have Burton against the Eagles and it killed their game plan.

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Breaking Down Every Single Mitch Trubisky Interception From the 2018 Season

| February 15th, 2019

In his sophomore campaign, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky saw statistical improvement across the board. He completed a higher rate of passes, threw for more yards per attempt, and was much more efficient throwing touchdowns. The one area where he regressed from his rookie campaign (statistically speaking), was throwing interceptions. He threw them on 2.8% of his passing attempts in 2018, compared to just 2.1% in 2017. If he had stuck to his 2017 rate he would have been intercepted only 9 times. He threw 12 picks.

Throwing fewer interceptions is a good goal for Trubisky in 2019, but what does he need to improve to make that happen? In order to figure that out, we need to break down the film, because not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  • Bad decisions. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 10 years, with balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  • Bad throws. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  • Miscommunications. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  • Receiver errors. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

As I did last year, I want to look more closely at each of Trubisky’s interceptions to see which of these categories they fall into, and then consider what we can learn from all 12 together. Special hat tip to Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron for providing all the GIFs. If you’re a fan of the Bears, you should definitely follow Andrew on Twitter.


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Audibles: Scheduling, Coaching, Movies & Other Stuff.

| February 14th, 2019


Scheduling Notes

Two things have leaked regarding the 2019 Chicago Bears schedule: (1) Packers are rumored to open the season on Thursday night at Soldier Field. (2) Bears will be in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day…again. What do these two reports mean, if anything?

  • That’s 1/8 of the schedule not being played on Sunday. And with the Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys on the schedule, don’t get used to that Sunday routine. This team is going to be in primetime a lot. And anybody who knows me knows I really, really, really hate it.
  • The league should stop putting games as important as Packers at Bears in Week One. They won’t but they should. What’s becoming obvious is teams are no longer considering the preseason a viable method of preparation and it seems most don’t start playing decent football until midway through October. (The Pats waited until January last season.) I’d like to see the NFL use the first four weeks of the season to play exclusively the non-conference schedule.
  • I know the league’s instincts will be Chiefs at Patriots as the Sunday night opener. But if the league were smart, they’d put the Browns in that spot. Elevate that franchise. Excite a fan base that hasn’t seen a relevant primetime game in years. (And a game as potentially important as Chiefs at Pats should be played on Thanksgiving night.)

Coaching Staff Complete

From Pat Finley in the Sun-Times:

Bears coach Matt Nagy finished up his round of hires Friday, promoting two coaches to finish up the team’s defensive staff.

Sean Desai, a Bears defensive quality control coach for the past six seasons, will serve as the team’s safeties coach. Deshea Townsend, who was hired to coach the Bears’ defensive backs last month, had his title changed to secondary coach. Bill Shuey, who spent last season as a defensive quality control coach, has been named defensive pass analyst/assistant linebackers coach.

I have absolutely nothing to add to these two paragraphs.

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ATM: Out of the Hunt. So Now What?

| February 13th, 2019

The Chicago Bears won’t be signing Kareem Hunt. The great debate ended before the offseason officially began, as the former Kansas City Chiefs running back, facing disciplinary action from the league for a history of violent behavior, signed with the Browns. Time will tell if he’s worth the trouble for Cleveland, but the Bears still need to add some explosiveness to their backfield if they hope to improve their run game.

Because while Jordan Howard is a good player, the Bears simply need more. Forget for a second his sub-4.0 yards per carry number. The Bears offense just didn’t function well with him on the field.

  • According to NFGSIS, the team averaged 4.78 yards per play in the five most frequently used lineups in which Howard was used.
  • In the five most-used lineups that didn’t include Howard, they averaged 6.8 yards per play.
  • The big difference came in the passing game, where they averaged 7 yards per pass play without Howard and 4.92 with him.

Matt Nagy seems to know it too. In the playoff game he used a formation with three wide receivers, one tight end and Cohen over Howard 21 times. Their next most-used formation was used five times, that also didn’t have Howard in it. Howard played just 22 snaps — 34% of the team’s total — against the Eagles. From a football perspective, signing Hunt would’ve been the easy move, but not one the Bears could make without knowing his availability. Now, they have to figure out something else.

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Link: What Went Wrong with Trubisky’s Deep Ball

| February 12th, 2019

By Andrew Link

Filed under the “trying something new” category comes a collaboration of personalities, strengths, styles, and even blogs. I am very excited to bring a unique cross-over between Da Bears Blog and Windy City Gridiron.

This off-season project started months ago as a few random Twitter comments sparked an interesting idea. There are tons of analytics folks out there in the NFL world, and an equal amount of film buffs. But something hit Johnathan Wood and myself at the same time: what if we used the analytics to tell the story and confirmed/de-bunked with the old “eye test?”

The result is something that we both think is pretty cool and hopefully Bears fans will enjoy this as well. I urge you to read Johnathan’s article before going any further (although I will be taking excerpts from his article in this one).

Trubisky was really good on short stuff, but struggled throwing the ball deep. This isn’t a surprise to anybody who watched the Bears this year, but it’s good to see the numbers backing up what we all observed. Stay tuned tomorrow, when Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron will look to the film to see what went wrong to account for Trubisky’s deep struggles.

Nobody really wants to see a bunch of short throws, besides, there will be some more silver lining articles to come, so let’s focus on the deep ball. 15 yards seems to be the magic number for what constitutes a deep ball by the numbers, I am not sure I totally agree, so I mainly focused on throws over 20 yards.

Things weren’t as pretty when we look at the deep ball though, as you can see in the table below:

That’s not as good as we’d like to see. Trubisky was well below the league average in all four categories, and he even threw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7). Deep passes completely account for Trubisky’s uptick in interceptions as a sophomore, and improvement here would turn him from an average/above-average QB into one of the better passers in the league.

The numbers clearly show that there was something off about Trubisky’s deep ball, but there has to be a reason, right? I came up with 3 reasons why the deep ball struggled. As with many things in sports, you can make the case for different reasons on the same play. Cause and affect. Did poor mechanics cause a throw to be inaccurate? Possibly. Could a poor decision still be well thrown? Absolutely. While I had to ultimately put clips into certain categories, there are often times when you could put a play into any of the 3.

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Browns Sign Kareem Hunt

| February 12th, 2019


There were many people hoping another team would make this move, sparing the Bears faithful from the endless debate that would accompany such a signing. It happened. Hunt is now a Brown.

Were the Bears interested? Absolutely. Were they willing to make the move THIS soon, prior to an NFL ruling on Hunt’s availability for 2019? Absolutely not. The Bears have designs on winning a championship next season. They need availability. Because if 2018 proved anything, it proved the gap between the best team in the NFC and the fifth or sixth-best team is minuscule. (If the Bears make a kick in Miami, they would have been in the NFC title game this season.)

The Bears don’t have Hunt next season. But they still need A Hunt.

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Trubisky Was Good in 2018. But He Can Significantly Improve.

| February 11th, 2019

This is the first of a series of collaborations between film guru Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron and stats guy Johnathan Wood of Da Bears Blog. We’re excited to be working together to bring fans of both sites great content by combining our approaches. 


Last year, I looked at  Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie season and found that, by the end of the year, he was statistically performing like a league average quarterback in every area except throwing touchdowns. So that was his challenge for 2018: throw more touchdowns without getting worse everywhere else.

Let’s see how he did. The table below shows Trubisky’s performance compared to NFL average in the four categories that go into passer rating.

Mission accomplished.

Trubisky got much better at throwing touchdowns, as is common for young quarterbacks looking to improve from year 1 to year 2, and stayed at or above average at completing passes and picking up yards. His interceptions took a slight uptick from right around league average to be higher than you would like, and we’ll look at that more closely later in this series.

Add it all up and Trubisky produced like an average to above average quarterback in his sophomore campaign, a significant improvement from his rookie season, when he was (statistically speaking) one of the worst QBs in the NFL.

But there is certainly still room for improvement, and to illustrate where that improvement needs to come I used the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder to break up pass attempts into short (less than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) and deep (15 yards or more past the line of scrimmage).

The table below shows how Trubisky performed compared to the rest of the league in short passes:

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2019 Chicago Bears Off-Season Agenda: Part Three, Get the Quarterback Better

| February 8th, 2019

Personnel moves are not going to tell the story of the 2019 Bears. They could improve their roster this off-season, be a better team than they were in 2018 and STILL win fewer than twelve games. No, with lofty expectations for the coming year, everything will depend upon the improved play of their starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.

Here’s what Matt Nagy had to say about Trubisky’s progression into 2019 at the year-end press conference [Cut to 16:30]:



According to Nagy, his young QB has already conquered the “next play mentality” and “the steps of 101 progressions.” In layman’s terms, Trubisky knows what he is doing when it comes to running the offense. But it’s understanding what the opposing defense is up to that comes next, or as Nagy puts it, “recognizing pre-snap what he’s about to see from these defenses.” At quarterback, if you know what your 11 are doing, and you know what their 11 are doing, it just comes down to making the plays.

And Trubisky can make ALL the plays.

Look no further than those final drives against the Eagles. Season on the line. Avoiding the rush. Hitting targets deep down the field with pin-point accuracy. Every completion was met with elation from the crowd. Everyone in that building felt something was changing because something was changing.

And then Parkey happened.

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2019 Chicago Bears Off-Season Agenda: Part Two, Complementary Pieces

| February 7th, 2019

The Bears are in the position most NFL franchises want to be in February. They don’t need to spend the next three months searching for starters. They’re looking for complementary pieces to fortify a championship run. And there are several places they should look.


WINGSPAN OUT WIDE

Mitch Trubisky has a miss, especially when he’s throwing deep left. The miss is high. When he gets too pumped up – much like a starting pitcher – the miss is high. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue having this miss as I’m in the camp the Trubisky of September 2019 will bare little resemblance to the Trubisky of September 2018. But in the meantime, why not put a bit more size on the outside? The Bears have a star number one in Allen Robinson and tons of speed around him. But they’ve got no reach.

So why not look for a power forward – a big man to post up at the sticks on third-and-six and catch the ball in traffic? Could that be someone like Kelvin Benjamin or Michael Floyd? Sure, if the money is right. Is the answer possibly in-house, with someone like Javon Wims stepping up in 2019? It’s possible but I’m always wary of depending on players who struggle to even crack the 53 in their rookie season, especially at a position that saw multiple injuries.

The Bears need to add a different kind of player to this group. Someone with size and physicality.


EXPLOSION AT RUNNING BACK

Emily made a thorough argument against the Bears signing Kareem Hunt.

I made the case, as best I could, for the Bears pursuing the troubled running back.

Andrew explained why this Matt Nagy offense needs Kareem Hunt.

Nagy can’t run his offense without an every-down running back who threatens the opposing defense in the passing game.

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Even if the Bears don’t acquire Hunt, they need to acquire a player LIKE Hunt.


MORE AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

I texted a league source in November with a question I’m fond of asking: “Tell me something about this Bears team I’m not smart enough to see.”

His response: “Leonard Floyd is playing out of his mind.” He went on to break down the many things Floyd was doing in coverage and explained to me how few outside backers – if any – were capable of that.

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