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The Monster Becomes a Man: Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters Victory & the Next Chapter

| May 15th, 2019

This week the PGA Championship will be held right up the road from me at Bethpage Black. (As you’re reading this Wednesday, I’m at the site watching the gents practice.) Because there’s almost nothing happening around the Bears, I’m writing about golf to commemorate the event.


Tiger Woods wasn’t made a human.

His father Earl, the sporting world’s Victor Frankenstein, never concerned himself with such trivial things as “human” in the lab. Yes, Earl and his wife Kultida gave their son a human name – Eldrick, for those of you who don’t know. I’m sure they even taught him to use a toilet for both numbers one and two. But creating a fully-functional human male was never the priority. Hell, it barely made the to-do list.

Earl set out to make a monster and that monster would play golf. A couple years into his life, Eldrick no longer existed. At two, “Tiger” Woods was whacking a 3 wood on national television in front of Mike Douglas and Bob Hope. At three, Tiger shot 48 on a nine-hole course. At eight, Tiger broke 80. At twelve, 70. By then, Eldrick had almost never existed. Because once the grip of a golf club touched his tiny paws, Tiger was all that could be.

———

In the inevitable documentary series on Tiger Woods – one that will strike up a media bidding war for his participation – Chapter One will be everything from his birth until April 1997; the creation and emergence of Frankenstein’s golf monster. If there was a junior or amateur tournament to be played, Tiger played it. And dominated it. Multiple times. The specter of this phenom lingered over the PGA Tour like a dark storm cloud on championship Sunday. The Craig Stadlers and Lee Janzens knew he was coming. They just hoped they could get their rounds in and a post a score.

Chapter Two will be the transition of that dominance to the tour – from a twelve-shot victory at the 1997 Masters to beating Rocco Mediate in a playoff at the 2008 US Open on a broken leg. There’s very little drama during this stretch of Tiger’s career. Just win after win after win after win.

But Chapter Three will be the one that draws the ratings and it began in the darkness of Thanksgiving night 2009 with an SUV wrecking in a Floridian driveway and an angry Swedish wife attacking Tiger with, what else, a Mike Douglas 3 wood.

———

On that night, Tiger became Eldrick again.

Eldrick Tont Woods, just a dude in his 30s caught cheat-texting a sidepiece from his couch. A guy who had done so many seemingly impossible things on the golf course was doing something thousands upon thousands of idiot guys have done on couches around the world: sending a message to someone they shouldn’t.

What followed that night was not just the downfall of one of the world’s greatest athletes. It was the total collapse of a human being.

It started with the women. One after another they came forward. And Eldrick had no choice but to watch his sexual history play out on the front pages of newspapers across the world. Nobody felt sorry for him. He made his own bed. (Or in these cases, the chambermaids at whatever Four Seasons he brought the ladies to did.) But each story still made us cringe. The details. Flights to Australia. Chain restaurant hostesses.

Sponsors deserted him. The golf media he’d kept at a distance for years relished their opportunity to take shots. There was an embarrassing public speech and a 45-day rehab. (For what, who knows?) And soon it didn’t take long for the off-course mess to find it’s way onto the fairways.

[Author’s Note: There is so much to list during this period. Here is just a sampling.]

  • 2010 – 2012: The gradual decline of Woods’ golf game and world ranking. He fires his caddie, Stevie Williams. He begins missing large chunks of the PGA schedule due to nagging injuries.
  • 2013: Five wins. He was back. “Winning takes care of everything” was the new Nike slogan. But the injuries continue. WDs all summer long.
  • 2015: Tiger Woods couldn’t chip the golf ball. And in many ways, this might have been the most embarrassing thing he endured.


  • 2016 – 2017: Back gone. Spinal fusions. Reports from the Masters champions dinner that Woods couldn’t even stand up and sit down at the event, even saying to several in attendance that he was “done”. DUI mugshot. It was over. And everybody knew it.

From 2014 through 2017, Tiger Woods would only play 6 of the 16 majors. He would only make the cut in 2 of those. This was Tiger Woods?

There are so many images from this period. The Santa photo. The details in Wright Thompson’s brilliant profile. Pissing in a bucket beside the bed. The monster who did not seem beatable was so thoroughly beaten.

Except somehow, he wasn’t.

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ATM: Bears Building Roster To Suit Trubisky’s Strengths

| May 14th, 2019

Too often building around a quarterback and building around a quarterback’s strengths are confused. When the Bears first acquired Jay Cutler, they thought deep threats were the best way to build around the strong-armed passer, without realizing throwing deep passes wasn’t necessarily his strength. The same is true for Mitch Trubisky who was one of the worst deep passers in the league last year, but one of the best on shorter completions.

The drafting of Riley Ridley was an example of the Bears trying to play to the strengths of their quarterback.

Ridley doesn’t have the speed to consistently blow by defenders, but he is considered an excellent route runner, which should help him get open on underneath passes. He also has a big frame to win the so-called 50/50 balls. Ridley adds to bigger targets that include Allen Robinson and Javon Wims as the Bears look to eat up the middle of the field while still being able to beat defenses over the top, on occasion.



Of quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts, Trubisky is ranked 27th with a passer rating of 61.9 on passes traveling 15 or more yards down the field, according to Pro-Football-Reference. He ranked slightly better than Blake Bortles and worse than quarterbacks like Josh Rosen, Case Keenum, Sam Darnold and Alex Smith.

But Trubisky was elite on short passes.

He had a passer rating of 107 on passes that traveled less than 15 yards in the air – fifth among quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts, behind only Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes.

Despite clearly being better on short passes, 22 percent of Trubisky’s attempts were 15 or more yards down the field. For comparison sake, the very best quarterback at throwing deep — Russell Wilson (131.8 rating) — had just about 21.5 percent of his passes travel that far. The second best — Drew Brees (125.5) — had just 17 percent of his passes go that far down the field. Heck, even the cannon-armed Patrick Mahomes came in with just 21.4 percent of his passes going 15 or more yards down the field.

So, what gives?

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Self-Scouting the 2018 Bears Offense

| May 13th, 2019

Chicago’s offense was generally mediocre in 2018. We all know this. They finished 21st in the NFL in yards per game, 9th in points scored (a number buoyed by a bunch of defensive touchdowns), and 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Those types of basic stats are easy for anybody to look up, and they can help paint an overall picture of how effective a unit performed.

They do not, however, tell a complete tale.

It can be useful to look deeper and see in what areas the Bears might have struggled, as well as where they might have done well. This can be useful to help identify specific areas of strength to build on going forward, as well as areas that need to be addressed through personnel and/or scheme changes.

In an effort to do this, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System and Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder to look at Chicago’s offensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing attempts by areas of the field to see where they target the most and how successful they are.

Rushing Attack

Chicago’s ground game was not very good in 2018. Though they finished 11th in rushing yards and tied for 7th in rushing touchdowns, they were 27th in yards/carry, indicating those first two totals were more a product of volume than a true sign of success. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing attack in 2018.

  • 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.
  • 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.


Of course, yards/attempt can be clouded by when you’re running in a specific direction. A 2 yard run on 1st and 10 is bad, but it’s a positive outcome on 3rd and 1. To account for that, I also looked at success rate, which takes down and distance into consideration and categorizes every play as either a success or failure based on how well it helps you stay ahead of the chains (full explanation here). The following chart was pulled from Sharp Football and looks at the Bears’ success rate by direction. The numbers on the bottom indicate how that compares to the NFL average.



A few thoughts:

  • The rushing attack was particularly bad between the tackles, but that’s where the Bears had most of their runs. 54% of their rush attempts were between the tackles, and they were consistently among the least efficient teams in the NFL at those carries in terms of yards/carry. I’m not sure if this is due to the offensive line or Jordan Howard. Howard had 170 of Chicago’s 240 carries between the tackles, and he averaged 3.3 yards/carry on those runs. Note that they were decent in success rate relative to their NFL peers, which indicates they ran it between the tackles a lot in short-yardage situations.

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Thinking Through the Whole Kicker Situation…

| May 8th, 2019


The Bears don’t currently have an NFL kicker. Not really.

Sure, they kept Chris Blewitt and Elliot Fry from this past weekend’s #KickerFest19. Sure, they also traded a CONDITIONAL 7th-round pick from sometime in the next decade to acquire Eddy Pineiro from the Oakland Raiders. But even if these three unproven men wow the organization throughout OTAs and the summer, and even if they all stick on the roster come the preseason and are perfect through fake-game action, the Bears will not know if they have an NFL kicker until Thursday night, September 5th. Because that’s when the Green Bay Packers come to town. That’s when the result gets stapled to the GM and head coach. And that’s when the kicks actually matter.

Maybe one of these three ends up “the guy” come opening night. Or maybe Ryan Pace is still laying in the weeds, waiting out a fragile situation in San Francisco. No, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe Robbie Gould will be the one kicking against the Packers on that Thursday night in September. As one league source texted me, “Gould doesn’t want to be there anymore and the entire sport knows where he wants to be.” He wants to be home, with his family, in Chicago. But will Niners GM John Lynch allow a kicker to hold him hostage? Will he have a choice if Gould, you know, doesn’t show up for work?

The Bears are a championship contender. They have the league’s most talented defense and an offense that should be drastically improved with another year of experience in this NFL-proven system. But if they enter the 2019 campaign with a liability at the kicker position it will be impossible to pick them to win at all. Because at some point – maybe with a division, or home field, or another playoff game at stake – they’ll need a kick in a big spot.

On May 8th, the Bears can’t possibly believe they can make that kick. But it’s only May 8th.

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Debating the ‘Value’ Of David Montgomery

| May 7th, 2019

Shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ryan Pace detractors were at it again, claiming the Bears GM “wasted” a pick by trading up to grab Iowa State running back David Montgomery.

The attacks, made by noted Pace-hater Bill Barnwell (among others), are more about Pace’s selection philosophy than his actual selections. Writers often like to live in a dream world where draft picks are more valuable than actually having quality players. Oh, and none of those picks should be used on a running back!

GMs live in the real world. They realize they have to acquire good players and can’t sit back and wait for life to happen to them. That is part of the reason why Phil Emery is a scout for the Falcons, not GM of the Bears. Of course, we shouldn’t expect Barnwell to understand that.

The case of Montgomery was especially delicious to critics because a running back many of them liked more — Alabama’s Damien Harris — went with Chicago’s original pick, 87 overall, to the New England Patriots. Why move up 14 spots to draft a worse player? Well, it’s pretty simple really: they liked Montgomery more. A lot more.

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Self-Scouting Matt Nagy’s 2018 Play-Calling

| May 6th, 2019

The Bears offense showed significant improvement in 2018, but still was an average-to-below average unit overall. There’s been plenty of focus about the need to get better on that side of the ball, and that starts with scouting yourself. Some coaches have play-calling tendencies in different down and distance situations, and opposing NFL teams scout those to help their play calling in response. With that in mind, I looked at down and distance trends for Chicago’s’ offense in 2018. All statistics are from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System and Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.


First Down

The Bears were very balanced on first down, with 231 runs and 223 passes for a 51/49 split. Unfortunately, they were not very effective on the ground, where they averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. This is a significant step down from 2017, when they averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and 2016, when they were at 5.2.

Lest we be tempted to blame Jordan Howard, I’ll note that 142 of the 231 runs (62%) were his, and those actually gained 3.7 yards per carry. So the rest of the team was actually slightly worse than Howard on 1st down. One way or another, the Bears need to figure out how to improve running on 1st down and/or run less and throw more.

Speaking of throwing it, the Bears averaged 7.0 yards/attempt on 1st down, a healthy but not overwhelming number that was right around average for all NFL passing stats in 2018. Teams always average more yards/play passing than running, but when the discrepancy is this large, you should probably consider throwing it more.


Second Down

When it comes to 2nd down, context is needed. A 3-yard gain is great on 2nd and 2, pretty good on 2nd and 5, and awful on 2nd and 10. With that in mind, I split the data into 4 groups based on the distance required to get a 1st down. The table below shows the results.

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