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Using Points-Per-Game to Profile the Typical Playoff Team

| June 15th, 2018

I’ve been writing a bunch of articles lately about how the Bears are expected to improve, so now I want to focus on what level they have to reach in order to make the playoffs.

As I’ve said before, there is some precedent to teams who have been as bad as the Bears over the last few years going straight to the playoffs in recent NFL history, but not many make that big of a jump. I still think it’s more likely that the Bears end up somewhere around average this year and are poised to make a playoff push in 2019.

But if they are to be one of the few that jump directly to the playoffs, what type of improvement will they have to show? In an effort to answer this question, I looked at the offensive and defensive rankings in terms of points per game for every team from 2008-17. I then looked at what those profiles looked like for playoff teams.


Crunching the Data

Unsurprisingly, teams that had better offenses and defenses made the playoffs more often. I generally split the rankings into quartiles (1-8, 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32) and grouped teams based on their combination of stronger and weaker unit. We’ll tentatively call 1-8 good, 9-16 above average, 17-24 below average, and 25-32 bad. The results can be seen in the table below, or full raw data can be viewed here.

So we basically have four different categories of teams that consistently make the playoffs.

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The Positional Quick 3: Offensive Coaches

| June 14th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Offensive Coaches

  • The Bears have an offensive coordinator in Mark Helfrich who has been working the sideline for 21 years but none of those have been in the NFL. While Matt Nagy will be calling the plays, Helfrich will have tremendous influence on the offensive philosophy and the development of the club’s most important asset: Mitch Trubisky. It’s okay to be skeptical about Helfrich’s concepts and whether they’ll be successful in the league where they play…for pay.
  • Mike Furrey might have one of the trickiest gigs on the staff. The Bears’ receiving room is going to be six guys who – with the exception of White and possibly Bellamy – haven’t played together. Molding them into a cohesive unit will not be an easy task.
  • It’s impossible not to be excited with the way Matt Nagy has handled, well, absolutely everything. The Bears haven’t had a young, exciting head coach in their entire history. Ditka, Wanny and Fox were football lifers – necessary but uninspiring hires. Jauron and Lovie were bores. Trestman was weird. Nagy’s hiring brings to Chicago the optimism of youth. It’s infectious. But now it has to translate to wins or nobody will remember these first few promising months of his tenure.

Next Week: The Other Side of the Ball

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The Positional Quick 3: Offensive Line

| June 13th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Offensive Line

  • Perhaps the most important positional decision in the coming days will be how Nagy and Harry Hiestand situate the middle of their offensive line. (Both Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are listed as simply OL on the team’s roster page.) Whitehair is 25. Daniels is 20. This should be the team’s line leadership for the next five years plus. Getting them in the correct position is essential to that cause.
  • The chances of Bobby Massie being on the Bears roster in 2019 are not particularly good. So this becomes a contract year for the right tackle. Does that mean anything? Not really. But I have to fill three bullet points here.
  • Is this a flawless unit? No. But there are very few, if any, flawless offensive lines in the modern NFL. Is this an offensive line capable of playing into the postseason? Absolutely. Especially if the middle of the line is sorted correctly. This is an offensive line that can protect the quarterback long enough to make plays down the field and an offensive line capable of pushing a defense around 25 times a game to create some space for Jordan Howard. They are a good, not great unit.

Tomorrow: Offensive Coaches

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66 Comments

The Positional Quick 3: Tight Ends

| June 12th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Tight Ends

  • One refrain that emanated (leaked) from Halas Hall a year ago was that Adam Shaheen just wasn’t ready to be a down-for-down NFL contributor. Word started to come once criticisms about Shaheen’s playing time showed up in the dailies. Was that true? Probably. Shaheen played for Ashland. Then he played for the Chicago Bears. That’s like playing Ricky Roma at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center in October and opening at the Helen Hayes on Broadway in January. And he was making that transition without a director. Shaheen is going to make plays. The current crop of coaches love him.
  • Bold prediction: Bears fans will like Dion Sims way more after 2018 than they did after 2017. Sims is a good football player. With a strong offensive coaching staff, he’ll show that now.
  • If the Bears are going to carry a fourth tight end in 2018, I hope it’s Daniel Brown. He’s big. He can block. He’s shown he can make a play or two in this league. And if they need someone to slot into Trey Burton’s role for a game or two, Brown seems most-equipped to do so.

Tomorrow: Offensive Line

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The Positional Quick 3: Wide Receivers

| June 11th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Wide Receivers

  • When I speak to people around the Bears about this position group, the player they keep talking up is Taylor Gabriel. The Bears do not believe Gabriel was properly utilized in Atlanta and believe the Nagy/Helfrich offense suits him to perfection. If he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder going into 2018, PFF seems to have clearly put one there.
  • The comp that makes my heart sing when it comes to Anthony Miller is Steve Smith. But fans should remember it took Smith three seasons to become a big-time NFL player and five before he found the consistency required to be a star. Yes, he was drafted when the rules were different but the the jump from Memphis to the NFL is not one that should be taken lightly.
  • Robinson. Gabriel. Miller. Fowler. Can Kevin White make this team without contributing on special teams? And would the Bears even want to risk a chronically-fragile player on those plays? White needs a big summer.

Tomorrow: Tight Ends

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61 Comments

The Positional Quick 3: Running Backs

| June 8th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Running Backs

  • Folks comparing Tarik Cohen to Tyreek Hill need to calm down. They are not similar physically, as Hill’s size is what allows him to line-up outside as a de facto wide receiver. That’s not to say Tarik won’t be productive in the Nagy/Helfrich offense. He will. But I see most of that production coming from either (a) the backfield or (b) creative alignments by the coaching staff. Tarik is a toy the coaches will love playing with but I don’t see him as being one of the top two or three producers in this offense.
  • Jordan Howard is the best player on the Chicago Bears. Offense. Defense. Specials. Howard is their best player and he might be the best hand-off-and-hit-the-line running back in the game. While Nagy is coming from an Andy Reid program that seemed to abandon the run at the first sign of adversity, he and Helfrich need to recognize and embrace this basic fact. With the new weapons assembled on the offense, the coaches should put Howard in position to win MVP or offensive POY.
  • Prediction: Benny Cunningham, if he holds on to make this roster, will double his 20 catches from 2017 to 40 in 2018.

Monday: Wide Receivers

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72 Comments

The Positional Quick 3: Quarterbacks

| June 7th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Quarterbacks

  • Some fans seem to have lost sight of a basic fact: Mitch Trubisky’s development will be the story of the 2018 season. Yes, Wentz went from struggling to MVP candidate. Yes, Goff went from “he’s a bust” to “somebody start making his bust for Canton”. But we have to remember those kinds of leaps are not common in the NFL, especially at the QB position. Trubisky doesn’t need to be an All-Pro in his second season. But if he can put together a 60% completion, 3,200 yard, 25 touchdown, 10-15 interception campaign, the Bears are going to be in good shape moving forward.
  • If Chase Daniel were to see the end of his three-year contract with the Bears, he’d earn nearly $35 million in the NFL. Daniel has thrown 51 passes in the league. Anybody who says Daniel is a good back-up or a smart signing is just guessing. He knows the offense, sure. But if you think he can win games should Trubisky go down, you’re basing that on preseason and Missouri tape.
  • Tyler Bray is 26 years-old so he’s not the prototypical clipboard carrier. But when your starting quarterback is a kid who has only started 25 combined college/pro games, you’d don’t really need to be grooming a kid in the show position. (Bears haven’t shown much interest in bringing Sanchez back, either. Odd how you don’t need a coach as third-string QB when you have good coaches.)

Tomorrow: Running Backs

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Forget Patience, Bears Offense Should Be Good

| June 6th, 2018

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a companion piece to yesterday’s Data Entry.]

If Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky are what Ryan Pace thinks they are, there’s no reason to think the Bears offense won’t be good in 2018.

Nagy has stressed patience since he took over. And he should. His complete vision for the offense is going to take years to implement. But there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to score points this year. Generally speaking, teams with good quarterbacks and good coaches score points. Add the fact that the Bears are pretty good at every other offensive position and, there really isn’t a reason to think they won’t score.

And while the offense may take those precious years to implement in-full, Nagy knows as well as anyone that coaches don’t necessarily get the kind of time they’d like to see things to fruition. They have to get results, especially once the quarterback is in place.

We saw two great examples of this last year. The first and most obvious was NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay, whose Rams led the league in scoring and were 10th in yardage. The other is Kyle Shanahan, whose 49ers struggled early before Jimmy Garoppolo took over and led them to an average of 28.8 points and nearly 410 yards per game — including a 15-point effort against the Bears.

(I could also point to Marc Trestman – who had the Bears second in points in his first year – but that would break our longstanding agreement to never discuss him again after what happened in 2014.)

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Excluding Cleveland: How Quickly Do Perennially Bad Offenses Actually Turn It Around?

| June 5th, 2018

Chicago’s offense has been consistently bad for the last four years, ranking in the bottom ten in points scored each of those seasons. It’s been especially awful the last two years, when a host of QB issues have left the Bears 28th and 29th in that same category.

But hope springs eternal, and dramatic changes this off-season have fans dreaming of a high-powered offense. Gone is the old-school John Fox, replaced by offensive-minded Matt Nagy. QB Mitchell Trubisky enters his second season, as do Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen, and the dreadful skill position groups have been overhauled with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller.

Just how big of a leap can this offense take in 2018? Optimists are quick to point to the 2017 Rams, who went from consistently bad offenses for years to the NFL’s top scoring unit in 2017 on the heels of a new offensive coach, overhauled WR group, and growth from 2nd year QB Jared Goff. Is that big of a jump an outlier, or something that happens regularly? I dove into the numbers to find out.

Crunching the Data

I looked at where every NFL team ranked in terms of points scored each year for the last decade (so 2008-17), then looked at teams that matched recent trends for the Bears. I looked at three different groupings this way:

  • Bottom 5 for 2 years
  • Bottom 10 for 3 years
  • Bottom 10 for 4 years

Once teams who fit that bill were identified, I looked at the offense the year after those bleak seasons to see how it performed.

Before I get into the results, I should note that I decided to exclude the Cleveland Browns from this. Their offense has ranked in the bottom ten every single year for the past decade – a truly remarkable feat of consistency – and this meant that they drowned out other samples. Full data can be viewed here.

[Editor’s Note: What you just read is the saddest paragraph published on this site in the fourteen years of its existence.]

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Audibles: Heavy Sun-Times Edition!

| June 4th, 2018

Quick Three

  • For those people, myself included, who think this anthem protest stuff doesn’t matter…we’re wrong. I spent Memorial Day weekend down the Jersey Shore in a somewhat conservative area. I wore a Bears hat one day. It was enough to spark several conversations and the anthem protest decision by the NFL was all anyone wanted to discuss. This decision by Goodell and the ownership has managed to do the impossible: it’s infuriated folks on both sides. And NFL fans should be prepared for this issue to absolutely dominate the coverage come September because it will become a major political talking point in the lead-up to the midterms.
  • The last time I thought the Bears had a chance to make the postseason was 2014 – the most embarrassing season in the history of the franchise. Coming off an entertaining 8-8 in Marc Trestman’s first year it just felt like the team had enough on offense to sneak their way into a wildcard spot. (Unlike many others, I never believed they could compete for a title with that defense.) They completely flamed out. But there’s a good chance I’m going to pick the Bears to make the postseason again this season. There’s only two things that I can see keeping this club from double-digit victories: injuries and Mitch Trubisky struggling. Can’t predict the former. Don’t expect the latter.
  • Don’t sleep on Adam Shaheen. Folks I talk to around the Bears say the kid has looked dynamic in these early practice days and Nagy/Helfrich are using him in ways the Fox/Loggains regime never considered. Quote from a Bears source: “With Burton there, the Bears won’t ask Shaheen to do much more than get open and catch touchdowns. And he’s going to do both a bunch.”

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