To the dismay of many fans, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is back calling plays for the Bears in 2017. 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 Loggains’ offense in 2016. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn.
The Bears generally were fairly balanced on 1st down, with 219 runs and 239 passes for a 48/52 split. They were also fairly effective with both, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 8.1 yards per pass.
Those are quality numbers, and indicate Loggains did a pretty good job calling plays that kept the defense off guard on 1st downs. Let’s see if he kept that up later on.
Overall, things were not nearly as good on 2nd down. The Bears were not nearly as balanced, increasing from 52% passing to 60% passing, and their efficiency for both runs and passes dropped significantly (3.8 yards per carry and 6.2 yards per pass).
Of course, some context is needed here. A 3 yard carry on 2nd and 2 is great, but a 3 yard carry on 2nd and 10 still leaves 3rd and long. 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 data.
In terms of yards per play, the numbers on 2nd and short were awful, but they still did pick up the 1st down fairly regularly. It’s also worth noting how consistently predictable they were there; they ran the ball 26 out of 29 times on 2nd and 1 or 2nd and 2. Despite the success picking up a 1st down, I would like to see a few more deep shots scattered in. With a bruising back like Jordan Howard, you have to think the odds of picking up a 1st down on 3rd and short are pretty good (more on that in a minute), so try to get a big play on 2nd down.
They were a little more effective, yardage wise, on 2nd and medium and long, but still not nearly as good as 1st down. It seems defenses knew what to expect a little more here. Especially on 2nd and long (7+ yards), they rarely ran the ball, which I think is less than ideal. An incompletion leaves you there in 3rd and long, while a run is more likely to pick up at least some yardage and make 3rd down more manageable.
3rd and 4th down
I grouped 3rd and 4th down together because the 4th down sample size was so small, and on both downs the objective is the same: pick up a 1st down. Because of that, I ignored yards per play, and just focused on how often they met that objective and moved the chains.
Overall, the Bears were middle of the road in that regard in 2016. They picked up a 1st down on about 37% of 3rd down plays, good for 19th in the NFL. But again the distance to a first down makes a big difference, so I split the results into the same four yardage groupings. Data is in the table below.
Not really running the ball on 3rd and long (7+ yards) makes sense, as that’s usually just a “don’t turn the ball over and punt” move. But wow were the Bears predictable on 3rd and medium. In 58 plays needing between 3-6 yards for the first down, they only ran it once. 23 of those came on 3rd and 3 or 4, and all 23 plays were passes. Considering much of the year saw Matt Barkley throwing to guys like Josh Bellamy, I think I’d rather take my chances with Jordan Howard picking up 3-4 yards. That level of predictability simply cannot continue.
On 3rd and short, I was surprised they didn’t run it more. The odds of Jordan Howard picking up 1-2 yards seem pretty good to me, and they were certainly much more effective at getting the 1st when they ran vs. passing.
Picking up a 1st down on 34% of your 3rd and 7-10 passing plays actually seems pretty good to me. That’s a situation where you need plays that can reliably pick up chunks of yardage, and it appears Loggains did a pretty solid job of dialing the right buttons there, especially considering the personnel limitations in the passing game last year.
So it seems like Chicago’s offense overall did very well on 1st down last year but got too predictable on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th downs, which limited its effectiveness. They especially got too pass happy on 3rd down, and maybe need to get a little more aggressive on 2nd and short.
Hopefully Loggains has self-scouted these tendencies this offseason and will make a point of changing up his patterns a bit so opposing defensive coordinators can’t catch on. I’ll re-visit this at the bye to see what things look like then.