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Big Picture Stats: What Changed from 2018 to 2019?

| January 8th, 2020

The 2018 Chicago Bears went 12-4 and outscored their opponents by 138 points, the 4th best mark in the NFL. Expectations for the team were sky high heading into 2019, but Chicago responded by falling flat. They finished 8-8 and were actually outscored by 18 points over the course of the season.

So what changed from 2018 to cause such significant regression? That’s exactly what I’ll be looking at over the first part of the off-season to see what areas the Bears need to prioritize improving for 2020. Let’s start today with a general overview of all three phases.


Offense

Chicago’s offense was not great in 2018, but it took a decided turn for the worse pretty much across the board in 2019, as you can see in the table below. DVOA is a metric from Football Outsiders intended to be an all-encompassing measure of how well a unit performs. Values in parentheses are NFL rank out of 32 teams.

A few thoughts:

  • The 2018 offense could generally be described as average to slightly below average. The 2019 version was one of the 4-5 worst in the NFL.
  • The run game actually didn’t change all that much, remaining fairly consistently bad in both years. This is probably why the Bears shook up their offensive coaching staff this off-season. I’ll have a more detailed look at what did and did not change in the run game in the next few weeks.
  • The passing offense went from average to possibly the worst in the NFL. Some – but certainly not all – of this can be attributed to a decrease in pass protection, though notice the pressure rate allowed was still average, making pass blocking one of the strongest areas of the offense. I’ll take a much closer look at the passing game in the near future.
  • Pretty much the only area where the Bears actually improved was that they turned the ball over less. This is why their DVOA – which heavily weights turnovers – didn’t fall as far as most of the other statistics suggest it should have.


Defense

Now let’s look at the defense, using the same metrics as the offense above.

A few thoughts:

  • The 2019 defense wasn’t as good as the historically dominant 2018 version, but they were still one of the best units in the league. This is pretty much exactly what should have been expected, as I detailed last off-season.
  • The biggest dip in defensive production came in causing less turnovers, which is also not a surprise. Defensive turnovers are highly variable from year to year.
  • Chicago’s sack rate plummeted, but notice that the rate at which they pressured the quarterback didn’t really change all that much. They just weren’t able to finish those plays. This honestly surprised me, but the numbers for both years are from the same source, Pro Football Reference, so I would assume they’re a somewhat fair comparison.
  • Although the overall unit didn’t regress much, there were some individual players who did. There were also some who didn’t take as big of a step back as you might have initially thought, and others who were far better in 2018 than 2019. I’ll be looking at this on an individual level later this off-season.

Special Teams

Finally, let’s take a look at Chicago’s special teams. The main stats, with NFL rank in parentheses, are shown in the table below.

A few thoughts:

  • Two areas where the Bears prioritized improving last off-season were field goals and kick returns. I think it’s safe to say both attempts succeeded, as Cordarrelle Patterson was the best kick returner in the NFL and Eddy Pineiro was an average kicker, which is a significant improvement from Cody Parkey in 2018.
  • Kickoff coverage, on the other hand, remained among the worst in the NFL, while the punting game didn’t really change all that much (this is really hard to measure because I can’t find stats that account for where the punter is kicking from, which can heavily impact average).

Wrapping it up…

Here’s what a first look at the big-picture stats suggests: Chicago’s defense remained one of the best in the NFL, though they produced fewer big plays than 2018. Chicago’s offense went from roughly average to a bottom 5 unit, driven largely by ineffective passing (though pass blocking was perfectly fine), and the special teams improved thanks to a new kicker and kick returner.

Nothing in that previous paragraph should be a huge surprise, but it’s nice to see the numbers back up what was observed on the field. Now for the more interesting part, as I’ll start doing deep dives into some of the specific areas that went wrong (and right) in 2019 compared to 2018 in the weeks to come.

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