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How Inconsistent was Chicago’s 2017 Ground Game?

| July 16th, 2018

On the surface, the Bears’ running game didn’t change much from 2016 to 2017.

  • In 2016 they ran for 1,735 yards (17th in the NFL) and averaged 4.6 yards per carry (6th).
  • In 2017 that shifted to 1,788 yards (16th) and 4.2 yards per carry (11th).

The total yards slightly increased, the yards per carry slightly decreased, but the overall run game stayed average to above average.

But sometimes total numbers don’t tell the whole story, and some fans felt like Chicago’s rushing attack took a step back in 2017 due to inconsistency. For every dominant game (222 yards and 2 TD against Pittsburgh, 231 yards and a TD against Baltimore) there was an absolute clunker (6 yards against Philadelphia, 20 yards against Tampa Bay). DBB reader Butch thought that this perceived inconsistency was particularly frustrating, and he asked me to look into it.

Quantifying inconsistency is actually fairly straightforward using standard deviation, which is a measure of how much variability exists in a set of numbers. Basically, the higher a standard deviation is, the more inconsistent the numbers in that sample are. To see where the Bears ranked, I looked at their rushing yardage and yards per carry for each game in 2017 and found the standard deviation for both sets; I also did the same thing for the other 31 teams in order to give some context to the Bears’ results.

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Which Reid Offense Will Chicago Most Resemble?

| July 9th, 2018

There’s been a good deal of talk this offseason about how the Bears will model their offense after the Kansas City Chiefs, which makes sense given that new head coach Matt Nagy spent his last several years in Kansas City learning from Andy Reid.

But I think Chicago’s offense will end up looking more similar to what Philadelphia has run the last two years under Doug Pederson, another branch on the Reid coaching tree. Even though both offenses are similar, there are some subtle yet important differences that are worth looking at. So today I want to start by looking at personnel to see which one Chicago matches better, and then I’ll compare and contrast offensive styles.

Personnel

Kansas City’s offense was built around three main producers: running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce. Those three combined for 4,069 of Kansas City’s 6,007 yards from scrimmage, meaning they were about 2/3 of the offense.

Quite frankly, the Bears just aren’t built to be that reliant on a small number of players. Outside of Jordan Howard and Allen Robinson, nobody has been a high-volume producer, and even Robinson has only hit 1,000 yards in a season once in his four years.

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If Jordan Howard Wants to Stay in Chicago, He’ll Need to Improve in Passing Game

| July 2nd, 2018

Jordan Howard has surpassed all expectations as a fifth round pick. After a series of injuries gave him an opportunity just a few games into his career, he grabbed the job and literally ran with it. 2400 yards and 15 touchdowns later, Howard is firmly entrenched as one of the best runners in the NFL.

Yet for all his excellence on the ground, there remains a nagging doubt about Howard because of his limitations in the passing game. Fans remember his dropped touchdown against Atlanta in Week 1 last year, and he has only 423 receiving yards through 2 seasons. Catching the ball is an important part of any running back’s job in the modern-day NFL, and especially in the new offense head coach Matt Nagy is mostly importing from Kansas City. So today I want to look a little bit deeper at Howard’s impact – or lack thereof – in the passing game and what that might mean for his future (I’d like to give a special thanks to DBB reader Evantonio for this idea).

Let’s start with the basics, looking at how Howard has done in the passing game. I’m going to compare him to a few different groupings of players:

  • Bell cow running backs who are focal points of the offense and rarely leave the field – Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell.
  • Situational running backs known for their running – Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Carlos Hyde.
  • Kansas City running backs in the Reid offense – Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Charles.

Groups are sorted by color coding in the table below. Charles’ data is only for the years when Reid was in Kansas City (2013-16), and drop figures are courtesy of Player Profiler, which only had them for 2017.

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How Might the Bears Dynamic Running Back Duo Be Deployed in 2018?

| June 26th, 2018

The Bears have two very good and very different running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard is a bigger, more physical runner, while Cohen is a smaller scatback. Both were effective in different ways last year, and today I want to dig a little bit deeper into:

  • How they were used differently.
  • Where they were most effective.
  • How they might best be used on the ground in Chicago’s new offense.

I’ll start by looking at where each player runs, with a special shout out to DBB reader EnderWiggin for this idea. Using the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder, I tracked how often both Howard and Cohen ran between the tackles vs. outside last year, and how effective they were doing so.

I also compared this to the NFL average in 2017 and the Kansas City average running Andy Reid’s offense (which Matt Nagy will presumably be doing in Chicago) from 2013-17. Results are shown in the table below (ypc = yards per carry).

A few thoughts here:

  • Tarik Cohen ran outside a whole bunch, and was very ineffective running between the tackles when asked to do so. That’s a potential problem going forward, and it will be interesting to see if it changes in 2018 and beyond. Cohen has noted he got most of his yards in college on inside zone runs.

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Establishing realistic expectations for Anthony Miller’s rookie season

| June 19th, 2018

Bears fans have generally been excited about Anthony Miller, and it’s not hard to see why. He has a great rags-to-riches story as a former walk-on who became a 2nd round pick, is very fun and engaging on Twitter, and is confident enough in himself that he wrote a letter to NFL GMs saying he was the best WR in the draft. Clearly this is going to be a fun player to root for, but there are also reasons to believe he’s going to be good. Miller was ridiculously productive in college, is a great fit in this offense, and has drawn lofty comparisons to Antonio Brown from NFL scouts.

All of that praise makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but I also want to be somewhat realistic about expectations for Miller, especially in his rookie season. Even if he eventually comes close to matching Antonio Brown’s production (which is extremely unlikely), Brown had less than 200 yards as a rookie. It’s not very common for players to come in and dominate from day one, even if they’re going to be very good in the NFL.

Crunching the Data

With that in mind, I want to look at recent NFL history to set reasonable expectations for Miller’s production as a rookie. Accordingly, I looked at all 42 WRs drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years (2008-17) and compiled their rookie stats. Full data can be seen here, but let’s start with some general stats.

The average rookie 2nd round WR in that time compiled 60 targets, 34 catches, 433 yards, and 2.8 touchdowns.

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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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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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Bears Have Increased Their Talent Level. Now, Can They Stay Healthy?

| May 29th, 2018

There has been a growing feeling among local and national media alike this offseason that the Bears are a team on the rise. Several writers have pegged them as one of the most improved teams in the NFL through both the draft and free agency. Peter King recently declared they had “the best offseason of any team in football.”

It’s no secret that the writers for this site all agree the Bears are poised to make a jump in 2018 (though I have cautioned against letting expectations get too high), but today I want to address the elephant in the room: health.

To put it frankly, the Bears can’t expect to be better than the last few years unless they can find a way to stay healthier. In the last four seasons, Chicago has won 5, 6, 3, and 5 games, and in that time they have consistently been among the most injured teams in the NFL, ranking 27th, 28th, 32nd, and 31st in Football OutsidersAdjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric. This is a useful metric because it weighs starters as more valuable than backups and accounts for playing through injuries as well (click the link above for a more detailed description of how it’s calculated).


By the Numbers

In an attempt to quantify the impact injuries have on team performance, I looked at how well teams did compared to how they ranked in the AGL for that season. I looked at the last five years, giving a sample size of 160 teams, and split them into quartiles (8 teams per group per year, so 40 total). Results can be seen in the table below.

[Editor’s Note: Nope, you’re not alone. I had never heard the word “quartile” either.]

These results clearly show the importance of staying healthy.

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Like ‘Em or Not, These Are the Chicago Bears For the Foreseeable Future

| May 22nd, 2018

Since Ryan Pace showed up in 2015, there has been nearly complete roster turnover, with only Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Sherrick McManis, and Pat O’Donnell remaining from the previous regime. Every single offseason has seen significant changes, with a host of prominent players leaving and a sizable new batch of faces coming in.

Consequently, Bears fans are used to offseasons of sweeping change. But that pattern should end in 2019. To understand why, let’s look at who is already under contract on both sides of the ball.


Offense

Key players under contract: QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Jordan Howard, RB Tarik Cohen, WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel, WR Anthony Miller, WR Javon Wims, TE Trey Burton, TE Adam Shaheen, LT Charles Leno, LG James Daniels, C Cody Whitehair, RG Kyle Long

Notable free agents: RT Bobby Massie, Eric Kush

Possible Cap Casualties: RG Kyle Long, TE Dion Sims

Chicago’s offense is young and locked-in for the next two years. Nobody on this list except Kyle Long is over 28 years old, and over half of these players are still on rookie deals. 2018 should see the best offense the Bears have had since 2013 (not exactly stiff competition) and there’s every expectation at this point that the same group returning basically intact in 2019 should be even better.

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The Bears Are Young. How Did Ryan Pace Do It?

| May 15th, 2018

When Ryan Pace showed up following the 2014 season, he inherited the 3rd oldest roster in the NFL. The Bears were both old and bad – the worst possible roster combination. In 2018, they will be one of the youngest teams in the league.

The progress has been slow. They moved from 30th the year before Pace came to 19th in 2015 to 10th in 2016, but then stepped back to 22nd in 2017 thanks largely to a number of ill-fated free agent moves (hello, Mike Glennon, Markus Wheaton, and Quentin Demps!). We won’t know the exact numbers until rosters are cut down, but the Bears’ average age in 2018 is going to be somewhere around 25 years old, which will likely place them as one of the 5 youngest teams in the league.

Looking at their 90-man roster right now, there are only 4 players who will be 30 when the season starts: backup QB Chase Daniels and 3 guys who are primarily special teamers (Sherrick McManis, Patrick Scales, and Sam Acho). On the flip side, there will be a host of key players who are under 25, include Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Anthony Miller, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, and Eddie Jackson. To put into perspective just how young the Bears will be, the 26 year old Leonard Floyd will be above average for a starter.

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