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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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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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Reflections on the 2019 Draft Weekend

| April 29th, 2019

The draft is over, and a lot happened that could impact this roster both in 2019 and beyond. Let’s take a look at the major moves made and put them into perspective.


David Montgomery & the Running Back Position

Easily the biggest Bears move of the weekend. Not only was he the team’s first pick, but Ryan Pace showed just how much he valued Montgomery by trading up to get him.

As I mentioned last week, RB was clearly the biggest need on the roster going into the draft, and it was one of the few spots where a rookie could make an immediate impact. Accordingly, we should expect to see a lot of Montgomery on the field from pretty much day one.

In terms of fit, Montgomery is a textbook Andy Reid running back. He’s compact and well built, and has good agility, which is why he hit 3 of the 5 physical thresholds I’ve identified before (and came pretty close in the other two). In the run-up to the draft, there were many people who compared Montgomery to Kareem Hunt, who thrived in 2 years as the lead running back in a similar offense in Kansas City. Lou Ayeni, a running backs coach who worked with both Montgomery and Hunt in college, says that the comparison is valid, but Montgomery is even better as a route runner and pass catcher. That should have Bears fans extremely excited about Montgomery’s future in Chicago.

In terms of production, Montgomery was one of the most elusive running backs in college football. He led the nation in forced missed tackles last year, and had one of the highest rates of explosive runs of any back in the draft. These are all aspects that were missing from Chicago’s run game last year. Montgomery lacks top end speed, but is otherwise a complete package who is ideal for this offense, and thus I expect he’ll thrive here.

If you want to see more of an Xs and Os breakdown of what Montgomery can do, here’s Jacob Infante, one of the best draft guys in the Bears Blogosphere:

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Analyzing Chicago’s Roster Needs Heading Into the Draft

| April 22nd, 2019

The draft is this week so it’s time to think seriously about what positions the Bears need to address with their limited picks. Let’s start by taking a look at their current roster so we can see what positions they might need more help at. My best guess at an approximate depth chart if they played a game this week is shown below.


 


A few thoughts:

  • This list has 48 names on it. Teams dress 46 players for game day. Remove one of the kickers and probably Nick Williams and that’s your 46 man active roster.
  • Honestly, where are the holes on that roster? Kicker is one, but otherwise running back is the weakest spot, and even that isn’t completely terrible. Outside of those two positions, it’s hard to see a spot where a rookie is going to beat out the veteran ahead of him for a spot on the active roster.
  • Combine the caliber of this roster with the lack of high picks for the Bears, and Chicago is probably not looking at rookies making instant impact in 2019 outside of running back and kicker (barring injury).
  • One exception to this might be on special teams. The Bears lost core special teamers in Josh Bellamy, Benny Cunningham, and Daniel Brown this offseason, and only brought in one veteran to replace them in Marvin Hall. There are snaps to be earned on special teams in training camp, and rookies at positions like TE, LB, CB, and S could be in that mix.

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Don’t Freak Out About Chicago’s Perceived “Difficult Schedule”

| April 15th, 2019

The NFL schedule is set to be released this week, which means it’s time to talk about Chicago’s 2019 opponents. We already know all 16 teams they’ll be facing, and one of the reasons I’ve seen people suggest that the Bears are in for a rough 2019 is that they are going to have a really hard schedule. This fear is significantly overblown and is largely based on two pieces of misleading information that I want to debunk today.

1st Place Schedule

The first reason I’ve seen repeated over and over is that the Bears are in trouble because they go from a “4th place schedule” to a “1st place schedule.” That is, they had an easier schedule in 2018 because of their last place NFC North finish in 2017, but winning the NFC North in 2018 sets them up to face a much more difficult slate in 2019.

Let’s take a minute to review how the NFL schedule is determined for every team.

  • 6 games against your division (same every year)
  • 4 games against one other NFC division (rotates through 3 year schedule)
  • 4 games against one other AFC division (rotates through 4 year schedule)
  • 2 games against the other 2 NFC divisions’ team that shared your divisional rank the year before

If you’re paying attention there, you’ll notice that 14 of the 16 games on a team’s schedule are determined exclusively by what division they play in. So every single year the Bears play Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota 6 times and 8 of the exact same opponents as those division rivals.

Only 2 games change based on how you did the year before. The Bears’ last place NFC North finish in 2017 meant they played the Giants and Buccaneers in 2018, while other division opponents played different teams from the NFC East and NFC South. In those 2 games, the Bears went 1-1, and they went 11-3 in their 14 common games. If you’re scoring at home, that means the “last place schedule” actually hurt the Bears’ win % en route to their division title in 2018.

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Building a Tight End Profile for the Matt Nagy/Andy Reid Offense

| April 8th, 2019

Like I have previously done with wide receivers and running backs, today I’m going to look at tight ends who have been drafted for this offense to see if there’s a physical profile they typically follow. In order to increase the sample size, I looked at every tight end drafted for a Reid offense in Philadelphia (1999-2012, 2016-18 with Doug Pederson) or Kansas City (2013-present). This list included ten players. Then I combed through their Combine performance to see if any patterns emerged.

Full data can be viewed here, but in general I found three trends:

  1. They are light. According to Mock Draftable, the average tight end at the Combine weighs in at around 255 pounds, but the average for the 10 TEs in this sample was just under 250 pounds. The heaviest tight end here was L.J. Smith, who weighed in at 258 pounds, in just the 67th percentile for all tight ends. Meanwhile, 3 of the 10 tight ends weighed in at 245 pounds or less, which falls in the bottom 15% for all tight ends.
  2. They are fast. The average Combine 40 time for all TEs is 4.72 seconds, but for this sample it was 4.70. That is significantly skewed by Cornelius Ingram, who ran a 4.96. If you remove him from the sample, the average 40 time for the other 9 players is 4.67 seconds, with 7 of the 9 coming in under 4.70. Ingram ended up being a poor fit in Reid’s offense, as he lasted just one year in Philadelphia after being drafted in the 5th round.
  3. They can jump. The average tight end at the Combine has a vertical jump of just under 33 inches, but the average in this sample is 34.3, with 8 of the 10 coming in at 33 inches or better.

This then gives us a rough profile of a tight end who would be targeted as a pass catcher in this offense. They should be under 260 pounds, run a sub 4.70 40, and have a 33″ or better vertical jump. These all make sense. The main purpose of a TE in this offense (at least for the U TE) is to be able to catch passes. They need to be athletic and able to challenge defenses down the field.

Now let’s look at which tight ends in the draft this year fit the profile. The table below shows all of the tight ends from the Combine, sorted by how many thresholds they hit. Misses are highlighted in red.


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What RBs in the Draft Fit the Physical Profile for Chicago’s Offense?

| April 1st, 2019

With Jordan Howard officially no longer a Bear, it’s time to start looking to the draft to see who could be acquired as his replacement. Before the Combine, I looked at running backs who have been brought in for the Andy Reid offense in Kansas City (which the Bears are now running) to see if there were any physical patterns that could be found. To recap, I found five areas where backs consistently stood out from the average:

  • Short: Reid RBs are routinely at or below league average of 5’10”.
  • Well-Built: Reid RBs at or above league average 214 pounds.
  • Good Acceleration: Reid RBs at or below average first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash of 1.59 seconds.
  • Explosive: Reid RBs at or above average vertical jump of 35″ and average broad jump of 118″.

Every RB Reid has brought to Kansas City hit at least four of these five thresholds. With that profile in mind, let’s look at the running backs in the 2019 draft and see who might fit the physical profile for this offense.


Four Thresholds Hit

No RBs hit all five thresholds at the Combine, but six players went 4-for-5. They are shown below, with the threshold they missed highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • It’s really important to note that best physical fit does not mean best player. Think of it more as a chance to identify players who the Bears are likely interested in, and then do some film study of them.
  • Most of these players fit the athletic testing requirements quite well but are simply very light. Since the Bears like to do so much inside zone, I’m not sure if a small back like Justice Hill or James Williams would be able to hold up very well. (Though it’s worth noting that Jamaal Charles weighed 200 pounds at the Combine and did just fine for 2 years as Reid’s lead back.)
  • Alex Barnes is probably the best physical fit for this offense in the draft in that he’s just a little tall, but otherwise matches every single box in terms of bulk and athleticism.

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Which Wide Receivers in the 2019 Draft Fit the Testing Profile for Matt Nagy’s Offense?

| March 25th, 2019

Last year, Data Entry looked at wide receivers who found success in coach Matt Nagy’s offense in Kansas City and identified physical traits they all shared. When examining their Combine performance, all typically excelled at three drills:

  • 40 yard dash: 4.51 seconds or better
  • Vertical jump: 35.5 inches or higher
  • Broad jump: 10 feet or longer

Receivers who were targeted for that offense usually hit at least 2 of those 3 thresholds, with many of them hitting all 3. And this seemed to hold true in Chicago, as Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Taylor Gabriel all hit at least 2 of 3 (it’s worth noting that Javon Wims hit 0 of 3, though a 7th round pick is far less of an investment than was put into the players listed above).

Though the Bears have far less of a need at the position this year than they did in 2018, it’s still not out of the realm of possibility they invest a later pick in somebody to improve positional depth, so let’s look to see who from this year’s crop matches the physical profile. As always, these test results are not a way to say how good or bad a wide receiver will be, but simply if they match the physical characteristics of previous players who have excelled in this offense.


Hit All Three

There were 42 wide receivers who did tests at the Combine, and 17 of them hit all three thresholds. They are shown in the table below.

A few thoughts on this group:

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Understanding the Role of Newly-Acquired Free Agents in 2019: Defense

| March 21st, 2019

The Bears have made a number of moves in free agency, and I want to use some advanced statistics to weigh in on their likely role on the roster and value to the team. We looked at the offense yesterday, and now will move to the defense, where the Bears will be replacing two starters.

Buster Skrine

Nickelback Bryce Callahan followed Vic Fangio to the Broncos, and the Bears replaced him with Buster Skrine, who was a bit cheaper ($5.5 million/year vs. $7 million/year) and has been a bit healthier (5 games missed vs. 12 games missed in last 3 years). According to The Quant Edge, both players have spent the majority of their time over the last three years at nickel, though Skrine has spent a bit more (roughly 30%, compared to 15%) playing outside.

The table below uses data from The Quant Edge to show how effective each player has been in coverage. In order to increase sample sizes, I looked at Skrine and Callahan cumulatively from 2016-18 (I’ll note this actually helped Callahan and hurt Skrine, lest I be accused of trying to skew the numbers in the Bears’ favor), and for context compared them to averaged 2018 stats from five other nickelbacks who are widely viewed as being quality players: Chris Harris, Aaron Colvin, Tavon Young, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Justin Coleman.

Based on this data, it is pretty clear to see that Skrine is a downgrade from Callahan, but that is not to say he’s a bad player. Skrine gets targeted more frequently than other nickel CBs, but holds up to the targeting quite well. The only thing that really jumps out poorly there is the TD:INT ratio. Like Callahan, Skrine doesn’t really get many interceptions, and he has given up more scores than you would like to see.

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Understanding the Role of Newly-Acquired Free Agents in 2019: Offense

| March 20th, 2019

The Bears have made a number of moves in free agency, and I want to use some statistics to weigh in on their likely role on the roster / value to the team. Let’s start with a look at the offense.


Mike Davis

Davis has just 238 carries in 4 seasons so it was a little surprising to see the Bears move so quickly to sign him at the start of free agency. But a closer look reveals why they did so.

A few weeks ago I identified the typical physical profile of a running back in this offense, and Davis fits the bill, as you can see in the table below. Thresholds that he failed to hit are highlighted in red.

Davis matches the profile of backs who are usually targeted for this offense. He’s short but well built and has solid acceleration (as evidenced by the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash) and explosion (as evidenced by the jumps). This doesn’t mean he’ll magically be a stud here after being a role player in San Francisco and Seattle, but it explains a little bit about why he was on the Bears’ radar.

Another way Davis fits is in terms of his skill set. Running backs in this offense are asked to do two things: run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. The table below shows how effective Davis was doing those compared to Jordan Howard in 2018, with both compared to Kareem Hunt as an ideal (on-field) back for this system. I highlighted cells in red when one running back stood out from the other two in a bad way, and green when one running back stood out in a good way.

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out is that Davis is better than Howard at running between the tackles, where both were asked to have a majority of their carries in 2018. This can be evidenced by his significantly higher yards/carry average between the tackles last year, when he was comparable to Kareem Hunt in that regard. It’s worth noting that this trend was only really true in 2018; Davis was generally inefficient at pretty much everything prior to that in his career, and Howard had -by far – the worst year of his career in 2018. Still, the Bears are banking on getting the 2018 form of Davis, which would be a running upgrade over 2018 Howard.
  • Sticking with running, let’s take a look at success rates in the bottom two rows. This was one area where I pointed out Howard actually did quite well, and Davis did as well (again in 2018, not so much before that). Since success rate is a measure of staying with or ahead of the chains, this indicates Davis should hopefully be able to continue Howard’s success converting in short-yardage situations.

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