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Kyle Long’s Back. You Should Be Excited

| February 28th, 2019

News broke earlier this week that Kyle Long had reworked his contract, ensuring he would be back with the Bears for the 2019 season. Due to Long’s high cap hit for next season and injury history the last three years, it was fairly obvious that he would either be cut or have some sort of re-working done, and I for one am thrilled he ended up taking a pay cut (with incentives to possibly earn most of it back) instead of forcing the Bears to cut him.

Why do I say this? I’m glad you asked.

With Long officially back in the fold and right tackle Bobby Massie re-signed earlier this offseason, the Bears will be returning their entire starting offensive line from 2018. This is great news for the Bears, because their offense was actually really good last year when this unit was on the field together.

To come to this conclusion, I used the lineup information from the NFL’s game statistics and information system to compile 2018 offensive stats with various offensive line combinations on the field. Since Massie, left tackle Charles Leno, and center Cody Whitehair were basically never off the field (they missed a combined 13 snaps over the course of the season), the only parts that really changed were at guard. Four players -Long, Jordan Daniels, Eric Kush, and Bryan Witzmann – cycled through those spots, and the table below shows how well the offense fared for various guard pairings (note: I left off the Daniels/Kush combo because it had a tiny sample size of only 27 plays. The numbers weren’t impressive anyway).



Take a closer look at that middle column, when Long and Daniels, the starters for 2019, were on the field together.

The Bears averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt (after factoring in sacks) and 5.2 yards per run with that duo on the field! For context, the Bears’ season averages in those categories were 6.5 and 4.1, respectively, and league averages for the year were 6.4 and 4.4. The best team in the NFL in each category came in at 8.1 and 5.1 for the two marks, both below the Bears’ with their starting offensive line.

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Building a Measurable Profile for the Andy Reid/Matt Nagy Running Back

| February 25th, 2019

The Combine starts soon, which means NFL coverage will be obsessed with 40 times, bench press reps, and various other physical metrics leading up to the draft.

Like I did last year at wide receiver (with pretty good success), I want to cut through the noise to see if I can figure out which numbers matter when it comes to running backs for Chicago’s offense. This is a variation of the offense Andy Reid runs in Kansas City, so I looked at the Combine stats of all the running backs the Chiefs have acquired since Reid showed up in 2012 to see if there were any trends. This can help us identify what running backs at the Combine – and in free agency – might makes sense for the Bears if they look to re-shape the position this offseason.

Building the Profile

There were 5 Chiefs RBs identified that were drafted by them, signed to a substantial deal in free agency or earned a meaningful role with the team as an undrafted free agent since Reid took over in 2012. These players were Knile Davis, Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, and Charcandrick West. I used Mock Draftable to look up their Combine data (or found data from their pro day when the Combine was not available) in every category I could find, and compared it to the average RB mark in each of these categories that Mock Draftable has compiled. Full data can be seen here.

Many of the measurables didn’t show any clear pattern, but I identified five which did: height, weight, 10 yard split, vertical jump, and broad jump.

  • 4 of the 5 were below the average height, meaning they were 5’10” or shorter (the 5th was 5’11”)
  • 4 of the 5 were above the average weight of 214 pounds
  • 4 of the 4 measured (the 5th doesn’t have a reported time) had an average or faster first 10 yards of the 40 yard dash (1.59 seconds or less)
  • 4 of the 5 had an above-average vertical jump (35″ or more)
  • 5 of the 5 had an above-average broad jump (118″ or more)

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Putting Anthony Miller’s Rookie Season in Proper Context

| February 20th, 2019

On the surface, Anthony Miller had a quiet rookie season. He had 54 passes come his way, catching 33 for 423 and 7 touchdowns. This tied him for 127th in the NFL in catches, 111th in yards, and 16th in receiving touchdowns. On the Bears, he was 5th in catches and yards, but led the team in receiving touchdowns.

This is entirely unsurprising given that rookie wide receivers rarely have huge seasons. Last offseason I looked at all 2nd-round wide receivers drafted between 2008 and 2017 and found that the average player compiled 60 targets, 34 catches, 433 yards, and 2.6 touchdowns. Miller ended up right around those averages for everything but touchdowns, which is perfectly fine.

Now I want to look a bit more closely at that sample to see what we can learn about Miller from his rookie season, and how that might project going forward.


Thresholds Hit

In that study, I found that rookies who saw at least 40 targets and caught at least half of them tended to turn out as at least solid receivers in the NFL. Good news on that front: Miller exceeded both thresholds.

And now for an obligatory reminder from that article:

It’s important to note that hitting these thresholds doesn’t magically guarantee success, and failing to hit them doesn’t guarantee failure. It’s more that most of the players who have hit those thresholds have gone on to have success, while most of the players who didn’t hit them didn’t have success.

You can look back to see the full list of players who did and did not meet the criteria. (I’m not going to re-post it here because it’s too big.) Suffice it to say Miller finds himself on a substantially better list than if he did not meet those two thresholds, giving us reasons to be optimistic he will at least be a competent WR2 or WR3 going forward.


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Breaking Down Every Single Mitch Trubisky Interception From the 2018 Season

| February 15th, 2019

In his sophomore campaign, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky saw statistical improvement across the board. He completed a higher rate of passes, threw for more yards per attempt, and was much more efficient throwing touchdowns. The one area where he regressed from his rookie campaign (statistically speaking), was throwing interceptions. He threw them on 2.8% of his passing attempts in 2018, compared to just 2.1% in 2017. If he had stuck to his 2017 rate he would have been intercepted only 9 times. He threw 12 picks.

Throwing fewer interceptions is a good goal for Trubisky in 2019, but what does he need to improve to make that happen? In order to figure that out, we need to break down the film, because not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  • Bad decisions. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 10 years, with balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  • Bad throws. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  • Miscommunications. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  • Receiver errors. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

As I did last year, I want to look more closely at each of Trubisky’s interceptions to see which of these categories they fall into, and then consider what we can learn from all 12 together. Special hat tip to Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron for providing all the GIFs. If you’re a fan of the Bears, you should definitely follow Andrew on Twitter.


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Link: What Went Wrong with Trubisky’s Deep Ball

| February 12th, 2019

By Andrew Link

Filed under the “trying something new” category comes a collaboration of personalities, strengths, styles, and even blogs. I am very excited to bring a unique cross-over between Da Bears Blog and Windy City Gridiron.

This off-season project started months ago as a few random Twitter comments sparked an interesting idea. There are tons of analytics folks out there in the NFL world, and an equal amount of film buffs. But something hit Johnathan Wood and myself at the same time: what if we used the analytics to tell the story and confirmed/de-bunked with the old “eye test?”

The result is something that we both think is pretty cool and hopefully Bears fans will enjoy this as well. I urge you to read Johnathan’s article before going any further (although I will be taking excerpts from his article in this one).

Trubisky was really good on short stuff, but struggled throwing the ball deep. This isn’t a surprise to anybody who watched the Bears this year, but it’s good to see the numbers backing up what we all observed. Stay tuned tomorrow, when Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron will look to the film to see what went wrong to account for Trubisky’s deep struggles.

Nobody really wants to see a bunch of short throws, besides, there will be some more silver lining articles to come, so let’s focus on the deep ball. 15 yards seems to be the magic number for what constitutes a deep ball by the numbers, I am not sure I totally agree, so I mainly focused on throws over 20 yards.

Things weren’t as pretty when we look at the deep ball though, as you can see in the table below:

That’s not as good as we’d like to see. Trubisky was well below the league average in all four categories, and he even threw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7). Deep passes completely account for Trubisky’s uptick in interceptions as a sophomore, and improvement here would turn him from an average/above-average QB into one of the better passers in the league.

The numbers clearly show that there was something off about Trubisky’s deep ball, but there has to be a reason, right? I came up with 3 reasons why the deep ball struggled. As with many things in sports, you can make the case for different reasons on the same play. Cause and affect. Did poor mechanics cause a throw to be inaccurate? Possibly. Could a poor decision still be well thrown? Absolutely. While I had to ultimately put clips into certain categories, there are often times when you could put a play into any of the 3.

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Trubisky Was Good in 2018. But He Can Significantly Improve.

| February 11th, 2019

This is the first of a series of collaborations between film guru Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron and stats guy Johnathan Wood of Da Bears Blog. We’re excited to be working together to bring fans of both sites great content by combining our approaches. 


Last year, I looked at  Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie season and found that, by the end of the year, he was statistically performing like a league average quarterback in every area except throwing touchdowns. So that was his challenge for 2018: throw more touchdowns without getting worse everywhere else.

Let’s see how he did. The table below shows Trubisky’s performance compared to NFL average in the four categories that go into passer rating.

Mission accomplished.

Trubisky got much better at throwing touchdowns, as is common for young quarterbacks looking to improve from year 1 to year 2, and stayed at or above average at completing passes and picking up yards. His interceptions took a slight uptick from right around league average to be higher than you would like, and we’ll look at that more closely later in this series.

Add it all up and Trubisky produced like an average to above average quarterback in his sophomore campaign, a significant improvement from his rookie season, when he was (statistically speaking) one of the worst QBs in the NFL.

But there is certainly still room for improvement, and to illustrate where that improvement needs to come I used the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder to break up pass attempts into short (less than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) and deep (15 yards or more past the line of scrimmage).

The table below shows how Trubisky performed compared to the rest of the league in short passes:

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A Deeper Dive into the Sophomore Season of Mitchell Trubisky

| February 4th, 2019

After a rookie campaign that was statistically a nightmare, Mitchell Trubisky took the sophomore jump that many wanted to see. He went from performing like one of the worst QBs in the NFL to somebody who was average to above average, and accordingly the Bears went from being one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the best (though a greatly improved defense also played a big role there).

Now that the dust has settled a little bit, I wanted to take a closer look at Trubisky’s 2018 season to see what I could learn. (I’ll note that I have upcoming work looking in more detail at short and deep splits, so I’m not going to focus on that here.)


Breaking Out

For the first three weeks of the season, Trubisky looked like he was continuing his rookie year. At that point, it was starting to look like maybe the Bears had a bust. Then Trubisky had a monster game against Tampa Bay in Week 4 and never looked back. The distinct split in his performance can be seen clearly in the table below.

A few thoughts:

  • There’s no way around saying it: Trubisky stunk the first three weeks. He dumped the ball out faster than any QB in the NFL, threw it shorter than all but nine, and completed shorter passes than any other QB by a full half yard. Despite all of that, he still threw into tight coverage at the 6th highest rate of any NFL QB this year, and took a high rate of sacks, which were largely on him.
  • But look at Week 4 and on. He started pushing the ball down the field more, which hurt his completion percentage a bit but helped him everywhere else. His full stat line from Week 4 on: 217/330 for 2632 yards, with 22 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a 101.0 passer rating. That’s borderline top 10 quarterback production.

Shifting Styles

But Trubisky’s play didn’t remain stagnant for the rest of the season. Instead, we saw a distinct shift in playing styles over the last three weeks of the year, which can be clearly seen in the table below.

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Bears Offense Should Take Significant Step Forward in 2019

| January 21st, 2019

Chicago’s defense was awesome in 2018, leading the NFL in points allowed, turnovers forced, touchdowns scored, and passer rating against. They also finished third in yards and sacks and were generally the best defense in the NFL by a wide margin. Their play propelled the Bears to a 12-4 finish, NFC North title, and the franchise’s first playoff berth in eight years.

It’s hard to expect much improvement from that unit in 2019. In fact, they’re almost certainly not going to repeat that level of dominance. So when I write that I expect the Bears to improve in 2019 and be one of the top Super Bowl contenders, that must mean I expect it to happen because of the offense.

Unlike the defense, there is plenty of room for improvement on that side of the ball. Chicago had a pretty mediocre offense in 2018. They finished:

  • 21st in yards per game
  • 20th in yards per play
  • 9th in points per game
  • 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, an all-encompassing metric intended to evaluate an entire unit.

Outside of points per game – which was likely aided by all the turnovers and defensive touchdowns – the offense was pretty consistently below average in most important metrics. So why am I so confident the offense will improve next year, even though they probably won’t be making many significant personnel changes?

To put it simply: NFL history strongly suggests that significant improvement is coming.

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Projecting Contracts for the Key Free Agent Bears

| January 17th, 2019

The Bears have three starters – Bryce Callahan, Bobby Massie, and Adrian Amos – and a key role player – Aaron Lynch – who are all free agents this offseason. They’re tight up against the cap, so keeping all of them will be hard.

In order to prioritize which ones might be most important and attainable to hang onto, we need to understand how expensive their contracts are likely to be. Let’s look at each player one by one and look at the types of contracts signed by comparable players in recent years to get an idea for what to expect. All data is from Spotrac.


Bryce Callahan (27 years old)

Callahan’s contract is a difficult one to project because it is complicated by health. Callahan has been one of the best nickel backs in the NFL when healthy, but he’s only played 45 out of a possible 65 games (including playoffs) in 4 years, which should keep his price down a little bit. It’s also a bit difficult to parse out nickel back contracts from the other cornerbacks, as they’re listed generically together even though NFL teams clearly pay them differently. Nevertheless, here are four recent nickel back contracts that can help give us an idea of what Callahan’s market should be.

Harris’ deal sets the standard for nickels, but I don’t think it will have much bearing on Callahan. I’m sure his agents will point to it as what they’d like to get, but I don’t think teams view Callahan on Harris’ level, both because of health and big plays. Harris missed 1 game in 4 years before signing this deal and had 10 interceptions to Callahan’s 4.

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A Thorough Breakdown of the Chicago Cap Situation

| January 16th, 2019

After a heartbreaking playoff loss, it’s time to shift from in-season coverage to looking ahead to what’s in store for the Bears this offseason as they prepare for 2019.

And that starts with looking at the money, because after all, the NFL is a business. So let’s get a feel for where the Bears are with respect to the cap, what moves could be made to clear up space, and what players are scheduled to be free agents.

Current Cap Situation

The table below shows the Bears’ current cap situation. All data comes from Spotrac.


As you can see, that looks a good bit different than in years past. The roster has gotten significantly more talented, but also significantly more expensive, which means they don’t have much money to spend. So don’t expect free agency to be nearly as exciting as it’s been the last several years. A few other notes:

  • All of these figures are flexible. There are always ways to change the cap situation, and I’ll look at a few of them below.
  • The 2019 cap projection is currently somewhere between $187 and $191 million. I went with the conservative estimate, but they might have a few million more than this to work with. We’ll know more sometime in the next few months (it was set in early March last year).

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