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Turning Chicago’s Fortunes Around Will Require Turning Over Opposing Quarterbacks Through the Air

| August 6th, 2018

Chicago returns their entire secondary from last season, which is good news.

Off-season additions like Eddie Jackson and Prince Amukamara, coupled with breakout seasons from Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, helped construct a quality 2017 pass defense. The Bears were 7th in passing yards allowed, 15th in yards per attempt, and 5th in fewest touchdown passes given up.

But there is one area where improvement is desperately needed: interceptions. The Bears caught only 8 for the third year in a row in 2017. Only two NFL teams had fewer.

This has to change if the Bears want to become a good team. To understand why, let’s look at how important turnovers are to winning football games.


Turnovers & Winning Games

Over the last five years, there is a correlation of 0.50 between a team’s turnover differential and the number of wins for a given season. That means that roughly half of a team’s season outcome can be explained simply by looking at how many times their offense turned the ball over compared to how many times their defense took the ball away. Other studies have looked at this in greater detail and found the correlation to be somewhere between 40% and 65%.

I wanted to put this into a visual that’s a bit more concrete, so the table below shows how a team’s turnover differential corresponds to various season outcomes over the last 5 seasons (full data available here).

Teams that have a better turnover differential win more games and make the playoffs more often. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but I think it’s helpful to see some numbers.


Fumble Luck Doesn’t Last

So if the Bears want to improve, they need to improve their turnover differential. They actually weren’t awful last year (as I predicted before the season), as they had a differential of 0 by turning it over 22 times and forcing 22 turnovers, but that was with a hyper-conservative offense designed to limit turnovers.

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Celebrating Brian Urlacher, Hall of Famer

| August 4th, 2018

Brian Urlacher will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this evening, the culmination of one of the great careers in the history of the Chicago Bears.

Over the next two days I want to use the comments section below to allow fans to share their favorite Urlacher plays, stories, moments…etc. Anything about Brian that resonated with you.

For me, I never forgot seeing #54 pick off Chad Pennington in the end zone at Giants Stadium in 2006, no more than 40 yards from where I was sitting. It was just one of the many times an Urlacher play completely turned a game on its head. (The play can be found at the :30 mark of the video below.)



On behalf of myself and the DBB team, congrats Brian. And thank you.

I’ll share some of the best comments re: Urlacher in game previews throughout the season.

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Hall of Fame Game: A Running Diary

| August 3rd, 2018

What follows will be a stream of consciousness blog, written in real time as I watch the Hall of Fame Game. There will be no editing after the fact and, honestly, very little done while I’m writing. This is not an interesting sporting event. This is not a remotely interesting sporting event. So I’m trying to make it more fun.


7:50 ET

I’m going over to the game after watching ten minutes of Chris Matthews on MSNBC. I always wondered who Matthews reminded me of and it just fucking hit me. He’s Paul Sorvino’s Lips Manlis from the Dick Tracy movie. They even drool the same way.


7:52 ET

How did this become my life? There are people in bars, having fun, laughing together, fucking in bathroom stalls. I’m sitting on a couch with two cats. My girlfriend is getting on a plane for Israel. And I’m thinking, “Be fun to get a look at Kylie Fitts in pads.”


7:58 ET

Just turned on Yankees v. Red Sox and Boston has a guy named Jackie Bradley Junior. Which sounds exactly like the name I’d give a character in my fake novel, Murder at Stax Records.


8:00 ET

“Are you ready for some footballllllllllllllll?”

No. Kickoff is apparently not for another ten minutes.


8:03 ET

Ray Lewis just did his obnoxious dance and started revving up absolutely no one. If only he were this enthusiastic when police asked him what he knew about a homicide.


8:15 ET

First drive over. At no point during that drive did I even consider writing something. Chase Daniel threw a pick at the end of the drive. Even he didn’t seem to mind.


8:17 ET

Al Michaels quotes John Madden saying the busts in the Hall of Fame talk to each other at night.

Cris Collinsworth says, “Maybe the greatest line ever”. Really? That’s the greatest line ever? Ever??


8:19 ET

Instant replay should be outlawed in the preseason.

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ATM: White and Miller Could Make Bears Attack Very Different

| August 1st, 2018

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have tried to build the 2018 Chicago Bears offense to be like those Nagy’s mentor Andy Reid had success with in the past. But they may have stumbled into something very different and entirely more fascinating. If Kevin White and Anthony Miller are both able to continue to play at the level they have in the early days of training camp, the Bears won’t have a choice but to put both on the field. That could change the entire offense.

While generally thought of as an offense that spreads the ball around, that hasn’t really been the case. In five years, Reid’s Chiefs have averaged:

  • 19.6% of their targets to the top receiver
  • 18% to the pass-catching tight end
  • 16.9% to running backs

Those numbers mostly held up with Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. His Eagles averaged:

  • 20.5% of their targets to the top receiver
  • 18.6% to the pass-catching tight end
  • 15% to running backs

Where it gets interesting, however, is when you look at the other positions. There you will find very little consistency.

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Getting Real: 3 Things Bears Must Do to Keep Fans Optimistic in 2018

| July 31st, 2018

Here at DBB, we’ve been high on optimism for the Bears’ 2018 season pretty much since Matt Nagy was hired back in January, and we’re not the only ones. Both local and national media are feeling the enthusiasm and energy emanating from Halas Hall, and with good reason!

We’ve laid out all those reasons why we should all be psyched about the direction the Bears are heading in previous, and I fully stand by those predictions. At the same time, I’m not the hardcore Pollyanna that I’ve likely come across as in my last few articles. There’s a limit to my enthusiasm, and there are some actual markers of change the Bears are going to have to hit this season for me to continue to do things like  compare Trubisky to Roger Federer and Serena Williams.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’ve laid out three things the Chicago Bears MUST do to justify continued optimism into the 2019 season. This isn’t a dream scenario list. This is a bare minimum list for me to not sink into a pit of deep, deep despair.

For the purposes of this list I’m not factoring in the possibility of serious injury to top players. Not because it couldn’t happen, but because a) it’s morbid b) it’s largely out of the team’s control and, c) it would cause me to have a very different perspective on the season moving forward.


First.

They have to finish at least .500.

Football is a rare sport in that literally every game matters. You look at baseball, basketball, or hockey and it’s absurd to think that one game would change the way fans view an entire season. But football teams don’t play 162 games in a season, they play 16, and there’s a significant difference between a team going 7-9 and 8-8. Even if that’s only in perspective.

The last time the Bears had a a winning season was 2012. In 2013 they went 8-8 and, well, we all know how things have gone since then. The Bears don’t have the easiest of schedules – of course that’s not always the most straightforward metric to measure a month before a season actually begins. Still, I’m sick of rooting for a losing team. The Bears absolutely have enough talent to earn as many wins as losses.

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Your Yearly Reminder: It’s Just Practice

| July 30th, 2018

It happens every year.

Fans obsessively follow every training camp practice and get overly excited when they hear that guys from their team look really good. Or conversely get worried upon hearing somebody is struggling.

This is your friendly, annual reminder to calm down. The first few days of training camp ultimately don’t mean a ton, especially when it comes to rumors about how particular players are performing. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why hearing about a single practice, taking place over a month before the season starts, is not really going to tell you much about the season.


Single Examples

How often do you hear somebody say “This player looked great today,” using one big play he made as proof? Unfortunately, this blatantly ignores the consistency required from players to truly perform at a high level.

To go along with this is the problem of contrasting reports. One person will say a player looks great based on one or two flashy plays, while another person claims that same player is doing terrible because he had one bad miscue. Fans will naturally want to gravitate towards the positive reports, but balance is key.

Recent example: New kicker Cody Parkey made some long field goals, but also had a few misses. One reporter explained that all the misses came with the 2nd team holder, while another decided Parkey had a “shaky day.”


Looking Good or Looking Bad?

Another thing to keep in mind is that players are going up against their teammates in training camp, so somebody “looking good” could mean more that their teammate is bad. For example, hearing that the offensive line is consistently dominating their defensive counterparts in practice can be viewed two ways.  On the one hand, the offensive line is looking really good.  On the other hand, the defensive line is being outclassed. Does that say more good things about the offensive line or bad things about the defensive line?

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In Bourbonnais: Training Camp Observations

| July 28th, 2018

I made it out to Bears training camp today, and thought I’d share a few thoughts and observations. Obligatory note: keep in mind it was only one practice, and players have good/bad days.

Offense

  • I got a great up-close look at TEs doing blocking drills. Dion Sims is a much better blocker than any of the other guys. The TE coach was working with Shaheen a ton, but he struggled to mirror.
  • When TEs and RBs did blocking 1 on 1s against linebackers, it was ugly. The defense won almost every one of those battles. That’s not good considering the Bears don’t exactly have a great stable of pass rushers, and Floyd didn’t even participate.
  • Tarik Cohen’s blocking in particular was ugly. On his first rep, he got bullrushed by some UDFA OLB I’ve never even heard of. On his 2nd rep, he dug in to try to prevent that and Nick Kwiatkoski ran around him without being touched. I don’t expect Cohen to be a great blocker, but that was ugly.
  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about Dion Sims as a pass catcher in the first week of camp, but man is he slow. He lumbers out there running routes and doesn’t have that extra gear to separate.
  • The 1st string offense as a whole really struggled today. The defense dominated them. Part of that could be because Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton were all not playing for a decent amount of those drills, meaning Sims, Bellamy, and Fowler saw a lot of targets. I can only hope that we don’t see that repeat itself during the season.
  • The offense even struggled in 7v7, when there is no pass rush and it’s supposed to favor the offense. Check downs almost every time.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Tru’s Team, Shaheen Excites, LongJahns & More!

| July 27th, 2018

Three Quick Player Thoughts

  • Adam Shaheen. He’s not getting a ton of attention from those circling the barren wasteland of Bourbonnais but I’m told by highly reliable folks Matt Nagy is as enamored with the potential of Shaheen as any other offensive player on the roster. The young TE had an almost-impossible transition from Nowheresville, Ohio to the NFL last season and it made harder by an offensive coaching staff uninterested in aiding that transition for a raw rookie. This staff sees big play potential from their big tight end. Immediately.
  • Mitch Trubisky. His early camp results? Up and down. Throwing too many picks but displaying all the explosiveness and ability that made him the second pick. It’ll be very interesting to see how much of this new offense Nagy rolls out in the preseason, especially with Green Bay in primetime to open the campaign. But the most important thing happening to Tru this summer is simply being allowed to BE the damn quarterback and make the important mistakes.
  • Kevin Toliver & Kylie Fitts. The Bears are a very strange roster right now, with a ton of potential up and down it. But these two players, both off to impressive starts, have the ability to elevate an already good to elite level if they make a significant impact in 2018.

It’s Cold. Put On Your LongJahns.

In Adam the Legend’s camp takeaways column, there was a passage that caught my eye:

From Allen Robinson to Marlon Brown at receiver and from Trey Burton to Colin Thompson at tight end, every skill player has gotten a chance to play with Trubisky or backup Chase Daniel. Running back Tarik Cohen has even caught passes from third-stringer Tyler Bray in camp.

At some point, the constant rotations will end. Robinson, Burton, Cohen and other starters will settle in for more advanced work with Trubisky.

But those rotations are part of the learning process for all players right now. Nagy wants it that way. Kevin White seemingly has benefitted from it. He has been targeted plenty throughout camp by Trubisky and Daniel.

“Right now, there’s zero game-planning going into this thing,” Nagy said. “It’s, ‘Everybody learn everything,’ and then what we do as evaluators and coaches is we see who does what well.

“There might be somebody that runs a route really well but can’t run another route to save his life, so we don’t do that. We put those guys in the right spots, and then we try to time it up with the quarterbacks.”

Hallelujah. Too often new coaches come to an organization with their pre-designed cargo pants and try to fit players into the pockets. They acquire a player who can do X, a player who can do Y, a player who can do Z. Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich, along with Ryan Pace, went out this offseason and acquired a ton of offensive talent. Guys who can do a ton of different things. Now they’re allowing that talent to show them what works and what doesn’t. Rather ingenious if you ask me.

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