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Least Explosive Team in the NFL, or the Story of the 2019 Chicago Bears

| February 4th, 2020

I’ve been working my way through the Bears’ 2019 performance to see what changed from 2018 that caused them to slip from 12-4 to 8-8. Today, I want to look at explosive plays, which I found last season have a strong correlation to overall offensive performance.

There are a variety of definitions for explosive plays depending on who you ask, so I want to clarify I’m using parameters laid out by ESPN NFL Matchup, which counts any run that gains 15+ yards or pass that gains 20+ yards as explosive. Let’s start with a preliminary look at how the Bears did in 2019 relative to the rest of the NFL. All data is from Pro Football Reference, with explosive play information coming from the Game Play Finder. Pass percentages were calculated including sacks and pass attempts as pass plays.



That’s ugly.

If you want to compare to 2018, the Bears slipped across the board. They had 71 explosive plays in 2018, with explosive rates of 7% overall, 5.3% on runs, and 8.4% on passes. All of those numbers in 2018 were slightly below average, ranging from 18th to 21st in the league, while they are all bottom 2 in 2019.

So what happened to cause such a slump? Like I’ve done when evaluating both the running and passing games, I want to break down what it looks like for individual Bears players and/or position groups from season to season. That information is shown in the table below, with all cells formatted by 2018 / 2019 data. (I’ll note the pass rates are a bit higher for pass catchers than QBs because they are only out of targets and exclude sacks and throwaways.)


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Super Bowl LIV Gambling Guide!

| January 31st, 2020

You don’t have to wager a ton of money to have fun gambling on the Super Bowl. But the trick is to space out the bets across the game. That way, even if the game’s a bore, and many of them are, you’ll have something to keep you interested throughout. Here are five bets, all courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.


Bet #1 -Coin Toss: Heads & Kansas City Chiefs (+255)

Why the hell not? (And this bet could be over before they even flip the coin!)


Bet #2 -Patrick Mahomes to Score TD & Chiefs Win (+650)

His running has started changing games because defenses are so afraid of his arm. The pressure from the Niners will be there so I expect Mahomes to take off more than usual. (And I’m all-in on Andy Reid winning this game.)


Bet #3 – George Kittle to Score a TD (+125)

Once Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs defense settles into this game, Jimmy G will be under pressure. That means he’ll be forced to get the ball out quickly and that means Kittle. Also, if this game gets away from San Francisco, I could see Kittle catching a million balls underneath deep coverage in garbage time.


Bet #4 -San Francisco to Win the First Quarter (+148)

The Chiefs don’t even wake up in these games until they’re down double digits.


Bet #5 -Total Over 54 Points (-110)

Who the hell roots for low-scoring Super Bowls? These games are only fun when there’s scoring. They’re not football games. They’re television shows. And television shows require action, especially because the experience always feels interminable. (The halftime show just never ends and it’s never good.) This game feels like it’s going to be way closer to Eagles/Patriots than Rams/Patriots.

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Super Bowl Preview: It Comes Down to QB, Take the Chiefs

| January 30th, 2020


If I’ve learned anything as a Bears fan these past few years, it’s the importance of choosing Patrick Mahomes.

The most important position in football, and arguably all of sports, is quarterback. A great one can lift an average team to considerable heights, while a bad one can bog down an otherwise elite squad in mediocrity.

Neither the San Francisco 49ers nor the Kansas City Chiefs have a bad quarterback, but only one team has a great one, and Patrick Mahomes gives the Chiefs the edge in Sunday’s Super Bowl match-up.

I expect the game to be a close one. The Niners are a very good team, with a dominant defense and strong run game. They should be able to limit some of the explosiveness of Kansas City’s offense. They breezed through their first two playoff games en route to the Super Bowl, however both the Vikings and Packers were better on paper than they ever were on the field.

In comparison the Chiefs had a more tumultuous path, going down 24-0 to Houston before scoring 28 unanswered points in the second quarter, and never looking back. And while it’s probably true the Chiefs caught a break in getting to play the Titans at home instead of traveling to Baltimore like initially predicted, you have to respect how they were able to completely neutralize Derrick Henry and the Titans’ versatile offense in ways that neither the Patriots or the Ravens could.

Kansas City’s defense isn’t as good as San Francisco’s, but they can get the job done, and I think they will benefit from a mistake or two by Garoppolo. The moment will get to him. He’s not a bad quarterback, by any means, but he’s not a star. He’s not Mahomes.

Mahomes is extraordinary. Gunslinger. Escape artist. Pleasure to watch. It’s possible he has an off day, because even the best do. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Take the Chiefs.

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Super Bowl Preview: The Data Prediction

| January 29th, 2020

I’m very excited for this Super Bowl matchup between two of the best teams in the NFL. Here’s what I’ll be watching for on Sunday night.


When Kansas City Has the Ball

  • I can’t wait to see Patrick Mahomes vs. San Francisco’s defense. The NFL’s best QB against the NFL’s best front 7. How can you not love that?
  • San Francisco has played 4 games against the top 10 QBs in passer rating this year (Wilson 2x, Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees). 3 of the 4 averaged less than 7 yards per attempt, threw 2 or fewer TDs, and led their team to 27 or fewer points. San Francisco’s defense is really good.
  • The 4th was Drew Brees, who averaged 8.7 yards/attempt, threw 5 TD, and put up 46 points. What did Brees do differently? He got rid of the ball before he could get hit. His average time to throw was 2.45 seconds, which was faster than any QB in the NFL as a whole this year (the other 3 were all over 2.7 seconds). As a result, Brees didn’t get sacked. This meant that he had to throw the ball short, with his average completion traveling only 5.1 yards past the line of scrimmage. Instead, he relied on his pass catchers to pick up yards after the catch, and they responded with an average of 6.9 YAC.
  • Patrick Mahomes generally doesn’t get the ball out super fast; his average time to throw this year was 2.82 seconds, and it was 2.91 seconds in 2018. Yet he’s had 5 games in his career where the ball has come out in under 2.6 seconds, and his results there have been remarkable: 73% completion, 10.2 yards/attempt, 19 TD, 0 INT, and only 6 sacks on 198 dropbacks. His team has averaged 35 points per game in those contests too. If you want to get even pickier, he’s had 2 games getting the ball out in under 2.5 seconds: 79% completion, 11.5 yards/attempt, 9 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack. He’s capable of getting the ball out quickly and effectively, even if it’s not his preferred style.

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Super Bowl Preview: Mahomes is Ready to Take Over the NFL

| January 28th, 2020

Patrick Mahomes didn’t even have to sweat.

The 2019 version of the Chicago Bears defense was very good. Not as good as the team’s 2018 defense, but certainly among the better units in the league. They had, for the most part, shut Aaron Rodgers down a week before, but Mahomes was different.

The stat line wasn’t amazing. Mahomes completed 23-of-33 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another score. It was as ho-hum as three-touchdown games get. But the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

The Bears defense didn’t play poorly.

It was among Khalil Mack’s better efforts, turning Kansas City’s offensive tackles inside out numerous times.

It didn’t matter.

Mahomes was able to step up, move to his right or his left and use different arm angles to deliver passes right on the money. Wide receivers that shouldn’t have been open were because Mahomes can make throws no other quarterback thinks about. Mahomes is just better than any quarterback we’ve ever seen.

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Super Bowl Preview: Andy Reid’s Legacy Game

| January 27th, 2020

This week, each of DBB’s writers – myself, Andrew, Data and Emily –  will be writing their own Super Bowl preview post. Then Friday we’ll culminate the week with a gambling guide, as no sporting contest played all year presents this many opportunities to lose money. 


Legacies in the NFL are a tricky thing, for quarterbacks and coaches.

Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are two of the most prolifically-talented winners in the history of the NFL. But as each approach the twilight of their careers, their legacies are complicated by only appearing in one Super Bowl a piece.

Eli Manning is, by every conceivable metric, a quarterbacking mediocrity. But for two months, for two playoff runs, he was an immortal. And now, no Giant will ever wear his number again. One of the most storied franchises in the NFL is retiring the number of a quarterback who was .500 as a starter and pitched a career quarterback rating of 84.1.

One Super Bowl victory is pivotal for the great coaches and quarterbacks. It stamps their career as valid. The second Super Bowl stamps their greatness. Three or more are reserved for the legends of the game.

Tony Dungy finally got his Super Bowl title. Two years later, he retired from the game, never to return. Bill Parcells hunted a third title for decades. Mike Holmgren a second. They knew what they needed to achieve to be remembered as they wished.

Andy Reid is 207-128 as a head coach, a .618 winning percentage. That’s better than Parcells. That’s better than Holmgren. Hell, Joe Gibbs is only at .621 and I think Gibbs is one of the two or three best coaches in the history of the league. (Gibbs has three Super Bowls, with three different quarterbacks, and none of those quarterbacks were particularly good.)

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What Changed in the Passing Game: Volume III

| January 24th, 2020

Today I want to look back at two areas of concern I noted for Trubisky last off-season: deep passes and performance against good defenses.


Deep Passes

Last year, I noted that Trubisky was really good at short passes (15 yards or less past the line of scrimmage) and really bad throwing the ball deep. I also found that short passing performance tends to be less variable year over year than deep passing, which gave us a reason to be optimistic about Trubisky heading into 2019.

Let’s see how that theory played out in 2019.

A few thoughts:

  • So much for short stuff being consistent. Trubisky’s completion percentage, yards/attempt, yards/completion, and touchdown rate all plummeted from 2018 to 2019.
  • Some of the completion percentage can be accounted for by drops (as I have previously addressed), but not nearly all of it on the short stuff. Despite throwing shorter passes in the short stuff, Trubisky completed fewer of them. The end result was an extremely inefficient short passing game.

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What Changed in the Passing Game: Volume II

| January 23rd, 2020

Yesterday, it was discovered that the pass blocking and drops by pass catchers went from really good to about average.

The hypothesis, then, is that the quarterback was largely responsible for the Bears having one of the worst passing games – and thus worst offenses – in the NFL. So today I want to look at Mitchell Trubisky’s performance more closely to see what it can tell us.

On the surface, Trubisky certainly was awful in 2019. He completed 63.2% of his passes (18th in the NFL), averaged 6.1 yards/attempt (last), and posted a passer rating of 83.0 (28th). This was a big step back from 2019, when he was near average in all of those marks (66.6% completion, 14th; 7.4 yards/attempt, 18th; 95.4 rating, 16th).

Evaluating a quarterback’s play statistically can be tricky, because his stats depend both on his offensive line’s ability to block for him and his RBs/WRs/TEs’ ability to catch his passes, both of which are outside of his control. That’s why I started by looking at the offensive line and drops, both of which were worse in 2019 than 2018 but not nearly bad enough to explain bottom 5 production from the quarterback.

It’s also worth noting that Chase Daniel’s production barely changed between seasons. In 2018, he completed 70% of his passes, averaged 6.8 yards/attempt, threw 3 TD and 2 INT, and posted a 90.6 passer rating. In 2019, he completed 70% of his passes, averaged 6.8 yards/attempt, threw 3 TD and 2 INT, and posted a 91.6 passer rating. To be fair, it’s a small sample size – he played 2 games and threw around 70 passes each year – but still, this is at least anecdotal evidence to support the notion that the offense as a whole didn’t change all that drastically.


Advanced Stats

With that said, let’s look more closely at Trubisky’s performance to see if we can hone in on what changed, besides worse pocket presence and less running impact, which were touched on in previous articles. This is going to focus on passing. We’ll start by looking at a smattering of advanced statistics, which come from a combination of Next Gen Stats and Pro Football Reference.

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