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Bears at the Bye: The Best Defense in Football? Sure Seems That Way…

| October 10th, 2018

Chicago’s defense has been awesome in the first month of the season. They’re among the best in the league in nearly every category that matters, and are ranked first overall in DVOA. Now I want to look a little more closely at how well they’re performing against both the run and pass in different areas of the field.


Defending The Run

Chicago’s run defense was solid in 2017, but it has been fantastic so far in 2018. They have shut opposing run games down, and they’ve done it pretty much across the board, as we can see below.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense by zone, courtesy of the NFL Game Statistics and Information System. 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.

A few thoughts:

  • That’s a whole lot of green. Awesome. Last year’s version featured a lot more yellow and red. This is a good time to remind you that Khalil Mack is an elite run defender in addition to being one of the best pass rushers in the league.
  • Speaking of Khalil Mack, he and Akiem Hicks usually line up opposite the RG and RT. Notice where defenses are running towards? There are 38 runs to the left side – away from Mack and Hicks -compared to 21 towards them on the right.

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Bears at the Bye: Pass Catchers! Everywhere! Pass Catchers!

| October 9th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.

Now we focus on the wide receivers and tight ends, examining how much they’re playing, how effective they’ve been, and how they’re being utilized.


Snap Counts and Predictabilities

First I want to look at how frequently each target is playing, and how their presence on the field impacts the offense’s performance. Data is from The Quant Edge.

A couple things to note about the table below:

  • I’m using success rate here instead of yards per play. That is to account for down and distance context. A two-yard play on 1st and 10 is bad, while a two-yard play on 3rd and 1 is good. The general idea is that a successful play keeps you ahead of the chains, but an exact definition is available here if you’re curious.
  • I didn’t include Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, or Trey Burton here because they’re almost always on the field; they’re all playing least 83% of the offensive snaps so far. This is more to look at the players who are situational and how they’re impacting the offense.
  • Anthony Miller’s data only includes the 3 games for which he was active.

A few thoughts:

  • On the surface, it looks like Anthony Miller has hurt the offense. Maybe he has. But he basically only plays in 11 personnel groupings, where there are 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs on the field, and in general that grouping has been the least efficient passing formation in the NFL. In terms of the run game, I don’t actually know much about Miller as a blocker. It’s possible that he’s not blocking well and that’s hurting the run game, but it’s also possible something else is causing the difference.

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Bears at the Bye: What To Make of the Running Back Position

| October 9th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.

Today we’re going to focus on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, examining how much they’re playing, how effective they’ve been, and how they’re being utilized.


Snap Counts and Efficiency

First I want to look at how frequently each running back is playing, and how their presence on the field impacts the offense’s performance. Data is from The Quant Edge.

(Note: I’m using success rate here instead of yards per play. That is to account for down and distance context. A two-yard play on 1st and 10 is bad, while a two-yard play on 3rd and 1 is good. The general idea is that a successful play keeps you ahead of the chains, but an exact definition is available here if you’re curious.)

A few thoughts:

  • Howard is actually playing typical lead RB snaps for an Andy Reid offense. As I noted this offseason, Kareem Hunt played 65% of the snaps in Kansas City last year. This is in stark contrast to the Philadelphia Eagles style-rotation I thought would make more sense. It’s worth noting the 2 split snaps almost exactly 50/50 in the Tampa Bay game. I wonder if that’s more what we’ll see going forward.
  • The run/pass splits for when both of these players are in vs. out of the game are too lopsided. A 30% swing when Howard exits the game and 20% swing when Cohen enters the game should not be the case. This is too predictable and makes it too easy on the defense.
  • Some of these numbers are related, since Howard and Cohen basically swap being on the field. They’ve only shared the field on 23 snaps so far this year, so the run game being more effective with Howard off the field is the same as saying the run game gets more effective when Cohen is on the field. Again, I think this might have more to do with defenses gearing up to stop the run when Howard is in the game and not expecting it when Cohen is in.

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Bears at the Bye: The Guy Playing Quarterback

| October 8th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Mitchell Trubisky play four games under Matt Nagy’s tutelage, it’s time to examine how he’s doing. We’ve seen him play 269 snaps and throw 130 passes, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to analyze how he’s performing in a variety of situations.


Growth Through Each “Quarter”

Last offseason I looked at Trubisky’s performance in 4-game snapshots, borrowing the idea of breaking an NFL season down into quarters from Lovie Smith. There I found that Trubisky got progressively better in every “quarter.” Since Trubisky has played 4 games this year, he now has 16 in his career, giving him a full 4 “quarters” that we can track. Let’s take a look.

Well that looks pretty good. I said last offseason that, statistically speaking, Trubisky needed to throw more TDs while keeping everything else the same. Here we see that he has managed to throw more TDs, and everything else has stayed the same or improved. That’s good growth to see from a 2nd year QB.

Of course, four games is a small sample size, and this doesn’t look quite as rosy if we remove the Tampa game from the equation. Then his yards per attempt drops to 5.7, TD percentage to 1.9%, and his INT % (2.9%) and sack % (8.0%) both rise a bit higher than they were late in his rookie year.

Through three weeks, the stats suggested Trubisky was actually playing worse than late in his rookie year. That’s not entirely surprising given that learning a new offense often results in a step back at first.

Adding the TB game in there makes this look good, but now the question is whether the TB game was an aberration or a sign of things to come.

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Bears at the Bye: Examining the Trends of Matt Nagy’s Offense

| October 8th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.


Down & Distance

Let’s start by looking at what they’re doing in different down and distance situations. All statistics come from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System unless otherwise noted.

First Down

The offense has been extremely balanced on 1st down so far, with exactly 58 runs and 58 passing plays (passes, sacks, or scrambles).

The passing game has thrived with an average of 7.8 yards per play. According to Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, Mitchell Trubisky is completing 69% of his passes on 1st down, with 6 TD, 2 INT, and a 115.9 passer rating.

The running game, on the other hand, has been extremely ineffective, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. Most of the running attempts (34) have come from Jordan Howard, who is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, but Tarik Cohen also has 17 carries at only 2.9 yards per clip. It would appear the Bears are either making it obvious when they’re going to run or defenses are worrying about stopping the run first to make Trubisky beat them.

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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DaBearsPod on the Bye with the Legendary Adam Jahns [AUDIO]

| October 5th, 2018

On this episode of DaBearsPod:

  • (1:24) Jeff joins Trent Condon on the radio in Des Moines to break down the first quarter. For a few of the questions, he had no answer, so…
  • (12:59) The great Adam Jahns from a hotel room in Ottawa! He weighs in on the mood at Halas Hall, the impact of Khalil Mack and the offensive futures of Jordan Howard , Kevin White, James Daniels…etc.
  • (32:17) Reverend Dave on God and the 2018 Chicago Bears. They have something in common.

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Rounding Up the Division Rivals (And Looking Slightly Into Their Futures)

| October 4th, 2018

Four games in the books, which means we’re a quarter of the way through the regular season, and it’s time for the first edition of “Rivals Round Up”. This is a new feature wherein I’ll take a look at how things stand in the NFC North.

And we’ll start at the top.


Chicago Bears, 3-1

Almost a week later, and last week’s win still feels every bit as good as it did on Sunday. (If you’re a Cubs fan like me, the Bears’ early season success might be the only thing getting you through this first week of October.) Chicago leads the division for the first time in years. They’ve won three games in a row for the first time, again, in years. And Mitch Trubisky’s offense took a hugely positive step forward with a dominant performance over Tampa Bay.

Oh, and that Khalil Mack guy? He’s pretty good, too.

Next Opponent: Miami Dolphins.

I don’t love that Chicago’s bye week comes so early this year, and after last week I’m antsy see them play again. But I expect the Bears to stay focused, keep learning, and go into Miami next week without missing a beat.

The Dolphins crashed back down to earth last week after a 3-0 start, getting pummeled by the Patriots 38-7. They play the 3-1 Bengals in Cincinnati this Sunday. Ryan Tannehill is having a nice season and seems to function well in Adam Gase’s system.

However, their offensive line is shaky and I fully expect the Bears to put pressure on him the entire day. On the defensive side, the Dolphin’s secondary will definitely be a step up from what Trubisky faced against Tampa. They’ve managed a league-leading nine interceptions in four games, so Mitch will have to play smart and stay accurate to keep from making costly mistakes.

Game Prediction: It won’t be another Bears blowout, but I think they earn their fourth straight win in Miami: Bears 24, Dolphins 17

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Grades (and Haikus!) For the NFC North’s Top Team at the Quarter Mark

| October 3rd, 2018

Joe Camporeale – USA TODAY Sports

Data is going to be writing a series of pieces breaking down what the Bears have been numerically/statistically through the first quarter of the season, as only he can. So this will just be CliffsNotes stock taking for now. With haikus!


Offense

Blurb: Through three games, the offense was incoherently constructed and impotently executed. Then they delivered the finest offensive performance in this organization’s history against the Tampa Bay Bucs. They have a solid offensive line and a terrific collection of play-making weapons. It just took a month for it all to come together.

Key Stat: Mitch Trubisky’s QB line: 70% completion, 945 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT, 101.6 rating.

Grade: I would have given this unit an F before Sunday’s performance so I can’t ignore those games. But the arrow is decidedly pointing up. C+

Haiku:

Six touchdown passes.

The ghost of Johnny Lujack

Recedes into dark


Defense

Blurb: Patrick Mahomes has the gaudiest stat line in the league but Khalil Mack has been every bit the NFL’s MVP. No player has made a larger impact on the performance of their team. Mack has made every single player on this unit better and they are the league’s top defense. Lead in sacks. Second in picks. Right at the top of every valuable statistical category.

Key Stat: The Bears had 8 interceptions in 2017. They have 8 through four games of 2018.

Grade: There is no drama. There is no debate. A+

Haiku:

There goes Khalil Mack,

Flying ’round the right tackle

Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball!


Special Teams

Blurb: Cody Parkey is a solid upgrade but he’s not really been tested in a big moment. Pat O’Donnell is having a solid year punting the football. The return game has provided little but the units have avoided the kinds of penalties that can bury the offense. They’ve covered kicks well, with Sherrick McManis mounting a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign.

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ATM: Sunday’s Offensive Explosion Was Not a Fluke

| October 2nd, 2018

While there almost certainly won’t be another game quite like it, Sunday’s performance by the Bears offense was far from a fluke.

After falling behind Arizona by 14 points, Mitch Trubisky started to look more comfortable. Suddenly the pressure was off and it looked like the Bears had an actual offense. Here’s how the Bears did in that second half:

  • Punt
  • Touchdown
  • Field goal
  • Field goal
  • Punt — after trying to kill the clock.

From halftime in Arizona, the Bears scored on 11 of their next 16 drives. One of the non-scoring drives was a single play before halftime. Another was simply an attempt to run out the clock.

The Arizona game should’ve been a sign that something better was coming. They scored 13 points in the second half of that game, a good half for any team. And against Tampa Bay, it all clicked.

That isn’t a coincidence. Nagy and Trubisky got together and figured out how to turn three into seven, according to what the Bears coach told Peter King in his Football Morning in American column:

“Our lessons this week was let’s just sit together and let’s figure out why we’re struggling on our offense and see if we can find some answers,” Nagy said. “We on offense had by far our best week of practice all week long. More specifically, in the red zone, because that’s where we’ve been struggling.”

Here’s how the Bears opened against Tampa Bay:

  • Touchdown
  • Punt
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Field goal

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