They filled the lakefront,
with bellowing roars abound.
They were called Bears fans.
Where does he go now,
He, the peddler of High Life,
With no aisles to walk?
There is a timeout!
(Waits for the crowd to ask where)
On the field. (No “oh”)
There is a strong belief in the sports world that the NFL is full steam ahead.
No schedule delay.
No looking back.
The league faced the possibility of severe backlash by allowing their free agency period to go forward, handing out millions upon millions of dollars as the country nose-dove into broken digital unemployment platforms. Instead they dominated the sports news cycle for weeks.
There were endless debates regarding their desire to hold the draft. They never wavered, held the event, and received some of the best notices the shield has ever received.
The much-maligned, and factually-terrible Roger Goodell, is on a heater.
But the likelihood of fans being in attendance for NFL football this fall is veering closer and closer to nil. Governor Newsom in California and Governor Whitmer in Michigan have both, in effect, ruled out large gatherings in their respective states. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey have seemingly done the same. Those four states alone house 21,9% of the league. So what will it mean for the league if the games are played in empty buildings? Here are some thoughts.
It will be a unique and bizarre experience. (Anybody who has tuned in to the Bundesliga matches in empty stadiums will attest to that.) But it will also be a specific test for these organizations. Without fans, the emotion required on Sundays will need to be entirely self-generated by the players. The teams most effective at generating said emotion should be the most successful in 2020.
Matt Nagy went on a media tour last week. But perhaps the biggest takeaway came yesterday.
Nagy and the Bears were featured by Albert Breer in the weekly Monday Morning Quarterback spot. The interview was as in-depth as any we’ve seen regarding the changes to the team’s coaching staff and touched on working through the virtual off-season program. The most telling comment from Nagy was more of an almost throwaway line. Breer wrote:
“And it motivates Nagy himself to do better for the players. So just as he asked his coaches, and his players to be on the details that slipped last year, he’s putting just as much pressure on himself to be all over those—whether it’s staying on the details of what’s happening in the offensive meeting rooms, so he can be a better play-caller, or setting the standard for everyone as the head coach.
“That can be in a meeting, if we say guys can’t have phones in a meeting, it means they don’t have phones in a meeting,” Nagy said. “It doesn’t mean in Week 8 they start bringing them in. It means they never have them in the meeting. If they show up 9:00 or 9:01, they’re walking in as I’m walking in—no, get there early. It’s just a lot of different things. For me, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Now, for me to do that, I have to have really, really great support from the rest of our coaches, and have that trickle down to players.
“That’s what I’m excited about, getting to see that happen.”
So much of what is said during the off-season is about what’s not said. When the Bears talk about Jimmy Graham’s ability to run, they don’t have to mention it’s something they didn’t have last year. When they say Robert Quinn will improve their defense because he gets to the quarterback, they don’t have to say Leonard Floyd didn’t do it well enough. When Matt Nagy says his team is going to be more detailed and disciplined, he doesn’t have to say they weren’t a year ago.
I did some work last off-season examining how important explosive plays are to an offense’s production, and found that there is a strong relationship between the number of explosive plays (runs of 15+ yards, passes of 20+ yards) and overall offensive performance (measured in either points/game or DVOA rank). I have updated that information to now include 2018 and 2019 data and still found a strong relationship, as you can see in the graphs below.
Correlation (R²) can be loosely interpreted as how much of the pattern is explained by that variable, which means explosive plays account for roughly 40-60% of overall offensive production, which is quite a high number, and consistent with values from the 2018 season alone. Seeing the same relationship across multiple seasons of data provides additional credibility to the relationship.
(Side note: just like in 2018, total explosive plays shows a stronger relationship with both points/game and DVOA than the % of offensive plays that are explosive, so I’ll probably just track total explosive plays from now on.)
Quick note: I know money is a major issue for many Americans right now as the unemployment numbers have exploded and entire industries have been destroyed. When I write columns like this, encouraging gambling, I hope those suffering know I am sensitive to their situation. But gambling odds provide a solid context to discuss sporting issues. So I’m going to keep writing about them for the time being.
Do I think Nick Foles is going to win MVP this season?
But that’s why he’s 150-1 to win the award. (Same odds as Mitch Trubisky actually.)
Here’s why the bet is worth $1: the value logic. What if Foles starts, executes the offense and the Bears start winning? What if he proves the 2019 season can be written off to the failures of the previous quarterback, as many believe the case to be? There will be an easily-made argument for his value to the franchise.
Also, when quarterbacks execute this offense, they produce statistically. Alex Smith, who most consider a game manager, put up 4,000 yards and 26 TDs in 2017 for Andy Reid. You combine him turning around the Bears offense with a large statistical output and he’ll be in the MVP conversation.
And Foles plays in Chicago. If he plays well, it’ll be visible and there will be a demonstrative campaign for him.
If the 2020 rules existed in 2019, the Bears would have finished a single game out of the postseason. If they’re healthy I don’t see how they’re not a better team in 2020.
As a matter of fact, I believe the Bears are going to be a very good team and this number will be -400 by the middle of the season.
The Bears spent their first pick (43rd overall) on Cole Kmet, a big tight end from Notre Dame who has a chance to plug a Bears’ roster hole from day one.
It should be noted, however, that tight end is a position where conventional wisdom says it’s hard to make a big impact in your rookie season due to a steep learning curve. In order to establish realistic expectations for Kmet, let’s take a look at how comparable tight ends have fared in their first few years of the NFL.
In order to do so, I looked at all 18 tight ends drafted in the 2nd round between 2010-19. I tracked their playing time and statistical contributions on offense after extrapolating to a full 16 game season to normalize the data since several players missed games with injuries.
The full data can be seen here, but I’m just going to show the range of snaps played, targets earned, passes caught, and receiving yards, which can be seen in the table below.
Ryan Pace had no interest in drafting Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who played in two National Championship games, leading Clemson to the title in 2016. The quarterback who chucked 90 touchdowns to 32 interceptions in collage and ran for another 26 more touchdowns. No interest. This wasn’t the case of Patrick Mahomes, who tore up horrendous defenses playing for a bad team. This was a guy at the next-highest level dominating great defenses.
Watson was a stud, but Pace had no interest. He’ll surely never tell us why.
It’s not fair or accurate to say Pace didn’t scout Watson. The two actually met and spoke at the Combine. The scouting is what led him to conclude he didn’t want to draft the most prolific QB in college football. It was either something medical or a flaw Pace saw on tape. The medical questions were legitimate. Watson suffered a knee injury at Clemson and another as a rookie with Houston. He has a slender frame and tends to take a lot of hits as he plays off schedule. He has been banged up quite a bit in his NFL career. But, if it were injury-related, Pace or someone within the Bears medical staff almost certainly would’ve made that known by now.
The other reason is physical.
Watson is certainly big enough and fast enough, but there were concerns coming out about whether or not he had enough of an arm. The only modern quarterback who has had any somewhat consistent success in Chicago had a cannon. Green Bay’s nearly 30-year run of success at the position has come with guys with huge arms, and they spent a first round pick on another who qualifies.
It isn’t that Watson has a weak arm, but whether it can cut through the Chicago wind in January is another story.