148 Comments

Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

363 Comments

Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021


Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

59 Comments

Bears Must Address Imbalanced Roster Construction

| November 20th, 2020


Yet again in 2020, we see that the Bears have one of the best defenses in the NF,L coupled with one of the worst offenses. This combines to give them a team that is not good enough. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, a continuation of 2018-19, all of the Lovie years, and the 1980s after Jim McMahon got hurt.

Normally I’d use the bye week to do an in-depth look at the numbers for Chicago’s offense and defense, but honestly I don’t see the point. Their defense is really good, their offense is really bad, and you don’t need advanced stats to tell you more than that. I’m sure I’ll still do some of that analysis in the offseason but for right now I want to focus on a bigger question: WHY is the defense so much better than their offense?

The answer here is really not that surprising: the Bears are investing more in the defense. The table below shows how much money they have invested in the defense compared to the offense, as measured in 3 ways:

  • 2020 cap dollars. How much current money is being spent.
  • Average yearly salary. This accounts for the fact that contracts don’t have even distribution of cap hits every year. For instance, Robert Quinn has an average salary of $14M per year in his contract, but only has a 2020 cap hit of $6M. This will give a better picture of true spending.
  • % of salary. This looks at how much of your total spending is focused on one side of the ball, based on the average annual salary of players. It’s a good measure of how lopsided your investment is on offense vs. defense.

The table below shows the Bears’ values for offense and defense in each category, as well as the NFL average and where the Bears rank. All data is from Spotrac.

A few thoughts:

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

224 Comments

The Season is Over. Now What?

| December 16th, 2019

Many fans, even yesterday, were still clinging to the 1.8% chance (or whatever it was) of the Bears making a late push to get into the postseason tournament. With another dismal offensive failure, those chances have now officially evaporated. So where do the Bears go from here? Here are four thoughts.


Thought #1. Start Kevin Toliver.

Prince Amukamara is not healthy and he’s playing like it. He’s also very unlikely in the team’s plans for next season. Kevin Toliver has looked the part of an NFL starter and the Bears should make sure he gets these valuable, real-game reps over the final two weeks, especially considering the next two opponents feature prolific passing attacks.


Thought #2. Put Akiem Hicks on IR.

Hicks is a warrior. There’s no denying that. But this is not a battle worth fighting. The most important thing for Hicks and the Bears is that one of their best players is healthy come opening day in September. Shut him down.


Thought #3. Trubisky is coming back, so…

…the team needs to use these final two games to evaluate him as best they can. He’s clearly improving. He’s clearly got the potential to be an NFL starter. But he’s nowhere near good enough to get this team – and specifically this defense – to the first Sunday in February. Does this club believe he can take “the leap” prior to the 2020 season? Will they bring in a veteran to actually challenge 10 or is a Marcus Mariota coming around to provide more support in the room? The Bears know they have an issue at quarterback. How are they gonna address it?


Thought #4. Have Some Damn Fun

Fans hate talking about sports as entertainment but man, so many of these Bears games this season have been horrible bores. Spend these final two games – both against playoff teams – emptying the playbook and giving the fans something to enjoy. Blitz a bunch. Go for it on fourth downs. Put a few trick plays into the plan. Do everything in your power to provide a good, solid product. It’s the least you can do.

Tagged: , ,

220 Comments

The Five Plays that Defined the Regular Season for the 2018 Chicago Bears

| January 2nd, 2019

Usually I write a paragraph here, introducing the concept below. But doesn’t the headline do all that work? Do you really need further explanation of this piece? I don’t think you do. So read away…


(#5) Kyle Fuller’s Dropped Interception

Yes, this was a negative play. But it is the singular moment of adversity that seems to have inspired the entirety of the 2018 campaign. Every big play, every dance routine, every sack of the quarterback, seems to have been motivated by that Aaron Rodgers pass sailing off the chest of Fuller.


(#4) All Those Touchdown Passes Against the Bucs (tie)

After three games, 2018 felt like it was going to be a long, developmental-type season for Mitch Trubisky. Then Week 4 happened. 354 yards. 6 touchdowns. Yes, it was against the hapless Buccaneers but it was still the kind of explosive performance this organization was not using to seeing from the quarterback position. Seeing it was important for Bears fans, Bears players/coaches and for the quarterback himself. That game elevated expectations for the entire year.


(#3) Akiem Hicks Scores a Touchdown

Week 13, in the Meadowlands, Daniel handed the ball to Hicks at the goal line and the behemoth scored (easily). It was the play that best symbolized the sense of pure fun Matt Nagy has brought to this organization. He’s not afraid of comparisons to the ’85 edition of this franchise. Fridge be damned! He’s just out there calling plays, having a good time and inspiring his players to do the same.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , ,

96 Comments

Audibles From the Long Snapper: Miller & Hicks Shining This Summer, HoF Commentary, Kitties & More!

| August 7th, 2018

Three Quick Thoughts

  • This entire training camp is becoming about Anthony Miller. The Bears have not had an offensive rookie create this kind of summer buzz, around the entire league, in modern history. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, well, it’s not. When the Bears drafted Miller, a high-ranking personnel man in the league texted me one word: “Fuck.” In Trubisky-to-Miller, the Bears have an opportunity to develop one of those great quarterback/receiver combos all those other teams seem to routinely showcase.
  • Roquan Smith has not yet arrived in Illinois and yet inside linebacker has been one of the team’s strengths thus far due to the emergence of Nick Kwiatkoski as a viable option. But make no mistake about it. Kwik is not Roquan. They are not comparable athletes. And if Kwik is out there trying to cover in Green Bay Week 1, Aaron Rodgers will get Jimmy Graham lined up over him and pick him apart. At some point, the Bears and Roquan just need to suck it up and get this deal done.
  • One player who shouldn’t see a snap this entire preseason: Akiem Hicks. Simply put, he is the most important player on this defensive roster and his health is paramount to their success. And from all reports, he has been a dominant force in Bourbonnais. Why risk his health for the sake of reps he doesn’t need? Hicks was burnt out by the end of 2017 due to overuse and the defense reflected that. Without proven pass rushers on the edge, the Bears should value Hicks every bit as much as they do their young QB. Because he’s that important.

Urlacher Hall of Fame Speech

  • Thought Urlacher did a wonderful job on stage, especially with his lack of comfort when it comes to public speaking. Considering he had to share the stage with Ray Lewis, the Human Bullshit Machine, it was a refreshing to experience actual humility and grace.
  • I’ve never been an Urlacher devotee but I freely admit he’s the finest cover-2 middle linebacker in history and belongs in the Hall. And when I say I’m not a devotee, it doesn’t mean I don’t consider him a great player. I do. But from the Lovie Smith era, I still have him behind Peanut Tillman and Devin Hester.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

125 Comments

Ranking the Entire Bears Roster: Top of the Heap (1-10)

| July 26th, 2018

As I got down this list and into the top ten, it struck me that the only player Ryan Pace isn’t responsible for bringing in is Kyle Long. Not only has Pace turned nearly the entire roster over, but he’s brought in almost all of their best players in a short amount of time. And what’s different this year is that some of their best players are actually among the best in the league.

The list.

10. Eddie Jackson, S

This is largely a bet on upside. Had he not gotten injured in his final season at Alabama, Jackson would’ve been drafted a lot higher than he was. He has shown the ability to find the ball early in his NFL career and I’m guessing that he’s only going to get better.

9. Roquan Smith, LB

A bit high before he’s had an official NFL practice? Maybe. But Smith is the perfect linebacker for today’s game: fast, heady and packs a punch.

8. Leonard Floyd, Edge

Floyd has shown the ability to dominate when he’s on his game. We just haven’t seen enough of that. I have a hunch that he’s going to breakout this year.

7. Kyle Long, OG

It’s been a few years since Long has actually played at an elite level, but he says he’s ready to go and healthier than he’s been in a long time. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t be great again.

6. Danny Trevathan, LB

It was lost in a little bit of controversy but Trevathan had a great year last year. He isn’t great in any one area, but does a lot of things at a very high level.

5. Tarik Cohen, RB

One of the most explosive players in the NFL, Cohen is playing in an offense that should really play to his strengths. Don’t be shocked if he tallies close to 2,000 all-purpose yards.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

51 Comments

The Most Important Bears: Defense

| July 3rd, 2018


Returning most of their defensive roster, the common thought is the Bears are going to take a big step up next year. That’s only true if their key players stay on the field and improve.

As badly as the Bears were hurt by injury last season, they managed to keep most of their key defensive players on the field. They had injuries to players like Quintin Demps and Jerrell Freeman, but those are two positions at which they proved to have great depth.

Three of their four starters in the secondary played at least 80% of snaps, the fourth was Adrian Amos, who played every snap in eight games. Their best defensive lineman played 85% of snaps. Their best linebacker came in at 67.4%.

The biggest injury loss last year came when Leonard Floyd went down, but they were fortunate it happened toward the end of their schedule when they played several horrendous teams.

A repeat of last year’s success is far from a guarantee, but it’s also possible they take a huge step up. In any event, these five players just might be the most crucial:


5. Bryce Callahan

In the modern NFL, the slot corner is basically a starter. Callahan played just under 50% of the team’s snaps and they missed him when he wasn’t out there.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,