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The Positional Quick 3: Defensive Line

| June 21st, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Defensive Line

  • Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are the core of everything this defense wants to do. When they’re on the field, they become the focal point of opposing offensive coordinators because they are both capable of ruining a game. Hicks is the flashier talent but Goldman is just as valuable. They Bears can’t be an elite defense without both.
  • There is cautious optimism inside the building that a light went on for Jonathan Bullard at the end of last season. But I’d warn fans against sharing that optimism. Coaches ALWAYS believe they can get through. They never believe a player is incapable of taking the leap. Bullard flashed down the stretch in 2017 but can he be a disruptive force for sixteen games? We shall see.
  • Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols will play and play an awful lot if Bullard does not impress this summer. Nichols is the player to keep an eye on. From a source inside the organization: “Fangio fell in love with this kid on day one. He’s got a chance to be a star.”

Tomorrow: Linebackers

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124 Comments

Data Entry: Random Roster Thoughts

| April 6th, 2018

Note: thanks to Butch for the cool new header picture

Free agency is settling down, so now is a good time to take a look at where the Bears’ roster currently stands. This will give us a better idea of what minor free agency moves should still be made and where the draft attention should focus for the first few rounds.

Let’s start with a rough depth chart, followed by a few quick thoughts. This is just my estimate of what a depth chart could look like, don’t read too much into details like Roy Robertson-Harris being above Jonathan Bullard, or anything like that.

Reflections, in no particular order:

  • The Bears currently have 65 players under contract. They’re scheduled for 7 draft picks, and will likely sign a few more cheap veterans, but there’s going to be plenty of room to fill out the roster with undrafted free agents after the draft. Expect them to bring in at least 15 of them, and thus it’s no surprise that they’ve been meeting with several players projected as possible UDFA targets, including Jonah Trinnaman and Jarvion Franklin.

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Merry Christmas: Bears Win AFC North

| December 25th, 2017

All thoughts from inside the building. If you could see same thing on TV, well fine then. Some of this was shared on Twitter yesterday.

  • Mitch does something very weird. When the window is tight he sets his feet and throws darts. When he has time and an open man, he loses concentration a bit. Passes sail. Very fixable.
  • Biggest thing I saw: my god this team loves their quarterback. Every guy on the roster is clearly rooting for him. When he makes a good play, 20 guys wanna celebrate with him.
  • Two things on Akiem Hicks. First, I’ve never seen a larger ass. It’s got to be 3 feet wide. Second, he’s spent. There’s no way he should suit up next week against Minnesota.
  • Eddie Goldman is way faster in the building than he is on television. And hustles on every single play.
  • Kyle Fuller is playing with so much confidence right now. Kizer continually throwing at him was nonsensical. 
  • Before the start of the second half, the two things receiving the loudest in-building reaction were: (a) the announcement that halftime’s frisbee golf competition was canceled and (b) the playing of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer
  • Mitch got bailed out on his horrible screen pass/pick 6 but came back and executed the screen game to perfection after that play. Once again, he doesn’t run from his mistakes. He embraces them and improves.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. 49ers

| December 3rd, 2017

The Bears led for almost the entire game, but pretty much everybody watching the game knew what was coming when San Francisco got the ball back down 14-12 with just over 4 minutes to go. The 49ers methodically marched down the field and longtime Chicago kicker Robbie Gould drilled his 5th field goal of the day to send Chicago to their 5th straight loss.

Offense

  • Chicago’s offense came out on the first possession and ran the ball twice in a row out of heavy sets. Anybody who’s watched Chicago this year can already guess how that ended: with Chicago in 3rd and long. That led to a sack of QB Mitchell Trubisky for a nice quick three and out.
  • Speaking of running on first down, the Bears did it 11 times in 14 chances today. Only one of those runs went for more than 3 yards; most went for 0 or 1.
  • It looks like any confidence rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky earned from the coaching staff completely evaporated after a bad game last week. They finally opened things up two weeks ago, and the offense shockingly had their best game of the year. Now they’ve had back to back terrible weeks after reverting to horribly predictable play calling.

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Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

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Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s Defense

| November 6th, 2017

Now the defense.

Chicago’s defense has generally been good so far in 2017. They’re 8th out of 32 NFL teams in yards per game and 14th in points per game. They have been pretty solid both against the pass (10th in yards per game, 16th in passer rating, 15th in yards per attempt) and run (11th in yards per game, 14th in yards per carry).

These basic stats are easy to look up, but there’s a lot of information that they don’t tell you. In order to break it down a little bit further, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s defensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing success by areas of the field to see both where they are targeted the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Run defense

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense so far in 2017. 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 (all ranks through week 8 only). 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.

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Midseason Marks: Defense

| November 1st, 2017

The DBB team is evaluating the entire organization at this well-placed, exactly midseason bye week. The catch? Each of us is limited to ONE SENTENCE for each position group. Today we move on to the defense.


Defensive Line

Jeff: Impossible to say a negative word about this group, with Goldman arguably the league’s best run-stuffing interior lineman and Hicks mounting a serious campaign for Defensive Player of the Year.

Andrew: Hicks and Goldman are studs, Unrein is solid and Bullard and Robertson-Harris have both shown flashes.

Data: Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman might be the best interior DL combo in the NFL.

DBB Grade: A


Inside Linebackers

Jeff: This was the position of greatest depth on the roster and that depth has been severely tested through eight games. Christian Jones has looked like a new player in the absence of Freeman, Kwik and Timu. (Yea that’s two sentences but it’s my blog so go away.)

Andrew: Danny Trevathan is having a career year and young inside backers also making an impact.

Data: Chicago has gotten a surprisingly high level of play out of this group considering they’ve had to rotate through 5 different bodies here due to injuries and suspensions.

DBB Grade: A-


Outside Linebackers

Jeff: Bears ask their outside backers to do a lot, including extensive coverage duties, but this group will always be judged by their ability to get to the quarterback and they’re getting there to the tune of 11 sacks.

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340 Comments

Data Responds: Bears at Saints

| October 29th, 2017

The Bears played pretty evenly with the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints on the road, but a series of missed opportunities (helped by one atrocious call by the officials) cost them the chance to enter the bye at 4-4.

Perhaps most important to Chicago going forward, the loss was a costly one for the Bears. Four starters left the game with injuries and did not return, including guard Kyle Long (hand), center Cody Whitehair (arm), cornerback Bryce Callahan (knee), and tight end Zach Miller (leg). We’ll wait to see how serious the injuries are, though I can say fairly confidently that Miller’s gruesome leg injury means his season (and likely his career) is finished.

Still, the best news to me from the game was that they kept fighting. When they went down 17-6 early in the 4th quarter, I expected them to roll over and quit, but from that point on the defense forced two turnovers, the offense scored a touchdown, and the special teams picked up a big return to keep Chicago in the game. The attitude on the team is changing, and the importance of that can’t be overstated.

Offense

  • The Bears were forced to ask for a bit more from rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this week, and we saw some of both good and bad, as should be expected from a young quarterback. We saw the talent leading to some big plays, and we saw the rookie mistakes leading to missed opportunities and/or negative plays. The overall stat line (14/32, 164 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 46.9 rating) looks ugly, but his performance was not that bad. Notably, Trubisky threw 2 touchdowns, but one of them was taken away by a terrible officiating call and one of them was inexplicably dropped by a wide open Jordan Howard.

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Bears Win One of the Strangest Games Ever Played & a Championship Defense Emerged

| October 23rd, 2017

Here’s how Roger Ebert opened his review of Joe Versus the Volcano, the brilliantly odd 1990 film from John Shanley:

Gradually during the opening scenes of “Joe Versus the Volcano,” my heart began to quicken, until finally I realized a wondrous thing: I had not seen this movie before. Most movies, I have seen before. Most movies, you have seen before. Most movies are constructed out of bits and pieces of other movies, like little engines built from cinematic Erector sets. But not “Joe Versus the Volcano.”

I have never seen a football game like Sunday’s Bears/Panthers tilt. Never. Think about what took place.

  • The Bears attempted 7 passes, completing 4 and only 1 to a wide receiver. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears averaged 3.1 yards per carry, with a long of 11 yards. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears ran 19 plays in the second half (sans kneel downs) for a grand total of 28 yards. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears were outgained in total yardage 293 to 153. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears had the football for 17 minutes less than the Panthers. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears got 15 less first downs than the Panthers. 15! And won by 2 touchdowns.

You could live to be a thousand years old and never see a game like this again. The iconic “They Are Who We Thought They Were” game from 2006 was not this lopsided statistically. Oddly enough, Trubisky’s four completions were matched that night by Rex Grossman’s four interceptions.


Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers was defined by one moment, one play. After Trubisky’s lunge for the end zone was deemed short, John Fox faced fourth-and-a-foot with about a minute remaining in the first half. If the Bears went and scored, they’d lead 21-3 and receive the ball to start the second half. If they went and failed, chances are the Panthers would have run the ball three times, forcing Chicago to burn their timeouts, but still giving the ball back to the Bears with enough time to score.

There was almost no reason NOT to go. John Fox did NOT hesitate. Field goal. 17-3.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Panthers

| October 22nd, 2017

Well that was fun.

Chicago’s defense scored not one but two touchdowns and shut Carolina’s offense down, staking the Bears with an early lead that held up for the entire game. Even though the offense never really got anything going, this was the Bears’ easiest win in a long time.

Offense

  • The Bears were up 14 points before the offense was really asked to do anything. That shifted an already conservative game plan even farther to the safe side, making them even more predictable. As a result, they went three and out with regularity, picking up only 153 yards and 5 first downs on the game. This forced the defense to spend too much time on the field and get tired; credit them for holding up under those conditions.
  • Credit to the coaching staff for not sitting on a 14-3 lead with just over 3:00 left before halftime, like we all expected after watching their conservative approach this season. They came out and let Mitchell Trubisky throw deep to Tarik Cohen on 1st down, resulting in 70 yards and 1st and goal from the 5 yard line. They were unable to finish for the touchdown, but a field goal (plus a little rest for the defense) on that drive was key.
  • The second half offense was just plain offensive. Prior to the final drive that ran out the clock, the Bears had the ball 5 times, picked up 3 total yards, and went 3 and out five times. At least they didn’t turn the ball over, I guess, and they were able to run out the last 3:36 of clock with two 1st downs on the ground. Read More …

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