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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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A Complete Breakdown of the Quarterback Position’s Efficiency for 2018

| June 3rd, 2019

The offseason is the perfect time to do a deep dive into what exactly we saw on the field last year, so today I want to look more closely at how Chicago’s QBs performed in 2018. To do so, I’m going to compile all of the information about individual targets from The Quant Edge and use it to see what we can learn about QB play as a whole.

Before we begin, I want to note two limitations.

  • This doesn’t split data into individual QBs, so unfortunately I can’t separate out the games Trubisky played and use only those. Still, Trubisky accounted for 85% of Chicago’s pass attempts in 2018, so this should still be useful to help us generally learn more about him.
  • This data only includes WRs and TEs, so I will not be able to incorporate any information about the 132 pass attempts that went to RBs (and Bradley Sowell). I really wish they included Tarik Cohen in particular, considering he finished 3rd on the Bears in targets, but no such luck.

With that said, let’s get started.


Route Efficiency

How effective were Chicago’s QBs targeting various routes?

That data can be seen in the table below, sorted from most to least targeted. I also highlighted routes that were particularly efficient in green, and routes that were particularly inefficient in red.

A few thoughts:

  • The Bears loved their go routes, but they sure didn’t work well in 2018. As previously noted, Trubisky had issues with deep accuracy, and maybe that was part of the problem. And you can argue there is value in go routes to back the defense off. But still, 26% completion rate is not acceptable for a route they utilize that frequently, and there were 5 interceptions thrown on go routes as well. If you’re looking for one bright spot on go routes, Allen Robinson caught 40% of his targets for over 16 yards/target.

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2019 Chicago Bears Off-Season Agenda: Part Two, Complementary Pieces

| February 7th, 2019

The Bears are in the position most NFL franchises want to be in February. They don’t need to spend the next three months searching for starters. They’re looking for complementary pieces to fortify a championship run. And there are several places they should look.


WINGSPAN OUT WIDE

Mitch Trubisky has a miss, especially when he’s throwing deep left. The miss is high. When he gets too pumped up – much like a starting pitcher – the miss is high. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue having this miss as I’m in the camp the Trubisky of September 2019 will bare little resemblance to the Trubisky of September 2018. But in the meantime, why not put a bit more size on the outside? The Bears have a star number one in Allen Robinson and tons of speed around him. But they’ve got no reach.

So why not look for a power forward – a big man to post up at the sticks on third-and-six and catch the ball in traffic? Could that be someone like Kelvin Benjamin or Michael Floyd? Sure, if the money is right. Is the answer possibly in-house, with someone like Javon Wims stepping up in 2019? It’s possible but I’m always wary of depending on players who struggle to even crack the 53 in their rookie season, especially at a position that saw multiple injuries.

The Bears need to add a different kind of player to this group. Someone with size and physicality.


EXPLOSION AT RUNNING BACK

Emily made a thorough argument against the Bears signing Kareem Hunt.

I made the case, as best I could, for the Bears pursuing the troubled running back.

Andrew explained why this Matt Nagy offense needs Kareem Hunt.

Nagy can’t run his offense without an every-down running back who threatens the opposing defense in the passing game.

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Even if the Bears don’t acquire Hunt, they need to acquire a player LIKE Hunt.


MORE AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

I texted a league source in November with a question I’m fond of asking: “Tell me something about this Bears team I’m not smart enough to see.”

His response: “Leonard Floyd is playing out of his mind.” He went on to break down the many things Floyd was doing in coverage and explained to me how few outside backers – if any – were capable of that.

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ATM: Bears Have Fantasy Relevance

| August 29th, 2018

[Editor’s note: Yep, allowing a fantasy column.]

For the first time since fantasy football became truly popular, the Chicago Bears actually have some interesting players.

The Bears have had players who have been highly drafted before, but there was never any debate about them. You wanted Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. It was pretty easy. This year there is actually a debate about which Bears to take and when.

Below is a short guide for how you should fill your fantasy roster with Bears:

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Camp Has Started. Let’s Grade Chicago’s Roster.

| July 24th, 2018

Let’s take an objective look at this Bears roster, grading each unit on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best in the NFL, and 5 being an average NFL grouping. I am going to try to avoid projecting too much for young players who have not yet proven it in the NFL, so some of these rankings might be a bit lower than expected.

Let’s get right down to it!


Quarterback: 3.5

Key players: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel

Roster depth: Tyler Bray

I have a feeling this rating will be higher by the end of the 2018 season, but right now I can’t go any higher than a 3.5 out of 10. Mitchell Trubisky got steadily better as his rookie season progressed, but he still didn’t play that great, and while people seem to love Chase Daniel as a backup, he’s only thrown 78 passes over 8 seasons in the NFL.


Running Back: 8

Key players: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen

Roster depth: Benny Cunningham, Michael Burton, Taquan Mizzell, Ryan Nall

Welcome to the best position group on the Bears’ roster. Jordan Howard has run for over 2400 yards the last 2 years, and Tarik Cohen is a perfect complement who can make explosive plays on limited touches. Howard’s struggles through the air are the only thing keeping this grade from being higher, but the duo should be very productive in 2018 if used correctly. The depth here is solid as well; Benny Cunningham is a good ST contributor and solid 3rd down back, and people seem to like UDFA Ryan Nall as a sleeper.

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The Most Important Bears: Offense

| July 11th, 2018

Unlike the defense, the Bears offense is going to feature a bunch of new players expected to fill big roles. Nearly half of the club’s Week 17 starters are being replaced, some by high-profile acquisitions. But it’s the returning soldiers who figure to be essential to the team’s success this coming season.

Before getting into the list, the name you won’t see here is Tarik Cohen. Cohen is a very talented player and one they’re sure to use 12-to-15 times a game. He’s going to make big plays but the offense isn’t going to be dependent on his skill set. The guys you will see on this list are guys who are going to be more crucial to the functionality of the offense.


5. Jordan Howard

Johnathan Wood did a great job breaking down the Bears running back duo a couple of weeks ago and two of the biggest takeaways were:

  • Kansas City ran between the tackles a lot more than the Bears did last year.
  • Howard was terrific running between the tackles.

There is a general thought the Bears are going to be more pass-oriented in 2018 and that may very well be true. But they’re also going to have to run the ball effectively. Historically, Andy Reid’s offenses have always struggled when they failed to move the ball on the ground.

The other issue is that the Bears don’t have a true backup for Howard. Cohen is a different kind of player and not one they really want carrying the ball 20 times a game. Benny Cunningham has carried the ball a total of 30 times the last two seasons.

It’s been popular to say Howard is overrated, but before he came into the lineup in 2016, the Bears couldn’t run the ball and there’s no real reason to think they could without him two years later.


4. Trey Burton

Making a player with just 63 career catches one of the five highest-paid tight ends in the league doesn’t make much sense unless the team knows they need his skill set. Matt Nagy made it known the Bears absolutely needed a player like Burton. Now that they have him, they absolutely need him to be good.

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Across The Middle: Don’t Sleep on Kevin White

| May 2nd, 2018

Understandably, fans don’t want to hear about how good Kevin White can be or how big an impact he can have. Not when he’s had so much trouble simply staying on the field. But while I don’t think anybody is still projecting White to be a star, it would be foolish to rule him out. The Bears clearly have a plan for White and how much of an impact he makes in 2018 will be up to him…and his fragile body.

Ryan Pace invested quite a bit in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and second-round pick Anthony Miller. They are going to play. That doesn’t mean White isn’t. Matt Nagy’s offense has four wide receiver positions: X, Y, Z and Zebra.

Nagy has said Gabriel will be the Zebra and Miller will be the Z (playing in the slot). With every offense being slightly different, Robinson will either be the X or the Y. That leaves a “starting” position in this offense for White to earn in Bourbonnais.

And by all accounts, White looked exceptionally fast at the team’s minicamp two weeks ago. He showed deep speed last year as well, but they had Mike Glennon at quarterback so it didn’t really matter. If you watch the All-22 footage, you can see White regularly out-racing corners and threatening Atlanta’s defense deep. That’s exactly what the Bears are going to ask him to do, playing the same role Chris Conley did for Kansas City.

It is not unprecedented for Kansas City’s style of offense to use all four receiver positions. In 2016, the Chiefs had four guys on the outside get at least 50 targets and likely would’ve gotten close to that again in 2017 if Conley hadn’t gotten injured in the team’s fifth game. The opportunities will be there for White, if he earns them.

Of course, the Bears aren’t handing anything to White either.

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More Tweets From Free Agency, Week One

| March 16th, 2018

Here’s another compilation of Tweets, wrapping up the Bears’ flurry of free agency moves in the last four days and their press conference Thursday. I’ll have a full column Monday morning and Adam Jahns will join me on the podcast next week. 



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Tweets From the Legal Tampering Period

| March 14th, 2018

(Jake Roth – USA TODAY Sports)


The “legal tampering period” is another work of staggering genius by Roger Goodell. Instead of having an exciting start to the league year this afternoon, with six hours of team-changing moves, we now have this three-day, amorphous blob of leakage featuring the newest bullshit phrase “intend to”.

Nothing in the NFL improves under Uncle Rog but the television revenues. His contract extension proved nothing else matters to these owners.

Twitter is the place to be on days like yesterday, as the news comes flying in from every direction. (True story. I’m currently starting a theatre company and for some reason scheduled ALL my legal meetings for yesterday. Forgot to check the NFL calendar.) So here are the Tweets telling the story of the Bears newest signings.



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