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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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Notes on the Broncos Practice Game

| August 19th, 2018

Photo by Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports


  • This entire game comes down to the medical status of Adam Shaheen (pictured above) and Leonard Floyd. If Shaheen is significantly hurt, the Bears will be devastated. For weeks I’ve been writing and Tweeting about the big tight end because I’ve been told no player has more excited the coaching staff with his potential. If Floyd is significantly hurt, well, that Kahlil Mack stuff is about to get serious because the Bears are lightest on the edge.
  • Back when I used to play fantasy football (my running backs were Marshall Faulk and Shaun Alexander) a game like this would have changed my entire draft approach. Why? Because it’s clear Mitch Trubisky and Trey Burton have a thing going and last night’s practice game was an opportunity for them to play pitch-and-catch against an actual opponent.
  • Why give Jordan Howard nine carries in a practice game? The numbers are definitive. These star running backs have a limited number of carries/years in their bodies. They hit a career wall at thirty years old. I’d put Howard in an ice bath until after Labor Day.
  • The interior of the Bears offensive line got pushed around a bit. But these guys are impossible to evaluate without scheme being involved. (And I don’t think this is their best five but that’s another issue entirely.)
  • Both Isaac Yiadom & Kyle Fuller were called for the “lowering the head” penalty. In neither case was the call accurate. It was obvious during the Hall of Fame Game and it’s becoming more obvious as days go by. If the NFL doesn’t suspend this rule before the season opens and revisit it, they’re making a terrible mistake. The product has suffered terribly over the last few seasons because of decisions by the front office. This will continue that trend.

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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.

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ATM: White and Miller Could Make Bears Attack Very Different

| August 1st, 2018

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have tried to build the 2018 Chicago Bears offense to be like those Nagy’s mentor Andy Reid had success with in the past. But they may have stumbled into something very different and entirely more fascinating. If Kevin White and Anthony Miller are both able to continue to play at the level they have in the early days of training camp, the Bears won’t have a choice but to put both on the field. That could change the entire offense.

While generally thought of as an offense that spreads the ball around, that hasn’t really been the case. In five years, Reid’s Chiefs have averaged:

  • 19.6% of their targets to the top receiver
  • 18% to the pass-catching tight end
  • 16.9% to running backs

Those numbers mostly held up with Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. His Eagles averaged:

  • 20.5% of their targets to the top receiver
  • 18.6% to the pass-catching tight end
  • 15% to running backs

Where it gets interesting, however, is when you look at the other positions. There you will find very little consistency.

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Five Questions as the Bears Begin Training Camp Practices This Weekend

| July 20th, 2018

In this clandestine modern NFL, there’s something to remember: very little NFL teams show the fans or the media, prior to the start of the regular season, is all that valuable. “Open” training camp practices and preseason games exist to drain every possible nickel out of loyal fanbases. Might you catch a glimpse of a gimmick play or two? Sure. But that’s it.

What is valuable is that which is done in the Cone of Silence, behind a shroud of secrecy, in the shadows even Adam Jahns dare not show up with his 4″ x 8″ notebook. And I have questions about what the Bears will be up to in the darkness.


Question #1: Who is where on the interior of the offensive line?

For years, ever since the arrival of Kyle Long, this space has argued against the organization’s lack of consistency when it came to aligning the offensive line. This team, this summer, needs to select positions for Long, Cody Whitehair and rookie James Daniels and leave them there. Daniels will inevitably struggle early no matter where he starts because Daniels is a rookie and rookies struggle. Put em. Leave em.


Question #2: What’s the answer opposite Leonard Floyd?

If you go to the Chicago Bears’ roster page, you’ll get confused when it comes to the linebacker position. Danny Trevathan is correctedly listed at ILB. Roquan Smith is listed at just LB. Nick Kwiatkoski, rumored to be getting run on the outside, is listed at ILB. Aaron Lynch, expected to be a pass rushing option, just LB.

The Bears don’t need a star to emerge opposite Floyd. And based on their current roster, they don’t really have to worry about it. But with opposing offensive coordinators certain to game plan for Floyd’s potential impact, the team must find pass rush production on the other side from a combination of Kwik, Lynch, Sam Acho, Kylie Fitts…etc. Fans should get a good sense in the coming weeks as to where Vic Fangio and his staff are leaning from a personnel perspective.


Question #3: Are there any sneaky positional battles?

Yes, I’m looking at you, Pat O’Donnell. Pitt’s Ryan Winslow is not an elite punting prospect but one hopes the Bears are not going to give P.O.D. the free pass he’s been given in previous summers.

Where else might one’s eyes drift?

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Audibles: Enthusiasm Grows, Cutler Stars, Gabriel Catches & More!

| July 13th, 2018

Three Thoughts on the Bears

  • Mentioned it on KFAN in Minnesota earlier in the week but I can’t remember this much enthusiasm and excitement around the Bears heading into a season. This might be the most I’ve seen since 2005 – the Year of the Blog – and that season’s optimism seemed to dwindle with Rex Grossman’s summer injury. (I wrote and produced my first play that year so it took me a month to get sad.) The Bears don’t believe they’re going to be 8-8 this season. They believe they’ll be playing football in January.
  • Had drinks with an NFL GM Monday afternoon and he summed up the Bears off-season perfectly: “They did everything right. But right in the spring isn’t always right in the fall.”
  • This is more anecdotal than anything else but the player other fans and media covering other teams keep bringing up to me is Anthony Miller. There’s a real buzz about him in league circles. I’d still keep expectations low for any rookie wide receiver entering a new offense with this many pass-catching options but many others are not, including Miller himself.

Jay Cutler: Television Star

What makes me laugh is that many of us knew Cutler’s personality was incredible. It just wasn’t a Peyton-Manning-endless-quarterback-cliches-that-talking-heads-love personality. He has no patience for morons and apparently this program is chock full of them. (I will never watch a single episode of it on TV. Ten second clips are just fine.)

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Establishing realistic expectations for Anthony Miller’s rookie season

| June 19th, 2018

Bears fans have generally been excited about Anthony Miller, and it’s not hard to see why. He has a great rags-to-riches story as a former walk-on who became a 2nd round pick, is very fun and engaging on Twitter, and is confident enough in himself that he wrote a letter to NFL GMs saying he was the best WR in the draft. Clearly this is going to be a fun player to root for, but there are also reasons to believe he’s going to be good. Miller was ridiculously productive in college, is a great fit in this offense, and has drawn lofty comparisons to Antonio Brown from NFL scouts.

All of that praise makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but I also want to be somewhat realistic about expectations for Miller, especially in his rookie season. Even if he eventually comes close to matching Antonio Brown’s production (which is extremely unlikely), Brown had less than 200 yards as a rookie. It’s not very common for players to come in and dominate from day one, even if they’re going to be very good in the NFL.

Crunching the Data

With that in mind, I want to look at recent NFL history to set reasonable expectations for Miller’s production as a rookie. Accordingly, I looked at all 42 WRs drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years (2008-17) and compiled their rookie stats. Full data can be seen here, but let’s start with some general stats.

The average rookie 2nd round WR in that time compiled 60 targets, 34 catches, 433 yards, and 2.8 touchdowns.

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The Positional Quick 3: Wide Receivers

| June 11th, 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.


Wide Receivers

  • When I speak to people around the Bears about this position group, the player they keep talking up is Taylor Gabriel. The Bears do not believe Gabriel was properly utilized in Atlanta and believe the Nagy/Helfrich offense suits him to perfection. If he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder going into 2018, PFF seems to have clearly put one there.
  • The comp that makes my heart sing when it comes to Anthony Miller is Steve Smith. But fans should remember it took Smith three seasons to become a big-time NFL player and five before he found the consistency required to be a star. Yes, he was drafted when the rules were different but the the jump from Memphis to the NFL is not one that should be taken lightly.
  • Robinson. Gabriel. Miller. Fowler. Can Kevin White make this team without contributing on special teams? And would the Bears even want to risk a chronically-fragile player on those plays? White needs a big summer.

Tomorrow: Tight Ends

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Enthusiasm, Pass Rush & Much More on the Gambling Front!

| May 21st, 2018

Some General Bears Thoughts

  • The first year of Trestman came with a lot of enthusiasm around the offense but nobody foresaw the defense plummeting to the bottom of the league. (There was also a segment of the fan base that refused to be excited about anything involving Jay Cutler.) This year there is just as much enthusiasm around the offense with an expected top-ten unit on the other side of the ball. There is real excitement around this club right now. They better win games.
  • When DBB started there were like two other Bears bloggers. Now there are about 100. And I honestly don’t follow or read what 99% of them do. But I’d love to see the out-and-out lying stop. Stop pretending you have sources. Stop pretending you’re “told” things. Stop linking the team every seemingly-available player in the league so you can get ten more clicks. It took ten years of me grinding before anybody associated with the Bears (or the league) would even answer an email. Sadly, the lying shit reflects poorly on this site because we got the fucking word “blog” in our title.
  • Nobody should underestimate how little this team has in the pass rush department. It will keep them from being a dominant defense. Leonard Floyd is their only reliable rusher on the roster and he’s (a) inconsistent and (b) averaging 11 games played over his first two seasons. What happens to this defense if Floyd misses five games in 2018?

Finley: Defense Believes in Offense

From his piece this week in the Sun-Times, profiling Prince Amukamara’s decision to return to the Bears:

“I want to win a championship, and having Mitch here, that’s always the start,” he said after the Bears’ second organized-team-activity practice Wednesday. “The quarterback’s always the start, and just having Mitch and seeing his improvement and his effort . . . I’m sure some people saw, but even when Mitch was the backup, Mitch was staying after practice and always working hard. And you love seeing that in a quarterback, especially a backup.

‘‘I’ve always just saw greatness in him ever since then. I think this year he gets to really show it.”

Amukamara isn’t alone. Receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, who signed this offseason, hope Trubisky can get them a “third contract, or help them get their first ring,” Amukamara said.

“I think if guys came here to win, then, yeah, the quarterback should definitely be the first thing that you look at,” he said.

NFL players want to do two things: make a lot of money and win. And the hierarchy of those two things is a player-by-player thing. For wide receivers choosing where to land in free agency, the quarterback can enable both. That’s why Robinson and Gabriel chose Chicago.

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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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