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This Offense Isn’t “Ugly”, It’s Embarrassing.

| November 2nd, 2020


A few weeks ago, Nick Foles suggested the Bears win “ugly”. Let me clear something up for him.

Ugly isn’t throwing off your back foot while under no pressure and forcing passes to the wrong receivers. The last quarterback did that. And he doesn’t play anymore because of it.

Ugly isn’t failing to build a significant package of plays for your second-round tight end. Every single week.

Ugly isn’t designing a run-heavy game plan against one of the league’s best run defenses, and stubbornly refusing to deviate from that plan. (The two runs after the interference call in the end zone should have forced Ryan Pace to personally take the play sheet away from Matt Nagy.)

Ugly isn’t inexcusably being called for a delay of game weekly, often coming out of timeouts.

Ugly isn’t failing to get a first down or two and at least forcing the opponent to start their possessions in their own territory.

Ugly isn’t sucker punching a defensive back, costing your team a vital possession, and celebrating the punch like you achieved something.

Ugly isn’t dropping two passes, in overtime, on the potentially game-winning drive. If Anthony Miller and Jimmy Graham catch those balls, do the Bears win? Who knows? But it would have made it far more difficult for them to lose. And that’s the difference between being in first place and being outside the playoff picture.

No, what the Bears do on offense isn’t ugly. Ugly is too cute a word for it. What the Bears do on offense is embarrassing. And with the season now at the halfway point, it’s time to acknowledge this is unlikely to change during the 2020 campaign.

This is who the Bears are on offense. A sloppy, undisciplined, poorly-coached unit. David Montgomery runs hard. Allen Robinson leaves it on the field. Darnell Mooney gives hope for the future. The rest? Thoroughly uninspiring. Nagy changed his coaching staff. Nagy changed his quarterback. Nagy changed his tight end room. And somehow, they’re worse.

They’re 5-3. Hope is not lost for playing in January because there isn’t a game left on their schedule the defense won’t keep them in. But unless that group returns to 2018 form and starts scoring, the battle will be consistently uphill.

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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume II: Offensive Personnel Usage

| October 14th, 2020


I already looked at a variety of statistics for the offense, including QB performance, run game woes, and explosive plays. Today I want to explore how the Bears are deploying their skill position players, using lineup data from the NFL Game Statistics Information System. This tracks how many plays the Bears have played with different combination of 11 offensive players, and splits the data into runs and passes, with yards gained for each. Combing through this data can provide valuable insights into how the Bears are deploying their personnel, and what packages have been most and least effective.


Tight Ends

The Bears completely overhauled this position in the offseason, following a disastrous 2019 campaign in which no player even hit 100 receiving yards. They gave Jimmy Graham a big contract, spent their 1st pick (43rd overall) on Cole Kmet, and brought in veteran journeyman Demetrius Harris.

I want to start by looking at Cole Kmet, who has been very quiet so far as a rookie despite receiving a good bit of training camp hype. Through five games, Kmet has played 102 snaps, seen 3 pass targets, and caught 1 ball for 12 yards. This is hugely disappointing, and worrisome for his future; when I looked at rookie seasons for TEs drafted in the 2nd round this offseason, I found that tight ends who are going to be good are typically involved in the offense right away. The only tight ends drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years to receive fewer than 30 targets in their rookie seasons are Vance McDonald, Adam Shaheen, Gavin Escobar, Drew Sample, and Troy Niklas. Of those, only Vance McDonald has done anything in the NFL. Kmet is currently on pace for 10 targets.

It’s fair to argue a rookie should see their production increase as the season wears on, so I looked at all 19 players in that study through the first five games of their rookie season. You can see the full list here, but Kmet has the 3rd fewest targets, least amount of catches, and the least number of yards through that time period. And for all of those categories, the bottom four (not including Kmet) are from the list of five names above. It’s early, but right now Kmet most closely resembles Troy Niklas and Adam Shaheen, which is very not good.

Because I was curious about Kmet, I split out lineups involving him vs. those who don’t, and also sorted by the number of tight ends on the field. The results, as you can see below, are certainly illuminating.

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ATM: Anthony Miller’s No-Show Sunday Proves Bears Need Allen Robinson

| September 22nd, 2020


Last week a strong argument emerged that the Bears might be better off not extending Allen Robinson’s contract, instead relying on Anthony Miller to be the team’s top wide receiver.

That argument died on Sunday.

Calling the two passes Miller didn’t catch drops is disingenuous. Both would’ve required phenomenal moments from the young receiver. But Miller has that ability! What changed from Week One when he made those plays to Week Two when he couldn’t? How can the Bears rely on him when they don’t know what they’re getting from week-to-week?

Dan Pompei was among those who promoted that idea that the Bears could have a number one receiver in Miller. Nobody questions that Miller has the talent to be The Guy, but NFL history is littered with talented wide receivers who never developed the consistency to be The Guy. See: Price, Peerless.


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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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Bears Beat Giants, Move To 5-6

| November 25th, 2019

Travel day for me. (Buffalo rocks.) So here are some quick thoughts on a tedious, boring win over the Giants.

  • Trubisky has started using his legs and he looks like a different player when he does. Why this element of his game was absent for so long no one knows. But if Mitch is planning to save his career over the next two months, his legs are going to be a big part of it.
  • Ben Braunecker’s drop was terrible. But the Bears got the first down on the following play. This game would have been a blowout – 20+ points – if Trubisky’s decision making were better.
  • Even the touchdown pass to Robinson was not a good throw. It was behind the receiver. Mitch has the physical tools to play QB in the league. But right now he lacks the guts to play the position well.
  • Khalil Mack tormented Nate Solder.
  • You thought the Bears had a bad kicker?
  • Nick Kwiatkoski couldn’t play in coverage last season. That ain’t the case anymore. Kwik is now a well-rounded player that’s going to get money to be a starter this off-season. That money should come from Ryan Pace. Keep your own.

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Bears at the Bye: Offense

| October 14th, 2019

With five games under the belt, the Bears are roughly 1/3 of the way through the season. Let’s check in on how they’re doing, starting with the offense.


Explosive Plays

I wrote this offseason about the importance of explosive plays (passes of 20+ yards or runs of 15+ yards) to an offense’s overall success, finding there is a very strong correlation between explosive plays and points scored. Chicago’s offense produced explosive plays at a slightly below-average rate in 2018, and I believed they were poised to improve dramatically in that category this year, and thus improve overall as an offense.

So far, the exact opposite has happened, as you can see in the table below.

The Bears have turned into one of the least explosive offenses in the NFL. They currently have 11 explosive passes and 2 explosive runs, and their current explosive rates would have ranked 31st and 32nd of 32 NFL teams in 2018 (I didn’t have time to compile the numbers for everybody in 2019 so far).

The run game is particularly egregious, as the lowest mark in the NFL last year was 3.1%. 1.7% is not even in the same ballpark. The Bears are 20th in average yards per carry before contact and 29th in yards/carry after contact, but I’m inclined to blame the offensive line more than the runners. Most of the time first contact seems to come not from one player in space, which might give the runner a chance to break a tackle and keep going, but with multiple front 7 players hitting the RB at the same time. It’s worth noting that the Bears’ running backs haven’t been great either though; Player Profiler ranks David Montgomery 36th among running backs in juke rate (evaded/broken tackles per carry), while Tarik Cohen is 55th. In Montgomery’s defense, he is 9th in the NFL in broken tackles per carry, according to Pro Football Reference.

I wrote this offseason that getting rid of Jordan Howard would help Chicago’s run game be more explosive, but so far they’re producing explosive plays on the ground at less than half the rate they did last year. Part of the problem is that Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky – who combined for 14 explosive runs on 167 carries last year, have no explosive runs so far this year, but David Montgomery only has 1 in his 69 attempts, and that’s far worse than Howard’s rate of 1 every 25 carries last year (which was already one of the worst marks in the NFL).

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ATM: Wims Deserves a Longer Look

| October 1st, 2019


Even after Taylor Gabriel exits concussion protocol and returns to the starting lineup, Matt Nagy must find a way to keep Javon Wims on the field. The second-year WR did not dominate on Sunday. Far from it. And he certainly isn’t getting confused for Randy Moss anytime soon. But his performance against the Vikings stood out enough for him to be given a chance to help this offense escape their current rut.

His presence gives the team another big target, which could be help a quarterback who struggles keeping the ball down. Chase Daniel used Wims’ size multiple times in the game, most notably on a 37-yard lob that helped the Bears get out of the shadow of their own end zone. The pass ended up being under thrown, but Wims made a nice adjustment in the air to make it look like a back-shoulder throw. Daniel probably wouldn’t have thrown the pass if he didn’t think the receiver could win a jump ball.

Wims can adjust in the air. That we knew. But that played showed he can also get deep. He roasted Trae Waynes and it would’ve been a much bigger gain had the throw been on-target. That speed is new to Wims and something Prince Amukamara noted in the off-season:

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Causes for 2019 Concern: Volume II

| August 2nd, 2019

Now we return to the list of reasons the Bears might struggle to repeat 2018’s success.


IV. Cornerback Penalties

New nickelback Buster Skrine was flagged 7 times for 107 yards in 2018. Those numbers were 14th and 7th highest, respectively, among all defensive backs.

Prince Amukamara also has a knack for drawing flags; he drew 8 for 90 yards (8th and 13th among DBs) in 2018, and had 2 more get declined.

And 2018 wasn’t an outlier for either player. Skrine had 11 flags for 105 yards in 2017, while Amukamara had 7 for 99.

You can live with having one penalty-prone player in your secondary, but two is a bit more of a concern. All it takes is one big penalty in a key moment to swing a close game.


V. David Montgomery and/or Anthony Miller

I’m grouping these two together as relatively unproven young players who will be counted on for big roles in 2019. For Chicago’s offense to take the step forward that is needed to win a Super Bowl, Miller needs to supplant Taylor Gabriel as the WR2 and Montgomery needs to beat out Mike Davis as the starting RB. I think there are excellent reasons to be high on both Montgomery and Miller, but what happens if one or both of them aren’t ready?

Davis and Gabriel are both solid veterans who are capable role players, but neither is a guy who should be a main cog in a top-level offense. Miller and Montgomery are capable of doing just that, but they could hold the offense back if they fail to prove it in 2019.

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Who Benefits From an Improved Trubisky Deep Ball?

| July 24th, 2019

This is part of a series of collaborations between film guru Robert Schmitz of Windy City Gridiron and stats guy Johnathan Wood of Da Bears Blog. We’re excited to be working together to bring fans of both sites great content by combining our approaches.


Previously, we’ve identified the deep passing game as one area where Mitchell Trubisky struggled in 2018. He missed a lot of throws to open targets, which resulted both in a low completion percentage and too many interceptions.

However, we also showed that deep passing performance is highly variable, and thus Trubisky is likely to improve there in 2019, especially with some tweaks in his throwing mechanics that can be made to help his accuracy.

Today we want to look at what targets would benefit most from that expected deep ball improvement, should it happen. In order to do that, I used Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder to look at what players Trubisky targeted deep most frequently in 2018. That information is shown in the table below for all five players who were primary weapons for the Bears in 2018.



Allen Robinson was Trubisky’s most frequently targeted deep threat, but Anthony Miller got – by far – the highest portion of his total targets and yards from Trubisky on deep plays. Despite finishing 5th on the team in targets and yards, both by a healthy margin, he was 3rd in deep targets and 2nd in deep yards.

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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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