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Understanding the Role of Newly-Acquired Free Agents in 2019: Defense

| March 21st, 2019

The Bears have made a number of moves in free agency, and I want to use some advanced statistics to weigh in on their likely role on the roster and value to the team. We looked at the offense yesterday, and now will move to the defense, where the Bears will be replacing two starters.

Buster Skrine

Nickelback Bryce Callahan followed Vic Fangio to the Broncos, and the Bears replaced him with Buster Skrine, who was a bit cheaper ($5.5 million/year vs. $7 million/year) and has been a bit healthier (5 games missed vs. 12 games missed in last 3 years). According to The Quant Edge, both players have spent the majority of their time over the last three years at nickel, though Skrine has spent a bit more (roughly 30%, compared to 15%) playing outside.

The table below uses data from The Quant Edge to show how effective each player has been in coverage. In order to increase sample sizes, I looked at Skrine and Callahan cumulatively from 2016-18 (I’ll note this actually helped Callahan and hurt Skrine, lest I be accused of trying to skew the numbers in the Bears’ favor), and for context compared them to averaged 2018 stats from five other nickelbacks who are widely viewed as being quality players: Chris Harris, Aaron Colvin, Tavon Young, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Justin Coleman.

Based on this data, it is pretty clear to see that Skrine is a downgrade from Callahan, but that is not to say he’s a bad player. Skrine gets targeted more frequently than other nickel CBs, but holds up to the targeting quite well. The only thing that really jumps out poorly there is the TD:INT ratio. Like Callahan, Skrine doesn’t really get many interceptions, and he has given up more scores than you would like to see.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Massie Extends, McCaskey Speaks, Jahns Writes & Bear Movies!

| January 28th, 2019


Bobby Massie Inks Extension

Many folks around the Bears blogosphere (and beyond) like to DM me when players are negotiating (or thought-to-be negotiating) contracts. There are two reasons for this: (1) They know I have friends inside the building and (2) I’m rarely, if ever, going to publish the information myself before it becomes public. That is why I’m still able to acquire the information I do. But I’m usually happy to confirm stuff.

Here’s what I know about the Massie deal:

  • During the season, several people inside the the Bears commented to me that Massie was playing at an outstanding level. Offensive linemen are very difficult for the average fan (and folks like PFF) to evaluate because it’s all about assignment football. When the Bears sat down and did their post-season roster evaluation they determined Massie was going to be impossible to bring back should he hit the open market, especially with tackle-needy teams like Buffalo and the New York Jets having buckets of money to spend.
  • The money isn’t a big deal but it values Massie as one of the best right tackles in the sport. I have news for you. He was every bit that in 2018.
  • The organization’s attention has now moved to their other in-house free agents: Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan.
    • Amos’ agents are pains in the ass and they passed on an extension last off-season, citing the PFF grades as reason the Bears were low-balling their client. Bears don’t view Amos as a top safety. And they won’t pay him like one.
    • Two things on Callahan: (1) He’s switched to Roquan Smith’s agents. (2) He’s got a chronic hip issue that he’s learned to manage over the last few years but that many inside the organization believe leads to his frequent injuries. The Bears want him back. The locker room loves him. But his health history and position make the deal tricky.

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Projecting Contracts for the Key Free Agent Bears

| January 17th, 2019

The Bears have three starters – Bryce Callahan, Bobby Massie, and Adrian Amos – and a key role player – Aaron Lynch – who are all free agents this offseason. They’re tight up against the cap, so keeping all of them will be hard.

In order to prioritize which ones might be most important and attainable to hang onto, we need to understand how expensive their contracts are likely to be. Let’s look at each player one by one and look at the types of contracts signed by comparable players in recent years to get an idea for what to expect. All data is from Spotrac.


Bryce Callahan (27 years old)

Callahan’s contract is a difficult one to project because it is complicated by health. Callahan has been one of the best nickel backs in the NFL when healthy, but he’s only played 45 out of a possible 65 games (including playoffs) in 4 years, which should keep his price down a little bit. It’s also a bit difficult to parse out nickel back contracts from the other cornerbacks, as they’re listed generically together even though NFL teams clearly pay them differently. Nevertheless, here are four recent nickel back contracts that can help give us an idea of what Callahan’s market should be.

Harris’ deal sets the standard for nickels, but I don’t think it will have much bearing on Callahan. I’m sure his agents will point to it as what they’d like to get, but I don’t think teams view Callahan on Harris’ level, both because of health and big plays. Harris missed 1 game in 4 years before signing this deal and had 10 interceptions to Callahan’s 4.

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Bears Whack Lions, Move to 6-3

| November 12th, 2018

AP Photo (Edited) / Nam Y. Huh


It felt way closer than it ever was, this Bears v. Lions game. And there was one reason for that. Rapid fire is coming!

  • Cody Parkey doinking four kicks – two field goals and two extra points – was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in football. And while it is somewhat funny in a game the Bears dominated, the team must know there is ZERO chance Parkey can make a big kick in a big spot down the stretch. Didn’t cost them Sunday. It will cost them down the road.

  • Tweet above should be alarming to fans. The Bears should have kickers in this week. Nagy doesn’t do anybody on this roster any favors with blind loyalty. Parkey has been terrible. Why would you not look to improve the position?
  • Mitch Trubisky spent the week hearing he wasn’t the answer at quarterback. Then he delivered a masterpiece. What’s the criticism going to be now? It’s only the Lions? The same Lions that held Tom Brady to 133 yards? Trubisky’s numbers don’t lie. He’s going to be a top quarterback.
  • Anthony Miller has to know you can’t swat the football out of bounds. Oh, and he’s gonna be really good.

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No Ugly Victories: Bears Beat Jets, Re-Take First Place in the NFC North

| October 29th, 2018

Very strange game. The Jets didn’t have anywhere near the weapons to move the ball consistently. The Bears were just error-prone enough to keep the game competitive for three quarters. But it’s a win they absolutely needed. And unlike many recent vintages of the Chicago Bears, they got it. Rapid fire…


  • Conditions were brutal for the passing game. But the Bears made the plays they needed to make. The Cohen screen set the tone for the entire afternoon but Trubisky’s brilliant throw and Miller’s brilliant catch put this game away. It was so good, I’m going to show it to you again.

  • In conditions like this, Matt Nagy has to rely upon his ground attack and he seemed to figure that out as the game went on. But Trubisky also has to learn that the deep shots aren’t worth it when the wind is howling north of 25 MPH. When the first down is there, just get it, whether that means him tucking-and-running or accepting the check down option. That’ll come with experience.
  • Folks can complain about Trubisky all they want, but through seven games Mitch is completing 64.6% of his passes for 1,814 yards, 15 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a rating of 97.8. He’s also got nearly 300 yards rushing. This kind of production, and this position, simply doesn’t happen in this town. And it’s about time fans start appreciating it.
  • Great, great job by the fans at Soldier Field. All of those pre-snap penalties go into the fan column.
  • Jordan Howard is not complicated. You give him 20+ carries, you get big time production. No, they numbers weren’t gaudy but he single-handedly put this game on ice in the fourth quarter. He’s not been a focal point of this offense so far. He should be.
  • Khalil Mack was the most dominant defender in football through four games. And now we’re seeing what this defense would have looked like if Ryan Pace didn’t make the franchise-altering trade on September 1st. They’re a toothless pass rush. Leonard Floyd is invisible. Opponents can double Hicks inside. Without Mack, this secondary is going to be under a lot of pressure when instead of Sam Darnold it’s Aaron Rodgers or Kirk Cousins or Matt Stafford taking the snaps for the other side.

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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.

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Who Could Be the 2018 Breakout Bears: Defense

| June 20th, 2018

When the Bears officially re-introduced defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he kept telling reporters the most important thing the Bears need to do is get improvement from their returning players. This is something that certainly isn’t a given.

By nearly any measurement, the Bears had a top-15 overall defense last year. They were far from perfect — the inability to take the ball away still being a major issue. But they were more than good enough and are bringing back most of the roster.

Still, the team has some young players who could make a big impact in 2018. Here’s a look at five defenders who just could have breakout seasons like Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos had for the team a year ago.


Deon Bush

It’s hard to expect a lot from a guy who played about 8% more snaps on defense than I did last year, but Bush still has some promise. Fangio singled him out during minicamp practices and there were reports of the young safety showing great range and getting his hands on the ball during those sessions. The reports were enough to reconsider Bush as a possible playmaker.

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Data Entry: Outlining My Ideal Free Agency

| March 6th, 2018

The Combine just ended and NFL free agency is about to kick off. Teams and agents were already talking in Indianapolis, and the official legal tampering period starts next Monday.

With that in mind, I’m going to lay out both positions and players I think the Bears should target. I’ll explain my rationale for each, detail why they are a good fit, and try to provide a contract estimate. I’m not going to address smaller depth needs – backup QB, 3rd RB, etc. Just the main contracts that will take up most of the cap room.

Salary Cap

The Bears are currently projected to have around $80 million in cap space after accounting for their eventual draft picks, so they have plenty of money to work with. They could also clear up to another $15 million by cutting Dion Sims ($5.7 million), Markus Wheaton ($5 million), and Marcus Cooper ($4.5 million).

As we’ll see below, however, they have a number of significant needs to address, and that’s before you begin to consider extensions for in-house candidates like Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, and Cam Meredith, which GM Ryan Pace said at the Combine were being discussed.

The Bears have money to spend. But they can’t just throw it around willy-nilly because that money won’t go as far as many might casually think from looking at the large number.


Wide Receiver

I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about wide receiver this offseason, so this discussion is going to be short. I think the Bears should try to add two players, one to be a WR2 and one as a WR3. There are plenty of FA options available for both roles who fit their new offense well.

As I stated before, my ideal targets would be Marqise Lee as the WR2 and Albert Wilson as the WR3. Lee has proven to be reliable, while Wilson knows the offense, and seemingly has a strong relationship with Matt Nagy. Both are fits.

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Data Responds: Bears at Vikings

| December 31st, 2017

Sorry for the break the last few weeks. I haven’t been able to watch games live due to various holiday scheduling hijinks. Darn that real life for getting in the way!

Before we get into today’s game specifically, reports are that John Fox will be fired today. I won’t miss you as Chicago’s head coach.

In general, this game looked very much like a disinterested team playing out the string on the road for a soon-to-be-fired coaching staff against a hungry opponent playing to lock up a first round bye.

Offense

  • The Bears got the ball to start and opened with a heavy set Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for no gain. On their 2nd drive, they followed that up with a Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for -4 yards. Shockingly, both drives ended in 3 and outs. Oh how I am not going to miss that.
  • On Chicago’s 3rd drive, they threw the ball on 1st down! You’ll be surprised to find out that not being incredibly predictable actually worked. Of course, the Bears followed that up with a FB dive into a 9 man box on 3rd and 1 (why is Michael Burton still a thing?), which lost yardage and forced a punt. Before they could get the punt off, the Bears took a delay of game penalty, because of course.
  • Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky had a bad rookie moment that resulted in a safety. Under pressure, he kept backing up until he was in the end zone, which was the mistake. He then threw the ball away to pick up an intentional grounding penalty, which is a safety in the end zone. My complaint is not with the grounding, but with the fact that he backed up into the end zone first. He could have taken the sack at the 3 yard line, and needs to know the field position situation there.
  • Trubisky also had a terrible throw in the fourth quarter where he missed a wide-open Dontrelle Inman because his feet were not properly set. Despite a clean pocket, he did something weird where he torqued his upper body, which caused him to put the ball far too wide and out of bounds. Those mechanical issues, and the corresponding accuracy concerns, have been a repeated problem this offseason, and are the #1 thing Trubisky needs to work on this offseason.

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Data Responds: Bears at Bengals

| December 10th, 2017

Is this real life?

The Bears dominated on both sides of the ball, scored 30 points for the first time in over two years, and generally rolled over the dormant Cincinnati Bengals.

I know Cincinnati is bad and banged up, but so are the Bears, and this was a lot of fun. More importantly, this as led largely by young players for the Bears, which bodes well for the future. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Offense

  • The Bears came out and threw it on their first 2 plays! The first resulted in an awful Jordan Howard drop (drink), while the second was a beautiful play action rollout to Josh Bellamy for a 1st down. This unsurprisingly caught the Bengals’ defense off guard, and they backed off the defense into standard 7 man boxes instead of loading 8-9 up. As a result, the Bears ran it the next two plays for about 40 yards and a touchdown. That marked the first time this season that the offense scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game.
  • Before I get too down on Howard, how about giving it up for a great game from Chicago’s stud running back? He had his 12th 100 yard rushing game in 26 career starts and passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 2nd year in a row, making him the first running back in Chicago history to start his career that way. That’s pretty remarkable when you think of the great running backs who have played in Chicago.

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