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Across The Middle: Bears Should Think Bigger Than Chiefs

| February 14th, 2018

When Matt Nagy was hired as Bears head coach, comparisons to Kansas City – both their talent and approach – were immediately made by fans and media alike. How would the Bears find their version of Chiefs Player X? Who would the Bears target to run Chiefs Concept Y? But the Bears should be thinking bigger — literally and figuratively.

As exciting as Kansas City’s offense was last year, they were relatively easy to defend when the field shortened and their speed became less of a factor. The result was a shockingly bad red zone team. After ranking 30th in red zone scoring % in 2016, the team only increased to 29th last year. These were the two seasons Nagy has had at least a share of the offensive coordinator tittle.

In those two years, Kansas City scored on just 43.8% of their red zone trips. And it wasn’t like they had a bad kicker — their kickers made 47-of-51 attempts from 39 yards or less. They just couldn’t get into the end zone.

Over the same stretch under Dowell Loggains, the Bears scored on 55% of their red zone attempts. While the Bears had 23 fewer trips inside the red zone, they only managed one less score.

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Sunday Data Entry: Understanding Where the Bears Currently Stand with the Salary Cap

| February 11th, 2018

The questions…

  • Where do the Bears now sit relative to the cap?
  • How much money do they have to work with?
  • How much can they create with cuts?
  • What players of their own do they have to re-sign before looking for improvements elsewhere?

I know the salary cap can be confusing, so I try to break it down step-by-step as much as possible here. If you’re not interested in the specifics, you can just jump to the end for general numbers. All salary data comes courtesy of Spotrac.


Current Cap

The table below shows the Bears’ current cap situation.

Every line is important for the math, but the bottom line, highlighted in yellow, tells you they have roughly $32.1 million to spend after accounting for the likely contracts of their upcoming draft picks.

If you care where that number comes from, I’ll explain below the table. If not, just keep that $32.1 million in mind and jump to the next section.

The gray areas up top are the current cap expenses the Bears have.

  • Their 51 players under contract have a combined cap hit of $143.8 million.
  • They have $1.2 million in dead cap (money previously paid to cut players that didn’t count under previous caps).
  • Their draft picks are estimated to use up $7.6 million of cap space.

This all adds up to $152.6 million. Those numbers are broken down on a player by player basis here.

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Across The Middle: Alshon’s Inflated Contract Could Prohibit Bears From Attacking Receiver in FA

| February 7th, 2018

Whether they did it knowingly or not, by giving Alshon Jeffery a huge extension during the season, the Philadelphia Eagles made their success model next to impossible to duplicate.

The Eagles gave Jeffery the kind of contract the Bears would not, especially coming off his shaky-at-best 2016. AJ will average $13 million per season for the next 4 years, with a total guarantee of roughly $27 million. The Eagles are the champs so every move looks golden but what they actually did was inflate the wide receiver market by paying a premier contract to a non-premier player.

The Bears have come under constant criticism for not bringing Jeffery back but:

  • He hasn’t had 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns in a season since 2014.
  • This year he caught less than half of his targets for the Eagles.
  • After the Patriots switched Stephon Gilmore on to Jeffery in the Super Bowl, he became a ghost. It looked like it would be easy to point to Sunday and say the Bears should’ve paid him, but that game is exactly why Ryan Pace didn’t. What happened to Jeffery doesn’t happen to number one receivers and now Jeffery is paid like one.

And other receivers will want to cash in.

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Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s 2017 Offense

| February 6th, 2018

Chicago’s offense was generally bad in 2017. We all know this. They finished 30th in the NFL in yards per game and 29th in points scored.

Those types of basic stats are easy for anybody to look up, and they can help paint an overall picture of how effective a unit performed. They do not. however, tell a complete tale. It can be useful to look deeper and see in what areas the Bears might have struggled, as well as where they might have done well. This can be useful to help identify specific areas of strength to build on going forward, as well as areas that need to be addressed through personnel and/or scheme improvements.

In an effort to do this, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s offensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing attempts by areas of the field to see where they target the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Rushing Attack

Chicago’s overall run game was solid in 2017; they finished 16th in rushing yards, 11th in yards per carry, and 11th in touchdowns. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

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Data Entry: Bears’ Contract Options for Kyle Fuller

| February 1st, 2018

As we all know, Kyle Fuller had a breakout season in 2017 after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury. He led the NFL in passes broken up and ranked 17th among all cornerbacks in both completion percentage and passer rating allowed, per Pro Football Focus. Now general manager Ryan Pace has to decide what to do with Fuller, who is set to enter unrestricted free agency as one of the top cornerbacks on the market.

Let’s take a look at his options.

Franchise Tag

One weapon at Pace’s disposal is the franchise tag, which would guarantee Fuller the average of the top 5 cap hits at the cornerback position in 2018. Right now, that would look like a one year, $15.3 million contract that is fully guaranteed (per Spotrac). Pace can choose to apply this tag at any point between February 20 and March 6, and it seems likely to happen unless the Bears and Fuller can reach a long-term agreement first.

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Across The Middle: Vic’s Right, Bears D Needs to Be Better

| January 31st, 2018

After weeks of Chicago’s media and fans singing Vic Fangio’s praises, the re-hired defensive coordinator’s message at his re-introductory press conference was simple, clear and correct: his defenses have not been good enough.

Thanks largely to playing games against the Browns and Bengals (their averages through 12 games would’ve had them 16th in yardage and 18th in scoring), the Bears defense snuck into the top 10 in yardage and scoring bythe end of the year. It’s been a hell of a climb when you consider where they were before Fangio came to Chicago, but they’re still not good enough. While the scoring and yardage numbers are nice, the Bears were still closer to the middle of the pack in takeaways (13th), third-down defense (20th) and DVOA (14th).

Although they had injuries at the end of the year – when their defense actually climbed the rankings – there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have been better defensively.



One of the biggest problems has been the way the team has started.

In three years with Fangio, the Bears have given up scores on at least one of their first two possessions thirty times, including nine last year. While the offense was going through growing pains with a rookie quarterback and injuries at wide receiver, they were also forced to play from behind early in games. That’s a losing formula.

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Data Entry: Breaking Down Trubisky’s Interceptions

| January 23rd, 2018

In his rookie season, Mitch Trubisky got to play 12 games and throw the ball 330 times. In those 330 attempts, he threw 7 interceptions, which is actually pretty good. That rate – an interception on 2.1% of his throws – was 12th best in the NFL among qualified passers, ahead of established veterans like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers.

As that list above shows, there’s more to being a good quarterback than simply not throwing interceptions. But avoiding interceptions is an important part of a quarterback’s job; in no small part because they can be game-changing plays that make it a lot harder to win.

But not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  1. Bad decision. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 8 years from balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  2. Bad throw. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  3. Miscommunication. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  4. Receiver error. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

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Across The Middle: Pace Still Has His Work Cut Out For Him

| January 17th, 2018

Matt Nagy could be the greatest offensive mind in the history of the league and even he couldn’t have succeeded with the Bears talent this season. A telling quote from Bob McGinn’s annual :All-NFC North team column, polling multiple scouts:

“Personnel people find it hard to believe what the Bears were employing with at WR after Cameron Meredith and, to a much lesser extent, Kevin White, suffered season-ending injuries early. ‘Just a bunch of names, really,’ one scout said.”

In the piece the Bears had four players  — Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and Jordan Howard —  take first-team spots offensively. They also had five starters finish last in their positions and two more were second-to-last.

The Bears have a lot more talent on defense, where seven players finished in the top two at their positions, which is impressive with the All-Pro laden Vikings unit in the division. The Bears’ talent resulted in a top-10 finish and that group still needs help in the pass rush department.

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Data Entry: Tracking Trubisky’s 2017 Growth Through “The Quarters Lens”

| January 16th, 2018

Former Bears coach Lovie Smith always talked about breaking the NFL season down into quarters, which splits a 16-game season into 4-game sample sizes. I’ve always thought that was a good way to look at it, as grouping four games together helps smooth some of the statistical noise of individual good or bad games.

With that in mind, I want to track Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie season through the quarters lens. Trubisky sat out the first quarter of the season, but took every offensive snap for each of the last three quarters. Let’s see how he progressed through those.


Usage

First, I want to point out that Trubisky was tasked with doing more in each quarter.

In his first 4 games, Trubisky had the ball in his hands on only 26.5 plays per game. Coaches tried to minimize what he had to do, which was why more plays featured handoffs and fewer featured him ending the play with a pass attempt, sack, or run.

In Trubisky’s 5th-8th games, that number increased to 34.3 plays per game, and it took another jump to 39.8 plays per game in the last four games.

For the 32 qualified passers in the NFL this year (224 or more pass attempts), the mean and median were both 38.2 pass attempts, meaning Trubisky was being given as much responsibility (in terms of plays per game) as an average quarterback by the end of the season. This clearly shows that coaches were willing to put more responsibility on Trubisky’s shoulders as the season wore on, which is a good sign.

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Across The Middle: Nagy Was Always Pace’s Guy

| January 10th, 2018


Updated 2018 Bears Coach Power Rankings

#1. Matt Nagy. He was the guy all along.

“That’s who Ryan and this organization wanted to go after. They had a plan for it, they attacked it and they did it so that’s a credit for them for doing that, they were aggressive with it, they believed it, they had conviction and let’s go.”


Yes, Nagy was talking about Ryan Pace’s pursuit of Mitch Trubisky in the quote above but he might as well have been talking about his own pursuit by the Bears GM. The Bears interview schedule only made sense if they had a specific target in mind. Nagy was that target.

The alarm went off inside my head Friday night.

Why did the Bears schedule the first interview they were going to conduct last? (We already knew the Bears were going to meet with Nagy, Josh McDaniels, John DeFilippo and Pat Shurmur.)

Why did the Bears (and only the Bears) interview Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards completely came out of the blue, when they had already reached out to but not scheduled a meeting with  Panthers DC Steve Wilks to satisfy the Rooney Rule? (They were clearly meeting with a coach who wasn’t nearly as qualified to get the league rule out of the way.)

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