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ATM: Ugly Win Leaves Chance for Hope…Maybe.

| November 12th, 2019

The National Football League has a way of toying with our emotions. Just when we thought the Chicago Bears were dead, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel – enough that the 2019 season could still end up being relevant.

Nothing that happened was pretty. And nothing suggests that the Bears are going to suddenly be even a mediocre team, much less the kind of team that can contend for the Super Bowl. But that’s the funny thing about this league. As long as teams can stay alive, they leave a chance that the switch is going to flip and they could become the team they were supposed to be.

Mitch Trubisky wasn’t great on Sunday. (He was barely even adequate.) But over the last three weeks he has made enough good throws that everyone can see the potential. That potential very likely will never be reached. Even at his best, he leaves a touchdown on the field and makes drive-killing mistakes.

But maybe beating a crappy Lions team is turning point?

Maybe the team just needed a boost like the one Nick Kwiatkoski gave them.

Maybe Kwiatkoski is a sleeping superstar hidden behind two studs? In the two games he has seen extensive action he has 20 tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. He’s far from flawless, but if he keeps making impact plays, that doesn’t matter.

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ATM: Nick Foles? Leonard Williams? Become Sellers? Deadline Decisions Loom.

| October 22nd, 2019


If the Chicago Bears think they are going to improve on their own this season, they’re going to fade into 2019 irrelevance, just as they have for most of the last 30 years.

There isn’t an easy fix for these Bears, but with the trade deadline coming next Tuesday, there are a pair of big moves that could get them back on track and save what was supposed to be a Super Bowl season. And, if they can’t pull those off, there’s a third move that could make the future at least a little brighter.

Trade for Nick Foles

He isn’t necessarily the franchise quarterback the fan base has been longing for, but he’s at least competent. Foles is very likely the best the Bears can do at quarterback for the rest of this season. He knows the offense and has excelled in it. He’d bring instant credibility to the offense and knows how to get the job done at the highest level.

The 30-year-old has been on IR since Week One, but he’s slated to begin practicing this week, opening up a 21-day window for activation. We don’t know when, exactly, he’d be ready, but he could return in Week 10. It has generally been reported that he won’t be eligible to play until Week 11 but that, presumably, is because the Jaguars have a Week 10 bye.

The Jaguars would have to eat a lot of money in order to trade Foles, but they’d still have to pay that money and then Foles’ salary in order to keep him. With rookie Gardner Minshew playing well (10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions) the Jaguars likely will want to move on from Foles at some point.

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ATM: These Eleven Games Will Define Mitch Trubisky

| October 16th, 2019


Reality came quickly for Marcus Mariota, as the former second pick overall was benched Sunday for Ryan Tannehill. His tenure as the starting quarterback of the Tennessee Titans seems to have come to an end after four seasons and change.

Mariota’s story should serve as a warning for Mitch Trubisky who, for better of worse, has eleven games to show the Chicago Bears if he’s the quarterback of their future. If the Bears are smart, they won’t wait any longer than that, or waste any more time, to make their judgment about the most position in all of sports.

Like Trubisky, Mariota was expected to make a big leap in his third season, after throwing 26 touchdowns in his second. He was expected to become the franchise quarterback nearly everyone – which included Ryan Pace – thought he was destined to be.

But Mariota never took off. His third season was a bust with (13 TDs/15 INTs). His fourth season showed some promise (11/8), but included numerous injuries and ultimately most of his success came running the football. The most complimentary way to describe his start to 2019 was ineffective.

Perhaps Mariota will rebound, most likely somewhere else? History tells us he won’t.

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ATM: Bears Season Begins Now, and Nagy Needs to Trust Trubisky

| September 18th, 2019

After two wonky games to officially open the NFL season, we’re soon to find out who the 2019 Bears are. That will only happen, however, if the coach starts trusting the QB.

A 1-1 start to the season always seemed likely since – as was well documented throughout last week – nobody wins in Denver in Week 2. (Of course nobody predicted what actually took place down the stretch.) The demise of the team’s defense was greatly exaggerated. Reports of an offensive regression, however, don’t appear to have been aggressively predicted enough.

One of the biggest things to emerge from the win over Denver was Matt Nagy flat out not trusting his quarterback. The Bears had third downs and between two and three yards SIX times in the game and chose to run the ball on four of them. Do coaches who trust their quarterbacks take the ball out of their hands this often? I don’t think so.

It’s not uncommon for teams to run in those situations, but it is odd for them to insist on running it like the Bears did. After the game, Nagy said he intentionally had a conservative game plan in order to keep his defense rested, in the heat and high altitude. Perhaps that helped prevent the collapse until late in the fourth quarter but scoring points would’ve made any incoming collapse less significant.

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ATM: If Leonard Can’t, Roquan Can.

| August 21st, 2019

Much has been written about the Bears needing one Georgia product — Leonard Floyd — to break out and complement Khalil Mack in the pass rush department. But if that doesn’t happen, perhaps Roquan Smith can ease the pain. While nothing of actual substance can be gained by watching preseason games, seeing Roquan burst through the line faster than anybody could react for a sack two weeks ago was a nice reminder of what the second-year linebacker is capable of when he’s sent after the quarterback.

Floyd’s lack of pass rush has been disappointing. But his ability to drop back in coverage and move in space is extremely rare for players at his position. His exceptional coverage skills will allow new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to do what he does best: design creative blitz packages. And Roquan has already proven to be exceptional at finding his way to the quarterback. Smith’s very first NFL play was a sack and he followed with four more, many looking similar to his sack in the preseason against Carolina.

Pagano never had a plethora of great pass rushers in Indianapolis, so he had to get creative. One year Jerrell Freeman had a career-high 5.5 sacks. The next year it was D’Qwell Jackson with four. Smith is a lot better than both of them and had five last year despite a coordinator who has been more conservative upfront than Pagano.

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ATM: Nick Kwiatkoski’s Limitations Leave Bears Lacking Depth Inside

| August 13th, 2019

The first two plays of Thursday’s preseason opener gave Bears fans the full Nick Kwiatkoski experience. On the first play, the fourth-year linebacker pushed an offensive lineman back as he made a tackle near the line of scrimmage.



On the second, he got lost in space and allowed a big gain off of a dump off. He later overran a screen pass for another big gain.



Those plays look all too familiar, as it was Kwiatkoski regularly burned in the loss to Green Bay in the 2018 opener. It took less than one full game for Kwiatkoski to lose his job to Smith, despite the then-rookie missing almost all of the preseason. Ten years ago, Kwiatkoski would’ve been a star, but his failures in coverage make him unplayable against good offenses.

Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith are both among the 20 or so best inside linebackers in the league, with the latter likely cementing himself inside the top five this season. But health has always been an issue with Trevathan and last Thursday’s preseason game showed that the Bears simply can’t be without the veteran.

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On the Eve of the Preseason, Grading the 2019 Roster

| August 7th, 2019

Like I did last year, here’s an objective look at this Bears roster, grading each unit on a 1-10 scale. I’m scaling it such that 1 means it’s the worst in the NFL, 10 is the best in the NFL, and 5 is 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: 6

Key Players: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel

Roster Depth: Tyler Bray

Trubisky was right around average statistically as a passer in 2018, but added value as a runner. In two games when he was out hurt, Chase Daniel showed that he’s a solid backup, but also reminded us that he’s a backup. I was torn between a 5 and 6 here, but decided Trubisky’s running and Daniel as a backup warranted the higher grade.


Running Back: 5

Key Players: David Mongtomery, Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen

Roster Depth: Kerrith Whyte, Ryan Nall

This was a difficult position to grade because of Tarik Cohen. He’s a really good offensive weapon who produced almost 1200 yards of offense and 8 TDs in 2018, but he can’t handle a huge load and does more damage as a pass catcher than a runner.

Mike Davis is a solid player who fits well in this offense, but he’s probably best suited as a backup.

And while I’m hugely excited about David Montgomery and his fit in this offense, I can’t credit him for anything when he’s yet to play an NFL game. Thus I’ll give this group an average grade for now, but I think this is the position that has the highest potential to outperform its ranking in 2019.

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Causes for 2019 Concern: Volume I

| August 1st, 2019

Most of my writing this off-season has ended up being very positive about the Bears’ outlook for 2019. I’ve been very clear that I think Chicago should be considered one of the Super Bowl favorites this year, and most of the stats I’ve dug into have logically come to conclusions that support that notion, or at least do nothing to refute it.

However, I do think it’s important to try and remain balanced, so with that goal in mind, today I want to think about what might be legitimate reasons for concern for the Bears in 2019. Another way to think of this might be, if something goes wrong and the Bears miss the playoffs, what will be the reason(s) when we look back and figure out why?

I can think of six most likely possibilities, presented in no real order. Here are the first three.


I. Injuries

Injuries are always the #1 cause for concern for a football team. In a salary-capped league like the NFL, even the best team can be completely undone by one or two key injuries, usually to the quarterback. The two obvious players the Bears simply cannot win a Super Bowl without are Mitchell Trubisky and Khalil Mack, but they have a number of stars whose loss would certainly be felt should they get hurt (especially in areas with questionable depth, like tight end and offensive tackle). The Bears are counting on several players with lengthy injury histories to stay healthy and produce in 2019, including Danny Trevathan, Kyle Long, Eddie Goldman, and Prince Amukamara.

And we can’t forget about the cumulative impact of a number of injuries to players who might not be as important. After years of being one of the unhealthiest teams in the NFL, the Bears were the 3rd healthiest in 2018. Given that there’s a strong relationship between health and team success, worse injury luck in 2019 could derail Chicago’s Super Bowl aspirations in a hurry.


II. Special Teams

Given how Chicago’s season ended in 2018, kicker is an obvious cause for concern in 2019. The Bears don’t have one they know they can trust with the game on the line right now, and that’s a problem for a team hoping to win a Super Bowl. The odds of running through 3-4 consecutive playoff wins without needing a kicker to come through in the clutch in any of them seem pretty low.

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2019 Bears: “No Reason to Think They Won’t Be Really Good Again”

| July 29th, 2019

I recently looked at the history of teams to make a significant improvement from one year to the next and found that many of them win fewer games the year after their breakthrough season. This suggests that the Bears might be due for a bit of a letdown from their 12-4 record in 2018 (though they do match the profile of teams that generally stay good after making the jump.)

Today, I want to look more closely at Chicago’s underlying performance in 2018 to see if there’s anything there to suggest they are a team poised for a fall. This is closely modeled after work Bill Barnwell does every off-season, where he uses three factors to identify teams who are likely to improve and likely to regress.


Pythagorean Expectation

The first factor is called the Pythagorean expectation, and it is a measure of how many games a team is expected to win based on how many points they scored compared to how many points they allowed. The exact formula can be seen here, but the general idea is that truly good teams score a lot more points than they give up. Teams that win a lot of games without a large difference in points scored/allowed were considered more lucky than good and are likely due for a fall.

  • 2018 Bears stats: 421 points scored, 283 points allowed, 12 wins
  • 2018 Pythagorean expectation: 11.5 wins

The Bears didn’t significantly outperform their Pythagorean expectation, which means they won a lot of games because they were legitimately good, not lucky. So far, there is no reason to think that significant regression is coming.


Record in Close Games

The 2nd factor looks at how well teams performed in close games, which Barnwell defines as having a final scoring margin within 7 points. I think 8 points makes a lot more sense given that’s still a one possession game, but in this case it doesn’t change anything for the Bears, so we’ll stick with 7.

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Possible Regression in 2019: A Mathematical Analysis

| July 22nd, 2019

For the first time in a long time, the Chicago Bears were legitimately fun to watch in 2018. Following years of terrible, boring teams, they went 12-4, scored some big man touchdowns, had plenty of awesome celebrations, and started the most exclusive club in the country to celebrate their wins.

But 2018 was last year, and now I’ve seen some worry that it will prove an aberration. They point to the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars, who made a similar jump from years of awful to a division win and playoff berth before falling back to Earth in 2018, as a sign of what is to come.

While I’ve been on the record going back to 2017 that this is the earliest year when their title window will fully open, I still wanted to take a realistic look and see if there might be reasons to expect regression in 2019 instead. Accordingly, I’m looking at recent NFL history to see how teams similar to the 2018 Bears followed it up the year after. Since the NFL switched to its current 32 team, 8 division format in 2002, that serves as a nice starting point for this study. I looked at wins per year for all teams from then to 2017 (the last year in which we can track how teams did the year after), and identified teams similar to the Bears in a variety of ways. Full data can be seen here.


12+ Wins

To start out, I looked at teams that won 12 or more games in a season, as Chicago did in 2018. That data can be briefly highlighted like so:

  • Teams with 12+ wins: 74
  • Average # wins: 12.7
  • Average # wins next year: 9.6
  • Net change: -3.1 wins

The average team that won 12+ games decreased by just over 3 wins the following year, which makes a lot of sense. It’s hard to win 12 games in a season, which is why fewer than 5 teams per year, on average, do it. Remaining one of those top 5 or so teams for a 2nd year straight is no small feat.

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