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ATM: Kerrith Whyte Could Be Sleeper of ’19 Draft Class.

| May 22nd, 2019

Matt Nagy’s eyes lit up when he described a play made by his rookie running back. “The quarterback looked at me and said ‘that’s a running back,’” Nagy said. “I said, ‘I know.’” The back wasn’t top pick David Montgomery. It was seventh-rounder Kerrith Whyte Jr. And he may be more ready to play now in the NFL than expected.

Most of the highlights of the seventh rounder are of him breaking long runs or kickoffs. But there was more to his game than that. “We did a lot of catching and route-running, stuff like that,” Whyte told the Bears team website.



“I think they’ll really like what he can do in the passing game, jet sweeps, motion, different stuff like that,” Whyte’s college coach and former NFL coach Lane Kiffin told 670 The Score. Whyte showed really good vision at times and, once he sees daylight, it’s over. You can see his 4.3-speed kick into gear and nobody can catch him.



While he wasn’t a starter in college at Florida Atlantic University, Whyte averaged 6.5 yards per carry (starting running back and third-round pick Devin Singletary averaged 5.2 yards per carry), rushing for 866 yards. He totaled 1,026 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.

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Examining 2018 Offensive Trends

| May 20th, 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 frequently and effectively the offense used various formations and personnel groupings in 2018. We’ll look at it from a few different perspectives.

Shotgun vs. Under Center

(These stats all come from NFL Savant unless otherwise noted.)

The Bears operated mainly out of the shotgun in 2018, with just over 80% of their snaps (832 out of 1034) coming there. As I noted at the bye, this is in line with the Andy Reid offense that Matt Nagy brought over from Kansas City. Reid’s Chiefs teams have been 70-75% out of the shotgun in the last few years.

The table below shows how frequently and efficiently the Bears ran it out of shotgun vs. under center.



A few thoughts:

  • That looks a bit imbalanced to me, but is actually a better run/pass balance out of shotgun than any Reid team has shown in Kansas City.
  • I’m tempted to say the Bears should avoid going under center, but the low averages there are probably due to them mostly being in short yardage situations, when plays are designed to get 2-3 yards and a first down/touchdown. Success rates would be a good way to confirm if that is indeed the case, but unfortunately that information is not available with this kind of split.
  • The yards/carry split happened with both main running backs, according to Player Profiler. Jordan Howard saw 138 carries out of the shotgun and averaged 4.2 yards/carry, and averaged 3.1 yards/carry on his 112 carries from under center. Tarik Cohen averaged 4.7 yards/carry on 81 shotgun runs and 4.1 yards/carry on 18 runs from under center. New Bear Mike Davis saw 75% of his runs from shotgun last year and averaged 4.6 yards/carry, so there is reason to hope he will thrive in these runs as well.

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Self-Scouting the 2018 Bears Offense

| May 13th, 2019

Chicago’s offense was generally mediocre in 2018. We all know this. They finished 21st in the NFL in yards per game, 9th in points scored (a number buoyed by a bunch of defensive touchdowns), and 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. 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 changes.

In an effort to do this, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System and Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder 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.

Rushing Attack

Chicago’s ground game was not very good in 2018. Though they finished 11th in rushing yards and tied for 7th in rushing touchdowns, they were 27th in yards/carry, indicating those first two totals were more a product of volume than a true sign of success. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing attack in 2018.

  • The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses.
  • The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12.
  • Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.


Of course, yards/attempt can be clouded by when you’re running in a specific direction. A 2 yard run on 1st and 10 is bad, but it’s a positive outcome on 3rd and 1. To account for that, I also looked at success rate, which takes down and distance into consideration and categorizes every play as either a success or failure based on how well it helps you stay ahead of the chains (full explanation here). The following chart was pulled from Sharp Football and looks at the Bears’ success rate by direction. The numbers on the bottom indicate how that compares to the NFL average.



A few thoughts:

  • The rushing attack was particularly bad between the tackles, but that’s where the Bears had most of their runs. 54% of their rush attempts were between the tackles, and they were consistently among the least efficient teams in the NFL at those carries in terms of yards/carry. I’m not sure if this is due to the offensive line or Jordan Howard. Howard had 170 of Chicago’s 240 carries between the tackles, and he averaged 3.3 yards/carry on those runs. Note that they were decent in success rate relative to their NFL peers, which indicates they ran it between the tackles a lot in short-yardage situations.

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ATM: Placement of Cowboys, Saints Games Could Be Crucial

| April 16th, 2019

The strength of the teams on the schedule is always hard to predict. But if the teams are as good — or close to as good — as most expect, the placement of three home games could ultimately be important for the Bears.

While “Bear weather” is kind of a silly term, there is truth to the fact that a lot of warm weather teams just don’t handle the cold and windy weather that tends to hit Chicago late in the season. At least part of the reason the Bears were able to thoroughly handle the Rams last year is because they didn’t want to be there. And who could forget the Josh McCown game against the Cowboys in 2013 or Michael Vick desperate to be ANYWHERE else in mid-aughts?

This year, three of the Bears five non-division home games are against warm weather teams: the LA Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. The last two could significantly impact playoff seeding.

Drew Brees’ struggles in cold weather have been well-chronicled and there’s no real reason to think that won’t continue as he ages. Shoulder issues early in his career impacted his arm strength and sometimes he struggles in just a brisk wind. That game won’t even have to be in prime time to impact Brees, as long as it isn’t in September. The splits will tell you that Phil Rivers and Dak Prescott actually play well in cold weather, but those don’t define cold adequately. Prescott has thrown nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in sub-40 degree weather over the last two years while Rivers has a career record of 8-4.

But who in Chicago considers 40 degrees to be cold? That would be a wonderful November or December night in this part of the country. Take warm weather players — not just quarterbacks — and put them in wind chills below zero and they’re going to struggle just to breath, much less play football.

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Don’t Freak Out About Chicago’s Perceived “Difficult Schedule”

| April 15th, 2019

The NFL schedule is set to be released this week, which means it’s time to talk about Chicago’s 2019 opponents. We already know all 16 teams they’ll be facing, and one of the reasons I’ve seen people suggest that the Bears are in for a rough 2019 is that they are going to have a really hard schedule. This fear is significantly overblown and is largely based on two pieces of misleading information that I want to debunk today.

1st Place Schedule

The first reason I’ve seen repeated over and over is that the Bears are in trouble because they go from a “4th place schedule” to a “1st place schedule.” That is, they had an easier schedule in 2018 because of their last place NFC North finish in 2017, but winning the NFC North in 2018 sets them up to face a much more difficult slate in 2019.

Let’s take a minute to review how the NFL schedule is determined for every team.

  • 6 games against your division (same every year)
  • 4 games against one other NFC division (rotates through 3 year schedule)
  • 4 games against one other AFC division (rotates through 4 year schedule)
  • 2 games against the other 2 NFC divisions’ team that shared your divisional rank the year before

If you’re paying attention there, you’ll notice that 14 of the 16 games on a team’s schedule are determined exclusively by what division they play in. So every single year the Bears play Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota 6 times and 8 of the exact same opponents as those division rivals.

Only 2 games change based on how you did the year before. The Bears’ last place NFC North finish in 2017 meant they played the Giants and Buccaneers in 2018, while other division opponents played different teams from the NFC East and NFC South. In those 2 games, the Bears went 1-1, and they went 11-3 in their 14 common games. If you’re scoring at home, that means the “last place schedule” actually hurt the Bears’ win % en route to their division title in 2018.

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Across The Middle: Bears Receiver Depth Should Be A Concern

| April 9th, 2019

The Bears seem to like their wide receivers right now, but that shouldn’t stop them from looking hard at the position in the draft later this month.

The top three of Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel appear to be set, but there are a bunch of question marks after that, for both 2019 and the future. Assuming Robinson is better another year removed from knee surgery and Miller takes a step as second-year receivers tend to do, the team’s top three receivers are really quite good. Unless, of course, someone were to get injured, which tends to happen in the NFL.

Both Robinson and Miller missed some time last year and the result was Josh Bellamy playing 321 snaps and Kevin White getting an additional 170. While White’s snaps and position are going to be easily replaced by free agent signee Cordarrelle Patterson, fans shouldn’t underestimate the loss of Bellamy.

Ideally, Bellamy would be replaced by Javon Wims, but Wims is anything but proven.

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ATM: Nagy’s “Vision” Could Look to Supersize What Was Mizzell’s Role

| April 2nd, 2019

While maddening in 2018, Matt Nagy’s insistence on using Taquan Mizzell was a sign of what he envisions the Bears offense becoming.

Mizzell wasn’t used as often as it seemed in 2018. He played just 70 snaps, with nine rushes and ten targets in the passing game. That’s attempting to get him the ball every 3.7 snaps. That rate isn’t as high as Tarik Cohen’s (once every 2.6 snaps), but not all of Cohen’s touches were plays drawn up for him. The Bears seemed to see Mizzell as a weapon.

He wasn’t.

This is something Nagy should’ve known since he was comfortable cutting “Smoke” out of training camp last year before putting him on the practice squad and later back on the active roster. But just because Mizzell couldn’t do it, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a job out there for the right player. That job could prove to be vital to the offense.

On a basic level, Mizzell had value as a backup to Cohen. He’s quick and can do some good things in the receiving game. He just isn’t anywhere near as good at those things as Cohen. But, what if, in theory, the Bears were able to add a player who could do some of the same things at a very high level? There are quite a few options in this draft.

It seems highly unlikely that the Bears will be able to get their version of Kareem Hunt. Yes, running backs drop in the draft, but the success rate of running backs taken later still isn’t as great as fans tend to think. In this specific draft, there just aren’t that many dual-threat backs. Typically, at least five running backs are drafted before the 87th pick in the draft. This year that list likely includes Josh Jones, Damien Harris, David Montgomery, Darrell Henderson and Miles Sanders. Outside of those five, there aren’t very many who seem capable of filling the kind of every down role Hunt filled for the Chiefs.

While it’s difficult to find every down backs in this draft, there are a handful of players who could fill and expand Mizzell’s role. Players like Justice Hill, Tony Pollard and James Williams. Then there is the option of players like Trayveon Williams, Travis Homer, Karan Higdon and Mike Weber, who might not be big enough to handle an every down load, but could bring more explosiveness to the offense.

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ATM: Out of the Hunt. So Now What?

| February 13th, 2019

The Chicago Bears won’t be signing Kareem Hunt. The great debate ended before the offseason officially began, as the former Kansas City Chiefs running back, facing disciplinary action from the league for a history of violent behavior, signed with the Browns. Time will tell if he’s worth the trouble for Cleveland, but the Bears still need to add some explosiveness to their backfield if they hope to improve their run game.

Because while Jordan Howard is a good player, the Bears simply need more. Forget for a second his sub-4.0 yards per carry number. The Bears offense just didn’t function well with him on the field.

  • According to NFGSIS, the team averaged 4.78 yards per play in the five most frequently used lineups in which Howard was used.
  • In the five most-used lineups that didn’t include Howard, they averaged 6.8 yards per play.
  • The big difference came in the passing game, where they averaged 7 yards per pass play without Howard and 4.92 with him.

Matt Nagy seems to know it too. In the playoff game he used a formation with three wide receivers, one tight end and Cohen over Howard 21 times. Their next most-used formation was used five times, that also didn’t have Howard in it. Howard played just 22 snaps — 34% of the team’s total — against the Eagles. From a football perspective, signing Hunt would’ve been the easy move, but not one the Bears could make without knowing his availability. Now, they have to figure out something else.

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ATM: Signing Hunt to Bolster Rush Attack the Clearest Path to Super Bowl

| February 5th, 2019

Sometimes the best moves are the most difficult.

The biggest no-brainer of this 2019 NFL offseason is for the Bears to sign Kareem Hunt. From a strictly football standpoint, Hunt must be their top target. But, of course, it’s about more than strictly football. Those arguments were made by Jeff here and Emily here.

What we learned from the 2019 NFL playoffs is that running the ball is still really important:

  • The team that won the rushing battle went 9-2. The two exceptions of course were the Chicago Cody Parkeys losing to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Chargers beating the Baltimore Ravens, despite losing the rushing battle by a single yard.
  • Teams that ran for 100 yards went 8-1. The only team that lost was Houston, which gave up 200 to Indianapolis in the Wild Card round.

Television networks and league executives want the NFL to be a passing league, but it’s tried and true that running the ball is important and the Bears just weren’t good enough at it. Despite being 11th in rushing yardage, the Bears struggled to move the ball on the ground consistently throughout the year. They were 27th in yards per carry and all of their rushing totals were inflated by having a quarterback who could routinely run for 15 yards on 3rd-and-10.

Perhaps what’s most troubling about the Bears lack of run production is that, unlike 2017, opponents weren’t trying to stop the run. Jordan Howard faced a stacked box (eight or more defenders) on just 14% of his carries, according to NFL NextGen Stats. That’s the 13th-lowest mark in the league. The player who had a stacked box the least was Tarik Cohen, coming in at 5.05%, well below Wendell Smallwood’s 6.9% rate.

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