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ATM: Don’t Sleep on Mooney

| July 21st, 2021

As the deadline to extend tagged players with the Bears and Allen Robinson failing to reach an agreement, fans began to panic about the future of the team’s wide receiver position. But with Darnell Mooney, it seems to be in good shape.

When projecting future depth charts, fans often forget what front offices can’t: improvement often comes from within. Nobody should expect Mooney to be better than Robinson in 2021, but it isn’t a stretch that he could become one of the 20 best receivers in the league by 2022. Who knows what could come after that?

Mooney was in the top-10 amongst rookies in receptions (fifth), yards (sixth) and touchdowns (eighth) and most of those ahead of him benefited from more functional offenses — specifically at the quarterback position. He out-produced multiple first-round picks and most of the other players drafted ahead of him.

At roughly 5’11” and with legitimate 4.3-speed, Mooney showed the ability to run past defenders and make catches on 50/50 balls.  His 3.2 yards of separation per target were the second-best on the team — behind Cole Kmet’s 3.6 — per NextGen Stats. His statistics would be significantly better if the team had a quarterback who could hit him in stride regularly.

Nearly every report from Bears offseason practices has indicated that Mooney has stood out again, looking even stronger and faster than he was a year ago.

The Bears stopped short of betting on Mooney, but they have put him in an ideal situation to prove himself. By using the franchise tag on Robinson, the Bears bought themselves another year to see what Mooney is. If he doesn’t take another step forward, the Bears could certainly tag Robinson again next offseason. Per Albert Breer, tagging Robinson in 2022 would cost the team $21.6 million — probably less than if they had agreed to his terms for an extension. The team absolutely should already be planning on tagging Robinson for that price, even if it’s just to trade him.

Extending Robinson’s contract is still the most ideal way for the Bears to go from here. That seems like a long shot at this point, but that doesn’t mean the future of the position is doomed. The college game is producing high-level wide receivers at an incredible rate, the Bears seem to have found one in Mooney and we shouldn’t dismiss what he can become.

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Grading the Roster: Defense & Specials

| July 20th, 2021

Today, we look at defense and special teams.


Defensive Line: 8

Key Players: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Mario Edwards

Roster Depth: Angelo Blackson, Khyiris Tonga, Mike Pennel, LaCale London, Daniel Archibong

Akiem Hicks is still a stud, Eddie Goldman is back after opting out in 2020, and Bilal Nichols can now man the defensive end spot where he is best. That gives the Bears an excellent starting trio. They’ve also improved their depth, re-signing Edwards and bringing in Blackson at defensive end while adding two competent nose tackles in Tonga and Pennel in case Goldman goes down with injury. This group should be a clear strength for the Bears in 2021.


Edge Rushers: 7

Key Players: Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Jeremiah Attaochu

Roster Depth: Trevis Gipson, Charles Snowden, James Vaughters, Ledarius Mack, Austin Calitro

Khalil Mack remains one of the best all-around edge rushers in the NFL, but his pass rushing productivity took a dip from great to good last year. Robert Quinn had a horrible 2020 as he battled through injury. Both players are now over 30; can they rebound? Chicago’s defense is built with the idea that this will be a dominant duo, but the pass rush was surprisingly mediocre in 2020, and they will need to be markedly better in 2021 to mask holes on the back end.

The addition of Jeremiah Attaochu as a 3rd rusher is a real upgrade and provides depth and insurance in case Quinn continues to struggle. The Bears have also spoken highly of toolsy sophomore Trevis Gipson this offseason, but it’s hard to put too much stock into offseason praise until we see it on the field.

One area that is overlooked here comes in pass coverage. Neither Quinn nor Mack (nor Attaochu) can do much there, but the Bears have typically had a versatile OLB who gets a decent number of snaps (Leonard Floyd through 2019, Barkevious Mingo in 2020). Undrafted rookie Charles Snowden fits that mold of player, and I won’t be surprised if he earns a roster spot and potentially a role on defense.

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Grading the Roster: Offense

| July 19th, 2021

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I did last year, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.


Quarterback: 3

Key Players: Andy Dalton, Justin Fields

Roster Depth: Nick Foles

Veterans Andy Dalton and Nick Foles are not good. Rookie Justin Fields is Chicago’s best chance at getting good QB play this year, but rookie QBs aren’t usually good either. I mainly grade now based on proven production, so Fields’ draft status doesn’t factor in much here. If I was just basing it on certainty going into the season, this would be a 2, but Fields’ upside prompted me to round up.


Running Back: 7

Key Players: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Damien Williams

Roster Depth: Khalil Herbert, Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce, CJ Marable

David Montgomery broke out as a sophomore in 2020, but a lack of explosive plays limits how good I think he is. The Bears were forced to rely on Montgomery heavily in 2020, so they spent the offseason improving the group of players around him. They get Tarik Cohen back from a torn ACL that cost him most of the 2020 season, and they added solid depth in both free agency (Damien Williams) and the draft (6th round pick Khalil Herbert). I’d give Montgomery a 6 – an above-average NFL starter – but the quality depth around him bumps this up to a 7.


Wide Receiver: 6

Key Players: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin

Roster Depth: Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Dazz Newsome, Rodney Adams, Thomas Ives, Chris Lacy, Khalil McClain, Jester Weah

Allen Robinson is a stud. Darnell Mooney had a solid rookie season, and is somebody the Bears should feel pretty good about as a WR2. Anthony Miller took a step back in 2020 and seems maxed out as a situational WR3 for passing downs only. Javon Wims and Riley Ridley were awful depth last year, so the Bears brought in Damiere Byrd (who should even push Miller for playing time) and Marquise Goodwin, which should bump those two off the roster. Bears fans seem to love Dazz Newsome, but I’m not overly optimistic about the prospects of an unathletic 6th round pick. Anything he gives the offense will be a pleasant surprise.

This grade really hinges on Mooney, who needs to be the guy at WR2. If he can establish himself as a quality starter this year, the Bears’ WR group will be a clear strength.

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ATM: Rodgers Question Lingers Over NFC North

| July 13th, 2021

“I never said I’m unhappy with my boss,” Aaron Rodgers replied to a jab made by Tom Brady in a video that was released last week. The video was mocking a game of Jeopardy between the two star quarterbacks, Rodgers the 2020 NFL MVP and Brady the Super Bowl winner. The answer was “He’s an NBA owner, a self-taught guitarist and has guest-starred on both The Office and Game of Thrones” to which Brady added “He’s unhappy with his boss and has no options. Who is Aaron Rodgers?”

But Rodgers had the response ready and it seems to be a safe bet that he’s going to use that line again.

Rodgers has said a lot since the end of the 2020 season that would lead one to believe he wanted some sort of commitment from the Green Bay Packers. He didn’t get it and the day of the NFL Draft there were reports that he wouldn’t play for the team again. But, as Rodgers was quick to say: he never said that.

As training camp nears, the question of “will he” or “won’t he” lingers over the entire league, especially the NFC North, where Rodgers playing could have a very direct impact on what kind of season the Bears have.

Should Rodgers play, we’re probably penciling the Bears in for two losses. If he doesn’t, two wins or a split at worst. That one game could be the difference between the Bears making the playoffs or missing out. With seven teams making the cut, it isn’t hard to see how the Bears could once again be in contention for that final spot.

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ATM: Fields Pick Changes Math On Allen Robinson Extension

| July 6th, 2021

By drafting Justin Fields the Bears not only changed the direction of the franchise — possibly saving the jobs of everyone from the team president to the coaching staff — the selection also reshaped the direction the team should go with star wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Paying Robinson big money without knowing the long-term answer at quarterback would’ve been questionable. Fields is that answer, and the Bears have until next week to lock Robinson down and make sure Fields knows who his primary target is going to be.

There is little question that Robinson wants to be among the top-five paid players at his position. The price tag will rise if Davante Adams re-signs with the Green Bay Packers before the start of the season. The Bears have until July 15 to negotiate a contract with Robinson or settle on the fact that they’ll almost certainly lose him in 2022.

Robinson and the Bears have something in common in that we don’t know what either are with an actual quarterback.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: CB Pass Coverage

| July 1st, 2021

Finally, let’s end with a look at the cornerbacks, who will have some personnel changes from 2020. Gone are veterans Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine, while Desmond Trufant has been brought in to compete with a host of late round picks from the last few drafts.

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The table below shows 2020 coverage stats for all 2020 Bears and Desmond Trufant, who was in Detroit last year. The * for Vildor and Shelley indicates that I included their playoff stats to increase their sample size, since they only played the last few games of the regular season. The rank compares their yards/target mark to all NFL CBs. The median value is included on the bottom, but you can view the full data here.



A few thoughts:

  • Losing Kyle Fuller, who was a cap casualty this offseason, is a massive blow for a secondary that was already full of questions. He was the best player in the secondary by a wide margin last year, and his departure leaves a cornerback group with nothing but questions.
  • However, there are some reasons for optimism among the cornerbacks, if you look closely enough. Desmond Trufant was very good in 2018 (6.2 yards/target) before struggling through injuries the last 2 years. He’ll be 31 at the start of the season, but maybe he can buck the odds, stay healthy and regain his prior form.
  • At nickelback, losing Skrine isn’t actually a problem, as he was not good last year. Skrine missed the last 5 games of the season (including playoffs) in 2020, and Duke Shelley stepped right in and matched his production.
  • Of course, that’s not to say Shelley was good, as he also ranked below average in yards/target. However, if you want to be optimistic, you can point out that Shelley was pretty solid outside of getting torched by Justin Jefferson in one game against Minnesota. In that one game, Shelley gave up 101 yards on 8 targets (11.2 yards/target), but he only allowed 75 yards on 14 targets (5.4 yards/target) in the other 4 games combined. Those other 4 games look good, but you can’t just ignore that he got destroyed by the best WR he faced.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: S and LB Pass Coverage

| June 30th, 2021

Let’s continue our quick tour of Chicago’s defense by honing in on pass coverage.

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At a surface glance, Chicago’s pass defense was just about the definition of average in 2020. They gave up 64% completion (14th in the NFL), 7.2 yards/attempt (16th), 28 touchdowns (16th),  had10 interceptions (23rd), and allowed a passer rating against of 94.9 (20th). They were 21st in Pro Football Reference’s Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, which accounts for sacks, touchdowns, interceptions, and yards, and 13th in Football Outsider’s pass DVOA rankings, which is intended to be a one-stop measure of pass defense overall.

A closer look at advanced statistics from Next Gen Stats shows how QBs playing against the Bears played relative to the rest of their games and the NFL average.



A few thoughts:

  • Opposing QBs generally didn’t see any change against the Bears in terms of how long they held the ball before throwing it. This means that Chicago’s pass rush wasn’t forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly, but also didn’t let them hang onto it forever. Again: average.
  • In terms of where QBs threw the ball against Chicago, opposing QBs typically threw it slightly deeper against the Bears than other opponents, though the difference is pretty subtle (for context, individual QBs ranged from 5 to 11 yards for average pass depth). That small difference was completely eliminated when looking at average completion depth.
  • Opposing QBs also threw into tight coverage (aggressive throws) slightly more than normal against the Bears, though again that’s not a huge difference. For a little context, individual QBs on the year ranged from averaging 11% to 22% on aggressive throws.

Now that we’ve firmly established the overall pass defense was around average, let’s look at how individual players fared in coverage last year to see where Chicago might have strong and weak spots. We’ll go position by position, using advanced data from Pro Football Reference.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Missed Tackles

| June 29th, 2021

Continuing our tour of advanced statistics about Chicago’s 2020 defense, today I want to take a look at missed tackles.

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The Bears excelled in the missed tackle area last year, finishing with only 89, the 6th lowest mark in the NFL. To go more in-depth, let’s hone in on how individual players and units contributed to that, building on work I did last offseason. The setup here is fairly simple:

  • Split players into positions (DL, LB, and DB).
  • Compare their missed tackle rates to how everybody else around the NFL fares at their position.

You can see the full data here, but generally the positional medians for missed tackle rates are 10.8% for DB, 9.5% for LB, and 8.5% for DL. With that in mind, let’s look at how Chicago’s defense did last year.

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Defensive Backs

The table below shows all Chicago defensive backs in 2020, as well as how they did overall as a unit. Players with 20 or more tackle attempts were ranked based on how they fared relative to all NFL DBs.



A few thoughts:

  • Eddie Jackson continued to struggle with missed tackles for the 3rd year in a row. It’s not his strength, but that’s fine if he continues to excel in coverage, which is far more valuable (spoiler alert for upcoming article: he did not excel in coverage in 2020).
  • Tashaun Gipson struggled with missed tackles in both 2018 and 2019, but was excellent here in 2020. The Bears will need him to continue to excel in that area given the tackling question marks around him.
  • Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson were both awful with missed tackles in 2020. That continued a long-time pattern for Fuller, but was a bit of a surprise for Johnson, who rarely missed tackles in college. However, I should note that 6 of his 9 missed tackles came in the last 4 weeks as he played through a shoulder injury before it shut him down for the year. In his first 9 games, he had a missed tackle rate of only 10%, which is around league average.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

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ATM: Fields & Mahomes Situations Not Comparable

| June 15th, 2021

As tempting as it may be, Chicago Bears fans should resist comparing the team’s current situation at quarterback with past examples from around the league, especially what transpired in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes. Justin Fields is neither Mahomes, nor Mitch Trubisky. Andy Dalton neither Alex Smith, nor Mike Glennon. The situations are simply not comparable.

First, the veterans.

When Mahomes was drafted Smith had been the starting quarterback in KC for four years, leading the team to the playoffs three times. He had the locker room’s respect and knew the playbook cold. The Chiefs were HIS team, and he’d earned that. But Smith had physical limitations. Hence, Mahomes was drafted.

Glennon came to the Bears with 30 career touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. He had a career rating of 84.6 in 18 starts. He was no Smith. Dalton is more Smith, coming to Chicago with 142 starts under his belt and leading numerous playoff teams. Dalton, like Smith, has success when everything around him is perfect. But their situations are completely different. The Bears are not Dalton’s team. He’s been slightly longer than his surefire replacement, Justin Fields.

Then there are the contracts.

The Chiefs hoped Smith would play well and they could trade him for draft capital. It worked.

The Bears had hoped the same for Glennon. It did not.

No matter what Dalton does in 2021, he will be a free agent in 2022. (The Bears could, in theory, tag and trade him if he balls out, but let’s not cross that bridge until it comes.) There was significant prospective value in playing Smith and Glennon. There is little-to-none when it comes to Dalton.

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