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Will the Bears Defense Regress in 2019? History Tells Us…Not So Much.

| July 15th, 2019

Chicago’s defense was really, really good in 2018. They led the NFL in points allowed, turnovers forced, touchdowns scored, and passer rating against, and finished 3rd in both yards and sacks. They finished as the runaway best defense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, which is intended to be an all-encompassing metric, and even finished as the 8th best defense ever in DVOA’s database, which runs back to 1986.

Now as we head into 2019, fans are rightly wondering if Chicago’s defense can repeat that performance. While I won’t pretend to be able to predict the future, I can look at the past to see what it might have to tell us. So I looked at top defenses in recent NFL history and measured, through a variety of metrics, where the 2018 Bears excelled. Then I looked to see how they followed that up in the next season. Full data collected can be viewed here for transparency’s sake.


DVOA

The DVOA system is set up such that an average defense gets a score of 0, with negative numbers indicating you are better than average (the farther from 0 the better). The Bears finished with a final score of -26.0, so I looked at other teams in the last decade (2008-17) who finished at -20 or better. This was quite a small list, as it featured only 10 teams. Here’s how they fared in the season following that dominant performance:

  • Average DVOA: -25.1%
  • Average following DVOA: -8.8% (8th in NFL)
  • Change: 16.4%
  • # teams with better DVOA following year: 0
  • # teams top 5 in DVOA following year: 5
  • # teams top 10 in DVOA following year: 8
  • # teams below average in DVOA following year: 1

First, notice that none of these defenses were as good the following year. This isn’t surprising; there were only 10 teams in 10 years who achieved this caliber of DVOA. The odds of doing that twice in a row are very low.

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ATM: Bears Need More From Floyd

| July 9th, 2019

When Khalil Mack wasn’t on the field, the Bears had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. That is a direct reflection on former first-rounder Leonard Floyd.

Perhaps the biggest argument for Mack’s Defensive POY candidacy last year was how much the Bears struggled to get after the quarterback when he was limited or not on the field at all. In the four games Mack was playing hurt or not playing at all, the Bears managed a combined 24 quarterback sacks and hits, applying such pressure on just 14.6% of the drop backs (not counting quarterback runs which are often the result of good coverage). That rate would’ve been the second worst in the entire league, ahead of only — surprise, surprise — Oakland.

In all, the Bears pass rush wasn’t bad last year. When Mack was on the field, they hit opposing quarterbacks at the fifth-highest rate and finished 15th overall. Floyd was third on the team in both sacks and hits, but spent too much time doing his best Sam Wheat impression.

Nine times last year, Floyd didn’t even touch the opposing quarterback. Some of those struggles can be contributed to a preseason hand injury — he didn’t record a QB hit or sack in six of the team’s first seven games. But he still had three such games in the team’s final seven and half of his sacks came in one game — both largely the result of pressures by Mack.

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The Most Complete, Data-Driven Breakdown of the 2018 Bears Pass Defense Available

| July 8th, 2019

The Bears had the best pass defense in the NFL last season, finishing 7th in yards, 1st in yards/attempt, 1st in interceptions, and 1st in passer rating against. Now I want to look at the performance of each individual player in coverage, using stats from The Quant Edge.

Where They Lined Up

Let’s start by taking a look at where the CBs lined up. I’m only looking at the CBs here because all of the LB are listed as “LB” and all of the safeties “FS” for pretty much the whole time, thus those designations aren’t particularly helpful.



 

Pretty much the only point I wanted to make here is that the Bears played their CBs in specific spots, not against specific match-ups. Kyle Fuller covered the left (right side from offense’s perspective), Prince Amukamara the right, and Bryce Callahan the slot. Toliver filled in for Prince when he was out hurt (and some for Fuller late in blowouts), and McManis for Callahan.

Of course, Callahan is now gone, so it’s worth noting that 89% of Buster Skrine’s snaps came in the slot in 2018. It’s reasonable to think that will be his role in Chicago as well, but he has played outside a good bit in the past, so maybe he moves if Fuller or Amukamara get hurt and the Bears like McManis or Duke Shelley at nickelback.

It’s also fair to wonder if new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will ask his cornerbacks to move around a little bit more. When he was the head coach in Indianapolis in 2017, no cornerback played more than about 90% of their snaps in one spot. That’s still mostly intact, but not the 98%/99% Fuller and Amukamara had.

Coverage Statistics

Now let’s look at how well each player did in coverage. The table below shows that data for every CB, S, and ILB who played a meaningful role in 2018 (OLB are excluded because they saw very few targets due to rushing the passer more than dropping into coverage. Yes, even Leonard Floyd). Positions are color coded to make tracking the table easier.


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ATM: Expect A Heavy Workload For David Montgomery

| July 2nd, 2019

Give Matt Nagy credit for saying he wants to use a committee approach when it comes to the running back position, but don’t be surprised if rookie David Montgomery is the bell cow before long. While the Bears have generally been trying to keep their depth chart a secret (and not allowing media members to report on the topic) it seems the rookie has already been getting playing time with the first team, a rarity for any mid-round running back.

Montgomery will still have to earn the job. Running backs, especially those in the 220-pound range, generally don’t show much until the pads come on; it’s impossible to display power and contact balance when the defense can’t hit. But by all accounts, Montgomery has looked the part, opening eyes the same way Tarik Cohen did two years ago, per Adam Jahns on the Hoge & Jahns Podcast.


Montgomery’s currently tied fifth favorite to be Offensive Rookie of the Year. Third among non-QBs.


The Bears signed Mike Davis and it seems that he has gotten most of the reps with the first team offense this offseason. But in the most recent clips released by the team on their website, you can see Montgomery sneaking out of the backfield with Mitch Trubisky playing quarterback. Maybe those are just misleading shots, but they didn’t exist at the start of the offseason program, when even Ryan Nall was shown with the starters in one of the clips.

If Montgomery has already been as impressive as most have said without the pads, the general expectation is that he’ll be even better once they start hitting. After all, his strength is supposed to be his ability to play through contact.

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A Player-By-Player Examination of Chicago’s 2018 Defense

| July 1st, 2019

As a unit, the Bears defense finished 3rd in the NFL in yards, 1st in points, and 1st in turnovers. Now I want to look at the impact each individual player had on the defense, as much as is possible. To do so, I’m using stats from The Quant Edge.


Defensive Line

Let’s start on the defensive line, where we can get a look at how often each player was on the field and how successful the defense was when they were in or out of the game. This can be measured through yards per carry (YPC), yards per pass attempt (YPA), and success rate, which is generally a measure of how effectively offenses stay ahead of the chains. Higher success rate

The table below shows data for defensive linemen who both played and missed 100 or more snaps, and is set up such that numbers for each category are in game/out of game for an easy comparison. Notable differences are highlighted in green (good) or red (bad).



A few thoughts:

  • First, note that this data does not necessarily mean a player was good or bad, especially when we get to the smaller sample sizes (in terms of snaps played or snaps missed). But it can be really useful for players in the middle, who both played a lot of snaps and rotated out for plenty as well.
  • Speaking of those players, hello Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks! Look at those splits against the run. Those two make up a formidable duo up front for the Bears, and allow them to be stout against the run even in nickel looks when they only have two defensive linemen on the field. If you’re looking for more specifics here, Jack Soble of The Loop Sports did a great film breakdown of Goldman’s impact on the run game.
  • Roy Robertson-Harris had some flash plays this year, but the data suggests he didn’t really have a positive impact on the defense as a whole. That’s plenty understandable in the run game, because he’s not really a typical 3-4 defensive lineman and doesn’t 2-gap as well as the rest of these players.
  • Sometimes the differences between yards/play and success rate can be confusing. Let’s look at Jonathan Bullard as an example. In the run game, teams averaged a lower yards/carry when he was on the field, which is good, but had a higher success rate, which is bad. That tells us that the Bears gave up fewer long runs, but still let teams stay with or ahead of the chains a bit more when he played. That could mean he played in a lot of short-yardage situations, where a 1-2 yard run is a success but keeps the average gain low. On the flip side, teams averaged more yards/pass when he was on the field, but had a lower success rate. That means the Bears didn’t give up completions as much, but gave up more big plays.

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ATM: Trubisky Has Earned Optimism

| June 25th, 2019

The Vikings kept bringing the heat, and Mitch Trubisky kept beating it.

Minnesota was playing for everything in Week 17 and all they needed was a stop and a score. They brought the heat and Trubisky dissected them, despite playing without his top three wide receivers.

After a Vikings touchdown made the score 13-10, the Bears young QB took over.

Third and five, the QB runs for 12.

Third-and-six, Javon Wims for 16.

Third-and-six again, Burton for nine.

Third-and-seven, Wims for nine and a first down at the eight.



Two plays later, Cohen runs in a touchdown before Trubisky drills a pass into the chest of linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski for the two-point conversion.

Ball game.

Trubisky’s 2018 season has been dissected over and over and those doing the dissecting have always been able to find enough evidence to come to their pre-reached conclusion. The season was enough of a roller coaster for Trubisky that almost anybody can find evidence to prove any opinion correct. What isn’t debatable, however, is the mastery Trubisky showed at the end of the season, specifically that final regular season Sunday against one of the three best defenses in the league.

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Self-Scouting Chicago’s 2018 Defense: Run & Pass Across the Field

| June 24th, 2019

Chicago’s defense was awesome in 2018. We all know this. They finished 3rd in yards, 1st in points, and 1st in turnovers. So let’s take the same approach we did with the offense and look at how they did defending different areas of the field. All statistics come from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System or Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

Run Defense

Chicago’s run defense was fantastic in 2018, finishing 1st in yards against, 4th in yards/carry allowed, and 1st in touchdowns given up. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field to see if there were any weak links.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense in 2017.

  • 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.


A few thoughts:

  • My goodness, that is beautiful. Their run defense was consistently among the best in the NFL pretty much everywhere. It didn’t matter where teams tried running on the Bears, they weren’t going far.

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Lists, Lists and More Stupid Lists: An ATM Special Report

| May 29th, 2019

Last week we reached the part of the offseason where various media members began releasing lists ranking random NFL players, executives and pretty much anything else they can think of with the hope that it will create conversation amongst the fan bases.

While the number of lists released are too numerous to count, there were three that I found particularly interesting.


Bears Top 100

I’m not sure anybody alive is actually qualified to rank the 100 best players in the history of the Chicago Bears, but Dan Pompei and Don Pierson are as close as it gets.

I have nothing to add to players who retired before I was born and very little to say about the 1980s greats of whom I saw very little. But it still seems odd to me that Brian Urlacher wasn’t higher on the list.

Urlacher was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, whereas Richard Dent was really more of an afterthought and Jimbo Covert isn’t in at all — and doesn’t seem likely to get in. Yet both Dent and Covert ranked higher than Urlacher.

I’m cool with Devin Hester being second among the 2000s Bears, but Charles Tillman should’ve been ahead of Lance Briggs. Briggs was more recognized because he was Urlacher’s battery mate, but Tillman was the better player.

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How Did the Bears Use Their Receivers & Tight Ends in 2018?

| May 28th, 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 Chicago used their WRs and TEs in 2018.

Where They Lined Up

Let’s start by looking at where these players lined up, which can illustrate just how versatile they were (or were not). All data comes from The Quant Edge except for Tarik Cohen’s, which is from Pro Football Focus.



A few thoughts:

  • The Bears generally moved their main weapons all over the place. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen – who spent about 1/3 of his snaps out of the backfield – were all extremely versatile.
  • We also see that versatility in some of the depth pieces, most notably TEs Adam Shaheen and Ben Brauneker and WR Josh Bellamy. Dion Sims, on the other hand, was pretty much always an in-line TE.
  • The other piece who didn’t move much was Anthony Miller, spending the vast majority of his time in the slot. This is because he played almost exclusively at 3rd WR alongside Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. His versatility was demonstrated in different ways, as we’ll see below, and I think he’ll get moved around a lot more next year after usurping Gabriel as the WR2.

How They Were Used

Now I want to look at what routes the main options – Robinson, Gabriel, Burton, and Miller – got their targets on. The table below has the percentage of targets each player received on various routes, with the routes arranged by descending order of total targets. Numbers that are low compared to peers are highlighted in red, while numbers that are high are highlighted in green. All data from The Quant Edge.

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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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