126 Comments

Nick Foles Will Be the Starting Quarterback

| June 1st, 2020


For the Bears, there is no more important issue looming than which man will be under center receive the shotgun snap when the Bears take the field against Detroit in Week One. Today I want to dig into the stats to see what we can learn about Foles vs. Trubisky, as well as what to expect from whoever wins that derby compared to other QBs around the NFL.

The table below shows basic efficiency statistics for Trubisky and Foles in the Reid offense (so Trubisky in 2018-19 in Chicago and Foles in 2016 in KC and 17-18 in Philadelphia), plus the other three notable recent Reid QBs (Smith 13-17, Mahomes 18-19, Wentz 16-19). I’ll note I included playoff stats for everybody because otherwise Foles’ sample size is just so small (less than 350 with just regular season, just over 500 with playoffs included). I also included the NFL average for 2018-19 as a frame of reference for what’s roughly normal around the league. I split up the data into short and long passes (targeted more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) using Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

That’s a lot of information to digest, so let’s look at short and deep passes separately.


Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

167 Comments

How Consistent are Explosive Plays?

| May 26th, 2020

The Bears produced the fewest explosive plays in the NFL last year, and given the importance of explosive plays to overall offensive output, that largely explains their status as one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

So I want to look at how consistent explosive plays are. We’ll start with a team-by-team basis, and then look at it on a player-by-player level in a follow-up article.


The Setup

I used Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder to track explosive runs (gained 15+ yards) and passes (gained 20+ yards) for each team season since 2014. I did this to have 5 years to compare season-over-season consistency (2014 vs. 2015, 2015 vs. 2016, etc.), giving a respectable sample size of 160 data points without going too far into the past, since the NFL is a constantly evolving league.


Results

I started by doing a simple comparison of explosive plays a team had in one year compared to explosive plays they gained the following year. As you can see in the chart below, there wasn’t much of a relationship.

As a reminder, correlation (R²) is a measure of how strong the relationship between two variables is. It ranges from 0-1, with 0 meaning there is no relationship whatsoever. So a value of 0.027 tells us there is basically no relationship between how many explosive plays a team has in one year compared to how many they will have the following year.

I’ll note I did similar looks for explosive runs and passes when separated out from each other and got similar results (R² < 0.07 for both). I also looked at all three in terms of explosive rate (explosive plays/total plays), and got similar results. I don’t feel the need to pepper this article with a bunch of similar graphs that show no results, but if you’re curious, the full data set and graphs can be seen here.

This then, would seem to suggest good things for the Bears. Just because they were unexplosive in 2019 does not mean the same will be true in 2020. 

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

107 Comments

Will Bears Continue to Suffer “Death By Inches”?

| May 19th, 2020

Matt Nagy went on a media tour last week. But perhaps the biggest takeaway came yesterday.

Nagy and the Bears were featured by Albert Breer in the weekly Monday Morning Quarterback spot. The interview was as in-depth as any we’ve seen regarding the changes to the team’s coaching staff and touched on working through the virtual off-season program. The most telling comment from Nagy was more of an almost throwaway line. Breer wrote:

“And it motivates Nagy himself to do better for the players. So just as he asked his coaches, and his players to be on the details that slipped last year, he’s putting just as much pressure on himself to be all over those—whether it’s staying on the details of what’s happening in the offensive meeting rooms, so he can be a better play-caller, or setting the standard for everyone as the head coach.

“That can be in a meeting, if we say guys can’t have phones in a meeting, it means they don’t have phones in a meeting,” Nagy said. “It doesn’t mean in Week 8 they start bringing them in. It means they never have them in the meeting. If they show up 9:00 or 9:01, they’re walking in as I’m walking in—no, get there early. It’s just a lot of different things. For me, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Now, for me to do that, I have to have really, really great support from the rest of our coaches, and have that trickle down to players.

“That’s what I’m excited about, getting to see that happen.”

So much of what is said during the off-season is about what’s not said. When the Bears talk about Jimmy Graham’s ability to run, they don’t have to mention it’s something they didn’t have last year. When they say Robert Quinn will improve their defense because he gets to the quarterback, they don’t have to say Leonard Floyd didn’t do it well enough. When Matt Nagy says his team is going to be more detailed and disciplined, he doesn’t have to say they weren’t a year ago.

Read More …

Tagged: ,

195 Comments

Is Producing Explosive Plays More Important Than Avoiding Negative Ones?

| May 18th, 2020


I did some work last off-season examining how important explosive plays are to an offense’s production, and found that there is a strong relationship between the number of explosive plays (runs of 15+ yards, passes of 20+ yards) and overall offensive performance (measured in either points/game or DVOA rank). I have updated that information to now include 2018 and 2019 data and still found a strong relationship, as you can see in the graphs below.

Correlation (R²) can be loosely interpreted as how much of the pattern is explained by that variable, which means explosive plays account for roughly 40-60% of overall offensive production, which is quite a high number, and consistent with values from the 2018 season alone. Seeing the same relationship across multiple seasons of data provides additional credibility to the relationship.

(Side note: just like in 2018, total explosive plays shows a stronger relationship with both points/game and DVOA than the % of offensive plays that are explosive, so I’ll probably just track total explosive plays from now on.)

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

266 Comments

Establishing Realistic Expectations for Cole Kmet

| May 13th, 2020


The Bears spent their first pick (43rd overall) on Cole Kmet, a big tight end from Notre Dame who has a chance to plug a Bears’ roster hole from day one.

It should be noted, however, that tight end is a position where conventional wisdom says it’s hard to make a big impact in your rookie season due to a steep learning curve. In order to establish realistic expectations for Kmet, let’s take a look at how comparable tight ends have fared in their first few years of the NFL.

In order to do so, I looked at all 18 tight ends drafted in the 2nd round between 2010-19. I tracked their playing time and statistical contributions on offense after extrapolating to a full 16 game season to normalize the data since several players missed games with injuries.

The full data can be seen here, but I’m just going to show the range of snaps played, targets earned, passes caught, and receiving yards, which can be seen in the table below.



Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

194 Comments

Deshaun Watson’s Performance in Chicago, in December, Will Be Pace Referendum

| May 12th, 2020


Ryan Pace had no interest in drafting Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who played in two National Championship games, leading Clemson to the title in 2016. The quarterback who chucked 90 touchdowns to 32 interceptions in collage and ran for another 26 more touchdowns. No interest. This wasn’t the case of Patrick Mahomes, who tore up horrendous defenses playing for a bad team. This was a guy at the next-highest level dominating great defenses.

Watson was a stud, but Pace had no interest. He’ll surely never tell us why.

It’s not fair or accurate to say Pace didn’t scout Watson. The two actually met and spoke at the Combine. The scouting is what led him to conclude he didn’t want to draft the most prolific QB in college football. It was either something medical or a flaw Pace saw on tape. The medical questions were legitimate. Watson suffered a knee injury at Clemson and another as a rookie with Houston. He has a slender frame and tends to take a lot of hits as he plays off schedule. He has been banged up quite a bit in his NFL career. But, if it were injury-related, Pace or someone within the Bears medical staff almost certainly would’ve made that known by now.

The other reason is physical.

Watson is certainly big enough and fast enough, but there were concerns coming out about whether or not he had enough of an arm. The only modern quarterback who has had any somewhat consistent success in Chicago had a cannon. Green Bay’s nearly 30-year run of success at the position has come with guys with huge arms, and they spent a first round pick on another who qualifies.

It isn’t that Watson has a weak arm, but whether it can cut through the Chicago wind in January is another story.

Read More …

Tagged: ,

146 Comments

Interview: Ted Ginn Expects Perfect Pairing with Nagy

| May 7th, 2020

Ted Ginn Jr. didn’t need to be reminded of details.

“I knew I needed to attack the safety in front of me,” Ginn said in an interview. “I knew that I had to beat him and once I saw that safety drop from the back side that would’ve taken away my angle, I knew I had green grass in front of me.”

The play was a 45-yard reception against the very team Ginn signed with last week. It was the longest play of the season for the speedy wideout and one of just seven 40-plus yard completions the Chicago Bears allowed in 2019. The play was a simple combination of talent and scheme.

“Different coverages can be created by the way you line up, a lot of different things come from different alignments,” Ginn said. “Within that play, we were in a run set type of alignment where I’m usually not in. For me it was kind of a big splash play were able to get it off.”

In his official return to the Midwest, Ginn hopes to have plenty more splash plays and he knows he signed with a coach and an offense that can offer a mutually beneficial relationship.

“(Matt Nagy) has been trying to get that type of threat in me or Tyreek Hill or DeSean Jackson, guys that we have seen prevail in this offense,” Ginn said. “I can bring my talent with (Nagy’s) knowledge and it should be a hand-in-hand type of deal. We should be able to take over.”


Read More …

Tagged: ,

209 Comments

Why Do Day Three Draft Picks Hit (or Miss)? A Deep Dive…

| May 6th, 2020


Former NFL executive Joe Banner did an interview a few years ago where he referenced a study by an NFL team that found most day 3 picks who turn into successful NFL players are guys who slip through the cracks either because they were from small schools, had an injury in their last year of college, or were undersized for their position.

This made me curious, and since it was a private study without information published, I decided to do it myself.


The Setup

I used the Pro Football Reference database to grab information about every day 3 draft pick from 2007-16. I stopped at 2016 because I wanted players who had finished their 4 year rookie contracts, and started at 2007 to give me 10 seasons’ worth of data. This gave a sample size of 1509 picks.

I then identified players who were a hit based on 2 criteria:

  1. They were a primary starter on offense or defense for at least 2 seasons (as defined by Pro Football Reference).
  2. They had a career AV (a Pro Football Reference metric that attempts to quantify overall impact of each player) of at least 15. I chose this value as the cutoff because Nick Kwiatkoski finished his four years in Chicago with an AV of 15, and that feels about right for the cutoff for a hit.

Any player that hit at least one of these thresholds was considered a hit, while all others were not. I also found that the majority of players who hit this threshold also hit the 1st one, though there of course some outliers.


Results

Let’s take a look at some different factors and see how they influenced hit rates on day 3 of the draft.

Small School

We’ll start with players from a small school, which I defined as anything but the “power 5” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC). The table below shows hit rates for Power 5 picks vs. small school picks for each round of the draft’s 3rd day.

A few thoughts:

  • Generally, the small schools hit at a slightly higher rate than Power 5 schools, a difference that is more pronounced later in the draft.
  • Given this, it seems weird that teams spend far more day 3 draft picks on Power 5 players than they do small school guys. Between 63%-74% of picks in each round were spent on players from Power 5 schools. Of course, fewer small school players getting drafted probably helps explain why they have a higher hit rate. If you take more small school guys just because, they probably won’t be able to sustain that higher odds of success.
  • Notice rounds 4-5 are fairly similar, but very different than rounds 6-7. In order to have larger sample sizes, I will split day 3 into those 2 groups going forward.
  • With that in mind, general rules of thumb to keep in mind are that roughly 1/3 of picks in rounds 4-5 pan out, compared to roughly 15% (1 in about 6.5) of picks in rounds 6-7. As we look at other factors, we’ll look for anything that changes appreciably from those numbers.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

132 Comments

2020 Defense Can Be Better Than 2018.

| May 5th, 2020


Considering how good the defense was in 2018, believing the 2020 vintage will be better might seem like crazy talk. But the Bears have more talent (and more depth) on the unit than they did two seasons ago.

The biggest difference comes at edge where Robert Quinn has made a career out of sacking quarterbacks. Leonard Floyd made a career out of everyone wondering when he was going to start sacking quarterbacks. Floyd has his strengths and there’s a reason he ended up signing a decent contract elsewhere, but too often teams were able to get away with leaving subpar tackles on an island with a top-ten pick. The addition of Quinn makes the Bears starting third down defense basically unblockable, and he also should make it easier for Akiem Hicks to take snaps off because they’ll still be able to generate pass rush without him.

While seen as a letdown nationally, what the 2019 Bears team accomplished defensively was actually impressive, considering Hicks missed most of the season. They still finished in the top 10 in DVOA and yards allowed and top five in points allowed — just about one point per game more than they allowed in 2018. When you add in the complete failure of the offense to give them any help, the drop was not that far.

May signings are hardly ever big splashes, but the Bears ability to add Tashaun Gipson to the secondary could go down as one of the most important moves of the offseason. The Bears viewed Deon Bush and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as similar players last year, to the point where Bush was stealing snaps from Clinton-Dix. But Gipson is a step up and a pretty sizable one at that.

While there are some injury concerns with Gipson, there’s no doubting his ability in coverage. The eight-year pro has 23 interceptions and 47 passes breakups. In Houston last year, he allowed an opponent passer rating of 55. That isn’t just better than what Bush and Clinton-Dix allowed in 2019, it’s significantly better than the 73 Adrian Amos allowed in 2018. Gipson was able to do this despite not having anywhere near the kind of supporting cast he’ll have in 2020.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

139 Comments

Data Draft Thoughts: On Small Schools, Selecting Needs & Not Mortgaging Future Picks (Finally)

| April 29th, 2020

Here are some random musings about the Bears’ approach to the draft last weekend.


Mortgage Paid

This draft marked the first time since 2016 that Ryan Pace didn’t trade away a future day 1 or 2 pick.

Because of these frequent trades – and the  Khalil Mack deal – the Bears have had only two 1st round picks and 5 day 2 picks (out of 8 expected) over the last 4 drafts. That kind of continued deficit catches up to you eventually, and Pace has continually borrowed from the future to make up for it.

This year, Pace finally resisted the temptation to trade a high future pick for instant gratification. This is a good thing, because you always pay a steep interest rate on those kind of moves. The typical rule of thumb is that a pick 1 year away is worth a current pick 1 round lower, which we saw in action last weekend when Pace traded a 2021 4th round pick for a 2020 5th rounder and used it to select edge rusher Trevis Gipson. At least he only traded a future day 3 pick, which while less than ideal is still better than trading away a pick from the first 2 days of the draft. Next year the Bears will have close to their full complement of picks with which to work.


Positional Focus

Prior to the draft, I identified wide receiver, offensive line, cornerback, safety, and edge rusher as the Bears’ greatest 2020 needs, with tight end as a looming roster hole for 2021 and beyond. Given that every pick this weekend was spent on these positions, and all of them besides safety were addressed, it seems they mostly agreed with me.

I also did pre-draft work looking at where value was likely to be found in the draft, and concluded:

  • The best value at defensive back is early.
  • Tight end and interior offensive line have better value late.
  • Wide receiver has value throughout the draft.
  • Edge rusher is unlikely to provide value anywhere in the draft.

Well, Pace’s approach in regards to this wisdom was mixed. They did take a defensive back early, but also late. They took a wide receiver and waited on interior offensive line, but grabbed a tight end early and took an edge rusher. Let’s compare where their selections were drafted with where they ranked on the Athletic’s consensus big board. Note Hambright and Simmons did not appear on the 300 player big board.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,