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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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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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