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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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ATM: In Case It Doesn’t Work Out at GM: Part I

| June 2nd, 2021

The mood around the Chicago Bears has completely flipped since draft night, but we all know it can flip back rather quickly when the games begin. While it is common to say that drafting a quarterback gives a regime more time, recent history suggests that is no longer true. The Bears still need to show they’re heading in the right direction if Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are going to keep their jobs.

As of last week, Nagy still had the third-highest odds of not only being fired, but being the first coach fired. It is possible that Nagy would be fired and Pace would retain his job. (The LA Chargers have allowed Tom Telesco to hire his third coach and Rick Spielman is on his third with the Vikings. One drafted what seems like a star QB. The other gave a mediocrity millions.) But there has been some indication that Pace is no longer the top guy in the organization, with the Fields pick seeming to belong to Nagy. If you listen to Louis Riddick – and there is reason to do so – the coach and GM are at least on the same footing. That almost certainly means that if one is fired, they both are.

I’ve already written about replacing Pace but that was a lifetime ago. At that point, the primary focus was finding a quarterback. Assuming they have, the focus now shifts to building around Fields and learning to adjust.

With that, here are a ten of the top candidates to replace Pace should the Bears go that route. You’ll get five today. Five tomorrow. If you have better options, share them in the comments section below. 

Adam Peters, 49ers Assistant GM

Peters has been a top guy for three teams that have played in the Super Bowl; two in Denver and one in San Francisco. He was also an assistant with two Super Bowl champions in New England. At a certain point, you can’t ignore it when success follows someone.

What we saw in Denver and San Francisco were systems that put the quarterback in position to succeed. In Chicago he could have a franchise quarterback which would make life that much easier.

He’d likely want to bring in a coach from the Shanahan tree, since that’s where he has had success. If that’s true, we could see Mike McDaniel or Mike LaFleur be candidates.


Ed Dodds, Colts Assistant GM

Dodds might really be the brains behind the Colts operation and there’s reason to believe he was for the Seahawks previously. Perhaps the best help the Bears could give a true franchise quarterback is an elite defense and Dodds has done that in two separate spots.

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Examining Chicago’s Personnel Usage/Tendencies on Offense in 2020

| June 1st, 2021

Like I’ve done the last few seasons, I want to explore how the Bears deployed their skill position players on offense in 2020 to see if there are any trends or tells for which opposing defensive coordinators can look. These are tendencies Chicago’s coaches should be aware of and look to rectify in the future.

The table below shows changes in run percentage when skill position guys who played between 35-65% of the snaps were in the game vs. on the sideline.

  • On the high end, that excludes players who played more than 75% of snaps, because their “off-field” splits would be too small to consider. That was only Allen Robinson in 2020.
  • On the low end, that excludes players who played less than 25% of snaps, because they are often mainly in the game in specific situations, where a run or pass may be expected (i.e. the 4th WR in a 4 WR set for 3rd and long, or the 2nd TE in a short-yardage set). This excluded Demetrius Harris, Cordarrelle Patterson, and a host of other role players who played a few offensive snaps.

(Note: This data is pulled from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System, which includes sacks and QB scrambles as passing plays.)

A few thoughts:

  • David Montgomery had pretty even splits when he was on and off the field. Therefore I won’t look at him any further when I split the sample into different personnel packages below.
  • This is a change from 2019, when Montgomery’s presence on the field made a run much more likely, and is almost certainly due to Tarik Cohen’s injury. In Cohen’s limited 76 plays before getting hurt, the Bears only ran it 29% of the time. He clearly had the passing downs role, and Montgomery absorbed that when Cohen got hurt.
  • Everybody else has fairly significant changes in how frequently the offense runs when they are on the field vs. off of it, which warrants further exploration.

Different Personnel Groupings

I was curious how much the personnel groupings might influence these splits, so I looked at how frequently the Bears run the ball in different groupings. Generally, there are five skill position guys (WR, TE, RB) on the field for a given play, so I split the sample up by how many of them were wide receivers.

The more WR the Bears have on the field, the more likely they are to pass. That makes sense, but the significant difference in run frequency here means we’re going to have to look at each of these groups individually to see how players really impact the run/pass ratio when they are on the field.


3+ Wide Receivers

Let’s start with plays featuring 3 or more WRs, which means there are 2 total TE + RB. The most common setup here was 11 personnel, which features 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR.

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Bears Roster Will Look Very Different in 2022

| May 26th, 2021

Disclaimer: an early version of this article listed Sam Mustipher as a free agent, but he is an exclusive rights free agent, which means the Bears can keep him around for 2022 on a minimum level contract. The article has been edited to remove him. I apologize for the initial error.

The Bears’ roster stayed fairly consistent, with the same general core of players from 2018-20, but this offseason began to change that. Longtime starters like Kyle Fuller, Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, and Mitchell Trubisky were sent packing, and Justin Fields’ arrival in the draft represented the dawn of a new (and hopefully more successful) era.

The team will look a bit different on the field in 2021, but many of the 2018-20 core remains. Next offseason, however, will see greater roster flexibility (and thus likely greater roster turnover) than Chicago has had in a while.

To begin with, the following projected Bears starters are scheduled to be free agents in 2022:

  • QB Andy Dalton
  • WR Allen Robinson
  • WR Anthony Miller
  • TE Jimmy Graham
  • C Sam Mustipher
  • RG James Daniels
  • RT Germain Ifedi
  • DE Akiem Hicks
  • DE Bilal Nichols
  • CB Desmond Trufant
  • S Tashaun Gipson

That’s a total of 10 starters – 6 on offense, 4 on defense. Additionally, the Bears will be able to move on from QB Nick Foles ($3M cap savings), DT Eddie Goldman ($6.7M cap savings), OLB Robert Quinn ($6.7M cap savings), and OLB Jeremiah Attaochu ($2.85M cap savings) if they want to. (With Goldman, that is highly unlikely.)

The Bears will also have greater financial flexibility than they have the last few off-seasons. Right now, they are scheduled to have about $39M in cap room according to Over the Cap, though that does not yet factor in the 2021 draft picks, who will probably drop that by about $10M. That’s also estimating a $200M cap, and it could end up a bit higher than that. Either way, they will have money to spend, with the ability to create more with cuts (as indicated above).

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Establishing Realistic Expectations for Teven Jenkins

| May 24th, 2021

The Bears traded up in the second round to select Teven Jenkins and then promptly cut Charles Leno, paving the way for Jenkins to take over as the starting left tackle on day one. Bears fans have high expectations for Jenkins, helped along by Ryan Pace saying he gave Jenkins a first-round grade.

With that context in mind, I thought it might be helpful to look at recent history of tackles drafted in the second round. This can give us an idea of what to expect from Jenkins, and see what rough odds are for him becoming a quality starter vs. being a bust. I looked at all draft picks from 2011-20 to give a 10-year sample featuring 26 players. Full data can be seen here.

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Most Start as Rookies

18 of the 26 tackles (a very nice 69%) drafted in the second round started as rookies. Starter can be a bit difficult to define here due to injury and mid-season depth chart changes, so I considered them starters if they played more than half of their offense’s snaps and started in more than half of the games they appeared in, according to Pro Football Reference.

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They Stay on the Field

All 18 of the players who started as rookies spent at least three years as a starter, or have not yet played three years in the NFL but are projected to continue starting in 2021.

11 of the 13 with four or more years of experience spent at least four seasons starting.

Of the 12 rookie starters drafted in 2015 or earlier (so at least 6 NFL seasons by now), nine of them have been a starter for six or more years, with more than half (7) being a starter for at least 8 years (or 6+ years and projected to continue starting in 2021).

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