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ATM: Pace Should Need Playoff Miracle to Keep His Job

| January 5th, 2021

Recently, The Athletic‘s Mike Sando published a list of NFL GMs, along with their winning percentages. Of the 18 GMs who have been in the league at least five years, Ryan Pace ranked 14th in terms of winning percentage. Two of the guys behind him have been fired. One owns the Bengals, where winning isn’t that big of a deal. The fourth? Well, how does Jason Licht still have a job?

The truth about what needs to happen with Pace was painfully obvious on Sunday. He was hired largely because of two lopsided losses to the Green Bay Packers in 2014, wherein the Packers outscored the Bears 93-31. He has closed the gap a little, but in 2020 the Packers still outscored the Bears by a combined 35 points that would’ve been more if not for a couple of garbage time scores in October. Pace has had six off-seasons to eliminate the gap between these two rivals. He has failed to do so.

Yes. Pace inherited a tough job, but was it more difficult than what Les Snead was thrown into with the Rams or Steve Keim with the Cardinals? Doubtful. Heck, Jon Robinson inherited a team that just used the second pick on Marcus Mariota and has still managed to turn the Titans into a winner.

The tricky part about Pace is that he clearly has an eye for talent.

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ATM: Can Trubisky Make the 2021 Quarterback Decision Interesting? Yes, He Can.

| December 16th, 2020

As the Chicago Bears offense had roared back to life with Mitch Trubisky under center, some Bears fans are getting excited about what his play can mean for his future and the future of the franchise.

The numbers over the past two weeks have been promising.

  • Two straight games with a passer rating over 100.
  • Averaging eight yards per attempt.
  • Completing about 75% of his passes.

Trubisky is finally playing the way the Bears hoped he would entering the season. But it’s still not good enough. And the most likely scenario remains that Trubisky becomes a compensatory pick for the Bears this off-season.

Lost in the hype of his three-game surge have been four catastrophic turnovers. They could’ve at least been in a shootout against the Packers if not for two horrendous interceptions and a lost fumble. Who knows what would’ve happened without Trubisky’s fumble against the Lions, but when he lost the ball, he made it very difficult for his team to win.

While Trubisky is nearing a 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and playing the best football of his career, the totality of what we have seen isn’t enough for the Bears to even consider investing in him long term.

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ATM: Bears, Wolf Could Be Perfect Pairing

| December 1st, 2020


The interview would be simple.

Former Packers and Browns executive Eliot Wolf, son of the famed Ron Wolf, would explain to George McCaskey one simple truth: he wants to beat the Packers as much as anyone in and around Halas Hall.

The reason Wolf isn’t already a general manager in the league is because the Packers wouldn’t let him leave. Wolf was said to be the favorite for the Detroit Lions job that ultimately went to Bob Quinn but he was never even allowed to interview for it. The Packers did let him speak with the 49ers about their GM opening, but that wasn’t a traditional GM job, as the coach they were certainly hiring — Kyle Shanahan — would have the keys to the organization. Wolf withdrew from that possibility thinking he would be next in line for the soon-to-open Packers job.

It never happened.

In fact, Ted Thompson’s position – which was held by Wolf’s father – was eliminated by Mark Murphy, the club’s financial guy. Murphy changed the organizations structure so that all football decisions would, ultimately, run through him. The job Wolf had always dreamt of having was taken away from him and Brian Gutekunst was promoted up the Packers personnel chain. Wolf wanted to pick the coach. Wolf wanted to pick the players. He didn’t want to share the GM role with the club’s salary cap manager.

Wolf was left in a limbo. He spent a season as Assistant General Manager for the Browns, barely even getting his feet wet before his boss – John Dorsey – was fired. Wolf then chose to leave Cleveland, first helping out in Seattle and then working as a consultant with the New England Patriots.

(As the Bears were picked apart by the likes of Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, it’s worth remembering that Wolf was the second-highest ranking executive when the team drafted them. As Ted Thompson’s health declined, Wolf began doing even more. He was training to be the team’s football czar without knowing that Murphy already planned that position for himself.)

There is no way that didn’t piss him off and the Bears have the opportunity to allow Wolf to show the Packers they screwed up.

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Bears Must Address Imbalanced Roster Construction

| November 20th, 2020


Yet again in 2020, we see that the Bears have one of the best defenses in the NF,L coupled with one of the worst offenses. This combines to give them a team that is not good enough. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, a continuation of 2018-19, all of the Lovie years, and the 1980s after Jim McMahon got hurt.

Normally I’d use the bye week to do an in-depth look at the numbers for Chicago’s offense and defense, but honestly I don’t see the point. Their defense is really good, their offense is really bad, and you don’t need advanced stats to tell you more than that. I’m sure I’ll still do some of that analysis in the offseason but for right now I want to focus on a bigger question: WHY is the defense so much better than their offense?

The answer here is really not that surprising: the Bears are investing more in the defense. The table below shows how much money they have invested in the defense compared to the offense, as measured in 3 ways:

  • 2020 cap dollars. How much current money is being spent.
  • Average yearly salary. This accounts for the fact that contracts don’t have even distribution of cap hits every year. For instance, Robert Quinn has an average salary of $14M per year in his contract, but only has a 2020 cap hit of $6M. This will give a better picture of true spending.
  • % of salary. This looks at how much of your total spending is focused on one side of the ball, based on the average annual salary of players. It’s a good measure of how lopsided your investment is on offense vs. defense.

The table below shows the Bears’ values for offense and defense in each category, as well as the NFL average and where the Bears rank. All data is from Spotrac.

A few thoughts:

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Are There Potential OL Upgrades Available for the Bears?

| October 21st, 2020

Nick Foles, in his inspirational postgame press conference on Sunday, said, “without belief nothing is possible”. There’s truth to that. But with all due respect to Foles, belief alone isn’t going to get the Chicago Bears offense anywhere.

Foles was excited after the Bears defeated the Carolina Panthers to move to 5-1. And he should be, as another win buys the Bears more time to figure out what is hurting their offense. Foles believes they will, and he has his reasons, but six games into the season — and 38 into the Matt Nagy era — there’s little reason for anyone on the outside to believe the Bears are going to get where they need to be offensively.

There’s no reason to believe Foles’ belief is anything but blind optimism. In the same press conference he also said, “There have been teams that have been bad offensively for a very long time, we’re not one of those teams.”

But, hey, he’s new here. We’ll cut him some slack on that one.



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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume III: Defense & Playoff Odds

| October 15th, 2020

I already looked at a variety of statistics for the offense, including QB performance, run game woes, and explosive plays, and explored how Chicago has deployed their skill position players. Today I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference and think about Chicago’s playoff odds.


Missed Tackles

I highlighted missed tackles as a concern in the secondary heading into the season. As a team, the Bears are actually doing quite well with missed tackles right now; they rank 7th in the NFL with 22 through 5 weeks. The table below shows missed tackle stats (from Pro Football Reference) for all players with at least 10 tackle attempts, as well as cumulative totals for each position group.

For context, here’s how the positional averages compare to NFL peers over the last 2 years:

  • The median starting NFL DB misses right around 11% of their tackles, so Chicago’s secondary is about average here so far. That’s actually pretty good for them given the tackling concerns heading into the season with Kyle Fuller, Buster Skrine, and Eddie Jackson. Fuller in particular has struggled so far this year, but everybody else has been ok.

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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume II: Offensive Personnel Usage

| October 14th, 2020


I already looked at a variety of statistics for the offense, including QB performance, run game woes, and explosive plays. Today I want to explore how the Bears are deploying their skill position players, using lineup data from the NFL Game Statistics Information System. This tracks how many plays the Bears have played with different combination of 11 offensive players, and splits the data into runs and passes, with yards gained for each. Combing through this data can provide valuable insights into how the Bears are deploying their personnel, and what packages have been most and least effective.


Tight Ends

The Bears completely overhauled this position in the offseason, following a disastrous 2019 campaign in which no player even hit 100 receiving yards. They gave Jimmy Graham a big contract, spent their 1st pick (43rd overall) on Cole Kmet, and brought in veteran journeyman Demetrius Harris.

I want to start by looking at Cole Kmet, who has been very quiet so far as a rookie despite receiving a good bit of training camp hype. Through five games, Kmet has played 102 snaps, seen 3 pass targets, and caught 1 ball for 12 yards. This is hugely disappointing, and worrisome for his future; when I looked at rookie seasons for TEs drafted in the 2nd round this offseason, I found that tight ends who are going to be good are typically involved in the offense right away. The only tight ends drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years to receive fewer than 30 targets in their rookie seasons are Vance McDonald, Adam Shaheen, Gavin Escobar, Drew Sample, and Troy Niklas. Of those, only Vance McDonald has done anything in the NFL. Kmet is currently on pace for 10 targets.

It’s fair to argue a rookie should see their production increase as the season wears on, so I looked at all 19 players in that study through the first five games of their rookie season. You can see the full list here, but Kmet has the 3rd fewest targets, least amount of catches, and the least number of yards through that time period. And for all of those categories, the bottom four (not including Kmet) are from the list of five names above. It’s early, but right now Kmet most closely resembles Troy Niklas and Adam Shaheen, which is very not good.

Because I was curious about Kmet, I split out lineups involving him vs. those who don’t, and also sorted by the number of tight ends on the field. The results, as you can see below, are certainly illuminating.

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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume I: Offense

| October 13th, 2020

We’re five weeks in to a wild season in which we’ve already seen the Bears make a quarterback change and post three comeback wins from 13 or more points down. Since they’re on a mini-bye following their Thursday night victory over Tampa Bay, now is a good time to take a step back and see what we’ve learned so far.

Obligatory warnings:

  • These are still small sample sizes, especially given that each QB basically played 2.5 games. So think of any lessons learned here more as observations that are worth monitoring going forward than hard and fast conclusions.
  • Statistics for Bears are updated through 5 games, but all other teams only have 4 at the time of this writing, so NFL ranks may have changed a bit by the time this is published.

I have a lot I want to get to, so let’s dive right in.


Better Lucky Than Good

The Bears may be 4-1, but I don’t think anybody would argue they have played well so far this year (including Matt Nagy). As you can see from the pie chart below, which shows the % of offensive snaps the Bears have taken in a variety of score situations, they have actually spent the majority of the season trailing.

They’ve taken 2/3 of their offensive snaps while trailing (33% by 2 or more scores) and only 19% with a lead. To somehow go from that to 4 wins in 5 games is remarkable, but it should not be expected to continue going forward. The Bears need to play better if they want to keep winning games. The good news is that they started to look better in week 5; the defense in the 2nd half looked the best it had since week 4 of the 2019 season, and the offense was something approaching competent for the last 40 or so minutes of the game.


QB Comparison

The Bears switched from Mitchell Trubisky to Nick Foles in the 2nd half of week 3, which means both QBs have actually played a similar amount of snaps so far this year (Foles is at 168, Trubisky 169). Let’s see how each performed. The table below shows stats for each passer, as well as the average for the entire NFL this year, broken up into deep and short throws (anything that travels 15+ yards in the air past the line of scrimmage is considered deep). YPA = yards per attempt.

A few thoughts:

  • Keep in mind that Nick Foles has played 2 of the best defenses in the NFL the last 2 weeks, while Trubisky played all of his snaps against 3 of the worst defenses in the league. Still, it’s hard to argue Foles has been better so far, at least on a statistical basis. He needs to play better going forward.

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Matt Nagy’s Offense Was Not Good Enough Sunday. Will It Ever Be?

| October 6th, 2020


Matt Nagy, an offensive head coach, has had far too many postgame press conferences like Sunday, wherein he proclaimed the offense “wasn’t good enough”. No, his offense wasn’t good enough Sunday. They weren’t good enough in year one. They weren’t good enough in year two. And through four games of year three, they’re still not good enough.

The sign of a good head coach is one who has success on the side of the ball from which he came.

  • Bill Belichick always has top 10 defenses.
  • Andy Reid has only ranked outside the top 20 in scoring twice — his first and last years in Philadelphia.
  • Kyle Shanahan has had a bunch of injuries this year, but his team in 11th in yardage and 13th in points. (Shanahan’s 49ers have never ranked outside the top half of the league in yardage or in the bottom 10 in scoring.)

But after Sunday’s woeful performance, the Bears are 25th in scoring and 24th in yardage. They’re 31st in third down conversions, 25th in the red zone.

The passing game is averaging an anemic 6.4 yards per attempt while still being intercepted 3.2 percent of the time. They’re sixth in passing attempts — partially due to the fact that they fall behind every week — yet 21st in yardage. It isn’t a stretch to say they have the worst passing offense in the league.

And, hey, it’s not just that they can’t pass the ball, they’re 20th in rushing and are the only team in the league without a rushing touchdown this year.

This comes after they changed out the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, quarterback coach and, of course, the quarterback himself.

Nagy is running out of people to blame.

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Hitting the ATM: The Mitch We Already Know.

| September 1st, 2020

After visible training camp practices concluded Saturday, nearly ever beat reporter had Nick Foles ahead of Mitch Trubisky in the team’s quarterback competition. That tells us all we need to know about Trubisky.

(In fairness, those on the Bears beat are hardly experts when it comes to judging quarterbacks and nobody has any actual idea what the Bears are looking for. But all reports have indicated that Trubisky has yet to grow out of the maddening inconsistencies that led to Foles being acquired in the first place.)

Whether it’s running out of bounds for a two-yard loss instead of throwing the ball away, making questionable decisions or throwing scattershot incompletions and interceptions, Trubisky has seemingly looked exactly like the player he has been throughout his career.

That might be surprising to some because there was at least a portion of the fan base that thought Trubisky’s faults weren’t actually his in the first place and blamed his shoulder injury, which came after he already had three mostly bad showings, as well as his offensive and his skill players and the moon and the stars. Even for the more realistic fans, there was at least some hope that Trubisky would be more motivated this year. In a contract year, with a challenger looking him in the face, how could Trubisky not be at his best?

Well maybe we’ve already seen his best.

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