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Bears Beat Bengals to Guarantee Tie for First Place: Rapid Fire Recap

| September 20th, 2021


The story will be Justin Fields. Every week, from here out. Fields played how a rookie with no first-team reps should play. Bad interception. Cadence issues with the line. Some brilliant throws (that the receivers didn’t catch). Extended a crucial drive with his legs. Now the season becomes about his progression. And if the Bears can win while he progresses, this becomes a fascinating season.

Other thoughts. Rapid fire is back, baby.

  • The other progression to track is Kindle Vildor. Vildor made enough plays Sunday to provide hope but also looked lost at times. If the Bears can find a second corner on this roster it’ll make the offseason so much easier to navigate.
  • Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson are young cornerstones for this defense. Roquan is a weird combination of Briggs and Urlacher – an attacking run stuffer who’s also brilliant in space. Johnson, if he stays healthy, has All Pro corner talent.
  • Robert Quinn’s hit on Burrow out of bounds was absurd but this was his best game as a Bear.
  • Allen Robinson has to catch the touchdown pass from Fields. He just has to. It’s not only pivotal in the game but it would have given the organization a huge moment to celebrate. Don’t complain about the quarterbacks you’ve played with in your career when you can’t make plays like that.
  • Cole Kmet. One target. That just isn’t enough. The Bears have to get their tight ends consistently into the game plan.

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Week One Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Rams

| September 9th, 2021


We’re finally talking about football. Two teams playing. Someone keeping score. Results that matter.

This season, the Thursday space will be occupied by a simple concept: how the Bears beat their opponent that week. Friday will fill out the game preview, including off-topic stuff and a prediction. But Thursday will be specific to mapping out a potential journey to victory for the boys from Chicago.

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VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)

93.6%.

Victory is highly unlikely.

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What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • Get Cole Kmet involved early. The Bears aren’t going to surprise anyone with what they do offensively. They don’t have the kind of weapons to make surprise feasible and they have a milquetoast quarterback. But they do have something of a secret weapon in Kmet, a talented player underused during his rookie campaign. If Nagy truly believes he can finally run the Andy Reid offense in Chicago, that requires dynamic tight end play, and the Bears are not getting that from anybody else on this roster. It has to be Kmet. And it has to happen quickly Sunday night.
  • Pass to run. The Rams were the third best run defense in the league last season. So for all those fans out there who scream RUN THE BALL every week, this ain’t the week to do it. If the Bears run the ball on early downs and get behind the chains, the Rams pass rush will eat their potato leak soup with multiple spoons. Pass early. Get positive yards. The playbook opens far wider on 2nd-and-5 than 3rd-and-11.
  • Play the cleanest game possible. If the Bears lose the turnover battle or commit a dozen penalties they have literally 0% chance to win this game. Despite the babble coming out of Halas Hall, this is still a matchup between the league’s best defense in 2020 and one of the worst offenses. The contest was comical last season. The Bears need a significant improvement for the story to change in 2021.

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2021’s Ten Most Important Bears (Other Than Justin Fields)

| September 8th, 2021

The 2021 season probably won’t be one the Bears highlight, but it could be important for determining the future of the franchise. They have an odd mix of veterans and young players, all needing to prove themselves. They have key positions that didn’t have battles, but also don’t have sure things locked in.

We know Justin Fields is ultimately going to be the straw that stirs the drink, hopefully for the next two decades. But the Bears need to determine two things: (a) who will be surrounding Fields and (b) how will they make life easier for the quarterback.

With that, here are the ten most important Bears of 2021, other than Fields, of course.


10. Akiem Hicks

Hicks flashed greatness last year, then seemed to run out of gas.

His job was different last year without Eddie Goldman; teams were able to focus more on him in the running game. But then you’d see the spurt; he’d throw a guard three yards back and take out a running back in the backfield.

Hicks is in a contract year and the Bears have to know what he has left before deciding what to do.


9. Sam Mustipher

Mustipher was a legitimately good center last year and could be a building block going forward. The team didn’t consider replacing him. He needs to reward that confidence.


8. Darnell Mooney

If teams are going to take Allen Robinson away, Mooney needs to make them pay. The wide receiver needs to take a significant step in his sophomore season.

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Predictions & Projections for the 2021 Chicago Bears

| September 7th, 2021


No reason to bury the lede.

If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.

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What Would Starting Fields Do?

This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.

With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.

Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.

And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.

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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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A Closer Look at Cole Kmet’s Rookie Season

| March 15th, 2021

Last offseason, I looked at rookie production for recent tight ends to form realistic expectations for Cole Kmet’s rookie season. In that study, I found three statistical thresholds for a rookie season that seemed to portend good things to come:

  • Play at least 400 snaps
  • See at least 40 targets
  • Average at least 6.0 yards/target

There were 8 tight ends drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years who hit all three of those thresholds as rookies, and 7 of them had at least one NFL season with 500 receiving yards. Only two of the eight 2nd round picks in the same time frame – who did not hit all three thresholds – went on to have a season with 500 receiving yards. With that in mind, let’s look at how Cole Kmet did in his rookie year.

  • 603 snaps
  • 44 targets
  • 5.5 yards/target

Here you can see that Kmet hit the thresholds for snaps and targets, but was really inefficient with those targets, meaning he did not hit the 6.0 yards/target threshold. This does not guarantee Kmet will be a bust, but it also puts him in company of players who mostly did not pan out as capable receiving TEs in the NFL.

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ATM: Offense is Terrible, But Did We See Signs of Improvement Sunday?

| November 4th, 2020


None of it was pretty. But 23 points and roughly 330 yards was about the best anybody could have or should have expected from the Chicago Bears offense on Sunday. That is a sad statement. But it is our current reality.

Already with a bad offensive line, the Bears got worse up front early in the game when Bobby Massie went down. His replacement, Jason Spriggs, is a backup for a reason, and a backup on this offensive is most likely a third stringer elsewhere. The Bears ended the game with an offensive line that included two UDFAs (one was a defensive lineman three years ago), a seventh-round pick turned average veteran, a second-round bust and a first-round bust. Some teams can win with a bad offensive line. A team with Nick Foles at quarterback can’t. To their credit, the Bears battled and scored 23 points against a Saints defense just hitting its stride.

The offense wasn’t good enough by NFL standards, but it could have been good enough to win Sunday. If the Bears defense plays to their potential, the same type of performance could also be good enough to win enough games down the stretch.

Could this have been a performance upon which to build?

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A Change Needs to Come: Matt Nagy Needs to Bench Matt Nagy.

| October 27th, 2020

Mitch Trubisky was benched for a lot of reasons but primary among them was his inability to run Matt Nagy’s offense. He was unable to to read defenses, change protections, get into the right play.

Nick Foles can run Nagy’s offense. The problem is, as we’re now learning, Nagy’s offense doesn’t make any sense.


Personal Note.

I like to think I’m pretty forthright with my readers around here. I don’t spend hours upon hours dissecting All-22 tape because I legitimately can’t think of anything more boring. I do, however, watch the Sunday Ticket “Short Cuts” presentation of every single game played in the NFL. These are quick, easily-digestible presentations that help cut through national media misrepresentations of players, teams…etc.

When I went through the Rams season, one thing was abundantly clear. There was 0.00% chance the Bears would have any success running into the middle of their defensive line. If the Bears were going to have success on offense they would need to spread the Rams out, get the ball to their speedsters in space, screen them to death. This isn’t necessarily the approach EVERY team should take with the Rams, but it was certainly the approach the Bears would need to take.

And they didn’t. They did…nothing. They attempted a bizarre, incoherent game plan. They ran directly at the best defensive player in the sport and then acted shocked, SHOCKED, when that approach failed.


The Questions.

What would Andy Reid be doing with Darnell Mooney? You can bet your life he’d be finding creative ways to get him the ball in space 3-5 times a game.

Why have the running backs been exiled from the passing game since Tarik Cohen’s injury?

Why is Cole Kmet – who does nothing but make plays when he’s allowed – struggling to usurp a useless Demetrius Harris on the depth chart?

Why does Jimmy Graham get pulled off the field in the red zone? This is now back-to-back weeks where Nagy is removing the team’s most intimidating red zone threat where they need him most!

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5 Reasons to Be Overly Excited About the 5-1 Start

| October 22nd, 2020

We’ve spent the last two days focused on where the Bears need to improve. Today, I come to celebrate these first six weeks.


The Pass Rush

Defensive success in 2020 is predicated upon rushing the passer with the front four and Football Outsiders ranks the Bears as the second best pass defense in the league, predominantly because of the success they’re finding in the pressure department. Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks have been as expected, and the Bears are getting pass rush contribution from unlikely sources like Mario Edwards Jr, James Vaughters and even Brent Urban.

What’s the most exciting thing about the pass rush? Robert Quinn is still being worked into the lineup and every time he gets on the field he makes an impact. When Quinn reaches 100% health, and sees his snap count tick up, the Bears will be the most feared front in the league.


The New Kyle Fuller

No one is surprised that Fuller is the team’s best cover corner, and one of the best cover corners in the league.

But did anyone see Fuller becoming the reincarnation of Ronnie Lott, delivering a crushing hit almost every week. Did anyone see Fuller making the kind of tackle he made on Teddy Bridgewater Sunday, keeping the Panthers’ quarterback out of the end zone and changing the course of the game?

Fuller, through six weeks, is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. (I’m just not sure Aaron Donald will ever lose that award again.)


The Quarterback Change

Has Nick Foles been great since taking over at quarterback? No.

Has there been a discernible change when it comes to leadership? Absolutely.

Let’s take a look at what Foles has done since taking over.

  • He led the comeback against Atlanta, throwing three touchdown passes.
  • He made the crucial read on the crucial drive – highlighted here by Emmanuel Acho – to beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs. (The kind of read his predecessor never made.)
  • He delivered a stirring press conference following the victory over Carolina that firmly established him as the team’s most vocal leader in years. This is what you expect from the quarterback position.

Foles will always be limited physically. He’s frequently going to take the quick, efficient option over the “shot”. But as the season progresses, and he becomes more comfortable with his receivers, the passing game should improve.

A tweet from Allen Robinson’s agent seems to sum up how important it was for the Bears to make this move WHILE ALSO winning.

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A Single Question for the Bears Offense: Why?

| October 20th, 2020

(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

[Editor’s Note: The following column is written from a place of jubilance. The Bears are 5-1. They are playing some of the best defense in the National Football League. But if our expectations are going to venture beyond just making it to January, they need to improve.]


3rd down and 2.

1:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Bears are nursing what feels like a tenuous seven-point lead.

Two yards ends the game. Two yards and the Bears are coasting to 5-1, allowing their defense to relax on the sideline and celebrate a job well done.

This is when you call your best play.

Your two-point conversion play.

Your “Chicago Special”.

This is when you roll out that thing you’ve been practicing every week because these moments don’t often present themselves over the course of a game. How many times are you actually in the position to say, “Get a couple yards and get a W.” The Bears faced one Sunday.

And then they ran…something. I don’t have the foggiest idea what it was. Foles took the snap and threw a dud of a pass to Allen Robinson on a well-covered shallow cross. No creativity. No imagination. I’ve drawn up better plays during street games in Kearny, New Jersey. (“Run to the Buick bumper and turn” always worked.) In the notebook I’ve been keeping during these games I wrote a single word.

Why?

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