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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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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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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.



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Ranking the Potential 2020 Impact of This Draft Class

| April 30th, 2020

This column does not seek to project the impact these players will have long-term.

This column seems to project the impact these players will have this coming season, assuming the summer’s off-season program will be truncated or non-existent.


(7) Arlington Hambright, G

An athletic freak but a true offensive line project. The work/coaching he’d require to get on the field in 2020 simply won’t be available this summer. If he plays a snap during the regular season, something has gone terribly wrong.

But the Bears should put him on the roster. And they should sell the jerseys on the homepage of their website.


(6) Lachavious Simmons, G

Simmons gets the nod over Hambright for two reasons: (1) he’s got a bit of mauler in him and (2) his transition to guard at the next level will be easier. Again, it’s unlikely Simmons plays a down this season. But it’s more likely for him than Hambright.


(5) Trevis Gipson, Edge

The raw talent is there but Gipson’s 2020 role will almost assuredly be limited to sub-down, pass rushing situations. And with Mack and Quinn WELL ahead of him in the pecking order, the Bears would be happy if Gipson saw limited defensive snaps this season, while making his presence felt on special teams.


(4) Kindle Vildor, CB

Buster Skrine is still the starting slot corner. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Vildor backing up that role very early on in his career. My guess is Vildor surprises many and is active on most game days.


(3) Cole Kmet, TE

There’s been a lot of talk about tight ends struggling to assimilate to the NFL. And big, physical players like Kmet are asked to do a lot more than stand up, run fast and catch passes.

Jason Witten had 35 catches his rookie season. Kyle Rudolph had 26. Kmet, especially at his position, could use a full summer slate of practices and preseason games. If he doesn’t get it, hard to think he’ll be be more than a 30-35 catch, 400 yard, 4-5 touchdown player in his rookie campaign.

But I think that’d be a brilliant sign for his future.

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While the League Zigs, the Bears Will Zag in 2020

| April 28th, 2020

“When They Zig, You Zag”

-Siimon Reynolds


The Zag.

As the rest of the National Football League tries to get faster, the Chicago Bears added a 260-pound tight end with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Then they raved about his potential as a blocker.

The Bears are doing something very different in 2020.

According to Sharp Football, the Bears ran ’12’ personnel – one RB, two TEs and WRs – on just 13 percent of their snaps in 2019 and 17 percent in 2018. The drafting of Cole Kmet with the 43rd pick was a clear indication that the Bears are going to use the second tight end more. Way more.

After making the pick, GM Ryan Pace raved about Kmet’s all-around ability. He spoke about his size, hands and ability to “post up” and get position. But where Pace really got excited was talking about run blocking. “He’s got the frame and the size, the temperament and the demeanor where we think he’s going to get a lot better as a blocker,” Pace said.

In many ways, the drafting of Kmet was a commitment to a different style of offense, one that will surely feature running back David Montgomery more.

Playing Big.

The Bears didn’t play big in 2019 because they couldn’t succeed that way.

They didn’t have a single, good tight end.

The team passer rating in ’12’ personnel was below 70 and they averaged fewer than four yards per carry. The hope is that Kmet’s ability as a blocker and a receiver makes ’12’ personnel package dangerous.

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On Ryan Pace’s Sturdy, Steady Second-Round Selections

| April 26th, 2020


On Friday night, I floated the idea of the Bears trading back in the second round to a friend of mine – a scout for another team in the NFC. He quickly shot back, “Pace shouldn’t back up too far. After about 65, there’s a big drop-off in this class.”

This is the kind of things scouts love to say.

Is it true? Who the hell knows? But what is important is the perception of its truth. If my scout friend believes the 2020 NFL Draft was 65 players deep, so does his organization. If his organization believes that, rest assured it is common throughout the league.

Thus, there was not much jockeying for position in the first and second rounds this year. Teams believed they would get a terrific prospect no matter where they selected. Maybe Ryan Pace had offers, maybe he didn’t. We won’t know and he won’t tell us. And now, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is how Pace approached the second round. His two selections – Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet and Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson – were not reaches. They were not gambles on potential, on athletic ability. They were two of the steadiest, sturdiest prospects in the whole of this draft. Immediately after their selection, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah pronounced, “No first-round pick for the Bears but I think you can argue they got two first-round players.” Every relevant person I texted with Friday night seemed to echo this sentiment.

These are the kinds of picks a team confidently makes when they think they are close. And the Bears are close, especially with Nick Foles’ professionalism taking over under center. The club had needs for September: defensive back, interior offensive line, tight end, speed outside. They addressed two of them. Simple as that. Kmet and Johnson will expected to contribute/start immediately. I’ll state that again. Kmet and Johnson will expected to contribute/start immediately.

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