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Unique Talent on Offensive Side Should Give Foles – the “Point Guard” – an Edge

| August 26th, 2020


Flip called Nick Foles a point guard. Nagy has praised #BDN’s ability to process information. It’s these two attributes that should make him the frontrunner to start against the Detroit Lions in a few weeks.

The reasons why are pretty simple.

(1) The Bears have a pretty standard 1-2 punch at wide receiver with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. But outside of that combination they’re going to be looking at a unique collection of players to move the football through the air. Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson are hybrid backs that present match-up problems. Jimmy Graham is a “tight end” who doesn’t block but has shown a propensity to be uncoverable down in the red zone. These are guys who need the football in their hands quickly, and in space. A second or two of indecision from the quarterback could cost the Bears a big play.

(2) This team’s offensive line is not as bad as many suggest but they’re not one of the league’s best units, especially on the outside. Both Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are good players but they’re unlikely to hold the edge for 4-5 seconds. It will be imperative for the signal caller of this offense to read the defense QUICKLY and get the ball out of his hands. This has been one of the more intense weaknesses in Mitch Trubisky’s game.

(3) Who is more accurate with the deep ball? It’s not very close. From Data a while back:

Both have a very low completion percentage, but Foles is around league average in yards/attempt, while Trubisky is awful there. This suggests that Foles takes deeper “deep” shots, and thus gets a higher yards/completion mark to make up for his low completion percentage.

Foles has higher than normal rates of both touchdowns and interceptions, which leaves him around the league average in TD:INT ratio on deep shots. I don’t put too much stock in these numbers for Foles due to a small sample size; he only has 89 deep passes compared to over 200 for every other QB in the table, so we’re talking a total of 8 TD and 6 INT here. Still, the data at least suggests to me that Foles is aggressive in his deep passes, giving his guys a chance to make a play but also leaving himself prone to defenders making a play on the ball.

And the Bears now have, in Teddy Ginn and rookie Darnell Mooney, two players capable of taking the top off every defense in the league.


This space will not be used only to argue for Foles starting over Trubisky. But unfortunately it’s incredible difficult to make the argument for the other side.

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On Cordarrelle Patterson at Running Back, and Being “Fun Again”

| August 18th, 2020


The 2018 Chicago Bears were fun. They were so much fun that Noah Brier (dot com), the technology-minded former DJ responsible for this little website’s existence, reemerged in the underground dwelling known as Josie Woods, now with a young daughter reciting those famous words, “Bear down, Chicago Bears”. They were so much fun that I sat awake in a tiny Parisian hotel room, in the middle of the night, putting back 1664 tall boys and enthusiastically (but silently) cheering a primetime victory over the Vikings. (The experience all-but ruined the next day’s travel.) They were so much fun that Noah and I never even considered not going to Chicago for their home playoff game against the Eagles, cost be damned.

The 2018 Bears had defensive linemen in the backfield. A kid quarterback showing promise. Tarik Cohen looking borderline uncoverable by linebackers, safeties, anyone. Fake photoshoots in the end zone. Dance parties in the locker room. The team that had just suffered through the Greek tragedy of Marc Trestman and monotonously slow blood draining of John Fox’s tenure were giving joy to a fan base that had begun to view watching Bears games as a predictably joyless experience.

Then 2019 came. And the joylessness returned.

That’s why as the news began to surface the Bears planned to use Cordarrelle Pattersson in the back field, it was a breath of fresh air. Matt Nagy: “We want to be able to get the most of out of him…when you have weapons like that, you want to find ways to get them the ball.” This is a strikingly 2018 mentality. In 2018, Nagy knew what he didn’t have (yet, he thought) at the quarterback position and compensated with creativity. Folks considered these gimmicks but they clever devices designed to ask less of Mitch Trubisky. In 2019, he thought he had more at the position, thought Trubisky could effectively run his offense, and was caught flat-footed as a play caller because of that season-defining error.

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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Special Teams

| June 16th, 2020

The all-important third phase has mixed reviews for the Bears.

There is no question the Bears are the worst in the division when it comes to kickers, but they’re among the best when it comes to return men and punters, the latter not having much competition.

With an offense still expected to struggle, the Bears will desperately need this third phase to be productive.


Kicker

1. Detroit

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Chicago

While he’s 35 and coming off of a bit of an off year, Matt Prater’s ability to make kicks from basically anywhere puts him atop this list. Mason Crosby is coming off of a career year, but entered the season fighting for his job. His made field goal percentage seems likely to dip back down into the low-80s Dan Bailey also had to earn his job in camp, but he did so and missed just two kicks. He was three-for-three on 50-plus yarders.

The Bears still need to keep an eye out for a replacement for Eddy Pineiro, who not only had the worst field goal percentage in the division last year, but had maybe the easiest job with just nine field goals beyond 40 yards. He missed four of them.


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Combine Focus: A Deeper Dive into the Bears Need for Speed

| February 27th, 2020

The NFL gathers this week in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine (or Underwear Olympics, as Jeff prefers to call them), when fans throw out years of game film and focus instead on numbers from a few tests done without pads on watch eagerly to see how well their favorite players perform in a number of drills testing athleticism.

No drill is more popular than the 40 yard dash, the purest measure of straight line speed that we have. While results of these few seconds often get over-weighted, speed is lethal in the NFL, and one of the (many) problems with Chicago’s offense is that they don’t have enough of it among their skill position players – RBs, TEs, and WRs. To better illustrate that, let’s dig into the numbers.


What Counts as Fast?

To start with, let’s figure out what average speed looks like in the NFL.

Defining this is more difficult than you might imagine, because getting an average first requires defining a sample.

I was able to find two different studies that did this, with different samples and thus different results.

  • The first is MockDraftable, which provides the average for all Combine times at every position since 1999. However, not all players at the Combine end up playing in the NFL, and some not at the Combine do.
  • The 2nd study by Topher Doll looked at all players who appeared in at least 5 NFL games since 2000 and found, unsurprisingly, faster averages nearly across the board than just plain Combine averages.

The table below shows the average 40 time for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends for each study.

As we can see, those are quite a bit different. Since the Doll study is based on players who actually made it to the NFL, I think that’s probably a better reference value to use as average speed for a position.


Chicago’s Speed

Now let’s look at the 40 times for every player who recorded a carry or target for Chicago in 2019.

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How Much is an Elite Kick Returner Worth?

| February 17th, 2020

Earlier this offseason, I suggested the Bears could release Cordarrelle Patterson to free up just under $5M in cap room. A number of people responded that Patterson was the best kick returner in the NFL in 2019 and thus was worth the money. I wasn’t sold that any kick returner was worth that much, but set out to figure out just how much value they add.

Here’s the general setup:

  • I used the Pro Football Reference Drive Finder to look at every drive over the last 5 years that started with a kickoff and didn’t include any kneeldowns.
  • I split the field into 10 yard ranges.
  • I tallied up touchdowns and field goals from drives that started in each field position range to figure out average points/drive. Note: this assumes all touchdowns net 7 points, which is not technically true, and fails to factor in anything about offensive quality.

Based on that approach, here’s what I found the average points expected for drives off of kickoffs that started in a variety of field positions.



This generally matches expectation, as teams are expected to score more points the closer to the opposing end zone they start. By the time they’re inside the opponent 40 yard line, the expected points are higher than a field goal.

Using this data, I then looked at the Bears’ starting field position off of kickoffs in 2018, when they did not have Cordarrelle Patterson vs. 2019, when they did.


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Daniels, O’Donnell, Patterson: Three Under-Discussed Keys to the 2019 Season

| August 15th, 2019


#3 James Daniels

There’s been an assumption that Daniels will naturally slide into the starting center role and stay there for half a decade. Hell, it’s an assumption I’ve made on the radio in Des Moines with Daniels-centric hosts Trent Condon and Ken Miller.

But while Cody Whitehair struggled early with snaps, his ability to call out protections and lead this unit was a key to their success in 2018. The center is the most underrated position on the NFL roster. (Just look what happens to teams when they lose their starters there.) Daniels is now sliding into his natural position. But is he a natural leader?


#2 Pat O’Donnell

P.O.D. was having his best punting game as a Bear in the Eagles playoff loss until a nightmarish shank late allowed Nick Foles a short field for the go-ahead touchdown drive. Here’s what someone who works inside the organization texted me a few weeks ago:

He looks different. He looks good. He looks confident.

With a defense this good, long fields will kill opponents. The Bears need a different, good, confident O’Donnell.


#1 Cordarrelle Patterson

The Bears were last in the league in kickoff return average last season and added one of the two or three best kick returners in the game. Patterson’s signing should lead to a huge improvement in field position from day one.

But Patterson also had 21 catches for 247 yards last season in New England and paired that with 42 carries for 228 yards. This is an exceedingly productive offensive weapon who may cover some of the production the club is currently lacking from a struggling tight end group.

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Understanding the Role of Newly-Acquired Free Agents in 2019: Offense

| March 20th, 2019

The Bears have made a number of moves in free agency, and I want to use some statistics to weigh in on their likely role on the roster / value to the team. Let’s start with a look at the offense.


Mike Davis

Davis has just 238 carries in 4 seasons so it was a little surprising to see the Bears move so quickly to sign him at the start of free agency. But a closer look reveals why they did so.

A few weeks ago I identified the typical physical profile of a running back in this offense, and Davis fits the bill, as you can see in the table below. Thresholds that he failed to hit are highlighted in red.

Davis matches the profile of backs who are usually targeted for this offense. He’s short but well built and has solid acceleration (as evidenced by the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash) and explosion (as evidenced by the jumps). This doesn’t mean he’ll magically be a stud here after being a role player in San Francisco and Seattle, but it explains a little bit about why he was on the Bears’ radar.

Another way Davis fits is in terms of his skill set. Running backs in this offense are asked to do two things: run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. The table below shows how effective Davis was doing those compared to Jordan Howard in 2018, with both compared to Kareem Hunt as an ideal (on-field) back for this system. I highlighted cells in red when one running back stood out from the other two in a bad way, and green when one running back stood out in a good way.

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out is that Davis is better than Howard at running between the tackles, where both were asked to have a majority of their carries in 2018. This can be evidenced by his significantly higher yards/carry average between the tackles last year, when he was comparable to Kareem Hunt in that regard. It’s worth noting that this trend was only really true in 2018; Davis was generally inefficient at pretty much everything prior to that in his career, and Howard had -by far – the worst year of his career in 2018. Still, the Bears are banking on getting the 2018 form of Davis, which would be a running upgrade over 2018 Howard.
  • Sticking with running, let’s take a look at success rates in the bottom two rows. This was one area where I pointed out Howard actually did quite well, and Davis did as well (again in 2018, not so much before that). Since success rate is a measure of staying with or ahead of the chains, this indicates Davis should hopefully be able to continue Howard’s success converting in short-yardage situations.

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ATM: In Early Free Agency, the Bears Have Given Themselves Options at Running Back

| March 15th, 2019

Under Ryan Pace, the Bears have always tried to give themselves multiple options on draft weekend by filling roster holes in free agency. That approach held true earlier this week as the team signed two veteran options at running back. Mike Davis isn’t a household name. Most probably wouldn’t consider Cordarrelle Patterson a running back. But the two men give the Bears needed flexibility at a pivotal position.

In an ideal world, the Bears would’ve replaced Jordan Howard and Taquan Mizzell with one player – an all-purpose back who can pound between the tackles and beat linebackers in the passing game. They still might find that guy in the draft, but now, with these acquisitions, they don’t have to.

Davis is a stocky runner with a low center of gravity. He can work between the tackles and bounce runs outside, a trait that makes him a much better fit for this running scheme than Howard. Davis also is a capable receiver, which could help him stay on the field.



But Davis didn’t sign a contract that guaranteed he’d be the starter or even get a majority of the snaps. He signed a contract to compete. Who he’s competing with remains to be seen.

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A Few Quick Thoughts on the New Bears: Cordarrelle, Buster & Mike

| March 14th, 2019


Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/RB/KR

  • The Bears needed someone to be their kick returner. Yes, the position has been devalued in recent years but no team was worse returning the kickoff in 2018 than the Bears. They were THIRTEEN yards worse than the league’s best kickoff return average. That’s astronomical.
  • Patterson is a toy on offense. He’ll run some jet sweeps. He’s run some deep stuff. He can even spell the tailbacks. He’s the kind of player that presents match-up problems for the opposing defensive coordinator.
  • This is a player you add when you think you’re close to winning a title. This is a “final piece” type move. This is a move designed to get a big third down in a division game in December.

Buster Skrine, CB

  • From Adam Jahns on Twitter: “Matt Nagy in October on nickel back Buster Skrine, who is now expected to be signed: “He’s one of the better nickels in this league, if not the best. I mean, he’s good. He’s a good nickel in there.”
  • Skrine commits penalties because – like Prince Amukamara – he plays with his hands. But having watched a ton of Jets football (every one of their games) many of Skrine’s penalties are committed when he’s asked to cover for too long. The Jets had no pass rush for two years. It happened a lot. It won’t in Chicago.
  • His greatest value in a Chuck Pagano defense might be his ability to get to the quarterback from the slot.

Mike Davis, RB

  • He’s not Taquan Mizzell

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Three Thoughts on the Actual Football Game Being Played Sunday in Atlanta

| January 31st, 2019

The best bar in Atlanta.


Thought 1. The Rams need a steady & consistent interior pass rush

Nobody pressures Brady from the perimeter because no quarterback in the history of the league is more comfortable stepping up quickly in the pocket and delivering the short-range bullet to a wide open, usually-white receiver. If your game plan to defend him is reliant upon edge pressure and disguised coverages (*cough* Vic Fangio *cough*) Brady will dice you up like a sous-chef working a garlic bulb.

You must put defenders in his face. And few teams are better equipped to do so than Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and these Rams. This game has career-defining potential for Donald.


Thought 2. Where the hell is Todd Gurley?

A few months back, the player Bill Belichick would have completely removed from this game would have been Todd Gurley. “Eliminate Gurley and force Jared Goff to beat us” might have been his rallying cry. And it would have been the correct approach. The Bears showed the league that if you take away the Los Angeles rushing attack and pressure Goff, you control the game.

But Gurley seems to have eliminated himself, unless you believe the injury fairy tale spewing out of the City of Angels. C.J. Anderson has somehow become every bit the horse but Anderson does not have anywhere near the game-changing explosiveness of a man many considered the best offensive weapon in the sport in, like, October! If the Rams are going to win this game, Gurley can’t be riding the stationary bike on pivotal possessions.


Thought 3. Return Men

Three names will be involved.

For the Rams, JoJo Natson.

For the Pats, Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman.

All three are capable of conjuring the kind of game-altering play that decides which team is holding the Lombardi at the end of the evening. (And all three rank in the top ten at all the relevant return statistics.)

Who will it be? Watch out for Patterson. If Greg the Leg gives him an opportunity to give the Pats an easy six, he may just do it.

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