323 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

187 Comments

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.

____________________

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , ,

88 Comments

ATM: Don’t Sleep on Mooney

| July 21st, 2021

As the deadline to extend tagged players with the Bears and Allen Robinson failing to reach an agreement, fans began to panic about the future of the team’s wide receiver position. But with Darnell Mooney, it seems to be in good shape.

When projecting future depth charts, fans often forget what front offices can’t: improvement often comes from within. Nobody should expect Mooney to be better than Robinson in 2021, but it isn’t a stretch that he could become one of the 20 best receivers in the league by 2022. Who knows what could come after that?

Mooney was in the top-10 amongst rookies in receptions (fifth), yards (sixth) and touchdowns (eighth) and most of those ahead of him benefited from more functional offenses — specifically at the quarterback position. He out-produced multiple first-round picks and most of the other players drafted ahead of him.

At roughly 5’11” and with legitimate 4.3-speed, Mooney showed the ability to run past defenders and make catches on 50/50 balls.  His 3.2 yards of separation per target were the second-best on the team — behind Cole Kmet’s 3.6 — per NextGen Stats. His statistics would be significantly better if the team had a quarterback who could hit him in stride regularly.

Nearly every report from Bears offseason practices has indicated that Mooney has stood out again, looking even stronger and faster than he was a year ago.

The Bears stopped short of betting on Mooney, but they have put him in an ideal situation to prove himself. By using the franchise tag on Robinson, the Bears bought themselves another year to see what Mooney is. If he doesn’t take another step forward, the Bears could certainly tag Robinson again next offseason. Per Albert Breer, tagging Robinson in 2022 would cost the team $21.6 million — probably less than if they had agreed to his terms for an extension. The team absolutely should already be planning on tagging Robinson for that price, even if it’s just to trade him.

Extending Robinson’s contract is still the most ideal way for the Bears to go from here. That seems like a long shot at this point, but that doesn’t mean the future of the position is doomed. The college game is producing high-level wide receivers at an incredible rate, the Bears seem to have found one in Mooney and we shouldn’t dismiss what he can become.

Tagged: ,

158 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

135 Comments

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!

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

94 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

339 Comments

Bears Steal One in Detroit: Non-Trubisky Rapid Fire

| September 14th, 2020

[NOTE: Reader “sactown#1” guessed that Trubisky passer rating on the number, 104.2. Please email me and we’ll coordinate your prize package from Lou Malnati’s.]

Yesterday, on Twitter, was dedicated almost entirely to Mitch Trubisky. So today let’s spread out the commentary beyond the QB, knowing full well he’ll remain the focal point moving forward.


This tape should be shown to the defense on loop all week. So many mistakes, it’s hard to know where to start.


  • Poor performance generally from the defense but that was to be expected. This was the first live game action for the group and there were many new pieces.
  • Both Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson has me great moments but both let interceptions go through their fingertips down near the goal line. Can’t happen. Have to make those plays.
  • Danny Trevathan looked awfully slow.
  • Akiem Hicks was downright invisible until the fourth quarter.
  • Without Robert Quinn active the pass rush was 2019 all over again. Khalil Mack fighting through doubles and triples while nothing happens on the other side. (Mack still won many of those battles.) Bears need Quinn.
  • Matthew Stafford played a terrific game. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that. Biggest mistake Lions made was taking the game out of his hands late.
  • Saw a lot of positive things from Bilal Nichols.
  • Barkevious Mingo was more active than I imagined he would be.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

282 Comments

Practice Notebook (8/21/20)

| August 21st, 2020


With a week of practices almost in the books, I’ve actually started doing some “work” around here again, texting folks around the club to find out what’s happening. Here are some of their thoughts, and a lot of mine, in these early days.


The Lady’s Got Potential

Several people around practices have noted improvements in Mitch Trubisky’s footwork but let’s hit the breaks a bit. Does anybody care what a quarterback’s mechanics look like in practice sessions? Mitch can set his feet and throw at Halas Hall, I’ve no doubt about that. But can he set his feet and throw when those Smith boys from Green Bay are coming around the edge? If his mechanics are improved it’s undoubtedly a good thing. But nobody will know how improved until they start keeping score.


A New Argentina

Jimmy Graham was the best player on the practice field this week. Cole Kmet made his presence known immediately. There’s no reason to get overly excited about practices but it sure seems like the most improved position on the 2020 Bears will be tight end. Kmet is a stud. His early success won’t surprise me at all. Graham? As someone deep inside the organization told me this spring, “Ryan believes Jimmy is going to have a big season in this offense. So does Jimmy.” Soon, there might be some other believers around the league.

[Side note: I haven’t played fantasy football since Shaun Alexander was in the league but Jimmy Graham is someone I’d be looking at were I to play this season.]


The Art of the Possible

Note from a scout friend: “I think Tulane kid.. Mooney is going to be really good.“

Darnell Mooney can fly and the Bears think they stole a real player in the fifth round. Will he have major impact this season? Well, the truth is he doesn’t have to. With Teddy Ginn on the roster, the rookie can grow into the season and watched a seasoned speedster go about his work.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

189 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,