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ATM: Regardless of QB, Bears Need Better Running Game

| June 22nd, 2021

Whether it’s Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback, the Bears are going to have to help them out by running the ball.

The Bears found success at the end of last year. David Montgomery ran for 598 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s final six games. Over a full season, that would’ve been monstrous production, but the first nine games happened too. In those, Montgomery failed to reach 90 yards and only averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry twice.

That’s not necessarily Montgomery’s fault. Injuries and inconsistencies along the offensive line are largely what put the Bears in the Nick Foles-era tailspin. The Bears have been aggressive in fixing issues with depth and top-line talent, but there’s still a matter of actually being productive in the rushing attack over a full, 16-game season.

It may have been unrealistic to expect Juan Castillo to fix the running game out of the gates, considering they didn’t have an offseason program or a traditional training camp. By the end of the season, it was clear that the coach’s message was getting through and he had nearly every player competing at a level they had not yet reached in their careers. The Bears emphasized a bigger, more physical style of player at the line of scrimmage, with the idea that Castillo can coach them up. With a projected rookie starter at left tackle and questions on the right side of the line, he’ll have to do just that.

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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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The Roquan Smith Game: Rapid Fire Reaction to Bears 41, Jags 17

| December 28th, 2020


Playoff scenario is clear. If the Bears win Sunday, they are in. If the Rams beat the Cardinals, the Bears are in. Simple as that. Somehow the team that many of us left for dead after an absurd collapse against the Detroit Lions is alive and well and living in January.

Some thoughts on Bears 41, Jaguars 17.

  • Yes, Trubisky is going to have several moments in almost every game that leave the world scratching their collective heads. But Mitch’s stat line for the season is now 1,803 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs, 95.3 rating. His 2018 stat line was 3,223 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs, 95.4 rating. This is what he is as a player and the Bears can win with that.
    • Until yesterday, I had never seen a quarterback attempt a Hail Mary from the 10 yard line. But that’s exactly what Trubisky did. How do you coach this out of a player? Is it even possible?
    • But it’s difficult not to be impressed with his bounce back drive coming out of the half. He had one incomplete pass, was pinpoint accurate and used his legs to get six. His short memory is becoming a real asset.
    • So is his hard count.
  • Was Roquan Smith motivated by his Pro Bowl snub? After a slow start from the defense, Roquan delivered his most dominant performance as a Bear. It will never make any sense that this franchise – which hasn’t had a franchise QB in sixty years – consistently churns out Hall of Fame inside linebackers. Oh and hey, I have a crazy idea! Maybe we should wait to choose who makes the Pro Bowl until after the season is actually over? If voting started today, Smith walks onto the Pro Bowl roster.

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  • The Bears’ identity on offense is quickly becoming clear: they are tough to tackle. David Montgomery. Cole Kmet. Even Darnell Mooney. These guys almost never go down on first contact. This has become a physical group.

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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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David Montgomery. Injured.

| August 27th, 2020


It’s a weird position, running back. While many, including myself, had high expectations for Montgomery, every year we see a half dozen backs emerge off the free agent scrap heap and have productive seasons. If the Bears get decent quarterback and line play, they should be able to survive losing Montgomery for an extended period without taking too much of a hit.

Now they must search for his replacement. Options include:

  • C.J. Prosise
  • Devonta Freeman
  • Spencer Ware
  • Bilal Powell

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Least Explosive Team in the NFL, or the Story of the 2019 Chicago Bears

| February 4th, 2020

I’ve been working my way through the Bears’ 2019 performance to see what changed from 2018 that caused them to slip from 12-4 to 8-8. Today, I want to look at explosive plays, which I found last season have a strong correlation to overall offensive performance.

There are a variety of definitions for explosive plays depending on who you ask, so I want to clarify I’m using parameters laid out by ESPN NFL Matchup, which counts any run that gains 15+ yards or pass that gains 20+ yards as explosive. Let’s start with a preliminary look at how the Bears did in 2019 relative to the rest of the NFL. All data is from Pro Football Reference, with explosive play information coming from the Game Play Finder. Pass percentages were calculated including sacks and pass attempts as pass plays.



That’s ugly.

If you want to compare to 2018, the Bears slipped across the board. They had 71 explosive plays in 2018, with explosive rates of 7% overall, 5.3% on runs, and 8.4% on passes. All of those numbers in 2018 were slightly below average, ranging from 18th to 21st in the league, while they are all bottom 2 in 2019.

So what happened to cause such a slump? Like I’ve done when evaluating both the running and passing games, I want to break down what it looks like for individual Bears players and/or position groups from season to season. That information is shown in the table below, with all cells formatted by 2018 / 2019 data. (I’ll note the pass rates are a bit higher for pass catchers than QBs because they are only out of targets and exclude sacks and throwaways.)


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What Changed in the Rush Game: Volume I

| January 15th, 2020

Chicago’s rushing attack was woeful in 2019, finishing 27th in the NFL in rushing yards (91 yards/game), 29th in yards per attempt (3.7 yards/carry), and 26th in success rate on rushing attempts (44%). All three marks showed a decrease from 2018, when they were 11th (121 yards/game), 27th (4.1 yards/carry), and 10th (48%) in those three metrics.

This happened despite having fairly decent consistency in personnel. The starting offensive line was the same (when healthy), and the Bears saw only three primary rushers in both seasons. Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky were 2 of the 3, with the main rusher changing from Jordan Howard in 2018 to David Montgomery in 2019.

Today I want to look at the running game from a variety of angles to try and figure out what changed to account for the dip in production.


Player vs. Player Comparison

Let’s start out by comparing each player from season-to-season. First, I’ll look at the players who accounted for the majority of rushing attempts each year: Jordan Howard and David Montgomery. Their usage and production was remarkably similar in the two seasons, as you can see in the table below.

Similar playing time, similar carries, similar efficiency. The two were basically indistinguishable from each other, at least on the surface. That really makes you question whether it was worth getting rid of Howard and trading up for Montgomery in the 3rd round last year. At least for 2019, the answer is a resounding no.

This post is focused on rushing, but look at those bottom two rows. One of the reasons to swap Howard out for Montgomery was supposed to be that Montgomery can feature more heavily in the passing game, and thus make the offense less predictable and harder to defend. That didn’t happen in 2019. One of Chicago’s big problems in 2018 was that they were too predictable based on personnel (Tarik Cohen = pass, Jordan Howard = run, Anthony Miller = pass, etc.). In 2019, the offense ran the ball 50% of the time when Montgomery was on the field and only 24% of the time when he wasn’t. For Cohen, those numbers were 25% and 52%. That’s too big of a swing in tendencies based on personnel.

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2019 Season Preview Volume II: The Hopes

| August 29th, 2019

Yesterday, just the facts, ma’am. Today, the hopes. Our season preview continues by looking at six things – that if they happen – the Bears have a chance to be the best team in the league.


Hope 1. Mitch Trubisky will improve.

4,000 yards. 30+ touchdowns. 10-15 interceptions max. If Trubisky hits those numbers, he’s on the road to being one of the best in the game.


Hope 2. David Montgomery will be a very good running back.

The core of the Bears offense is their center and guards. Daniels, Whitehair and Long are angry, tough men.  Montgomery is a big back that is hell to bring down. If the rookie is as advertised, the Bears could have the game’s best closer.


Hope 3. Eddy Pineiro will solidify the kicker position.

Here’s what the Bears fan wants: a kicker they don’t worry about from 43 yards. You wanna miss a few 52 yarders? Fine. You wanna be 75% from 45-50? Fine. But just be iron clad from inside 45. Be a steady, reliable figure for the organization. And stay the fuck off morning television.


Hope 4. The Bears will get production from the tight end position.

Trey Burton disappointed in 2018 and then mysteriously no-showed the playoff game. Adam Shaheen is all gravy, no meat. Ben Braunecker is nothing special but he’ll certainly find himself playing meaningful snaps this season. The Bears have a lot of toys (Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson) to move the football but they still need the tight end spot to produce.


Hope 5. Allen Robinson will stay healthy.

Robinson has shown flashes of being an elite wide receiver but he has 56 catches total over the last two seasons due to health reasons alone. If the Bears want their passing attack to be explosive, Robinson needs to be on the field.

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Causes for 2019 Concern: Volume II

| August 2nd, 2019

Now we return to the list of reasons the Bears might struggle to repeat 2018’s success.


IV. Cornerback Penalties

New nickelback Buster Skrine was flagged 7 times for 107 yards in 2018. Those numbers were 14th and 7th highest, respectively, among all defensive backs.

Prince Amukamara also has a knack for drawing flags; he drew 8 for 90 yards (8th and 13th among DBs) in 2018, and had 2 more get declined.

And 2018 wasn’t an outlier for either player. Skrine had 11 flags for 105 yards in 2017, while Amukamara had 7 for 99.

You can live with having one penalty-prone player in your secondary, but two is a bit more of a concern. All it takes is one big penalty in a key moment to swing a close game.


V. David Montgomery and/or Anthony Miller

I’m grouping these two together as relatively unproven young players who will be counted on for big roles in 2019. For Chicago’s offense to take the step forward that is needed to win a Super Bowl, Miller needs to supplant Taylor Gabriel as the WR2 and Montgomery needs to beat out Mike Davis as the starting RB. I think there are excellent reasons to be high on both Montgomery and Miller, but what happens if one or both of them aren’t ready?

Davis and Gabriel are both solid veterans who are capable role players, but neither is a guy who should be a main cog in a top-level offense. Miller and Montgomery are capable of doing just that, but they could hold the offense back if they fail to prove it in 2019.

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