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Advanced Defensive Stats: CB Pass Coverage

| July 1st, 2021

Finally, let’s end with a look at the cornerbacks, who will have some personnel changes from 2020. Gone are veterans Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine, while Desmond Trufant has been brought in to compete with a host of late round picks from the last few drafts.

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The table below shows 2020 coverage stats for all 2020 Bears and Desmond Trufant, who was in Detroit last year. The * for Vildor and Shelley indicates that I included their playoff stats to increase their sample size, since they only played the last few games of the regular season. The rank compares their yards/target mark to all NFL CBs. The median value is included on the bottom, but you can view the full data here.



A few thoughts:

  • Losing Kyle Fuller, who was a cap casualty this offseason, is a massive blow for a secondary that was already full of questions. He was the best player in the secondary by a wide margin last year, and his departure leaves a cornerback group with nothing but questions.
  • However, there are some reasons for optimism among the cornerbacks, if you look closely enough. Desmond Trufant was very good in 2018 (6.2 yards/target) before struggling through injuries the last 2 years. He’ll be 31 at the start of the season, but maybe he can buck the odds, stay healthy and regain his prior form.
  • At nickelback, losing Skrine isn’t actually a problem, as he was not good last year. Skrine missed the last 5 games of the season (including playoffs) in 2020, and Duke Shelley stepped right in and matched his production.
  • Of course, that’s not to say Shelley was good, as he also ranked below average in yards/target. However, if you want to be optimistic, you can point out that Shelley was pretty solid outside of getting torched by Justin Jefferson in one game against Minnesota. In that one game, Shelley gave up 101 yards on 8 targets (11.2 yards/target), but he only allowed 75 yards on 14 targets (5.4 yards/target) in the other 4 games combined. Those other 4 games look good, but you can’t just ignore that he got destroyed by the best WR he faced.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: S and LB Pass Coverage

| June 30th, 2021

Let’s continue our quick tour of Chicago’s defense by honing in on pass coverage.

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At a surface glance, Chicago’s pass defense was just about the definition of average in 2020. They gave up 64% completion (14th in the NFL), 7.2 yards/attempt (16th), 28 touchdowns (16th),  had10 interceptions (23rd), and allowed a passer rating against of 94.9 (20th). They were 21st in Pro Football Reference’s Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, which accounts for sacks, touchdowns, interceptions, and yards, and 13th in Football Outsider’s pass DVOA rankings, which is intended to be a one-stop measure of pass defense overall.

A closer look at advanced statistics from Next Gen Stats shows how QBs playing against the Bears played relative to the rest of their games and the NFL average.



A few thoughts:

  • Opposing QBs generally didn’t see any change against the Bears in terms of how long they held the ball before throwing it. This means that Chicago’s pass rush wasn’t forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly, but also didn’t let them hang onto it forever. Again: average.
  • In terms of where QBs threw the ball against Chicago, opposing QBs typically threw it slightly deeper against the Bears than other opponents, though the difference is pretty subtle (for context, individual QBs ranged from 5 to 11 yards for average pass depth). That small difference was completely eliminated when looking at average completion depth.
  • Opposing QBs also threw into tight coverage (aggressive throws) slightly more than normal against the Bears, though again that’s not a huge difference. For a little context, individual QBs on the year ranged from averaging 11% to 22% on aggressive throws.

Now that we’ve firmly established the overall pass defense was around average, let’s look at how individual players fared in coverage last year to see where Chicago might have strong and weak spots. We’ll go position by position, using advanced data from Pro Football Reference.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Missed Tackles

| June 29th, 2021

Continuing our tour of advanced statistics about Chicago’s 2020 defense, today I want to take a look at missed tackles.

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The Bears excelled in the missed tackle area last year, finishing with only 89, the 6th lowest mark in the NFL. To go more in-depth, let’s hone in on how individual players and units contributed to that, building on work I did last offseason. The setup here is fairly simple:

  • Split players into positions (DL, LB, and DB).
  • Compare their missed tackle rates to how everybody else around the NFL fares at their position.

You can see the full data here, but generally the positional medians for missed tackle rates are 10.8% for DB, 9.5% for LB, and 8.5% for DL. With that in mind, let’s look at how Chicago’s defense did last year.

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Defensive Backs

The table below shows all Chicago defensive backs in 2020, as well as how they did overall as a unit. Players with 20 or more tackle attempts were ranked based on how they fared relative to all NFL DBs.



A few thoughts:

  • Eddie Jackson continued to struggle with missed tackles for the 3rd year in a row. It’s not his strength, but that’s fine if he continues to excel in coverage, which is far more valuable (spoiler alert for upcoming article: he did not excel in coverage in 2020).
  • Tashaun Gipson struggled with missed tackles in both 2018 and 2019, but was excellent here in 2020. The Bears will need him to continue to excel in that area given the tackling question marks around him.
  • Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson were both awful with missed tackles in 2020. That continued a long-time pattern for Fuller, but was a bit of a surprise for Johnson, who rarely missed tackles in college. However, I should note that 6 of his 9 missed tackles came in the last 4 weeks as he played through a shoulder injury before it shut him down for the year. In his first 9 games, he had a missed tackle rate of only 10%, which is around league average.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

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Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021


Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

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ATM: Bears Defense Must Fix Run-Stopping Issues to Meet Expectations

| September 29th, 2020


The Chicago Bear recipe for a successful 2020 season always included one absolute necessity: great defense. Three games into the season, they’ve been far from great.

The rankings? They don’t look that bad.

  • 9th in points allowed.
  • 12th in takeaways.
  • 15th in yardage.
  • Allowed the fewest passing touchdowns: 2. (two)
  • 2nd in opponent passer rating (71.4), despite playing three solid quarterbacks.

The biggest problem is the run defense, as the Bears have allowed a shocking five yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns. And numbers alone don’t tell the story.

The statistics don’t tell you about how in each of the Bears first three games, the other team was missing its best offensive player. They don’t tell you about the dropped touchdown in Detroit or the fourth down failures that allowed the Giants to get within 10 yards of a win. The numbers don’t tell you that Atlanta was without two of its top three wide receivers for the second half and went uber-conservative.

(In fairness, they also don’t tell you about the bad calls that took a pick-six away, or two very iffy roughing the passer penalties — one of which took away a strip sack. But you can bet every team has similar arguments.)

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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Defense

| June 10th, 2020

If the Chicago Bears are going to be relevant in the NFC North in 2020, it’s going to be because of their defense.

Last week I published a ranking of the teams in the NFC North positions on offense and the Bears didn’t fair well. They were ranked last in two positions — including the most important in the sport — and weren’t first in any. While the hope and expectation is that the Bears climb out of the bottom-10 when it comes to offensive efficiency, the reality is that expectations going into 2020 should be that the team will still have its struggles and will very likely be the worst offense in the division.

But the defense is a very different story.


Edge

1. Chicago

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Detroit

Not only are the Bears first in the most important defensive position, it isn’t really all that close. That isn’t to throw shade at Green Bay’s duo of Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but breakout seasons don’t necessarily put them ahead of two guys who have actual Hall of Fame credentials.

We need to start talking more about the Robert Quinn addition.

While it’s easy to focus on his down year with Miami, Quinn has 80.5 career sacks in 106 starts and has added 25 forced fumbles and 20 passes defensed. He averages more sacks per game than Julius Peppers did in his career.

What Quinn should do is take pressure off of Khalil Mack, who became the only front-seven defender offenses had to worry about last year after Akiem Hicks went down. Mack is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and should be expected to return to that form. Even in a down year, he was among the league leaders in pressures.

There’s no question Za’Darius Smith is a star, his combined 35.5 quarterback sacks and knockdowns are incredible. There should be some question about if Preston Smith can repeat his 2019 season in which he got nearly a third of his career sacks.

The Vikings have some questions opposite Danielle Hunter. Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks last year, but those are all he has for his career. The Lions paid Trey Flowers to get to the quarterback, but he has never had more than 7.5 sacks in a season and he’s their best pass rusher.

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2020 Defense Can Be Better Than 2018.

| May 5th, 2020


Considering how good the defense was in 2018, believing the 2020 vintage will be better might seem like crazy talk. But the Bears have more talent (and more depth) on the unit than they did two seasons ago.

The biggest difference comes at edge where Robert Quinn has made a career out of sacking quarterbacks. Leonard Floyd made a career out of everyone wondering when he was going to start sacking quarterbacks. Floyd has his strengths and there’s a reason he ended up signing a decent contract elsewhere, but too often teams were able to get away with leaving subpar tackles on an island with a top-ten pick. The addition of Quinn makes the Bears starting third down defense basically unblockable, and he also should make it easier for Akiem Hicks to take snaps off because they’ll still be able to generate pass rush without him.

While seen as a letdown nationally, what the 2019 Bears team accomplished defensively was actually impressive, considering Hicks missed most of the season. They still finished in the top 10 in DVOA and yards allowed and top five in points allowed — just about one point per game more than they allowed in 2018. When you add in the complete failure of the offense to give them any help, the drop was not that far.

May signings are hardly ever big splashes, but the Bears ability to add Tashaun Gipson to the secondary could go down as one of the most important moves of the offseason. The Bears viewed Deon Bush and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as similar players last year, to the point where Bush was stealing snaps from Clinton-Dix. But Gipson is a step up and a pretty sizable one at that.

While there are some injury concerns with Gipson, there’s no doubting his ability in coverage. The eight-year pro has 23 interceptions and 47 passes breakups. In Houston last year, he allowed an opponent passer rating of 55. That isn’t just better than what Bush and Clinton-Dix allowed in 2019, it’s significantly better than the 73 Adrian Amos allowed in 2018. Gipson was able to do this despite not having anywhere near the kind of supporting cast he’ll have in 2020.

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At 3-3, the 2019 Season is Not Lost With Ten Games Remaining

| October 23rd, 2019


The argument could be simply made.

“Hey, the Bears were 3-3 last season and look how that turned out!”

It’d be hard to argue against because it is factually correct. But all 3-3s are not created equal and the story of the first six games of this Chicago Bears season is not their record. It is the futility of the quarterback and the questions now surrounding the most important position in sports moving forward.

But even now that we know Mitch Trubisky is not the guy, that does not mean these final ten games of the 2019 campaign get discarded into the “playing out the string” bin. While the Bears are very, very unlikely to reach the lofty heights many of us expected, this season can still be a successful one.

How?


Win More Than You Lose

One of the most important elements to being a winning franchise is being a winning franchise. (Jeez, Jeff, thanks for the insight.) And if you think having back-to-back winning seasons is meaningless, here’s a piece of information for you: the Chicago Bears have only had back-to-back winning seasons TWICE since 1994. That’s two times, in 25 years. 1994-1995. 2005-2006.

(Side note: It is 100% pathetic that this franchise has not had three consecutive winning seasons since 1988.)

For Matt Nagy’s program, getting to at least nine wins is crucial towards building a winning culture.


Improve Offensively

The coach is still an offensive head coach.

A lot of the players on this offense are coming back in 2020. (At least I think they are.)

This group needs to find some production if for no other reason than to rebuild optimism for next season, even if the quarterback is changing. Find some rhythm. And find some damn points. If they don’t, it won’t take long for Matt Nagy to go from Coach of the Year to Hot Seat.


Get Something Out of the Quarterback

Mitch is not the guy. But barring odd developments in the next six months, he’s going to be one of the guys in Bourbonnais next summer. The Bears should be signing a veteran starter in March and drafting a potential starter in April. But if Trubisky is coming to camp, the Bears want him to at least arrive with the belief that he can win the job.

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Bears at the Bye: Defense (and Specials)

| October 15th, 2019

With five games under their belt, the Bears are roughly 1/3 of the way through the season. I already checked in on the offense, so today let’s take a closer look at how the defense is doing.


No Regression

I wrote this offseason that the Bears’ defense was likely to regress a bit from their 2018 selves but still be one of the best in the NFL. So far this year, you could make the argument that this defense is better in 2019 than it was in 2018, as you can see in the table below.

The Bears are giving up fewer points and getting more sacks than they did a year ago, but the turnovers and touchdowns (the 2018 stats most likely to regress) are both down a bit, which is why their DVOA has fallen so drastically. Still, this remains one of the absolute best units in the NFL, even if they had a thoroughly disappointing showing heading into the bye week. That alone should give the Bears a chance in every game they play.


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