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Rounding Up the Division Rivals (And Looking Slightly Into Their Futures)

| October 4th, 2018

Four games in the books, which means we’re a quarter of the way through the regular season, and it’s time for the first edition of “Rivals Round Up”. This is a new feature wherein I’ll take a look at how things stand in the NFC North.

And we’ll start at the top.


Chicago Bears, 3-1

Almost a week later, and last week’s win still feels every bit as good as it did on Sunday. (If you’re a Cubs fan like me, the Bears’ early season success might be the only thing getting you through this first week of October.) Chicago leads the division for the first time in years. They’ve won three games in a row for the first time, again, in years. And Mitch Trubisky’s offense took a hugely positive step forward with a dominant performance over Tampa Bay.

Oh, and that Khalil Mack guy? He’s pretty good, too.

Next Opponent: Miami Dolphins.

I don’t love that Chicago’s bye week comes so early this year, and after last week I’m antsy see them play again. But I expect the Bears to stay focused, keep learning, and go into Miami next week without missing a beat.

The Dolphins crashed back down to earth last week after a 3-0 start, getting pummeled by the Patriots 38-7. They play the 3-1 Bengals in Cincinnati this Sunday. Ryan Tannehill is having a nice season and seems to function well in Adam Gase’s system.

However, their offensive line is shaky and I fully expect the Bears to put pressure on him the entire day. On the defensive side, the Dolphin’s secondary will definitely be a step up from what Trubisky faced against Tampa. They’ve managed a league-leading nine interceptions in four games, so Mitch will have to play smart and stay accurate to keep from making costly mistakes.

Game Prediction: It won’t be another Bears blowout, but I think they earn their fourth straight win in Miami: Bears 24, Dolphins 17

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Data Entry: Breaking Down Trubisky’s Interceptions

| January 23rd, 2018

In his rookie season, Mitch Trubisky got to play 12 games and throw the ball 330 times. In those 330 attempts, he threw 7 interceptions, which is actually pretty good. That rate – an interception on 2.1% of his throws – was 12th best in the NFL among qualified passers, ahead of established veterans like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers.

As that list above shows, there’s more to being a good quarterback than simply not throwing interceptions. But avoiding interceptions is an important part of a quarterback’s job; in no small part because they can be game-changing plays that make it a lot harder to win.

But not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  1. Bad decision. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 8 years from balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  2. Bad throw. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  3. Miscommunication. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  4. Receiver error. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

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Now, Do It Again.

| December 12th, 2017

The Bears looked like a professional football team Sunday. Well-coached. Brilliantly quarterbacked. Dynamic. Passionate. Tough. Young! From the second Mitch Trubisky was drafted with the second overall pick, 2017 became about building optimism for 2018. That’s life with a rookie quarterback, especially when there are first and second-year players littered across the roster. For the first time this season the future looked beyond bright for this organization. It looked downright special. Because of the quarterback. Because of the kids.

Now they need to do it again.

Detroit is still playing for something. A lot of things, actually. They’re home. They are only a game out of the playoffs. They have a head coach they love, currently resting his tuchus on one of the league’s warmest seats. They need this game. And believe me, they’re going to play like it.

Historically, at least in the history of John Fox’s tenure in Chicago, Saturday afternoon in Detroit is where the Bears would lay an egg. As soon as the slightest bit of optimism creeps into the minds of fans and onto the pages of the daily newspapers, Fox’s Bears no-show. There are a lot of damning statistics when it comes to this head coach but none more damning than his 0-7 record when favored. That means every time Vegas has expected the Fox Bears to perform, they have failed to do so. Every. Time. That’s hard to do.

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Data Responds: Lions at Bears

| November 19th, 2017

Chicago’s offense had their best game of the year, but their defense played possibly their worst game of the year. All in all, that evened out, but the Bears ended up falling to 3-7 because their kicker is terrible.

Offense

  • Now that’s more like it. The offense was finally run like an NFL offense, mixing things up and keeping the defense off its feet, and unsurprisingly it led to good things happening. Chicago stayed run-heavy in the game, but mixed up how they were running instead of making it so predictable, and thus the run game really took off. As a result, the offense scored more than 17 points in regulation for the 1st time all year.
  • This also helped the passing game open up a bit as well, since the Bears didn’t routinely end up in 3rd and long. This was a nice change from how their offense has functioned most of the year.
  • Another nice wrinkle we saw on offense was a number of read-option looks for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He kept it several times (though there was at least one more where he should have) and made Detroit’s defense pay for crashing down on the running backs.
  • After ignoring Tarik Cohen on offense for several weeks, the Bears made a point of getting him involved early and often. He had 8 carries and 3 pass targets in the 1st half alone after getting 8 total touches in the previous 3 games.
  • Another nice wrinkle was lining Jordan Howard up as a fullback, with Tarik Cohen at tailback. This set Howard up with a few nice runs as he could spring through the line quickly and the linebackers had to worry about Cohen.

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DBB Weekend Show – Week 14

| December 8th, 2016

On the Weekend Show:

  • Jeff discussed the importance for this coaching regime to put together a good division record down the stretch.
  • Dave Birkett on all things Lions, including whether this is a mediocre team winning a bad division or a good team ready to compete for a trip to the Super Bowl. (He also points out their specials as Detroit’s secret weapon.)
  • Ged Hourigan, Irish degenerate, tells a fake story as he steps in for the Reverend on the sermon.
  • The pick? Objective this could easily be a Lions blowout victory but two things stand in the way of that: a surging Bears defense and #barkleytime.
  • Music from Joni Mitchell and John Cale!

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With Promising Roster and Declining Division, There’s Hope Aplenty for Bears Fans

| November 8th, 2016

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Aaron Rodgers may still be great. He probably is. But the team assembled around him by Ted Thompson, especially on the defensive side of the ball, isn’t very good. And somebody will probably lose their job in Green Bay because of it.

Minnesota’s defense is terrific. They have a young, talented roster and, in Mike Zimmer, a superb defensive mind. Their offense? Serious question. Do they have a single position on that side of the ball settled moving forward into 2017?

Detroit is Detroit – a middle of the road franchise with a middle of the road coach having a middle of the road season. Their season has only found that middle of the road because Matt Stafford is performing at the highest level of his life. He’s among a handful of candidates for MVP through the season’s first half.

And then there’s the Chicago Bears.

In this league, a team doesn’t need to be better than all thirty-one other clubs to make the tournament and compete for a title. All they have to do is be better than the three teams in their division. Then you catch a couple good matchups in the tournament and you can find yourself hosting the Thursday night opener eight months later.

Right now the Bears are 2-6. That’s what they are. But they are 2-6 having played five and a half games with their backup quarterbacks and most off all of the season undermanned at key positions.

But when it comes to the division, this 2-6 club is already pretty damn close. They beat Detroit decisively. They manhandled Minnesota. And before Matt Barkley’s appearance they were every bit Green Bay’s equal, even at Lambeau Field.

And honestly, this should have surprised no one. Especially if you read this blog.

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The Case Against the Detroit Lions

| August 3rd, 2016

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The following is the second in a four-part series breaking down why the other teams in the NFC North won’t be contenders this season. (The Packers get two parts.)


You can argue Favre or Rodgers. You can say Moss in his prime or Adrian Peterson. Steve Smith for sure. There are plenty of players who’ve had success over the Bears in the modern era. But no player, not any of those previously mentioned, seemed as consistently unstoppable as Calvin Johnson. If the ball was in the air and Johnson was the target, it was just assumed to be a big play.

A quote from Matthew Stafford at ESPN:

“I think we’re going to do it a little bit differently than we have the in the past,” Stafford said during an interview Tuesday with SiriusXM Radio. “Obviously we used to feature Calvin, and everybody kind of got theirs after that. It’s going to be, I think, tougher for defenses in a certain way in that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on.”

Note to Mr. Stafford. In no way will the Lions be more difficult to defend without Johnson. That’s like saying it’ll be easier to make a dinner choice at the Billy Goat once they take burgers (or in this case, borgers) off the menu.

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Bears Building Team That Could Take Control of NFC North

| May 18th, 2016

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is sacked and hit by Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) in second half action. The Colts defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-27 on Sunday, October 7, 2012, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Sam Riche/MCT) ORG XMIT: 1129744

Since taking over before last offseason, Ryan Pace and John Fox have completely rebuilt the Bears defense and it should result in a team that contends for the NFC North in both the near and long term.

I don’t care what happened last year. The Packers are still the team to beat in the NFC North. They have the best coach, the best quarterback and – while they’re certainly declining – I’m not ready to proclaim the Vikings or any other team the new King of the North. But what the Bears did to the Packers on Thanksgiving wasn’t a fluke and now they’re building up their talent level to do it consistently. At the very least, with a good defense, they’ll give themselves a consistent chance.

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Around The North with Andrew Dannehy: Detroit

| January 27th, 2016

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There was a changing of the guard in the NFC North this season, with the Vikings overtaking the Packers, but the future of the division remains in question. The following is part one of a three part wrap-up of the division.

DETROIT LIONS

The Lions 2015 season was considered a disappointment but it really shouldn’t have been. When they went 11-5 in 2014, they won close games at an unsustainable rate and lost their best player in free agency before this season (Suh). They finished 2015 with a 7-9 record – right around where they should’ve been.

They had to keep Jim Caldwell. It isn’t just that the Lions were one desperation heave from finishing 7-1. The Lions might have been the best team in the division over the final eight games. They finished 6-2 with a point differential of plus-54, both best in the division.

The issue was they didn’t hire their new GM (Bob Quinn from the Pats) until late and the head coach candidates were winding down. Even if they fired Caldwell and replaced him, the new coach would have a challenge filling out his staff. Keeping Caldwell was the only logical choice, but it could hurt them in 2016.

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