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The Positional Quick 3: Defensive Line

| June 21st, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Defensive Line

  • Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are the core of everything this defense wants to do. When they’re on the field, they become the focal point of opposing offensive coordinators because they are both capable of ruining a game. Hicks is the flashier talent but Goldman is just as valuable. They Bears can’t be an elite defense without both.
  • There is cautious optimism inside the building that a light went on for Jonathan Bullard at the end of last season. But I’d warn fans against sharing that optimism. Coaches ALWAYS believe they can get through. They never believe a player is incapable of taking the leap. Bullard flashed down the stretch in 2017 but can he be a disruptive force for sixteen games? We shall see.
  • Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols will play and play an awful lot if Bullard does not impress this summer. Nichols is the player to keep an eye on. From a source inside the organization: “Fangio fell in love with this kid on day one. He’s got a chance to be a star.”

Tomorrow: Linebackers

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Getting to the Quarterback Key To Goldman’s NFL/Earning Potential

| May 23rd, 2018

Eddie Goldman was one of the first key defensive additions for Ryan Pace and Vic Fangio as they rebuilt the unit. But his staying and earning power could depend upon his ability to get after the quarterback.

First, nobody questions whether or not Goldman is a good player. He is a very, very good player. But the Bears have to decide exactly how much they value a run-stuffing defensive tackle in a passing league. But Goldman, according to media reports, is primed to become one of the league’s higher-paid defensive linemen. In order for that to happen, he’ll have to convince the Bears they don’t need to take him off the field on passing downs.

Goldman has shown the ability to get after the quarterback.

  • As a rookie he managed 4.5 sacks and regularly generated pressure up the middle.
  • In his second season he added 2.5 quarterback take downs in just five games.
  • His total dropped to 1.5 in 2017, despite playing significantly more snaps.

Read More …

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Back-to-Back Audibles: Finley on the DL, Nagy Inspires the Cubs, Bennie Fowler, Links!

| April 16th, 2018

Finley on the Defensive Line

From Patrick Finley and the Sun-Times – who now finally have a readable website thanks to the fine folks at WordPress:

If Pace is able to sign Goldman to a contract extension before the final year of his rookie deal — the Bears are trying — he could have two stellar talents locked up for the next four years, when Hicks’ deal expires.

The Bears, of course, have three starting defensive line positions.

Their interest in drafting someone to develop alongside Hicks and Goldman depends on how vital they view that third spot to be. The Bears typically rotate defensive linemen, lessening the need for an every-down end opposite Hicks, who played about 85 percent of the team’s snaps last year. In nickel and dime packages, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio often replaces an end with a linebacker in hopes of creating pass-rush mismatches.

The Bears never settled on an end to start alongside Hicks last year. Jonathan Bullard, who Pace drafted in the third round in 2016, played 40 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps, veteran Mitch Unrein 37 percent and former undrafted free agent Roy Robertson-Harris 20 percent. At the end of the season, Pace singled out Bullard and Robertson-Harris as players who made significant leaps during the year.

Perhaps as a result, the Bears didn’t add anyone to replace Unrein when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Buccaneers last month.

My personal belief is the Bears don’t put a tremendous value in this third defensive lineman position. They will continue to get production there from low-risk veterans and late draft picks.

Also, I have it on good authority that both Ryan Pace and Vic Fangio believe Jon Bullard can be a top player in the league. Not just good. Top. Has he shown that potential? No. At least not in the game tape. But they believe they’ve seen flashes.

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s Draft Profile, Day 2

| April 10th, 2018

Now that Ryan Pace has been here a while, it’s possible to look at his past drafts to see what lessons can be learned from his approach. This can help us cautiously look ahead to the 2018 draft to see what he might be thinking.

With that goal in mind, I’m going to spend three weeks looking at how Pace has approached the three days of the draft, and then applying that approach to 2018 to see what players are likely being considered for the Bears this year. I looked at day 1 last week, so today will be day 2 (rounds 2-3).


Draft History

2015: Eddie Goldman, DT, 39th pick; Hroniss Grasu, C, 71st pick

2016: Cody Whitehair, OL, 56th pick (after 2 trade downs); Jonathan Bullard, DL, 72nd pick

2017: Adam Shaheen, TE, 45th pick (after trading down)

Trend 1: Trade Down

Ryan Pace has been a big fan of trading down for extra picks in round 2. He did it twice before selecting Cody Whitehair in 2016 and once before taking Adam Shaheen in 2017. Given that the Bears are short a third round pick this year, I think he will be working the phones looking to do that again in round 2.  Read More …

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Data Responds: Bears at Vikings

| December 31st, 2017

Sorry for the break the last few weeks. I haven’t been able to watch games live due to various holiday scheduling hijinks. Darn that real life for getting in the way!

Before we get into today’s game specifically, reports are that John Fox will be fired today. I won’t miss you as Chicago’s head coach.

In general, this game looked very much like a disinterested team playing out the string on the road for a soon-to-be-fired coaching staff against a hungry opponent playing to lock up a first round bye.

Offense

  • The Bears got the ball to start and opened with a heavy set Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for no gain. On their 2nd drive, they followed that up with a Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for -4 yards. Shockingly, both drives ended in 3 and outs. Oh how I am not going to miss that.
  • On Chicago’s 3rd drive, they threw the ball on 1st down! You’ll be surprised to find out that not being incredibly predictable actually worked. Of course, the Bears followed that up with a FB dive into a 9 man box on 3rd and 1 (why is Michael Burton still a thing?), which lost yardage and forced a punt. Before they could get the punt off, the Bears took a delay of game penalty, because of course.
  • Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky had a bad rookie moment that resulted in a safety. Under pressure, he kept backing up until he was in the end zone, which was the mistake. He then threw the ball away to pick up an intentional grounding penalty, which is a safety in the end zone. My complaint is not with the grounding, but with the fact that he backed up into the end zone first. He could have taken the sack at the 3 yard line, and needs to know the field position situation there.
  • Trubisky also had a terrible throw in the fourth quarter where he missed a wide-open Dontrelle Inman because his feet were not properly set. Despite a clean pocket, he did something weird where he torqued his upper body, which caused him to put the ball far too wide and out of bounds. Those mechanical issues, and the corresponding accuracy concerns, have been a repeated problem this offseason, and are the #1 thing Trubisky needs to work on this offseason.

Read More …

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219 Comments

Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

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Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s Defense

| November 6th, 2017

Now the defense.

Chicago’s defense has generally been good so far in 2017. They’re 8th out of 32 NFL teams in yards per game and 14th in points per game. They have been pretty solid both against the pass (10th in yards per game, 16th in passer rating, 15th in yards per attempt) and run (11th in yards per game, 14th in yards per carry).

These basic stats are easy to look up, but there’s a lot of information that they don’t tell you. In order to break it down a little bit further, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s defensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing success by areas of the field to see both where they are targeted the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Run defense

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense so far in 2017. The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses (all ranks through week 8 only). The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12. Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.

Read More …

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Midseason Marks: Defense

| November 1st, 2017

The DBB team is evaluating the entire organization at this well-placed, exactly midseason bye week. The catch? Each of us is limited to ONE SENTENCE for each position group. Today we move on to the defense.


Defensive Line

Jeff: Impossible to say a negative word about this group, with Goldman arguably the league’s best run-stuffing interior lineman and Hicks mounting a serious campaign for Defensive Player of the Year.

Andrew: Hicks and Goldman are studs, Unrein is solid and Bullard and Robertson-Harris have both shown flashes.

Data: Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman might be the best interior DL combo in the NFL.

DBB Grade: A


Inside Linebackers

Jeff: This was the position of greatest depth on the roster and that depth has been severely tested through eight games. Christian Jones has looked like a new player in the absence of Freeman, Kwik and Timu. (Yea that’s two sentences but it’s my blog so go away.)

Andrew: Danny Trevathan is having a career year and young inside backers also making an impact.

Data: Chicago has gotten a surprisingly high level of play out of this group considering they’ve had to rotate through 5 different bodies here due to injuries and suspensions.

DBB Grade: A-


Outside Linebackers

Jeff: Bears ask their outside backers to do a lot, including extensive coverage duties, but this group will always be judged by their ability to get to the quarterback and they’re getting there to the tune of 11 sacks.

Read More …

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Panthers

| October 22nd, 2017

Well that was fun.

Chicago’s defense scored not one but two touchdowns and shut Carolina’s offense down, staking the Bears with an early lead that held up for the entire game. Even though the offense never really got anything going, this was the Bears’ easiest win in a long time.

Offense

  • The Bears were up 14 points before the offense was really asked to do anything. That shifted an already conservative game plan even farther to the safe side, making them even more predictable. As a result, they went three and out with regularity, picking up only 153 yards and 5 first downs on the game. This forced the defense to spend too much time on the field and get tired; credit them for holding up under those conditions.
  • Credit to the coaching staff for not sitting on a 14-3 lead with just over 3:00 left before halftime, like we all expected after watching their conservative approach this season. They came out and let Mitchell Trubisky throw deep to Tarik Cohen on 1st down, resulting in 70 yards and 1st and goal from the 5 yard line. They were unable to finish for the touchdown, but a field goal (plus a little rest for the defense) on that drive was key.
  • The second half offense was just plain offensive. Prior to the final drive that ran out the clock, the Bears had the ball 5 times, picked up 3 total yards, and went 3 and out five times. At least they didn’t turn the ball over, I guess, and they were able to run out the last 3:36 of clock with two 1st downs on the ground. Read More …

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Bears Defense Should Take a Big Step in 2017

| May 8th, 2017

While they didn’t attack that side of the ball the way many people thought they should in the draft, the Bears defense should still be significantly improved in 2017.

Just last week the Bears made a significant addition to their front seven adding Jaye Howard from Kansas City. Howard is a bull against the run and has shown some ability to rush the passer, finishing with 5.5 sacks in 2015. He missed half of the 2016 season, but passed a physical and appears to be ready to go. Howard will start for the Bears and has the ability to play in their nickel packages, rotating with Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks, representing a significant upgrade over Mitch Unrein.

Howard will also push second-year player Jonathan Bullard. Bullard has the potential to be a stud but was terrible as a rookie. If the Bears — with one of the best defensive line coaches in the league in Jay Rodgers — can develop Bullard, they might have the best front seven in the league.

Read More …

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