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Short-Handed Bears Beat Lions, Cement Lead Atop NFC North

| November 23rd, 2018

Not the most compelling game ever played but the kind of result good teams get. The Bears played three division games in twelve days and went 3-0, outscoring the Lions (twice) and Vikings 82-58.

This three-game stretch solidified them as one of the better teams in the NFC and it would now be a terrible disappointment if there was not a football game at Soldier Field in January. 

Rapid fire…


  • Chase Daniel did everything a team can ask from their backup quarterback. He moved the offense. He avoided crippling errors. Was he good? Not really. Even the touchdowns/big plays were not well-thrown balls. But he got the job done. In the modern NFL, teams need a backup QB that can hold down the fort and win some games for 2-3 weeks every season. With Daniel, the Bears have that.
  • 3rd and 1. Early second quarter. Stafford rolled to his left and had about six minutes to find an open receiver to move the chains. Why? Khalil Mack was floating in coverage. (And “floating” is the accurate word.) This is what Fangio’s defense is. Understood. But without a healthy Aaron Lynch, and with Leonard Floyd struggling to get to the quarterback, not allowing the game’s best edge rusher to rush from the edge feels negligent.
  • As Andrew pointed out on Twitter, the Bears were awful on 2nd and long all game, giving up chunk plays in the air and on the ground. This will be a focal point before they head to the Meadowlands.
  • Eddie Jackson has to be in the conversation now for DPOY now. Right now the award is Aaron Donald’s to lose, mostly because of Mack’s earlier injuries, but no defender has made more big plays in 2018 than Jackson.
  • Every week Roquan Smith makes another play. And every week it becomes more apparent Smith is going to be in the middle of the Bears defense for a long, long time.
  • The running game, or lack thereof, will be a major talking point over the next ten days. But look no further than Matt Nagy’s two-point conversion call to understand why that element is struggling. With an inaccurate backup QB, Nagy called a pass. And not just a pass. A quick, bubble screen that required timing and pinpoint ball placement. Despite what the head coach tells reporters, the answer is simple. The Bears don’t run the ball because the Bears don’t want to run the ball.
  • Taquan Mizzell is more valuable to Nagy than Jordan Howard.

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Bears Take Care of Business, Throttle Undermanned Bills

| November 5th, 2018

Strange game. From the moment Eddie Jackson returned a Roquan Smith-forced fumble for a touchdown with 7:07 remaining in the first half, the entire building knew the game was over. Here are six specific, in-building thoughts from Bears 41, Bills 9.


(1) That was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever heard to start the game. The crowd noise was absolutely deafening when the Bears had the ball for the first quarter plus. The false starts upfront were completely understandable. Offensive line miscommunication should have been expected. (I could barely hear a friend two seats away from me.) There is no chance a Soldier Field crowd, with the team at 2-6 and starting a dead weight quarterback, would be anywhere near that enthused at kickoff. Impressive showing from Bills fans, in and around the ballpark.


(2) Good to see Jordan Howard running with some anger. Again, don’t look at the overall numbers. They’re mostly meaningless in a game like this. But Matt Nagy is finally starting to understand how to use Howard, especially down in the red zone. The Andy Reid offense like to throw to score. The Bears are built to ride Howard into the end zone.


(3) Two defenders stood out to me: Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson. Smith is going to be a star in the league for a long, long time but that is expected from a top draft pick. Jackson is an incredible player. He closes on the football as good as any Bears safety since Mike Brown. He’s the rare back end guy comfortable with the football in the air and tackling in the open field. He’s got great, natural instincts.


(4) The Bears were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of running Mitch Trubisky did against the Jets last week because there were times Sunday Trubisky had acres of space in front of him. If this WAS a coaching decision, I applaud it. Trubisky knows he can run. That’ll be there as long as his legs are. But this season has to be more about processing information, stepping into the pocket and delivering the football. And in a game like Sunday’s there’s no reason for the young quarterback to take any unnecessary punishment.

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Turning Chicago’s Fortunes Around Will Require Turning Over Opposing Quarterbacks Through the Air

| August 6th, 2018

Chicago returns their entire secondary from last season, which is good news.

Off-season additions like Eddie Jackson and Prince Amukamara, coupled with breakout seasons from Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, helped construct a quality 2017 pass defense. The Bears were 7th in passing yards allowed, 15th in yards per attempt, and 5th in fewest touchdown passes given up.

But there is one area where improvement is desperately needed: interceptions. The Bears caught only 8 for the third year in a row in 2017. Only two NFL teams had fewer.

This has to change if the Bears want to become a good team. To understand why, let’s look at how important turnovers are to winning football games.


Turnovers & Winning Games

Over the last five years, there is a correlation of 0.50 between a team’s turnover differential and the number of wins for a given season. That means that roughly half of a team’s season outcome can be explained simply by looking at how many times their offense turned the ball over compared to how many times their defense took the ball away. Other studies have looked at this in greater detail and found the correlation to be somewhere between 40% and 65%.

I wanted to put this into a visual that’s a bit more concrete, so the table below shows how a team’s turnover differential corresponds to various season outcomes over the last 5 seasons (full data available here).

Teams that have a better turnover differential win more games and make the playoffs more often. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but I think it’s helpful to see some numbers.


Fumble Luck Doesn’t Last

So if the Bears want to improve, they need to improve their turnover differential. They actually weren’t awful last year (as I predicted before the season), as they had a differential of 0 by turning it over 22 times and forcing 22 turnovers, but that was with a hyper-conservative offense designed to limit turnovers.

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s draft profile, day 3

| April 17th, 2018

The last in a three-part series, breaking down Ryan Pace’s approach to the NFL Draft when it comes to prospects. Today, day three, rounds four through seven.


Draft History

2015: RB Jeremy Langford (R4), S Adrian Amos (R5), T Tayo Fabuluje (R6)

2016: LB Nick Kwiatkoski (R4), S Deon Bush (R4), CB Deiondre’ Hall (R4), RB Jordan Howard (R5), S DeAndre Houston-Carson (R6), WR Daniel Braverman (R7)

2017: S Eddie Jackson (R4), RB Tarik Cohen (R4), OL Jordan Morgan (R5)


Trend 1

Prioritize Rounds 4-5

Under Ryan Pace, the Bears are averaging two round 4 picks per year and are currently slated to have two in 2018. They will potentially have more if Pace trades down in round 2 again, as is he wont.

The Bears also acquired a fifth round pick in the Brandon Marshall deal. These are the rounds where he likes to operate, and he has done quite well, landing five solid contributors in three years: Adrian Amos, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jordan Howard, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen.

On the flip side, Pace doesn’t seem to care much about round 6 or 7, where he has made only three picks total through three years. He’s made several trades sending these picks out.

  • 6th for Khari Lee
  • Throw-ins for a trade on day two that netted extra 4ths
  • 6th to move up for Kwiatkoski
  • Throw-in 7th to get 5th back when trading Brandon Marshall to Jets
  • Conditional 2018 7th for Inman that they kept in 2018.

Don’t be surprised to see one of those traded away, perhaps to help move up for a coveted player in round 4.

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Data Entry: Random Roster Thoughts

| April 6th, 2018

Note: thanks to Butch for the cool new header picture

Free agency is settling down, so now is a good time to take a look at where the Bears’ roster currently stands. This will give us a better idea of what minor free agency moves should still be made and where the draft attention should focus for the first few rounds.

Let’s start with a rough depth chart, followed by a few quick thoughts. This is just my estimate of what a depth chart could look like, don’t read too much into details like Roy Robertson-Harris being above Jonathan Bullard, or anything like that.

Reflections, in no particular order:

  • The Bears currently have 65 players under contract. They’re scheduled for 7 draft picks, and will likely sign a few more cheap veterans, but there’s going to be plenty of room to fill out the roster with undrafted free agents after the draft. Expect them to bring in at least 15 of them, and thus it’s no surprise that they’ve been meeting with several players projected as possible UDFA targets, including Jonah Trinnaman and Jarvion Franklin.

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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.

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Data Responds: Bears at Bengals

| December 10th, 2017

Is this real life?

The Bears dominated on both sides of the ball, scored 30 points for the first time in over two years, and generally rolled over the dormant Cincinnati Bengals.

I know Cincinnati is bad and banged up, but so are the Bears, and this was a lot of fun. More importantly, this as led largely by young players for the Bears, which bodes well for the future. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Offense

  • The Bears came out and threw it on their first 2 plays! The first resulted in an awful Jordan Howard drop (drink), while the second was a beautiful play action rollout to Josh Bellamy for a 1st down. This unsurprisingly caught the Bengals’ defense off guard, and they backed off the defense into standard 7 man boxes instead of loading 8-9 up. As a result, the Bears ran it the next two plays for about 40 yards and a touchdown. That marked the first time this season that the offense scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game.
  • Before I get too down on Howard, how about giving it up for a great game from Chicago’s stud running back? He had his 12th 100 yard rushing game in 26 career starts and passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 2nd year in a row, making him the first running back in Chicago history to start his career that way. That’s pretty remarkable when you think of the great running backs who have played in Chicago.

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Data Responds: Bears at Eagles

| November 26th, 2017

Well that was ugly. This one felt like a few drubbings the 2014 Bears received after the Bears had quit on Marc Trestman. The John Fox era is officially over, though we almost certainly still have to endure 5 more games before it becomes official. Hopefully those games aren’t all this ugly.

The Bears were never going to win on the road against the best team in the NFL, but they looked completely unprepared in every possible way. They picked up penalties, had zero creativity or imagination anywhere, and were generally outschemed, outcoached, and out-executed.

I’m not going to focus much on coaching, because this staff is obviously finished, but one particular atrocity deserves special attention. Facing 3rd and 17 from their own 1 yard line, the Bears called time out to save half a yard from a delay of game penalty. That’s bad enough, but the worst is the offense had only 10 men on the field after an injury time out gave them more than 2 minutes to prepare. That’s a team with comically inept coaching.

I’m going to focus most of my specific observations on the first half, because quite honestly I didn’t pay as much attention after that. The 24-0 halftime deficit meant the game was over by then anyway (honestly, it was over well before halftime).

Offense

  • Mitchell Trubisky threw an early INT on an inaccurate throw, and it caused the coaching staff to turtle back into their worst habits. It was a long time before they let him throw past the line of scrimmage again, and even then that only came on 3rd and long. Instead, they chose to repeatedly run out of heavy sets into loaded boxes. You might be surprised to learn this was not an effective strategy.

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Bears Win One of the Strangest Games Ever Played & a Championship Defense Emerged

| October 23rd, 2017

Here’s how Roger Ebert opened his review of Joe Versus the Volcano, the brilliantly odd 1990 film from John Shanley:

Gradually during the opening scenes of “Joe Versus the Volcano,” my heart began to quicken, until finally I realized a wondrous thing: I had not seen this movie before. Most movies, I have seen before. Most movies, you have seen before. Most movies are constructed out of bits and pieces of other movies, like little engines built from cinematic Erector sets. But not “Joe Versus the Volcano.”

I have never seen a football game like Sunday’s Bears/Panthers tilt. Never. Think about what took place.

  • The Bears attempted 7 passes, completing 4 and only 1 to a wide receiver. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears averaged 3.1 yards per carry, with a long of 11 yards. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears ran 19 plays in the second half (sans kneel downs) for a grand total of 28 yards. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears were outgained in total yardage 293 to 153. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears had the football for 17 minutes less than the Panthers. And won by 2 touchdowns.
  • The Bears got 15 less first downs than the Panthers. 15! And won by 2 touchdowns.

You could live to be a thousand years old and never see a game like this again. The iconic “They Are Who We Thought They Were” game from 2006 was not this lopsided statistically. Oddly enough, Trubisky’s four completions were matched that night by Rex Grossman’s four interceptions.


Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers was defined by one moment, one play. After Trubisky’s lunge for the end zone was deemed short, John Fox faced fourth-and-a-foot with about a minute remaining in the first half. If the Bears went and scored, they’d lead 21-3 and receive the ball to start the second half. If they went and failed, chances are the Panthers would have run the ball three times, forcing Chicago to burn their timeouts, but still giving the ball back to the Bears with enough time to score.

There was almost no reason NOT to go. John Fox did NOT hesitate. Field goal. 17-3.

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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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