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Bears at the Bye: The Guy Playing Quarterback

| October 8th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Mitchell Trubisky play four games under Matt Nagy’s tutelage, it’s time to examine how he’s doing. We’ve seen him play 269 snaps and throw 130 passes, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to analyze how he’s performing in a variety of situations.


Growth Through Each “Quarter”

Last offseason I looked at Trubisky’s performance in 4-game snapshots, borrowing the idea of breaking an NFL season down into quarters from Lovie Smith. There I found that Trubisky got progressively better in every “quarter.” Since Trubisky has played 4 games this year, he now has 16 in his career, giving him a full 4 “quarters” that we can track. Let’s take a look.

Well that looks pretty good. I said last offseason that, statistically speaking, Trubisky needed to throw more TDs while keeping everything else the same. Here we see that he has managed to throw more TDs, and everything else has stayed the same or improved. That’s good growth to see from a 2nd year QB.

Of course, four games is a small sample size, and this doesn’t look quite as rosy if we remove the Tampa game from the equation. Then his yards per attempt drops to 5.7, TD percentage to 1.9%, and his INT % (2.9%) and sack % (8.0%) both rise a bit higher than they were late in his rookie year.

Through three weeks, the stats suggested Trubisky was actually playing worse than late in his rookie year. That’s not entirely surprising given that learning a new offense often results in a step back at first.

Adding the TB game in there makes this look good, but now the question is whether the TB game was an aberration or a sign of things to come.

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Bears at the Bye: Examining the Trends of Matt Nagy’s Offense

| October 8th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.


Down & Distance

Let’s start by looking at what they’re doing in different down and distance situations. All statistics come from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System unless otherwise noted.

First Down

The offense has been extremely balanced on 1st down so far, with exactly 58 runs and 58 passing plays (passes, sacks, or scrambles).

The passing game has thrived with an average of 7.8 yards per play. According to Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, Mitchell Trubisky is completing 69% of his passes on 1st down, with 6 TD, 2 INT, and a 115.9 passer rating.

The running game, on the other hand, has been extremely ineffective, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. Most of the running attempts (34) have come from Jordan Howard, who is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, but Tarik Cohen also has 17 carries at only 2.9 yards per clip. It would appear the Bears are either making it obvious when they’re going to run or defenses are worrying about stopping the run first to make Trubisky beat them.

Second Down

When it comes to 2nd down, context is needed. A 3 yard gain is great on 2nd and 2, pretty good on 2nd and 5, and awful on 2nd and 10. With that in mind, I split the data into 4 groups based on the distance required to get a 1st down. The table below shows the results.

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s draft profile, day 1

| April 3rd, 2018

 

Now that Ryan Pace has been here for a while, we can start to look at his past drafts to see what lessons we can learn 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 the next 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. We’re starting today at the top of the draft. Let’s look first at the history, and then we’ll examine lessons learned.

Draft History

2015: Kevin White, WR, 7th overall

2016: Leonard Floyd, OLB, 9th overall (trade up from 11)

2017: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, 2nd overall (trade up from 3)

Trend 1: Go get your guy

The first thing we should observe is that Ryan Pace is not shy about trading up in round 1 to get the player he has identified as his main target. So keep that in mind as we look at mock drafts with players who might be good fits for the Bears but are projected to go higher than #8.

It’s worth noting that these have all been relatively minor trades just moving up a few spots, which keeps the cost down. Despite reportedly exploring moving up to the top of the draft for Marcus Mariota in 2015, Pace has not been willing to give up multiple high picks in these moves.

Trading up becomes a bit more difficult this year because the Bears are already without a third round pick due to trading up for Trubisky last year, but they do have an extra fourth round pick they could use.

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Data Entry: Projecting Contracts For Possible Receiver Targets

| February 27th, 2018

In the last two weeks, I’ve outlined both what the Bears need to add at WR this off-season and what players in free agency should fit that profile/the new offense. At the end of that work, I came up with the following two lists, suggesting that the Bears work to sign one player from each group.

Tier 1 (750+ yard receivers)

Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders (if cut)

Tier 2 (500+ yard receivers)

Albert Wilson, Kendall Wright, John Brown, Taylor Gabriel, Paul Richardson, Jaron Brown

Now I want to look at what types of contracts those players should expect in free agency to see how expensive these moves would likely be for the Bears. In order to do that, you need to compare the contracts signed by similar players (in both age and past production) who hit free agency in recent years. This gives you a general baseline for the ballpark a new contract should probably be in, though of course there are no guarantees this is exactly how it works out.

In an effort to be as accurate as possible, I also accounted for inflation, since the cap keeps going up every year. It’s jumped by about $10 million a year every year since 2015, and is expected to do the same again this year. Thus the comparable contracts were multiplied by the following scaling factors to get the predicted value, depending on when they were signed (some slight adjustments were made for greater/worse production):

  • 2015: 1.24
  • 2016: 1.15
  • 2017: 1.07

Let’s look through each target 1 by 1, with a few brief comments. Full data for production of targets and free agent contracts can be seen here. All contract information is from Spotrac.

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Data Entry: Bears’ Contract Options for Kyle Fuller

| February 1st, 2018

As we all know, Kyle Fuller had a breakout season in 2017 after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury. He led the NFL in passes broken up and ranked 17th among all cornerbacks in both completion percentage and passer rating allowed, per Pro Football Focus. Now general manager Ryan Pace has to decide what to do with Fuller, who is set to enter unrestricted free agency as one of the top cornerbacks on the market.

Let’s take a look at his options.

Franchise Tag

One weapon at Pace’s disposal is the franchise tag, which would guarantee Fuller the average of the top 5 cap hits at the cornerback position in 2018. Right now, that would look like a one year, $15.3 million contract that is fully guaranteed (per Spotrac). Pace can choose to apply this tag at any point between February 20 and March 6, and it seems likely to happen unless the Bears and Fuller can reach a long-term agreement first.

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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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Data Entry: Tracking Trubisky’s 2017 Growth Through “The Quarters Lens”

| January 16th, 2018

Former Bears coach Lovie Smith always talked about breaking the NFL season down into quarters, which splits a 16-game season into 4-game sample sizes. I’ve always thought that was a good way to look at it, as grouping four games together helps smooth some of the statistical noise of individual good or bad games.

With that in mind, I want to track Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie season through the quarters lens. Trubisky sat out the first quarter of the season, but took every offensive snap for each of the last three quarters. Let’s see how he progressed through those.


Usage

First, I want to point out that Trubisky was tasked with doing more in each quarter.

In his first 4 games, Trubisky had the ball in his hands on only 26.5 plays per game. Coaches tried to minimize what he had to do, which was why more plays featured handoffs and fewer featured him ending the play with a pass attempt, sack, or run.

In Trubisky’s 5th-8th games, that number increased to 34.3 plays per game, and it took another jump to 39.8 plays per game in the last four games.

For the 32 qualified passers in the NFL this year (224 or more pass attempts), the mean and median were both 38.2 pass attempts, meaning Trubisky was being given as much responsibility (in terms of plays per game) as an average quarterback by the end of the season. This clearly shows that coaches were willing to put more responsibility on Trubisky’s shoulders as the season wore on, which is a good sign.

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Data Entry: Bears Offense Found Better Balance in 2nd Half of 2017

| January 8th, 2018

When the Bears were on their bye week back in November, I looked at Chicago’s play-calling tendencies over rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s first four starts. In that study, I found that Dowell Loggains’ offense had been incredibly predictable through those four games. The team basically ran the ball if it was 1st or 2nd down and 10 or less and threw it if it was 2nd and 11+ or third down and anything.

This is obviously not a sustainable way to run an NFL offense, so let’s look at how those trends may have changed in the 8 games the Bears played after the bye. As before, all statistics come courtesy of the fantastic NFL play finder from Pro Football Reference.

1st down

In Trubisky’s first four starts, the Bears ran it 72% of the time on first down, but those numbers shifted dramatically following the bye. They actually passed more than running on 1st down in the last 8 games, with only 46% of their 1st downs featuring runs (I should clarify here that throughout this article passing plays are those which were called to be a pass, so either a pass attempt, sack, or QB rushing attempt, while runs are rushing attempts by anybody other than the QB. This assumes all QB runs are scrambles, which might slightly skew the data, but the Bears didn’t call many designed runs for Trubisky this year).

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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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Quantifying Devin Hester

| December 18th, 2017

Devin Hester officially announced his retirement this week, well after NFL teams had made it obvious that his career was over. My Twitter feed was instantly flooded with highlights and memories, and I hope you’ve taken a few moments in the last couple days to remember just how special Hester was. If not, here’s a quick refresher. Well, it’s not that quick, but that’s the point; Hester’s highlight reel is a long one.

Hester is without a doubt the greatest return man in NFL history. His 20 return touchdowns are the most ever. He had 3,786 punt return yards as a Bear, more than 1,000 more than the next highest returner, and his 14.3 yards per punt return led the NFL (minimum 50 attempts) by half a yard over that stretch.

But a common argument has been that Hester’s impact extended beyond his absurd return statistics because teams prioritized kicking away from him, giving the Bears better field position. Using the terrific Game Play Finder from Pro Football Reference, I attempted to see if that actually happened. Special thanks to the wonderful Andrew Link for helping me think through how to do this.

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