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ATM: Fields & Mahomes Situations Not Comparable

| June 15th, 2021

As tempting as it may be, Chicago Bears fans should resist comparing the team’s current situation at quarterback with past examples from around the league, especially what transpired in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes. Justin Fields is neither Mahomes, nor Mitch Trubisky. Andy Dalton neither Alex Smith, nor Mike Glennon. The situations are simply not comparable.

First, the veterans.

When Mahomes was drafted Smith had been the starting quarterback in KC for four years, leading the team to the playoffs three times. He had the locker room’s respect and knew the playbook cold. The Chiefs were HIS team, and he’d earned that. But Smith had physical limitations. Hence, Mahomes was drafted.

Glennon came to the Bears with 30 career touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. He had a career rating of 84.6 in 18 starts. He was no Smith. Dalton is more Smith, coming to Chicago with 142 starts under his belt and leading numerous playoff teams. Dalton, like Smith, has success when everything around him is perfect. But their situations are completely different. The Bears are not Dalton’s team. He’s been slightly longer than his surefire replacement, Justin Fields.

Then there are the contracts.

The Chiefs hoped Smith would play well and they could trade him for draft capital. It worked.

The Bears had hoped the same for Glennon. It did not.

No matter what Dalton does in 2021, he will be a free agent in 2022. (The Bears could, in theory, tag and trade him if he balls out, but let’s not cross that bridge until it comes.) There was significant prospective value in playing Smith and Glennon. There is little-to-none when it comes to Dalton.

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ATM: Fields Should Have To Earn Starting Job

| May 25th, 2021

While many fans don’t want to hear it, Matt Nagy’s response when questioned on if Justin Fields could win the starting quarterback position in training camp was spot on. Nagy was asked by ESPN 1000s David Kaplan if Fields could win the job with an exceptional training camp performance and Nagy responded by pointing out that Andy Dalton is also competing for the same position.

It’s reasonable, beyond reasonable, to say Fields should have to be the better quarterback to win the starting job and it’s certainly possible that is exactly what will happen. The Bears certainly aren’t ruling that out publicly, which might tell you what their expectations are privately. But Fields should still have to earn the job.

The Patrick Mahomes Example has been brought up numerous times because Nagy was in Kansas City when Mahomes wasn’t able to wrestle the starting job away from Alex Smith. While unlikely, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Dalton has a season similar to Smith’s, and we’ve never seen a rookie match that level of success.

Dalton is pretty close to what Smith was prior to the 2017 season. Smith has a slight statistical edge, but that can be explained by the supporting cast with which each had played. Smith wasn’t the 2017 version of himself until that year and it had been six years since he had a passer rating above 100. (This is somewhat ironic because Dalton had a passer rating of 106.2 six years ago.)

Cincinnati became a bad situation quickly for Dalton and, like Smith, he’s not the kind who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Dalton performed reasonably well for the Cowboys last year despite playing behind a horrendous offensive line. We saw Smith drop back down to earth right after he left KC.

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The Justin Paradigm: When Thinking About the 2021 Bears, Consider the 2020 Chargers.

| May 20th, 2021


In 2020, they went 7-9, with some inexplicable losses.

They finished third in their division.

At the end of the season, they fired their head coach.

Their campaign, in terms of results, in terms of the scores of the contests, was a failure.

But a cursory glance at the Los Angeles Chargers blogosphere, followed by a survey of national media types (especially Mays and Tice at The Athletic), would lead one to a very different conclusion. Optimism abounds. Hope reigns. Everything’s coming up roses.  (Or pick another showtune, if ya like.)

The reason is simple. In the 2020 NFL Draft, they drafted a kid called Justin to play quarterback. And in the aforementioned season, Herbert proved he’s their long-term answer at the position. When you get that question right, the others seem far less important.

This is the objective for the 2021 Chicago Bears. Sure, we will all want them to win as many games as possible. (Without a first round pick, losing has 0% value.) Sure, we’d like them to be as entertaining as humanly possible; a seemingly difficult ask for this offense over the last few seasons, as they staged one colossal bore after another on the back of an incompetent quarterback.  And sure, we’d love to see some of these high-priced defenders (Mack, Quinn, Jackson…etc.) play up to their contracts.

But none of that matters when it comes to long-term projections for this organization. What matters is the kid called Justin they drafted to play quarterback. What matters is sitting here on May 20th of NEXT year, knowing the Bears have their man at the most important position in team sports.

If they do, their championship “window” opens in 2022. And it doesn’t close for a decade.

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A Closer Look at Justin Fields’ College Production

| May 18th, 2021

Today, I want to take a closer look at Justin Fields’ advanced statistics in college to see what they can tell us about his playing style, comparable quarterbacks, and forecast to the NFL.

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Pass Location and Accuracy

To start out, let’s take a look at where Fields throws the ball and how accurate he is to different areas of the field. This data is pulled from Derrik Klassen, who has charted 28 draft-eligible QBs across 2019, 2020, and 2021. The table below shows how frequently and effectively Fields threw the ball short (5 yards or less), medium (6 to 15 yards), and deep (16 or more yards). It also compares each value to the average of the 28 QBs.



A few thoughts:

  • Fields is generally a very accurate passer. He’s one of the top 10 in accuracy to each range of the field, and ranks 1st among the 28 in “True Accuracy,” which is Klassen’s distance-weighted accuracy summary.
  • Fields also did not throw short passes all that frequently. It’s often hard to evaluate college QB production because so much of it comes from schemed short passes that don’t require much from the QB. Fields was one of the QBs who threw short the least, which means more of his production came down the field than a typical college QB.
  • Fields also didn’t throw it deep all that much, but he was really good when he did. I’ll look in more detail below at how well that translates to the NFL.
  • Where Fields really stood out, both in frequency and accuracy, was the midrange game. Fields’ 80% accuracy tied with Mac Jones, and nobody else in the sample was above 75%.

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Translation to NFL

So Fields is really accurate and likes to target the middle range of the field often. How well do those traits translate to the NFL?

I’m actually going to focus on two slightly different traits here, because they’re ones where I have easy access to the data (using Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder). That lets us view deep passes, which travel 15+ yards past the line of scrimmage, separate from short passes, which travel less than 15 yards.

When it comes to deep passes, Fields threw them at a slightly lower than average frequency in college, but was one of the most accurate passers in the last 3 drafts. How well do those traits translate to the NFL?

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Can Justin Fields Upgrade Chicago’s QB Performance in 2021?

| May 17th, 2021

Recently, I looked at Andy Dalton and found that he is not likely going to improve on the production the Bears got from their QBs in 2020. That means any improvement in the QB room likely has to come from rookie Justin Fields.

This is a more difficult projection to make because Fields doesn’t have years of NFL production to look at for an apples-to-apples comparison like I did with Dalton. Instead, I’m going to look at all rookies drafted in the last 10 years (2011-20 drafts) who attempted at least 300 passes in their rookie NFL season, with the idea being they played the majority of the year. This gives a sample size of 29 QBs; how many of them performed better than Chicago’s QBs in 2020?


The Setup

To do this comparison, I’m going to look at 3 stats, which I want to briefly explain here:

  • Yards per attempt + (Y/A)+. Yards per attempt is a simple enough metric, but the + indicates it is adjusted for era. Since this is comparing QBs over a 10 year sample, and league-wide yards/attempt has fluctuated year-by-year, this scales them all accordingly. 100 is a league average mark, anything higher is better and lower is worse.
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt + (ANY/A+). This takes yards/attempt and factors in touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks, and then scales according to league averages that year. A full explanation of the formula for adjusted net yards/attempt (which is from Pro Football Reference, just like Y/A+) can be seen here. The scaling is the same as Y/A+ above; 100 is average, and higher is better.
  • Expected Points added (EPA/Dropback). This attempts to account for the value of each individual play by comparing expected points on the drive (based on down, distance, and field location) at the start and finish of a play. Generally speaking, higher values here indicate that QB’s team is expected to score more points over the course of the season. A more detailed explanation can be found here. EPA data is pulled from this website.

The idea here is simple enough: how many of the 29 rookie QBs in the last 10 years with 300+ pass attempts have outperformed Chicago’s QBs from 2020? I also threw Andy Dalton’s 2020 season in just as a point of reference. Full data can be viewed here. 


Results

The table below shows how the Bears did in all 3 stats in 2020, how Andy Dalton did in all 3 stats in 2020, the average for all 29 rookies in the sample, and the number of rookies who outperformed the better of the 2020 Bears/2020 Dalton in each stat.

A few thoughts:

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When it Comes to QBs in the NFL, Studs are Studs.

| May 14th, 2021

Whether Justin Fields succeeds or fails, Matt Nagy probably isn’t going to have a hell of a lot to do with it. While everybody loves a “QB guru”, fans, media members and NFL teams waste entirely too much time talking about the development of young quarterbacks. It is just as likely that studs will be studs and duds, well, you get the picture.

At least in the modern NFL.

This isn’t your grandfather’s NFL and there isn’t a huge difference in the schemes run by teams. In his discussion with local media, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day referred to his experience in the NFL, even labeling his current scheme an “NFL offense” numerous times. Sure, rookie quarterbacks have to adjust to the speed of the NFL. They have to learn how to read different coverage concepts and adjust protections.

And while that’s all stuff that a good NFL team will help with, some guys just get it.

A narrative has emerged in recent months that Nagy failed to develop Mitch Trubisky. The truth is no one could have develop Trubisky because Trubisky is a bad football player. Bad football players don’t become good. Ryan Pace failed by drafting him to play quarterback in the NFL. Was Trubisky’s inability to read defenses and adjust something we would’ve found out about had he played more collegiate games? Almost certainly. (His inaccuracy downfield was certainly something that one would see if they looked at North Carolina tape.)

Fundamental improvements are fixed in the offseason these days because NFL coaches aren’t allowed as much contact. Mike McCarthy used to run a full-blown QB Camp as part of his offseason program. (Aaron Rodgers even credited it as part of his development.) That can’t happen any more.  Trubisky seemed to acknowledge that he wasn’t getting what he needed from his personal QB coach. Why else would he have changed coaches last offseason?

If we’re going to blame Nagy for not developing Trubisky, why don’t we blame Bruce Arians for whatever happened to Jameis Winston? Surely Sean McVay can’t be trusted with young quarterbacks after failing Jared Goff and why didn’t Boy Genius Kyle Shanahan turn his first hand-picked passer, CJ Beathard into a steal?

Then, if you look at the quarterbacks who have been good. Who do we credit for Derek Carr? Is Pete Carroll the genius behind Russ Wilson?  Is Jason Garrett the reason Dak Prescott became a stud? Shouldn’t Bill O’Brien get another job because of the work he did with Deshaun Watson? Uhhh…no.

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