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Training Camp Player(s) to Watch: Defense

| July 16th, 2021


This whole “Player to Watch” concept is a bit tired, isn’t it? What exactly is there to watch in camp when it comes to Robert Quinn? Or Danny Trevathan? There’s no production to monitor. Nothing the team shows to fans and media means anything. So what are we watching?

But there are things of note, and those things usually involve who is getting reps where. (Hence, yesterday’s focus on which player will be returning kickoffs in a few weeks.) This summer, when it comes to the Bears defense, there is one thing to watch: health.

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Khalil Mack has been wrestling with back (and other) injuries for two seasons.

Akiem Hicks is constantly in and out of the lineup.

Robert Quinn never got his season started in 2020 due to a series of knocks.

Jaylon Johnson is being asked to assume the top corner role but, while he is immensely talented, he is also chronically-injured.

Eddie Goldman just took a year off from playing football. That’s not easy and his body’s response will be something to monitor.

Danny Trevathan is aging (aren’t we all?) and slowing.

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This is an older group, with it unlikely Mack, Hicks, Quinn and Trevathan will be on the roster in 2022. But if the Bears want to be a playoff team this season – no matter who is playing quarterback – they need almost all of the aforementioned players to stay on the field (with the plausible exception of Trevathan).

  • Without Mack, the pass rush is non-existent.
  • Without Hicks, Bilal Nichols will be asked to take the leap from solid role player to top-tier interior lineman. (While a good player, he has not made that leap yet.)
  • Without Quinn, it’s unlikely the pass rush will be able to compensate deficiencies on the backend.
  • Without Johnson, any team with two capable wide receivers will tear this defense apart.
  • Without Goldman (again), the run defense won’t hold up over a long season.

Is it important which corner settles into the slot role? Sure. But if Kindle Vildor wins the job this summer that doesn’t mean he’ll still have the job come October. What’s important to watch this summer is the health of the aging stars. Because that will have the greatest impact on 2021 success.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

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Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021


Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

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Bears Must Address Imbalanced Roster Construction

| November 20th, 2020


Yet again in 2020, we see that the Bears have one of the best defenses in the NF,L coupled with one of the worst offenses. This combines to give them a team that is not good enough. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, a continuation of 2018-19, all of the Lovie years, and the 1980s after Jim McMahon got hurt.

Normally I’d use the bye week to do an in-depth look at the numbers for Chicago’s offense and defense, but honestly I don’t see the point. Their defense is really good, their offense is really bad, and you don’t need advanced stats to tell you more than that. I’m sure I’ll still do some of that analysis in the offseason but for right now I want to focus on a bigger question: WHY is the defense so much better than their offense?

The answer here is really not that surprising: the Bears are investing more in the defense. The table below shows how much money they have invested in the defense compared to the offense, as measured in 3 ways:

  • 2020 cap dollars. How much current money is being spent.
  • Average yearly salary. This accounts for the fact that contracts don’t have even distribution of cap hits every year. For instance, Robert Quinn has an average salary of $14M per year in his contract, but only has a 2020 cap hit of $6M. This will give a better picture of true spending.
  • % of salary. This looks at how much of your total spending is focused on one side of the ball, based on the average annual salary of players. It’s a good measure of how lopsided your investment is on offense vs. defense.

The table below shows the Bears’ values for offense and defense in each category, as well as the NFL average and where the Bears rank. All data is from Spotrac.

A few thoughts:

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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume III: Defense & Playoff Odds

| October 15th, 2020

I already looked at a variety of statistics for the offense, including QB performance, run game woes, and explosive plays, and explored how Chicago has deployed their skill position players. Today I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference and think about Chicago’s playoff odds.


Missed Tackles

I highlighted missed tackles as a concern in the secondary heading into the season. As a team, the Bears are actually doing quite well with missed tackles right now; they rank 7th in the NFL with 22 through 5 weeks. The table below shows missed tackle stats (from Pro Football Reference) for all players with at least 10 tackle attempts, as well as cumulative totals for each position group.

For context, here’s how the positional averages compare to NFL peers over the last 2 years:

  • The median starting NFL DB misses right around 11% of their tackles, so Chicago’s secondary is about average here so far. That’s actually pretty good for them given the tackling concerns heading into the season with Kyle Fuller, Buster Skrine, and Eddie Jackson. Fuller in particular has struggled so far this year, but everybody else has been ok.

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Castillo, Flip & Team Grades: Thoughts on the Off-Season (So Far)

| January 20th, 2020

The Bears offense was an abomination in 2019 and there was plenty of blame to go around. Here are five thoughts on what’s transpired since the end of one of the most disappointing campaigns in the history of this organization.


(1) The most pivotal decision made thus far (and unsurprisingly the first) was hiring Juan Castillo to rebuild the offensive line/run game. How did that happen? It’s pretty simple. Matt Nagy is in constant communication with Andy Reid, his mentor and friend. Reid’s recommendation was to get the run game fixed by getting Castillo. (And Andy was instrumental on making it happen.) This offense doesn’t want to be run first. But it needs to be run effectively. And under Helfrich/Hiestand, the rushing attack was disjointed and wildly ineffective. Relying on RPO concepts meant relying on the quarterback to make the right decision. He didn’t do that very often in 2019. Castillo will move the run game back down the hill.


(2) Nagy and Pat Shurmur had a deal done. Shurmur was going to be the next Bears offensive coordinator. But a day after I got word of the agreement, I got another word: “He’s got options.” The allure of Philly was strong. Shurmur is pissed off at the Giants and wanted to play them twice a year. The allure of Cleveland grew, even though he was fired there, because he has deep affinity for new head coach Kevin Stefanski. But ultimately it was Vic Fangio giving him the keys to the offensive kingdom in Denver that won the day. Now he’ll run half that program, nurture a young, talented QB and perhaps get himself a third shot at a head coaching gig.

[Side note: Shurmur was not turned off by working with Trubisky.]


(3) John DeFilippo interviewed to be the head coach of the Bears in 2018 and, since then, his star has been rapidly falling in the league. Why? Because many folks in the league don’t believe Flip is a play-caller. He’s a leader of men. He’s a teacher. He’s great on the whiteboard and even better on the sideline. But his talents are misused trying to figure out which run to call on third-and-one. Flip will make every QB in the 2020 QB room better. Now it’s just a matter of finding out who is going to be in that room.

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Bears Beat Redskins, Move to 2-1: Rapid Fire

| September 24th, 2019


It was the kind of game it should be. The Bears were the far better team and they won with relative ease. Here are some thoughts.

  • Mitch Trubisky was not great. But this game was a serious positive. A few bad throws. A few terrific moments. But overall he just seemed far more comfortable operating the offense.
  • David Montgomery has to get more carries moving forward. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 13 attempts last night. That’s ten too few. Montgomery wears down defenses. The offense will be at its best when it moves through the rookie.
  • Don’t think I’ve ever seen a more negligent offensive game plan than Washington’s. Had they not heard of Khalil Mack? Did he catch them off guard? Singling him with a tight end? Mack is the second best defensive player in the entire sport. And on nights like last night, he’s second to none.
  • Injuries starting to mount. Pineiro. Hicks. Gabriel. Nichols already on the shelf. The Bears are playing a huge divisional game, on a short week, potentially short-handed.
  • HaHa Clinton-Dix looked like Eddie Jackson.
  • Two weeks ago, Danny Tevathan looked like he was on the decline. Last night he looked like the best player on the field at times.
  • What the hell was up with all the offsides penalties? The Bears have a brilliant defense but they better be more disciplined against better opponents.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson wants to make plays. But does he have to take the ball out of the end zone on every kickoff?

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ATM: 2019’s Five Most Indispensable Bears

| August 26th, 2019

The Bears roster is interesting because it’s incredibly deep at positions like running back, wide receiver and defensive line, but have almost no depth at cornerback, tight end and offensive tackle. Perhaps a trade could be in the works, but it’s much more likely that what we see is what we get. So, here are five players the Bears can’t be without:

Roquan Smith

I thought about using Danny Trevathan here because Trevathan makes the defensive calls — an underrated aspect of any defense — but I have little doubt that Smith could take that over. Smith is so good, I think he’s going to be what Ryan Pace considers a multiplier (players who make those around them better) very soon.

I’ve highlighted issues with depth before so I don’t need to go into it too much. I will say that it was nice to see Joel Iyiegbuniwe making plays last week.


Kyle Fuller

The Bears survived much of two games without Fuller’s counterpart Prince Amukamara last year but Fuller is a different story.

Both of the team’s starting cornerbacks are good, but there were times when Prince looked a step slow and committed some silly penalties down the field. Still, Kevin Toliver II was a noticeable downgrade from him last year, so it would be even more significant should they lose their best corner.

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