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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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The Most Complete, Data-Driven Breakdown of the 2018 Bears Pass Defense Available

| July 8th, 2019

The Bears had the best pass defense in the NFL last season, finishing 7th in yards, 1st in yards/attempt, 1st in interceptions, and 1st in passer rating against. Now I want to look at the performance of each individual player in coverage, using stats from The Quant Edge.

Where They Lined Up

Let’s start by taking a look at where the CBs lined up. I’m only looking at the CBs here because all of the LB are listed as “LB” and all of the safeties “FS” for pretty much the whole time, thus those designations aren’t particularly helpful.



 

Pretty much the only point I wanted to make here is that the Bears played their CBs in specific spots, not against specific match-ups. Kyle Fuller covered the left (right side from offense’s perspective), Prince Amukamara the right, and Bryce Callahan the slot. Toliver filled in for Prince when he was out hurt (and some for Fuller late in blowouts), and McManis for Callahan.

Of course, Callahan is now gone, so it’s worth noting that 89% of Buster Skrine’s snaps came in the slot in 2018. It’s reasonable to think that will be his role in Chicago as well, but he has played outside a good bit in the past, so maybe he moves if Fuller or Amukamara get hurt and the Bears like McManis or Duke Shelley at nickelback.

It’s also fair to wonder if new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will ask his cornerbacks to move around a little bit more. When he was the head coach in Indianapolis in 2017, no cornerback played more than about 90% of their snaps in one spot. That’s still mostly intact, but not the 98%/99% Fuller and Amukamara had.

Coverage Statistics

Now let’s look at how well each player did in coverage. The table below shows that data for every CB, S, and ILB who played a meaningful role in 2018 (OLB are excluded because they saw very few targets due to rushing the passer more than dropping into coverage. Yes, even Leonard Floyd). Positions are color coded to make tracking the table easier.


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The Five Plays that Defined the Regular Season for the 2018 Chicago Bears

| January 2nd, 2019

Usually I write a paragraph here, introducing the concept below. But doesn’t the headline do all that work? Do you really need further explanation of this piece? I don’t think you do. So read away…


(#5) Kyle Fuller’s Dropped Interception

Yes, this was a negative play. But it is the singular moment of adversity that seems to have inspired the entirety of the 2018 campaign. Every big play, every dance routine, every sack of the quarterback, seems to have been motivated by that Aaron Rodgers pass sailing off the chest of Fuller.


(#4) All Those Touchdown Passes Against the Bucs (tie)

After three games, 2018 felt like it was going to be a long, developmental-type season for Mitch Trubisky. Then Week 4 happened. 354 yards. 6 touchdowns. Yes, it was against the hapless Buccaneers but it was still the kind of explosive performance this organization was not using to seeing from the quarterback position. Seeing it was important for Bears fans, Bears players/coaches and for the quarterback himself. That game elevated expectations for the entire year.


(#3) Akiem Hicks Scores a Touchdown

Week 13, in the Meadowlands, Daniel handed the ball to Hicks at the goal line and the behemoth scored (easily). It was the play that best symbolized the sense of pure fun Matt Nagy has brought to this organization. He’s not afraid of comparisons to the ’85 edition of this franchise. Fridge be damned! He’s just out there calling plays, having a good time and inspiring his players to do the same.

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Bears Beat Rams, Cementing Playoff Position and League Stature

| December 10th, 2018

Photo credit: New York Times.


Last night paid it off. Was it perfect? By no means. But on a cold night in Chicago the 2018 Bears provided their moment; their signature (regular season) victory. Rapid fire…

  • Trubisky was terrible. There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. Young quarterbacks are going to have games like this and all you can do is hope they grow from it. Mitch looked antsy in the pocket, was sailing balls to wide open receivers and made 2-3 decisions you simply can’t make. (The pick at the end of the first half was inexcusable.) Jared Goff was worse. And that’s why the Bears won.
  • Kyle Fuller’s interception late third quarter was the most important play of the game. Fuller’s had a brilliant season but it was clear in that moment this Bears defense wasn’t going to be defeated. Fuller shouldn’t just be going to be the Pro Bowl this season. He should be named an All Pro corner. He’s been the best in the NFL.
  • Eddie Goldman registering a sack/safety made me incredibly happy. Goldman is the unsung hero of this defense; the most important component of the league’s second-best rush unit. (New Orleans is quietly great against the run.) He deserves to fill the stat column every once in a while.
  • Aaron Donald did nothing. Who gets the credit? Everybody. But it starts with James Daniels.


  • Injuries may be the story that lingers from Sunday night. Bryce Callahan’s looked the most serious. Leonard Floyd delivered his most complete performance in years but couldn’t finish it. Bears need both of these guys down the stretch.

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ATM: The Bears Don’t Suck

| September 25th, 2018

It’s dangerous to make any grand proclamations three weeks into a season. But the Bears win over the Cardinals was a great indicator that, at the very least, they don’t suck.

Whether they’re actually good or not is still to be decided. While it was widely regarded as a game the Bears should win, winning in the NFL is difficult, especially for a young team flying nearly across the country on a short week. Travel difficulties are very real in the NFL. We see even the best teams struggle with them. This was a schedule test, one the Bears passed.

The offense is horrendous.

There’s no arguing that.

But the defense is incredible.

Khalil Mack isn’t just great, he’s a generational talent. The other big addition, Roquan Smith, flies around and finishes with a boom. They’re fast, they’re physical and, for the first time since Lovie left town, they attack the ball.

Obviously, for the Bears to graduate from a team that merely doesn’t suck to one that is actually good, the offense needs to be better. They do deserve credit for three scoring drives in the second half. And, really, they should’ve had two in the first half, but Cody Parkey missed what should’ve been an easy field goal.

Still, good teams score touchdowns and that’s the next goal for the Bears.

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ATM: Bears Need to Keep Letting Trubisky Sling It

| September 19th, 2018

As NFL teams fight battle after battle each Sunday, it’s difficult to keep the war in mind. But Matt Nagy needs to keep thinking about it and let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball.

Some numbers…

  • Trubisky is currently on pace to throw 552 passes, which would’ve been 7th in the league last year.
  • He’s thrown at least 34 passes in both of the Bears games this season; games in which they were leading almost throughout.
  • He reached 34 passes just three times in 12 games last year, despite playing from behind much of the time.

While there’s little question that he’s been a weak link on the team, the Bears can’t take the ball out of his hands until they know he can’t get the job done.

One thing that has become painfully clear early in 2018 is that John Fox was correct in his evaluation that the team’s best chance for winning in 2017 was to limit the rookie quarterback’s exposure. Whether or not that hindered Trubisky’s development is debatable, but it left the Bears without any real indication of whether or not he could get the job done without any handcuffs. Now it’s up to Nagy to figure out if Trubisky can swim and the best way to do that is to throw him into the deep end.

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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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The Most Important Bears: Defense

| July 3rd, 2018


Returning most of their defensive roster, the common thought is the Bears are going to take a big step up next year. That’s only true if their key players stay on the field and improve.

As badly as the Bears were hurt by injury last season, they managed to keep most of their key defensive players on the field. They had injuries to players like Quintin Demps and Jerrell Freeman, but those are two positions at which they proved to have great depth.

Three of their four starters in the secondary played at least 80% of snaps, the fourth was Adrian Amos, who played every snap in eight games. Their best defensive lineman played 85% of snaps. Their best linebacker came in at 67.4%.

The biggest injury loss last year came when Leonard Floyd went down, but they were fortunate it happened toward the end of their schedule when they played several horrendous teams.

A repeat of last year’s success is far from a guarantee, but it’s also possible they take a huge step up. In any event, these five players just might be the most crucial:


5. Bryce Callahan

In the modern NFL, the slot corner is basically a starter. Callahan played just under 50% of the team’s snaps and they missed him when he wasn’t out there.

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The Positional Quick 3: Secondary

| June 25th, 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.


Secondary

  • Is there a star at the back of this defense? PFF says Adrian Amos is. (He’s not.) Kyle Fuller often flashes star qualities but he’s not one of the top corners in the league. Every time I try to convince myself this could be the best defense in the league, I find myself wondering how that’s possible with questionable outside rush and no stars at the back. I think they’ll be a terrific unit but they need more elite-level talents at these impact positions.
  • What’s up with this PFF/Adrian Amos shit? It’s bizarre. Amos is a decent enough player but “coming close to elite status”? I’ve seen every snap of his career. A lot of them twice. And while I think he’s a player the Bears can win with, I also can’t name anything he does at an elite level. He’s a good box safety. He’s serviceable with the ball in the air. He doesn’t get out of position too often. But Harrison Smith is what a great safety looks like. Amos don’t look like that.
  • There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Fuller this season. Two years ago he never overcame an injury many considered minor and had coaches publicly questioning his desire to play. Last year he was the player the Bears expected when they selected him in the first round and he got paid. If he doesn’t deliver on that contract in 2018, a suspect fan base will not be giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Data & Andrew, tomorrow and Wednesday. Thursday: Defensive coaches.

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