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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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More Tweets From Free Agency, Week One

| March 16th, 2018

Here’s another compilation of Tweets, wrapping up the Bears’ flurry of free agency moves in the last four days and their press conference Thursday. I’ll have a full column Monday morning and Adam Jahns will join me on the podcast next week. 



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Audibles: Fuller Transitioned, Draft Thoughts, Kevin White, Q Brothers, Links!

| March 8th, 2018

A lot seemingly going on in the land of the Bears. Let’s take a look at some of it.


Kyle Fuller, Transitioned

There was much debate this off-season about the best approach to Fuller, a player with one of the most tumultuously bizarre starts to an NFL career many can remember. He’s been at turns terrific and terrible, including missing an entire season for injury reasons the organization did not believe were valid.

Ryan Pace had to answer a simple question: did Fuller’s 2017 performance convince him the corner was worthy of top corner money? Applying the transition tag answers that question with a definitive NO. The Bears like Fuller. But if they valued him as a top corner, there were plenty of deals struck at the position last off-season to set the market.

The Bears will now see how the marketplace values Fuller. And they’ll know that if they want him on their 2018 roster, it is fully in their control.


Three Thoughts on the Draft

The official email account of DBB receives more action in the lead-up to the draft than at any other time. And thankfully there are now people like Data and Andrew writing here because my god do I find the whole draft process to be a colossal bore. Here are three general thoughts.

(1) Unless a team has designs on one specific player (Bears with Trubisky, Falcons with Julio…etc.) they almost ALWAYS want to trade back. GMs and scouting departments live for this shit. The more times they can get on the clock, the more opportunities they have to pad their resumes. (So stop emailing me and asking me if the Bears want to trade back.)

(2) Ryan Pace has made three first-round picks. Kevin White, a freak athlete who can’t stay on the field. Leonard Floyd, a freak athlete who struggles to stay on the field. Mitch Trubisky, quarterback of the future. But there’s more pressure on this off-season for Pace than any previous one. Don’t be surprised if his approach veers more conservative on draft weekend.

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