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Bears at the Bye: Offense

| October 14th, 2019

With five games under the belt, the Bears are roughly 1/3 of the way through the season. Let’s check in on how they’re doing, starting with the offense.


Explosive Plays

I wrote this offseason about the importance of explosive plays (passes of 20+ yards or runs of 15+ yards) to an offense’s overall success, finding there is a very strong correlation between explosive plays and points scored. Chicago’s offense produced explosive plays at a slightly below-average rate in 2018, and I believed they were poised to improve dramatically in that category this year, and thus improve overall as an offense.

So far, the exact opposite has happened, as you can see in the table below.

The Bears have turned into one of the least explosive offenses in the NFL. They currently have 11 explosive passes and 2 explosive runs, and their current explosive rates would have ranked 31st and 32nd of 32 NFL teams in 2018 (I didn’t have time to compile the numbers for everybody in 2019 so far).

The run game is particularly egregious, as the lowest mark in the NFL last year was 3.1%. 1.7% is not even in the same ballpark. The Bears are 20th in average yards per carry before contact and 29th in yards/carry after contact, but I’m inclined to blame the offensive line more than the runners. Most of the time first contact seems to come not from one player in space, which might give the runner a chance to break a tackle and keep going, but with multiple front 7 players hitting the RB at the same time. It’s worth noting that the Bears’ running backs haven’t been great either though; Player Profiler ranks David Montgomery 36th among running backs in juke rate (evaded/broken tackles per carry), while Tarik Cohen is 55th. In Montgomery’s defense, he is 9th in the NFL in broken tackles per carry, according to Pro Football Reference.

I wrote this offseason that getting rid of Jordan Howard would help Chicago’s run game be more explosive, but so far they’re producing explosive plays on the ground at less than half the rate they did last year. Part of the problem is that Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky – who combined for 14 explosive runs on 167 carries last year, have no explosive runs so far this year, but David Montgomery only has 1 in his 69 attempts, and that’s far worse than Howard’s rate of 1 every 25 carries last year (which was already one of the worst marks in the NFL).

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Some Thoughts on the First Round of the NFL Draft

| April 26th, 2019


It was just about the most boring evening of television I’ve ever endured. And yes, I endured it on the off-chance Ryan Pace made some ridiculous move back into the first round. Here are some thoughts on what transpired, starting in-division.

  • Packers added Rashan Gary (DL, Michigan) and Darnell Savage (S, Maryland). Like the latter player a lot. Don’t like the former, who comes into his rookie season with major injury concerns. Green Bay has been trying to rebuild their defense for a few years. Have they finally done it? (No.)
  • Vikings drafted a center. Yes, he’s supposedly the best center in the draft but he’s still a center. To quote Andrew Dannehy’s Twitter feed: “Sensible pick, but, again, doesn’t concern me. He’s not gonna block Mack, and they still don’t have anyone who can.”
  • Lions got their tight end. I look forward to T.J. Hockenson being an All-Pro tight end for the Colts in five years.

Tweet of the Night

The Bosa family – father and two sons – are the only such trio to all be drafted in the first round since the Mannings. The Mannings win the tiebreakers for not being open racists on social media.


More Thoughts

  • The biggest story of the night was the breaking news surrounding Tyreek Hill. And I don’t know how any team, after hearing Hill openly discuss abusing his son while threatening his girlfriend, could respond differently than the Chiefs. “Kansas City Chiefs GM Brett Veach announced the team has suspended wide receiver Tyreek Hill from all team activities pending an investigation.” is the first headline. His release is coming next. From a humanity standpoint, this is a good development. From a football standpoint, this is a huge development for the AFC.
  • Lou Riddick, unsurprisingly, had the best take when it came to the Raiders taking Clelin Ferrell to the Raiders at four: “If he’s productive, nobody will care where he was taken.” The rookie wage scale has changed everything…except the commentary surrounding the NFL Draft.

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Kyle Long’s Back. You Should Be Excited

| February 28th, 2019

News broke earlier this week that Kyle Long had reworked his contract, ensuring he would be back with the Bears for the 2019 season. Due to Long’s high cap hit for next season and injury history the last three years, it was fairly obvious that he would either be cut or have some sort of re-working done, and I for one am thrilled he ended up taking a pay cut (with incentives to possibly earn most of it back) instead of forcing the Bears to cut him.

Why do I say this? I’m glad you asked.

With Long officially back in the fold and right tackle Bobby Massie re-signed earlier this offseason, the Bears will be returning their entire starting offensive line from 2018. This is great news for the Bears, because their offense was actually really good last year when this unit was on the field together.

To come to this conclusion, I used the lineup information from the NFL’s game statistics and information system to compile 2018 offensive stats with various offensive line combinations on the field. Since Massie, left tackle Charles Leno, and center Cody Whitehair were basically never off the field (they missed a combined 13 snaps over the course of the season), the only parts that really changed were at guard. Four players -Long, Jordan Daniels, Eric Kush, and Bryan Witzmann – cycled through those spots, and the table below shows how well the offense fared for various guard pairings (note: I left off the Daniels/Kush combo because it had a tiny sample size of only 27 plays. The numbers weren’t impressive anyway).



Take a closer look at that middle column, when Long and Daniels, the starters for 2019, were on the field together.

The Bears averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt (after factoring in sacks) and 5.2 yards per run with that duo on the field! For context, the Bears’ season averages in those categories were 6.5 and 4.1, respectively, and league averages for the year were 6.4 and 4.4. The best team in the NFL in each category came in at 8.1 and 5.1 for the two marks, both below the Bears’ with their starting offensive line.

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A Few Notes on the Kyle Long Restructure

| February 27th, 2019


From Brad Biggs in the Tribune:

The longest-tenured player on the Bears offense will remain in place for 2019: Right guard Kyle Long has agreed to restructure his contract, according to a league source.

The new deal will create salary-cap space, eliminating doubt about whether he would return for a seventh season with the organization.

The 2013 first-round draft pick was to count $8.5 million against the team’s salary cap this season with a base salary of $6.9 million, a $100,000 workout bonus and $1.5 million in proration from the signing bonus he received on his contract extension before the 2016 season.

Specifics of Long’s pay cut and the Bears’ savings remain to be seen. It’s possible the team created per-game roster bonuses in the reworked contract that will allow him to earn back some of the money, provided the three-time Pro Bowl selection remains healthy and on the field. The Bears were projected to have about $11 million in cap space before this move. That doesn’t take into account the release of kicker Cody Parkey, which officially has not been made. Parkey is fully guaranteed $3.5 million for next season.


Thoughts:

  • What I was texted a week ago: “Kyle Long isn’t going anywhere.” I didn’t send a follow-up to that text because I never actually believed Long was going anywhere. Long apparently made it clear to the Bears he would do anything necessary to remain with the organization. And the Bears made sure not to lose one of their finest leaders.
  • This is the kind of move that endears a player to the fans. It’s a far smaller version of the Olin Kreutz decision to take less money in Chicago and spurn Miami. But there’s a fine line between a beloved player and a legendary one. Long isn’t having a Hall of Fame career like Urlacher or Butkus. Kreutz is about as close as they come, however, and one could make a good argument he belongs in Canton. Long needs a ring to cement legendary status.
  • A move like this may just be about creating options. The Bears didn’t have much money to play with as free agency approaches. Now they have a bit more. It could also be about specific players, namely Bryce Callahan. We have to wait and see if there’s a corresponding move. But there is certainly more air to breath inside Halas Hall today.

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ATM: As the Combine Begins, Some Players & Positions to Watch

| February 26th, 2019

Here are a few players and positions to watch at the 2019 NFL combine, which begins today in Indianapolis:

Players

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

The popular comparison for Montgomery has been Kareem Hunt, but there’s one major issue when I watch Montgomery: speed.

Montgomery backers are quick to point out that Hunt only ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, but I’ve never watched Hunt and thought he looked slow whereas Montgomery’s lack of burst is clear. He’s even gotten caught from behind a few times.

The Iowa State star’s game is breaking tackles, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to break tackles in the Big 12 than in the NFL. If he’s clocking in the 4.7s in the 40-yard dash and his vertical jump is in the low-30s, it’s a clear sign that he doesn’t just look slow, he is slow.

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Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

Anderson tore his ACL early in the season so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to do all of the drills.

Even if he isn’t, Bears fans should keep an ear (or eye) for reports on his medical condition. Anderson has had several major injuries in college but is clearly a Round 1 talent. Although they’re different positions, Anderson’s story isn’t unlike  that of Eddie Jackson.


Positions

Tight Ends

Because of where the Bears picks are, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact prospect here.

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2019 Chicago Bears Off-Season Agenda: Part Two, Complementary Pieces

| February 7th, 2019

The Bears are in the position most NFL franchises want to be in February. They don’t need to spend the next three months searching for starters. They’re looking for complementary pieces to fortify a championship run. And there are several places they should look.


WINGSPAN OUT WIDE

Mitch Trubisky has a miss, especially when he’s throwing deep left. The miss is high. When he gets too pumped up – much like a starting pitcher – the miss is high. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue having this miss as I’m in the camp the Trubisky of September 2019 will bare little resemblance to the Trubisky of September 2018. But in the meantime, why not put a bit more size on the outside? The Bears have a star number one in Allen Robinson and tons of speed around him. But they’ve got no reach.

So why not look for a power forward – a big man to post up at the sticks on third-and-six and catch the ball in traffic? Could that be someone like Kelvin Benjamin or Michael Floyd? Sure, if the money is right. Is the answer possibly in-house, with someone like Javon Wims stepping up in 2019? It’s possible but I’m always wary of depending on players who struggle to even crack the 53 in their rookie season, especially at a position that saw multiple injuries.

The Bears need to add a different kind of player to this group. Someone with size and physicality.


EXPLOSION AT RUNNING BACK

Emily made a thorough argument against the Bears signing Kareem Hunt.

I made the case, as best I could, for the Bears pursuing the troubled running back.

Andrew explained why this Matt Nagy offense needs Kareem Hunt.

Nagy can’t run his offense without an every-down running back who threatens the opposing defense in the passing game.

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Even if the Bears don’t acquire Hunt, they need to acquire a player LIKE Hunt.


MORE AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

I texted a league source in November with a question I’m fond of asking: “Tell me something about this Bears team I’m not smart enough to see.”

His response: “Leonard Floyd is playing out of his mind.” He went on to break down the many things Floyd was doing in coverage and explained to me how few outside backers – if any – were capable of that.

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A Thorough Breakdown of the Chicago Cap Situation

| January 16th, 2019

After a heartbreaking playoff loss, it’s time to shift from in-season coverage to looking ahead to what’s in store for the Bears this offseason as they prepare for 2019.

And that starts with looking at the money, because after all, the NFL is a business. So let’s get a feel for where the Bears are with respect to the cap, what moves could be made to clear up space, and what players are scheduled to be free agents.

Current Cap Situation

The table below shows the Bears’ current cap situation. All data comes from Spotrac.


As you can see, that looks a good bit different than in years past. The roster has gotten significantly more talented, but also significantly more expensive, which means they don’t have much money to spend. So don’t expect free agency to be nearly as exciting as it’s been the last several years. A few other notes:

  • All of these figures are flexible. There are always ways to change the cap situation, and I’ll look at a few of them below.
  • The 2019 cap projection is currently somewhere between $187 and $191 million. I went with the conservative estimate, but they might have a few million more than this to work with. We’ll know more sometime in the next few months (it was set in early March last year).

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No Ugly Victories: Bears Beat Jets, Re-Take First Place in the NFC North

| October 29th, 2018

Very strange game. The Jets didn’t have anywhere near the weapons to move the ball consistently. The Bears were just error-prone enough to keep the game competitive for three quarters. But it’s a win they absolutely needed. And unlike many recent vintages of the Chicago Bears, they got it. Rapid fire…


  • Conditions were brutal for the passing game. But the Bears made the plays they needed to make. The Cohen screen set the tone for the entire afternoon but Trubisky’s brilliant throw and Miller’s brilliant catch put this game away. It was so good, I’m going to show it to you again.

  • In conditions like this, Matt Nagy has to rely upon his ground attack and he seemed to figure that out as the game went on. But Trubisky also has to learn that the deep shots aren’t worth it when the wind is howling north of 25 MPH. When the first down is there, just get it, whether that means him tucking-and-running or accepting the check down option. That’ll come with experience.
  • Folks can complain about Trubisky all they want, but through seven games Mitch is completing 64.6% of his passes for 1,814 yards, 15 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a rating of 97.8. He’s also got nearly 300 yards rushing. This kind of production, and this position, simply doesn’t happen in this town. And it’s about time fans start appreciating it.
  • Great, great job by the fans at Soldier Field. All of those pre-snap penalties go into the fan column.
  • Jordan Howard is not complicated. You give him 20+ carries, you get big time production. No, they numbers weren’t gaudy but he single-handedly put this game on ice in the fourth quarter. He’s not been a focal point of this offense so far. He should be.
  • Khalil Mack was the most dominant defender in football through four games. And now we’re seeing what this defense would have looked like if Ryan Pace didn’t make the franchise-altering trade on September 1st. They’re a toothless pass rush. Leonard Floyd is invisible. Opponents can double Hicks inside. Without Mack, this secondary is going to be under a lot of pressure when instead of Sam Darnold it’s Aaron Rodgers or Kirk Cousins or Matt Stafford taking the snaps for the other side.

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It Don’t Have To Be Pretty: Bears in First Place After Three Weeks (Rapid Fire)

| September 24th, 2018

The Bears have played three games. So have the Packers, Vikings and Lions. After those three games, the Bears have the best record in the NFC North.

  • Style points don’t matter. The first two months of the season are about accruing wins and positioning yourself for a potential postseason run. The Bears won a football game on a road. This fan base isn’t allowed to use the word “but”. A win is a win is a win.
  • Several times during this game I turned to my buddy Maciej and said, “Why do we have Khalil Mack?” It’s all I can think about during these games. He is a force. The Cardinals were using 2-3 players on him per play and he still ended up with two sacks and a crucial forced fumble. Without Mack, the Bears are 0-3 right now.
  • Sherrick McManis. Bryce Callahan. Bilal Nichols. The Bears aren’t just good on defense. They’re deep.
  • Matt Nagy was lost Sunday. There’s no other way to say it. As a play caller, he had zero feel for the flow of the game and Wilks/Holcomb had the better of him all day long. The Bears have been incoherent on offense through three weeks. There is no discernible system/strategy. The play calls feel random.
  • Trubisky has to be better. It’s hard to evaluate his play without access to the game tape but he seems indecisive and uncomfortable. That’s a lethal combination.
  • Why do all the team’s deep shots have zero chance? Are these being called? Does Trubisky have the option not to throw them? Very difficult to analyze without that information.
  • And stop telling me the Bears are running the Chiefs offense. I watched Chiefs/49ers yesterday. The Chiefs have wide open receivers all over the field. Patrick Mahomes rarely throws a ball into congestion. The Bears never seem to have anyone open. And they never complete a pass to a receiver moving up the field. The receiver’s back is always to the defense, limiting any YAC possibility.
  • Enough with the bubble screens! Seriously! Enough! This isn’t the Pac-12. Those plays might work against Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona but they’re not working against a professional defense.

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Three Thoughts on the Bears v. Chiefs Practice Game

| August 24th, 2018

Tomorrow the preseason ends. After the Bears leave Soldier Field all eyes point to Green Bay and the opener. A few thoughts.

  • There’s a laundry list of players that should see extremely limited duty tomorrow but why would the Bears put Kyle Long or Trey Burton out there for a single second? Both players looked in mid-season form against the Broncos and clearly don’t need “these crucial reps”. Long’s injury history would always dictate a cautious approach. Injuries behind Burton on the depth chart make his availability Week One even more essential. Give these boys the weekend off.
  • It will be somewhat interesting to see who the Bears start on the edges. Leonard Floyd certainly won’t play. Aaron Lynch is AWOL. The dearth of talent at one of the most important positions in the sport will be wildly on display early in this ball game, especially with Akiem Hicks surely not suiting up again until September 9th. Will the Bears have any capable pass rushers on the field tomorrow?
  • Never understood why teams don’t start their backup quarterback in this third practice game. How many opportunities do you have to give your backup experience with the starting OL/skill guys against an opponent’s top defensive unit? Mitch Trubisky entered the 2017 season a month into it and had no relationship with the guys catching his passes. Why not give Chase Daniel – who may be called upon to save a game or even a season – the opportunity to develop some of those relationships?

One day more. And then we finally start discussing real football.

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