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Second Collapse Raises Questions About Defense

| October 16th, 2018

A fumble at the one.

An interception in the end zone.

The questionable decision to settle for kicking a 53-yard field goal in overtime.

None of it would have mattered if the Bears’ much-celebrated defense had done its part.

Just about everybody who had watched this Bears defense was quick to crown them as a great unit. Some went as far as to compare them to historic units of years past. But a collapse against one of the worst offenses in the league certainly raises questions, especially because it isn’t the first time it has happened.

It’s easy to blame the heat, but that would lead one to believe the Dolphins — and likely the Jaguars and Buccaneers — are unbeatable in their element. That isn’t reality. And, if we’re blaming heat for this collapse, what do we blame for the collapse against a gimpy Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay on Sept. 9?

This isn’t to minimize the impact the heat had on the Bears players. It’s certainly conceivable that it slowed them down late. But they still should’ve been good enough to overcome it against Brock Osweiler.

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Turnovers, Defensive Collapse Drop the Bears to 3-2 in Miami

| October 15th, 2018

Each week I spend a considerable amount of time assembling a game preview. Last week, other than my top ten for The Office, that time was wasted because nothing that happened Sunday in Miami made much sense.

I simply didn’t see any of it coming. And you won’t see this coming! Rapid fire!


  • Heat was the story of the game, on both sides. There were 7 points scored in the first half of this game and 49 scored in the second half. That wasn’t just adjustments. That was two defenses running on fumes.
  • Frank Gore averaged 6.7 yards per carry against what was the league’s best rush defense. With that Miami OL the question is…how?
  • Allowing an Adam Gase offense to gain huge chunks of yards and even score touchdowns on bubble screens is the equivalent of sending a cocaine addict to a rehab facility in the Pacific department of Nariño, Colombia. Stopping bubble screens is all about pursuit and tackling. Bears did neither.


  • Howard fumble. Cohen fumble. Trubisky pick in the end zone. Any of those three plays don’t happen and the Bears win this game. Simple as that.
  • Trubisky’s stats on the season UPDATED: 70.2% completion. 1,261 yards. 11 TDs. 4 INTS. 105.6 rating. Those project out to the bet season by a Bears quarterback in franchise history.
  • Trubisky still throws 2-3 passes a game he can’t throw. He’s doing what many young QBs in the league do: trying to create something out of nothing when the prudent play is to either tuck the ball and get what you can on the ground or launch the football into the seventh row.
  • But I love that he’s sliding. Trubisky is doing something few young QBs do at this level: avoiding contact at all times. Availability trumps all things.

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Bears at the Bye: Examining the Trends of Matt Nagy’s Offense

| October 8th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.


Down & Distance

Let’s start by looking at what they’re doing in different down and distance situations. All statistics come from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System unless otherwise noted.

First Down

The offense has been extremely balanced on 1st down so far, with exactly 58 runs and 58 passing plays (passes, sacks, or scrambles).

The passing game has thrived with an average of 7.8 yards per play. According to Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, Mitchell Trubisky is completing 69% of his passes on 1st down, with 6 TD, 2 INT, and a 115.9 passer rating.

The running game, on the other hand, has been extremely ineffective, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. Most of the running attempts (34) have come from Jordan Howard, who is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, but Tarik Cohen also has 17 carries at only 2.9 yards per clip. It would appear the Bears are either making it obvious when they’re going to run or defenses are worrying about stopping the run first to make Trubisky beat them.

Second Down

When it comes to 2nd down, context is needed. A 3 yard gain is great on 2nd and 2, pretty good on 2nd and 5, and awful on 2nd and 10. With that in mind, I split the data into 4 groups based on the distance required to get a 1st down. The table below shows the results.

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Grades (and Haikus!) For the NFC North’s Top Team at the Quarter Mark

| October 3rd, 2018

Joe Camporeale – USA TODAY Sports

Data is going to be writing a series of pieces breaking down what the Bears have been numerically/statistically through the first quarter of the season, as only he can. So this will just be CliffsNotes stock taking for now. With haikus!


Offense

Blurb: Through three games, the offense was incoherently constructed and impotently executed. Then they delivered the finest offensive performance in this organization’s history against the Tampa Bay Bucs. They have a solid offensive line and a terrific collection of play-making weapons. It just took a month for it all to come together.

Key Stat: Mitch Trubisky’s QB line: 70% completion, 945 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT, 101.6 rating.

Grade: I would have given this unit an F before Sunday’s performance so I can’t ignore those games. But the arrow is decidedly pointing up. C+

Haiku:

Six touchdown passes.

The ghost of Johnny Lujack

Recedes into dark


Defense

Blurb: Patrick Mahomes has the gaudiest stat line in the league but Khalil Mack has been every bit the NFL’s MVP. No player has made a larger impact on the performance of their team. Mack has made every single player on this unit better and they are the league’s top defense. Lead in sacks. Second in picks. Right at the top of every valuable statistical category.

Key Stat: The Bears had 8 interceptions in 2017. They have 8 through four games of 2018.

Grade: There is no drama. There is no debate. A+

Haiku:

There goes Khalil Mack,

Flying ’round the right tackle

Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball!


Special Teams

Blurb: Cody Parkey is a solid upgrade but he’s not really been tested in a big moment. Pat O’Donnell is having a solid year punting the football. The return game has provided little but the units have avoided the kinds of penalties that can bury the offense. They’ve covered kicks well, with Sherrick McManis mounting a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign.

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Bears Breakdown After Week 3: Defense Good, Offense Bad, Fans Conflicted

| September 26th, 2018

In many ways it’s a great time to be a Bears fan, but a lot of us aren’t feeling entirely joyful. Through three games I find myself filled with a mix of optimism and frustration. I’m also annoyed by my own frustration because last year I would’ve killed for the Bears to be where they are now.

So what’s my problem?

Chicago is 2-1 and in first place in the NFC North. That’s great! They have an elite, lights out, game-changing, championship-winning caliber defense. That’s great, too!

They also have an offense that is struggling, and no one is struggling more than the future of the franchise, Mitch Trubisky. Or as Adam Hoge said on the latest Hoge & Jahns podcast while recapping Sunday’s game, “the defense looked like it could win a Super Bowl, the offense looked like it didn’t belong in the NFL.”

That’s… not so great.

Shortly after the Bears 16-14 win I got on Twitter and posted five initial thoughts about the game and where the team is at this point in the season:

  • Without this defense they are 0-3.
  • Trubisky had a bad game.
  • So did Matt Nagy.
  • A win is still a win.
  • I’m gonna ignore points 1-3 for now and celebrate the fact that the Bears are 2-1 and leading the NFC North for the first time in years!

Three days later, and I feel the same way. The Bears are in a good position, regardless of how the offense has struggled, and I still believe that Trubisky will get better as the season progresses. And yet, the frustration lingers for two main reasons:

  • I expected Trubisky to be better at this stage
  • I had no idea the defense would be *this* good

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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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A Dominant Defense: Bears Beat Seahawks on Monday Night Football

| September 18th, 2018

The offense is a work-in-progress. The defense is the most exciting unit the Bears have fielded since 2006. The Bears evened their season record at 1-1 and quieted some of their Week One demons. Here’s a rapid fire recap of Monday night’s events.

  • Here’s how I’d summarize Mitch Trubisky’s evening: he’s not there yet. He’s not fully comfortable in the offense. He’s not processing his progressions quickly or trusting his protection. He’s also missing a few touch passes down the field. (Basically throwing straight heat.) But these are the trials and tribulations of a young quarterback, especially one that has seen his system flipped on its head from year one to year two.

  • But there are so many promising moments that it’s not hard to be optimistic about his development. The sideline floater to Cohen under duress:


  • The rolling left dart to Miller for a touchdown:

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ATM: The Same Old Bears

| September 11th, 2018

On their way to revolutionizing the way football is played in Chicago and around the world, the Bears hit a speed bump when they actually had to play a game and it revealed that talk his cheap and this team certainly looks to be the same it has been for most of the last 25 years. The hype train spun out of control when the team added Khalil Mack — and he certainly showed why he was worth such hysteria — but lost in all the commotion was that the Bears actually had to put a product on the field and, when they did, it wasn’t good.

The expectation was that this was going to be a different Bears team. They had the talent and the coaching to beat the Packers. Add that Aaron Rodgers missed a chunk of the game as the Bears lead grew from 10 to 20 and it was surely a changing of the guard.

Except it wasn’t.

The loss couldn’t have been any more typical Bears. The offense scored on the first two possessions, then failed to make any adjustments. When is the last time the Bears had a coaching staff that was good at making adjustments? It appears that is a trend that will continue.

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ATM: Bears Need To Beat The Packers

| September 5th, 2018

The start of the regular season is usually the worst thing that can happen to the teams that win the offseason and the Bears can’t let that be the case as they open in Green Bay this Sunday.

It isn’t a stretch to say that losing to Green Bay has cost every coach the Bears have had since Mike Ditka their jobs. The likes of Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox have compiled a 13-38 record against the Packers since 1993.

Smith was the toast of the town when he won six of his first eight meetings with the Packers. He then he lost nine of his last eleven. Outside of that four-year period in which Lovie had success, the Bears have gone 7-36 against the team to the north.  Trestman and Fox both scored prime time victories in Green Bay in their first seasons but it was all downhill after that.

The Packers aren’t just another team. They’re not viewed that way by most fans and they certainly aren’t viewed that way in the big offices at Halas Hall. If Matt Nagy is going to be separated from the poop platter that the team has had since Ditka, he has to beat the Packers.

He has to do it on Sunday.

He has to do it consistently.

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Did the Matt Nagy Bears Become a Team on Saturday?

| August 27th, 2018

There was a time, when I was a younger man, I would have taken David “Blue Moon” Haugh’s latest exercise in journalistic futility and dissected every single sentence, right down to the incorrect placement of punctuation. I would have shown you that not only was the work devoid of intellectual competence, but also another shining example of why it’s not a wise idea to hire someone for a writer’s position who isn’t good at writing. Haugh’s greatest crime is not his transparent attempts to write his blowhard nonsense into a daily spot on Around the Horn. No, his greatest crime is against the English language itself. That the same newspaper can employ both Blue Moon and the great Rick “Drinks Like an Actual Man” Pearson blows my fucking mind daily.

But I am not that younger man. If you haven’t read Haugh’s take on head coach Matt Nagy’s decision to bench his starters for the team’s fourth practice game, don’t. There will be no link provided here and don’t waste a valuable minute of your life searching it out. Instead, read a few chapters of John McCain’s wonderful book Faith of My Fathers or Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues or some classic Royko columns being run in the Sun-Times. Hell, just read anything else.

What Matt Nagy achieved this weekend, in a practice game, was somewhat extraordinary.

Forget the result. The result means nothing. Nobody in their right mind believes the second units of the Chicago Bears are better than the first units of the Kansas City Chiefs, a playoff team a year ago. Nobody in their right mind believes Chase Daniel is a rare combination of Joe Montana’s accuracy and Steve Young’s elusiveness. Nobody in their right mind believes anything they see on the preseason field, except Denny Green of course, but was he ever in his right mind?

So what mattered?

Team Building

While Dan Pompei believed Nagy’s decision to rest players sent “the wrong message” and was an example of coaching “scared”, the sideline reflected the exact opposite.

Mitch Trubisky was the game’s loudest cheerleader, especially when it came to the play of his backup. The starters erupted in support of Kevin White’s first touchdown in a Bears uniform. Players like Danny Trevathan and Tarik Cohen were seen rushing to greet their teammates as they came off the field from a successful drive. These guys were engaged and excited. Why?

Because NFL starters, especially veterans, don’t want to play in these games. They don’t want to risk their long-term financial security in physical contests that count neither in the standings nor in the stat column that ultimately determines how many zeroes are on their paychecks.

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