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ATM: Does Foles Trade Put Nagy on the Hot Seat?

| March 31st, 2020

When the Chicago Bears traded for Nick Foles, they finally acquired a quarterback who can run their offense. Now, we should get answers about the man coaching it.

Because Foles knows exactly how this offense is supposed to operate.

Prior to the 2019 season, his last 18 games had come with either Andy Reid or Doug Pedersen calling the shots. In the 14 games in which he threw more than 15 passes, he completed nearly 68 percent of them for 3,661 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.

Those aren’t regular season MVP numbers, but with the Bears defense, they’d get the job done.

(And it shouldn’t be forgotten that five of those games came in the playoffs, including two against what were considered to be the league’s top defenses in those given seasons.)

Much has been said and written about what Foles did in Philadelphia, but it sure appears as if the Chiefs debated a quarterback change a year earlier. When Alex Smith was injured, Foles came in and threw two touchdowns off the bench to lead the team to a win. Reid wasted no time in naming Foles the starter for the following week and Foles put together an efficient outing for another win. The Chiefs ultimately stuck with their starter, however, as Smith returned and led them to the playoffs again.

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What are the Bears Getting in Nick Foles?

| March 19th, 2020

The Bears traded a 4th round pick for Nick Foles, and the Bears officially have their new quarterback.

On the surface it might seem puzzling to trade for a 31 year-old quarterback who hasn’t thrown 200 passes in a season since 2015, but one of the big draws for Foles was his familiarity in Matt Nagy’s offense. He played for Nagy in Kansas City in 2016 and in the same scheme in Philadelphia under Doug Pederson in 2017-18. This could be especially important in this offseason, when team activities might not happen before training camp due to Covid-19.

Let’s take a look at some advanced statistics to see how Foles has performed in this offense. In my view, advanced statistics tell us as much about a quarterback’s approach as they do his efficiency. From them, you can see if he favors holding the ball to make a play or getting it out quickly to avoid taking a sack, pushing it deep or throwing it underneath, and making safe passes or taking chances into coverage.

The table below shows a battery of advanced statistics for Foles from 2016-18. For comparison, I included Mitchell Trubisky’s stats from his time under Nagy, and also Alex Smith’s from his time in this offense in Kansas City (the Next Gen Stats database only goes back to 2016, so I couldn’t make his sample any larger). I’ll note that Foles’ stats include playoff games to make the sample a bit bigger; even with that, it’s barely over 500 passes, and about 1/3 of that comes from the playoffs. I color-coordinated columns into general categories: basic efficienty stats (gray), throwing distance (blue), throwing time (tan), and taking chances (green). All data comes from Next Gen Stats except deep passes, which are from Pro Football Reference.

A few thoughts:

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ATM: Is Ryan Pace’s Former Crush Marcus Mariota the Right Target?

| March 3rd, 2020

Ryan Pace’s first draft quarterback crush could be the guy who saves his job.

The young GM had been on the job for just a few months and the rumor mill was swirling. The thought was that he wanted to package Jay Cutler with the seventh overall pick for the second pick and the chance to select Marcus Mariota. When asked about the possible trade, Pace didn’t say much. He also didn’t deny it.

The Titans balked and took Mariota. The Bears stayed at seven, took Kevin White and stuck with Cutler for two more years. It’s safe to say they might both have been worse off than if they had just done the deal.

On the surface Mariota doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade over Trubisky.

  • Mariota has a career passer rating of 89.6, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt and throws touchdowns on 4.4 percent of his attempts.
  • Trubisky’s rating sits at 85.8 with 6.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 3.8.
  • The Titans have gone 29-32 in Mariota’s starts and their offense exploded in 2019 after he was benched and another former first round disappointment Ryan Tannehill led them to the AFC Championship game.
  • The Bears have gone 23-18 with Trubisky.

But the raw numbers don’t really tell the story of Mariota. Or Trubisky, for that matter.

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Self-Scouting Matt Nagy’s 2019 Play Calling

| February 21st, 2020

The Bears’ offense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2019 for a variety of reasons. I have already highlighted issues with personnel at right guard, quarterback, and tight end, as well as problems with how coaches chose to use the personnel available to them.

Today I want to look at down and distance tendencies to see what we can learn about Matt Nagy’s situational play calling. With that in mind, I looked at how effective Chicago’s offense was in various situations compared to the NFL as a whole in 2019. All statistics are from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System and Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.


First Down

The table below compares their performance on first down to the NFL as a whole. Success rate data is from Sharp Football.

A few thoughts:

  • The Bears were generally around average in terms of success rate, which is a measure of staying with/ahead of the chains (a successful 1st down play gains at least 40% of the yardage needed for a 1st down).
  • They lagged behind in yards/play both running and passing, which indicates a lack of explosive plays. This makes sense given they were the least explosive offense in the NFL in 2019. Indeed, they had 15 explosive pass plays (2nd fewest) and 6 explosive runs (2nd fewest) on 1st down.
  • The slightly lower run % is partially due to needing to throw it in the 4th quarter while chasing a deficit. If you only look at the 1st-3rd quarter, when that shouldn’t be much of an issue, the Bears ran it on 1st down 49% of the time. This is still lower than the NFL average, which indicates the Bears were generally more pass-happy than the average NFL team. That’s not really a surprise.

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. Numbers in parentheses indicate the NFL average for that group.

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The Non-Trubisky Offensive Issue: Personnel Usage Remains a Problem

| February 10th, 2020

It’s no secret that I’ve blamed quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for the lion’s share of Chicago’s offensive shortcomings in 2019, while pointing out contributing factors elsewhere: tight end, run blocking, Tarik Cohen…etc. But I truly believe that a competent quarterback would have put the Bears in the playoffs in 2019.

However, it’s important not to get too fixated on one issue and ignore other problems. So today I want to look at offensive issues from 2019 that have absolutely nothing to do with Mitchell Trubisky, but instead are due to what I believe to be poor coaching decisions regarding personnel usage.


Personnel Predictability

How predictable was Chicago’s offense when several of their key players were on or off the field?

The table below shows changes in run percentage when skill position guys who played between 35-65% of the snaps were in the game vs. on the sideline.

  • On the high end, that excludes players who almost never leave the field (Allen Robinson played over 93% of offensive snaps in 2019) because their “off field” splits would be too small to be worth considering.
  • On the low end, it excludes situational players who often only come in for situations where a run or pass is expected (ie the 4th WR in a 4 WR set for 3rd and long, or the 2nd TE in a short-yardage set).

Instead, I want to look at how the Bears deployed their key skill position players as they rotated through in a game.

(Note: This data is pulled from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System, which includes sacks and QB scrambles as passing plays.)

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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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ATM: Adding Castillo, Shurmur Would Allow Nagy to Get Back to the Basics of the Offense

| January 9th, 2020


Perhaps the Chicago Bears offense failing to achieve the Version 2.0 Matt Nagy promised before the season was because he had too many people to teach.

Early in Nagy’s tenure, before the first training camp practice, he regularly brought up the fact that it wasn’t just the players who had to learn the offense, but the coaches. Now with Juan Castillo as his offensive line coach and (reportedly, by DBB) Pat Shurmur as the offensive coordinator, Nagy has filled his staff with some of this offense’s finest teachers.

Mark Helfrich and Harry Hiestand are probably very good coaches, but neither was well-versed in what’s commonly known as “The Andy Reid Philosophy”. More to the point, both were hired specifically to bring outside elements to the offense -Helfrich the RPO game and Hiestand the power running. Neither worked out.

For Nagy, the best thing to do was to get back to the offense, to the basics. Whether the team intends on running version 1.0, 2.0 or jumping to 3.0 next season, they now have an offensive coordinator and line coach who have proven track records in accomplishing whatever version is required.

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ATM: Strong Finish Would Earn Trubisky Another Chance

| December 3rd, 2019


Thanksgiving

And just like that, another quarterback has thrown his hat in the ring to be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears in 2020: Mitch Trubisky.

It wasn’t perfect, but for the first time this year Trubisky looked like an actual NFL quarterback. It wasn’t just that he threw more great passes on Thanksgiving than he has all season. It’s that he looked composed. He went through his progressions and he made plays even after the defense took the initial look away. The head coach, who is clearly frustrated with the quarterback’s inability to run the offense, came away impressed.

“Today was Mitch’s day. It was his day.”

After noting that his last two touchdown passes were to players who weren’t the initial reads, Matt Nagy said, “That’s growth for Mitchell. Getting through progression one, progression two and making plays happen. I think that’s probably what I’m most proud about.”

For one day, Nagy had an NFL quarterback and the offense made plays when they needed to. And it wasn’t just about statistics, even though the statistics were terrific.

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ATM: Welcome to the Hot Seat, Ryan Pace

| November 5th, 2019

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ryan Pace’s job is safe. But should it be?

The 2019 Bears are looking at a 6-10 season, just one win better than the embarrassing, dysfunctional 2014 team Pace inherited. We haven’t gotten the consecutive embarrassing losses or locker room fights like we did in 2014, but there’s still time.

The talent levels of the teams aren’t all that different when you consider very few of the offensive starters from the 2019 version would start for the 2014 team and the gigantic difference at quarterback. This defense is a lot better than the 2014 unit but you could still argue a couple defenders from that squad — Jay Ratliff and Willie Young — would start on this year’s defense.

2019 will never reach 2014 in terms of dysfunction, but they may be well past them in terms of disappointment.

The Bears will be winning fewer than eight games for the fourth time in Pace’s five years as general manager and his decision to take Mitchell Trubisky over a sure thing in Deshaun Watson and a guy some already consider to be the best quarterback they’ve ever seen in Patrick Mahomes has become a joke. NFL owners don’t like when their team is a joke.

One can argue that Pace actually built a very strong and talented roster, but this is a quarterback’s league and is there’s any reason to think Pace can get that position right?

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ATM: Nagy Can’t Be Judged Until He Gets a QB

| October 29th, 2019

Matt Nagy’s decision to sit on the ball late Sunday, instead of trying to line up for a more manageable field goal, was further confirmation of what we already know: he needs a new quarterback. While Twitter experts go back-and-forth on who is to blame, the simple truth is that Nagy doesn’t trust Mitch Trubisky. As long as that’s the case, the Bears can’t win.

It wasn’t always the case.

In a similar situation in the playoff loss last year, the head coach let Trubisky throw deep. Had Trubisky thrown accurately there would have been no such thing as “the double doink”. Somewhere along the way (Week One, perhaps?) Trubisky lost his coach’s faith. And he isn’t doing anything to get it back. Week-by-week, the quarterback misses reads, misses throws and loses.

At this point, arguing for Trubisky is admitting bias. Even when the quarterback does good things, he also makes big mistakes and Sunday was a classic example. It could’ve been one of the best games of the young quarterback’s career. He made throws down the field. He thread the needle in a tight spot. For the first time all season, he made a play with his legs.

But he still lost the game.

He threw a horrendous, demoralizing interception.

He missed a wide open touchdown.

He then fumbled to set up the game-winning drive.

How could anybody ask Nagy to call a play in which the quarterback could lose the game when he was looking at an easy field goal? When it came down to trusting his young kicker or his young quarterback, Nagy chose the kicker.

Turns out there was no right choice.

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