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Nick Foles Will Be the Starting Quarterback

| June 1st, 2020


For the Bears, there is no more important issue looming than which man will be under center receive the shotgun snap when the Bears take the field against Detroit in Week One. Today I want to dig into the stats to see what we can learn about Foles vs. Trubisky, as well as what to expect from whoever wins that derby compared to other QBs around the NFL.

The table below shows basic efficiency statistics for Trubisky and Foles in the Reid offense (so Trubisky in 2018-19 in Chicago and Foles in 2016 in KC and 17-18 in Philadelphia), plus the other three notable recent Reid QBs (Smith 13-17, Mahomes 18-19, Wentz 16-19). I’ll note I included playoff stats for everybody because otherwise Foles’ sample size is just so small (less than 350 with just regular season, just over 500 with playoffs included). I also included the NFL average for 2018-19 as a frame of reference for what’s roughly normal around the league. I split up the data into short and long passes (targeted more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) using Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

That’s a lot of information to digest, so let’s look at short and deep passes separately.


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New Coach, New Players, New Mentality for the Bears Rushing Attack

| May 27th, 2020

Juan Castillo.

The question was finally asked.

During Matt Nagy’s presser two weeks ago, Brad Biggs asked it bluntly.

“What makes Juan Castillo better than Harry Hiestand?”

As delicately as the head coach tried to answer, the truth was just as blunt.

“Juan’s biggest strength is his ability to teach and reach his players,” Nagy said. “There’s going to be times when he chews their tails out and there’s going to be other times when he’s giving them nothing but love.”

Castillo has a long history of developing late-round picks in need of polish. Hiestand, while having a long history of taking four/five-star recruits and making them into terrific NFL prospects, never successfully developed a player once they were in the NFL. That lack of developmental prowess stood out particularly with James Daniels in 2019, a high second-round pick who could’ve been a first rounder if the draft weren’t stacked at the position in 2018. He’s long, athletic and, by all accounts, smart. Yet, hasn’t been improving.

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Will Bears Continue to Suffer “Death By Inches”?

| May 19th, 2020

Matt Nagy went on a media tour last week. But perhaps the biggest takeaway came yesterday.

Nagy and the Bears were featured by Albert Breer in the weekly Monday Morning Quarterback spot. The interview was as in-depth as any we’ve seen regarding the changes to the team’s coaching staff and touched on working through the virtual off-season program. The most telling comment from Nagy was more of an almost throwaway line. Breer wrote:

“And it motivates Nagy himself to do better for the players. So just as he asked his coaches, and his players to be on the details that slipped last year, he’s putting just as much pressure on himself to be all over those—whether it’s staying on the details of what’s happening in the offensive meeting rooms, so he can be a better play-caller, or setting the standard for everyone as the head coach.

“That can be in a meeting, if we say guys can’t have phones in a meeting, it means they don’t have phones in a meeting,” Nagy said. “It doesn’t mean in Week 8 they start bringing them in. It means they never have them in the meeting. If they show up 9:00 or 9:01, they’re walking in as I’m walking in—no, get there early. It’s just a lot of different things. For me, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Now, for me to do that, I have to have really, really great support from the rest of our coaches, and have that trickle down to players.

“That’s what I’m excited about, getting to see that happen.”

So much of what is said during the off-season is about what’s not said. When the Bears talk about Jimmy Graham’s ability to run, they don’t have to mention it’s something they didn’t have last year. When they say Robert Quinn will improve their defense because he gets to the quarterback, they don’t have to say Leonard Floyd didn’t do it well enough. When Matt Nagy says his team is going to be more detailed and disciplined, he doesn’t have to say they weren’t a year ago.

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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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