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Examining Chicago’s Personnel Usage/Tendencies on Offense in 2020

| June 1st, 2021

Like I’ve done the last few seasons, I want to explore how the Bears deployed their skill position players on offense in 2020 to see if there are any trends or tells for which opposing defensive coordinators can look. These are tendencies Chicago’s coaches should be aware of and look to rectify in the future.

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 played more than 75% of snaps, because their “off-field” splits would be too small to consider. That was only Allen Robinson in 2020.
  • On the low end, that excludes players who played less than 25% of snaps, because they are often mainly in the game in specific situations, where a run or pass may be expected (i.e. the 4th WR in a 4 WR set for 3rd and long, or the 2nd TE in a short-yardage set). This excluded Demetrius Harris, Cordarrelle Patterson, and a host of other role players who played a few offensive snaps.

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

A few thoughts:

  • David Montgomery had pretty even splits when he was on and off the field. Therefore I won’t look at him any further when I split the sample into different personnel packages below.
  • This is a change from 2019, when Montgomery’s presence on the field made a run much more likely, and is almost certainly due to Tarik Cohen’s injury. In Cohen’s limited 76 plays before getting hurt, the Bears only ran it 29% of the time. He clearly had the passing downs role, and Montgomery absorbed that when Cohen got hurt.
  • Everybody else has fairly significant changes in how frequently the offense runs when they are on the field vs. off of it, which warrants further exploration.

Different Personnel Groupings

I was curious how much the personnel groupings might influence these splits, so I looked at how frequently the Bears run the ball in different groupings. Generally, there are five skill position guys (WR, TE, RB) on the field for a given play, so I split the sample up by how many of them were wide receivers.

The more WR the Bears have on the field, the more likely they are to pass. That makes sense, but the significant difference in run frequency here means we’re going to have to look at each of these groups individually to see how players really impact the run/pass ratio when they are on the field.


3+ Wide Receivers

Let’s start with plays featuring 3 or more WRs, which means there are 2 total TE + RB. The most common setup here was 11 personnel, which features 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR.

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When it Comes to QBs in the NFL, Studs are Studs.

| May 14th, 2021

Whether Justin Fields succeeds or fails, Matt Nagy probably isn’t going to have a hell of a lot to do with it. While everybody loves a “QB guru”, fans, media members and NFL teams waste entirely too much time talking about the development of young quarterbacks. It is just as likely that studs will be studs and duds, well, you get the picture.

At least in the modern NFL.

This isn’t your grandfather’s NFL and there isn’t a huge difference in the schemes run by teams. In his discussion with local media, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day referred to his experience in the NFL, even labeling his current scheme an “NFL offense” numerous times. Sure, rookie quarterbacks have to adjust to the speed of the NFL. They have to learn how to read different coverage concepts and adjust protections.

And while that’s all stuff that a good NFL team will help with, some guys just get it.

A narrative has emerged in recent months that Nagy failed to develop Mitch Trubisky. The truth is no one could have develop Trubisky because Trubisky is a bad football player. Bad football players don’t become good. Ryan Pace failed by drafting him to play quarterback in the NFL. Was Trubisky’s inability to read defenses and adjust something we would’ve found out about had he played more collegiate games? Almost certainly. (His inaccuracy downfield was certainly something that one would see if they looked at North Carolina tape.)

Fundamental improvements are fixed in the offseason these days because NFL coaches aren’t allowed as much contact. Mike McCarthy used to run a full-blown QB Camp as part of his offseason program. (Aaron Rodgers even credited it as part of his development.) That can’t happen any more.  Trubisky seemed to acknowledge that he wasn’t getting what he needed from his personal QB coach. Why else would he have changed coaches last offseason?

If we’re going to blame Nagy for not developing Trubisky, why don’t we blame Bruce Arians for whatever happened to Jameis Winston? Surely Sean McVay can’t be trusted with young quarterbacks after failing Jared Goff and why didn’t Boy Genius Kyle Shanahan turn his first hand-picked passer, CJ Beathard into a steal?

Then, if you look at the quarterbacks who have been good. Who do we credit for Derek Carr? Is Pete Carroll the genius behind Russ Wilson?  Is Jason Garrett the reason Dak Prescott became a stud? Shouldn’t Bill O’Brien get another job because of the work he did with Deshaun Watson? Uhhh…no.

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If They Make 2021 About Andy Dalton, the Chicago Bears – Collectively – Have Lost Their Minds

| April 1st, 2021


Andy Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

Ryan Pace knows Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

Matt Nagy knows Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

George McCaskey and Ted Phillips know Dalton is a middle of the road quarterback.

And that is why none of these men can possibly believe Dalton is a pathway out of the mediocrity of the last two seasons. None of these men can possibly think Dalton – even replacing the ineptitude of “the former guy” – is the missing piece in a Super Bowl puzzle. And in the cases of Pace, Nagy and perhaps even Phillips, they can’t possibly imagine Dalton is worth risking their tenures within the organization.

To believe any of that nonsense would show that everyone in a position of authority at Halas Hall has lost their collective minds. And if that’s case, what hope do any of us have?

So we must believe Pace, Nagy, Phillips and McCaskey have not lost their minds. We must believe they understand the Bears must still solve the most important position in team sports. We must believe they know there are only two ways to inspire this fanbase for the coming season: Russell Wilson or a first-round (or very early second-round) quarterback.

Bears fans have grown impatient, and with every right. But until we know if either Wilson or a top prospect are achieved, there is no reason to be decisive about this Bears off-season. That time, however, is rapidly approaching.

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Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy Will Return in 2021.

| January 13th, 2021


Both men will meet the media at 10:00 AM CT Wednesday (my birthday). Stay tuned to this space for a response to that press conference.

A few notes:

  • George McCaskey made clear what many of us have known: this ownership group loves Ryan Pace and trusts him to right the ship. (Do they love Nagy? I’m not sure but they trust Ryan on him.)
  • No contract extensions for either doesn’t automatically mean next season is “win or gone” but it will increase the pressure.
  • George: “We need better production from the quarterback position to be successful.” Bingo.
  • George suggested he’s more confident in Pace selecting the next franchise QB because Nagy will be involved in that process. It is very obvious ownership wants this group to succeed and is going to give them every chance to do that.
  • Weird moment when Ted wouldn’t answer how long the Nagy/Pace contracts are. Not sure I get why that would be privileged information but it does suggest these guys might not be expiring after 2021.
  • Pace made it very clear that this entire offseason is about the quarterback position.
  • Prodded about the 2017 draft by Dan Wiederer, Pace would not take the bait and kill Trubisky. Nagy was pressed as well, and passed. There’s no reason to do it.

One thing is very clear from today: Mitch Trubisky will not be on the Chicago Bears next season.

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I Was Wrong: Tectonic Shift Proves Pace, Nagy and Trubisky Should All Return in 2021

| December 21st, 2020


The Bears scored 30 points again.

The Bears gained 400 yards again.

The quarterback, with the exception of a couple throws, pitched another stellar rating and looked a different player.

There has been a tectonic shift at the crust of the Chicago Bears organization. Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor and Mitch Trubisky have figured it out. Don’t ask me how, but they have. Suddenly the offensive line is a cohesive, powerful unit. David Montgomery is one of the best running backs in the league. Allen Robinson is a bona fide number one. Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney are two of the more exciting rookie skill guys in the sport. This scattered collection of puzzle pieces has been put together and the picture is a thing of beauty.

Perhaps most importantly, the Bears are playing an exciting, entertaining brand of football. They are a threat to score every single time they get possession. They are a joy to watch.

And guess what? I was wrong.

Yep, someone in sports “media” is saying it.

I was wrong.

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Bears at Vikings Game Preview Volume II: The Stakehouse.

| December 18th, 2020


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and after a few weeks in the darkness of Quitsville, I’m back!


The Stakes

The Bears are 6-7. And this might be the most important game ever played by a 6-7 team.

If the Bears win Sunday, they’ll be 7-7, with Jacksonville on deck. (8-7) That’ll bring the Packers to town, with Tim Boyle likely starting, and a playoff spot likely on the line. If the Bears win Sunday they will be playing meaningful football for 17 weeks at a minimum. That’s how the late Giants owner Wellington Mara defined a successful season. And knew a bit about football.

But winning, especially with another superior offensive effort, would also continue to change the narrative around the head coach. Nobody is firing a head coach who is eight games over (minimum) in his first three years. And if the quarterback pitches another triple-digit quarterback rating? How could the narrative around him not alter slightly as well? Wouldn’t the Bears have to start considering a 2021 prove it deal?

Now if the Bears lose Sunday, their season ends. If they lose Sunday and deliver another lackluster offensive effort against the Vikings, Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky go back under the bright interrogative lamps of media and fans. (Hard to imagine Ted Phillips and Ryan Pace won’t be there regardless of these final games.) A loss flips the fourteen-day hourglass and the sand shuffles through on January 4th. That’s when we’ll find out who among the leadership is coming back in 2021.

It’s all at stake Sunday.

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What if Matt Nagy is Becoming a Really Good Head Coach?

| December 15th, 2020


Two weeks ago the Chicago Bears quit, in primetime, against their oldest rivals.

A week ago the Chicago Bears collapsed against the Detroit Lions, squandering a double-digit lead in the final minutes.

These were two of the worst weeks for a Bears head coach since Aaron Kromer turned rat against Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman pathetically refused to fire him. They were two weeks that felt like the end of Matt Nagy’s tenure with the team. The offense was showing signs of life but the defense seemed in freefall. How could the locker room hold up? How on earth would Nagy survive?

And now Houston was coming to town, bringing with them the star quarterback the Bears ignored in the lead-up to the 2017 NFL Draft.  And while revisionist historians now want to paint the Texans as the Washington Generals, take a step back. The Texans were 4-4 under Romeo Crennel. In the last month they had beaten Belichick, crushed Detroit on a short week and fumbled away victory over the Colts on the one. This wasn’t some pushover. The Texans were FAVORED to win Sunday at Soldier Field.

And instead, Matt Nagy’s Bears delivered their most inspired, complete performance of the 2020 season. They buried Houston. For many fans, this is too little, too late. They’ve seen enough and they want Ted Phillips, Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy, the janitorial staff, the lady who runs Bears Care and two curators at the Field Museum fired.

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Putting the Three-Game Offensive “Surge” in Context

| December 14th, 2020

[Note: The following is an analysis of the last three games played by the Chicago Bears offense. Yes, it is understood that much of the offensive production in Green Bay occurred in “garbage time” but when it comes to this offense, we can’t really leave that production out of the discussion.]


Against the Packers: 363 yards, 25 points, 242 yards passing, 121 yards rushing.

Against the Lions: 407 yards, 30 points, 267 yards passing, 140 yards rushing.

Against the Texans: 436 yards, 36 points, 267 yards passing, 169 yards rushing.

So the averages over this three-game period are 402 yards, 30.3 points, 258.7 yards passing, 143.3 yards rushing.

  • Only one team in the league – Kansas City – averages more than 400 yards per game.
  • One four teams – KC, Green Bay, Seattle, Tennessee – average more than 30 points per game.
  • 258 yards passing per game would land the Bears 13th in the NFL for that category. Many of us argued that if the Bears could be in the top half of the league throwing the football they would be a surefire playoff team.
  • 143.3 yards rushing per game would land the Bears 7th in the NFL for that category, and three of the teams they would trail (Baltimore, Arizona, New England) feature a running quarterback as a primary weapon.

Is this production a mirage? Or has Matt Nagy finally pushed the right buttons?

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As Bears Sit in No Man’s Land, Three Possible Roads for George McCaskey

| December 9th, 2020


Welcome to No Man’s Land.

That’s where the Chicago Bears organization resides on December 9, 2020. They’re not a talented, aging team with a closing championship window. They’re not a young, rebuilding side with their eyes on the future. They’re nowhere. They don’t exist.

Two years ago that was not the case. Coming out of the 2018 campaign the defense was stacked. The head coach was a breath of fresh air. The quarterback had shown enough promise under the new regime to make fans believe he could be “they guy”. Now the defense is fading before our very eyes. The head coach has relinquished play-calling duties and any sense of job security. The quarterback will be looking for a job come March.

And there are only three possible roads forward. (For the sake of argument, let’s assume Ted Phillips is re-assigned away from football operations. It’ll likely happen as a symbolic gesture, if nothing else.)


Road One. Do That To Me One More Time.

Ryan Pace would be entering the final year of his contract. Matt Nagy would be entering the penultimate year of his contract; a de facto final year as coaches rarely work on a “final” year for some reason no one has ever clearly explained to me. The factors that could lead to George McCaskey bringing both back:

  • The defensive contracts. Kyle Fuller has voidable 2022-23 seasons. Akiem Hicks is off the books after next season. Per Sportrac, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn have “outs” after next season. The guys on this defense in 2020 are likely to be the guys on this defense in 2021. But the unit could look ENTIRELY different in 2022.
  • As Andrew pointed out yesterday, Nagy could argue two things: (a) the offense is improving and (b) he needs better players, including a quarterback. (Where that quarterback would be coming from is a different matter entirely.) He could also make a needed change at defensive coordinator to reinvigorate that side of the ball.
  • The post-Covid salary cap. The new GM’s role this off-season would be a complete tear down because there’s not going to be any money to enhance the current roster. Do the Bears really want to try and send Fuller, Mack and company out of town this spring and commit to a 2-3 win 2021? Can the organization afford to have an apathetic fan base in September? (They would.)

Road Two. Go Your Own Way.

Would the Bears fire one and not the other? It’s possible.

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ATM: Could Offensive Improvement & Lack of Talent Save Nagy’s Job?

| December 8th, 2020


While fans are calling for a complete house cleaning, there are a number of factors that could lead to Matt Nagy’s job being safe this offseason.

The most important thing we’ve seen from the Chicago Bears the last two weeks has been offensive improvement around the quarterback. No team could win with Mitch Trubisky being a turnover machine, but we’ve seen the Bears manage to produce the last two weeks. What Nagy has been able to prove is that when the talent is nearly equal, and the quarterback is competent, his offense can work.

There’s no arguing that it took Nagy too long to fix the offense, but the fix still would’ve come in time for the team to make the playoffs if the defense hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth. If the Bears finish the last month as productive as they have been the last two weeks, Nagy can enter the offseason telling ownership that he can get the job done, he just needs better players and a new defensive coordinator.

And it’s a valid argument.

As bad as the Bears have been under Nagy, they still average almost two more points per game than the 49ers have when Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had Jimmy G. If the Bears fire Nagy after the 2020 season, they’ll be left wondering if he could’ve succeeded with a better roster, and especially a better quarterback. What if they could pair him with an Eliot Wolf-led front office or poach Mike Borgonzi from Kansas City? Is it that much of a stretch to think that Nagy, with adequate offensive talent, could get the job done? He checks every other box as a coach.

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