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ATM: White and Miller Could Make Bears Attack Very Different

| August 1st, 2018

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have tried to build the 2018 Chicago Bears offense to be like those Nagy’s mentor Andy Reid had success with in the past. But they may have stumbled into something very different and entirely more fascinating. If Kevin White and Anthony Miller are both able to continue to play at the level they have in the early days of training camp, the Bears won’t have a choice but to put both on the field. That could change the entire offense.

While generally thought of as an offense that spreads the ball around, that hasn’t really been the case. In five years, Reid’s Chiefs have averaged:

  • 19.6% of their targets to the top receiver
  • 18% to the pass-catching tight end
  • 16.9% to running backs

Those numbers mostly held up with Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. His Eagles averaged:

  • 20.5% of their targets to the top receiver
  • 18.6% to the pass-catching tight end
  • 15% to running backs

Where it gets interesting, however, is when you look at the other positions. There you will find very little consistency.

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The Bears Have a New Director For Their Young Star. Now They Begin Rehearsals.

| July 17th, 2018

This week the Bears report to Bourbonnais for training camp.

Yea, they do this every year; pack up their shit and invade the campus of Olivet Nazarene, a university that sounds like it should have Pontius Pilate as Athletic Director. Training camps used to be brutal, grueling tests of survival – a series of two-a-days in sweltering sun, with players completely cut off from their families and friends. Oh, and there used to be tackling. Tons o’ tackling. Way more tackling than not tackling.

Parcells, Walsh and Gibbs wore their teams out in the summer the way a good drill sergeant wears out recruits on Parris Island. They believed war was coming and the only way to properly prepare was to mirror those conditions. Players HATED it. Free agents would postpone signing contracts until the last possible minute if it meant missing a single day of camp.

Prior to the innovations of Bill Belichick, who introduced the idea that a game plan could be altered each week for that individual opponent, camp was when the entire system was installed. The great teams in NFL history were completely unsurprising before Belichick. Those coaches did what they did. If you beat it, you won.

Now training camp is simply part of the installation process. Practices are short. Contact is minimal. Time in the classroom is more important than time on the field (for the most part). And with starters seeing less and less preseason game action, teams won’t know if any of it is working until that first weekend in September when they print the scores in the morning paper.

But this training camp is pivotal for the Chicago Bears because it is hopefully about the establishment of the team’s leadership for the next decade at its two most essential gigs.

Coach. Quarterback.

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Audibles: Enthusiasm Grows, Cutler Stars, Gabriel Catches & More!

| July 13th, 2018

Three Thoughts on the Bears

  • Mentioned it on KFAN in Minnesota earlier in the week but I can’t remember this much enthusiasm and excitement around the Bears heading into a season. This might be the most I’ve seen since 2005 – the Year of the Blog – and that season’s optimism seemed to dwindle with Rex Grossman’s summer injury. (I wrote and produced my first play that year so it took me a month to get sad.) The Bears don’t believe they’re going to be 8-8 this season. They believe they’ll be playing football in January.
  • Had drinks with an NFL GM Monday afternoon and he summed up the Bears off-season perfectly: “They did everything right. But right in the spring isn’t always right in the fall.”
  • This is more anecdotal than anything else but the player other fans and media covering other teams keep bringing up to me is Anthony Miller. There’s a real buzz about him in league circles. I’d still keep expectations low for any rookie wide receiver entering a new offense with this many pass-catching options but many others are not, including Miller himself.

Jay Cutler: Television Star

What makes me laugh is that many of us knew Cutler’s personality was incredible. It just wasn’t a Peyton-Manning-endless-quarterback-cliches-that-talking-heads-love personality. He has no patience for morons and apparently this program is chock full of them. (I will never watch a single episode of it on TV. Ten second clips are just fine.)

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Which Reid Offense Will Chicago Most Resemble?

| July 9th, 2018

There’s been a good deal of talk this offseason about how the Bears will model their offense after the Kansas City Chiefs, which makes sense given that new head coach Matt Nagy spent his last several years in Kansas City learning from Andy Reid.

But I think Chicago’s offense will end up looking more similar to what Philadelphia has run the last two years under Doug Pederson, another branch on the Reid coaching tree. Even though both offenses are similar, there are some subtle yet important differences that are worth looking at. So today I want to start by looking at personnel to see which one Chicago matches better, and then I’ll compare and contrast offensive styles.

Personnel

Kansas City’s offense was built around three main producers: running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce. Those three combined for 4,069 of Kansas City’s 6,007 yards from scrimmage, meaning they were about 2/3 of the offense.

Quite frankly, the Bears just aren’t built to be that reliant on a small number of players. Outside of Jordan Howard and Allen Robinson, nobody has been a high-volume producer, and even Robinson has only hit 1,000 yards in a season once in his four years.

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The Positional Quick 3: Offensive Coaches

| June 14th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Offensive Coaches

  • The Bears have an offensive coordinator in Mark Helfrich who has been working the sideline for 21 years but none of those have been in the NFL. While Matt Nagy will be calling the plays, Helfrich will have tremendous influence on the offensive philosophy and the development of the club’s most important asset: Mitch Trubisky. It’s okay to be skeptical about Helfrich’s concepts and whether they’ll be successful in the league where they play…for pay.
  • Mike Furrey might have one of the trickiest gigs on the staff. The Bears’ receiving room is going to be six guys who – with the exception of White and possibly Bellamy – haven’t played together. Molding them into a cohesive unit will not be an easy task.
  • It’s impossible not to be excited with the way Matt Nagy has handled, well, absolutely everything. The Bears haven’t had a young, exciting head coach in their entire history. Ditka, Wanny and Fox were football lifers – necessary but uninspiring hires. Jauron and Lovie were bores. Trestman was weird. Nagy’s hiring brings to Chicago the optimism of youth. It’s infectious. But now it has to translate to wins or nobody will remember these first few promising months of his tenure.

Next Week: The Other Side of the Ball

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Forget Patience, Bears Offense Should Be Good

| June 6th, 2018

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a companion piece to yesterday’s Data Entry.]

If Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky are what Ryan Pace thinks they are, there’s no reason to think the Bears offense won’t be good in 2018.

Nagy has stressed patience since he took over. And he should. His complete vision for the offense is going to take years to implement. But there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to score points this year. Generally speaking, teams with good quarterbacks and good coaches score points. Add the fact that the Bears are pretty good at every other offensive position and, there really isn’t a reason to think they won’t score.

And while the offense may take those precious years to implement in-full, Nagy knows as well as anyone that coaches don’t necessarily get the kind of time they’d like to see things to fruition. They have to get results, especially once the quarterback is in place.

We saw two great examples of this last year. The first and most obvious was NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay, whose Rams led the league in scoring and were 10th in yardage. The other is Kyle Shanahan, whose 49ers struggled early before Jimmy Garoppolo took over and led them to an average of 28.8 points and nearly 410 yards per game — including a 15-point effort against the Bears.

(I could also point to Marc Trestman – who had the Bears second in points in his first year – but that would break our longstanding agreement to never discuss him again after what happened in 2014.)

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Excluding Cleveland: How Quickly Do Perennially Bad Offenses Actually Turn It Around?

| June 5th, 2018

Chicago’s offense has been consistently bad for the last four years, ranking in the bottom ten in points scored each of those seasons. It’s been especially awful the last two years, when a host of QB issues have left the Bears 28th and 29th in that same category.

But hope springs eternal, and dramatic changes this off-season have fans dreaming of a high-powered offense. Gone is the old-school John Fox, replaced by offensive-minded Matt Nagy. QB Mitchell Trubisky enters his second season, as do Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen, and the dreadful skill position groups have been overhauled with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller.

Just how big of a leap can this offense take in 2018? Optimists are quick to point to the 2017 Rams, who went from consistently bad offenses for years to the NFL’s top scoring unit in 2017 on the heels of a new offensive coach, overhauled WR group, and growth from 2nd year QB Jared Goff. Is that big of a jump an outlier, or something that happens regularly? I dove into the numbers to find out.

Crunching the Data

I looked at where every NFL team ranked in terms of points scored each year for the last decade (so 2008-17), then looked at teams that matched recent trends for the Bears. I looked at three different groupings this way:

  • Bottom 5 for 2 years
  • Bottom 10 for 3 years
  • Bottom 10 for 4 years

Once teams who fit that bill were identified, I looked at the offense the year after those bleak seasons to see how it performed.

Before I get into the results, I should note that I decided to exclude the Cleveland Browns from this. Their offense has ranked in the bottom ten every single year for the past decade – a truly remarkable feat of consistency – and this meant that they drowned out other samples. Full data can be viewed here.

[Editor’s Note: What you just read is the saddest paragraph published on this site in the fourteen years of its existence.]

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Roquan Smith To the Starting Lineup!

| May 31st, 2018


Three quick thoughts on this inevitable development:

  • There is a belief in some older-school league coaching circles that somehow young players benefit from starting as third-stringers and working their way into the starting lineup over the laborious period of training camp. When Parcells and Walsh were on the sideline, sure, I’d buy it. But now? Coaches are too limited in the amount of time they can put their hands on players. They get so little actual field time with their starters, never mind the rookies. The smart staffs recognize talent and insert that talent into the starting lineup immediately. Let the kids play themselves out of that spot.
  • This should have happened last season with Mitch Trubisky but the Fox coaching staff was gutless. Because they did not recognize the MASSIVE talent gap between their starter and third-stringer, they botched what could have been a terrific year of development for the kid. (It could be argued the Bears simply waited a year too long to follow the Eagles model.)
  • Am I getting excited about Matt Nagy? Yep. I’m trying not to, because most of this stuff doesn’t matter, but I just like everything happening around the 2018 Chicago Bears right now.

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Like ‘Em or Not, These Are the Chicago Bears For the Foreseeable Future

| May 22nd, 2018

Since Ryan Pace showed up in 2015, there has been nearly complete roster turnover, with only Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Sherrick McManis, and Pat O’Donnell remaining from the previous regime. Every single offseason has seen significant changes, with a host of prominent players leaving and a sizable new batch of faces coming in.

Consequently, Bears fans are used to offseasons of sweeping change. But that pattern should end in 2019. To understand why, let’s look at who is already under contract on both sides of the ball.


Offense

Key players under contract: QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Jordan Howard, RB Tarik Cohen, WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel, WR Anthony Miller, WR Javon Wims, TE Trey Burton, TE Adam Shaheen, LT Charles Leno, LG James Daniels, C Cody Whitehair, RG Kyle Long

Notable free agents: RT Bobby Massie, Eric Kush

Possible Cap Casualties: RG Kyle Long, TE Dion Sims

Chicago’s offense is young and locked-in for the next two years. Nobody on this list except Kyle Long is over 28 years old, and over half of these players are still on rookie deals. 2018 should see the best offense the Bears have had since 2013 (not exactly stiff competition) and there’s every expectation at this point that the same group returning basically intact in 2019 should be even better.

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Will Adam Shaheen Have a Role in the Matt Nagy Offense?

| May 9th, 2018

John Fox’s coaching staff was bashed for not getting the ball to rookie tight end Adam Shaheen enough, but that doesn’t figure on changing much under Matt Nagy. Shaheen played just over 24% of the snaps last year. That number should increase in 2018, provided he can beat out Dion Sims as the starting in-line tight end. But if the moves this team has recently made turn out the way they think, it’s hard to see Shaheen catching a lot of passes in 2018.

Trey Burton & Friends

He’s not much of a blocker, but the Bears signed Burton to be their top tight end. The Bears made him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league. That’s not happening if they don’t expect him to play nearly every snap. 

Burton’s signing alone didn’t indicate a smaller role for Shaheen. The club also invested heavily at receiver by paying Allen Robinson star money, Taylor Gabriel starter money and trading a 2019 second rounder to draft Anthony Miller with the 51st pick. Not only did the Bears spend a high pick on Miller, but they reportedly tried to move back up into the end of the first round to draft Calvin Ridley.

Their aggressiveness at the position is a strong indication that they’re going to have three receivers on the field quite a bit. Not a surprise. In his time in Kansas City, Matt Nagy’s offenses rarely utilized the second tight end. Over the past five years, KC’s second tight end averaged just 5.6% of the team’s targets — 29 per season. This is about the same as the fourth wide receiver. The third receivers came in at 9.2%.

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