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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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Chargers at Bears Game Preview Vol. I: What Sunday Means for the Rest of 2019

| October 24th, 2019


The Bears are 3-3.

It just feels like 1-5.

And Sunday, at home, against the Los Angeles Chargers, could be the game that defines the remainder of the season.

If the Bears win it will stabilize things. Are they going to make a 2018-esque run to a division title and the postseason? Unlikely with their current quarterback situation but they will at least remain relevant into the month of November and hopefully beyond.

If they lose, things could get ugly fast. Does anyone trust this quarterback on the road in Philadelphia or with Aaron Donald lined up in front of him in LA? Would the Lions and Giants games being anything more than coin flips? The Bears are 3-3 today but a loss Sunday could descend into 6-10 very, very quickly once the quarterback officially loses the huddle and the organization loses complete confidence in the offense’s ability to move the ball.

With these stakes, Sunday becomes the most important regular season game of Matt Nagy’s tenure. He’s facing intense heat for the first time. He’s having spats with media members in the press room. The pressure is firmly on his shoulders and he’s feeling it.

How will he respond?

How will the team respond?

How will 2019 be defined?

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At 3-3, the 2019 Season is Not Lost With Ten Games Remaining

| October 23rd, 2019


The argument could be simply made.

“Hey, the Bears were 3-3 last season and look how that turned out!”

It’d be hard to argue against because it is factually correct. But all 3-3s are not created equal and the story of the first six games of this Chicago Bears season is not their record. It is the futility of the quarterback and the questions now surrounding the most important position in sports moving forward.

But even now that we know Mitch Trubisky is not the guy, that does not mean these final ten games of the 2019 campaign get discarded into the “playing out the string” bin. While the Bears are very, very unlikely to reach the lofty heights many of us expected, this season can still be a successful one.

How?


Win More Than You Lose

One of the most important elements to being a winning franchise is being a winning franchise. (Jeez, Jeff, thanks for the insight.) And if you think having back-to-back winning seasons is meaningless, here’s a piece of information for you: the Chicago Bears have only had back-to-back winning seasons TWICE since 1994. That’s two times, in 25 years. 1994-1995. 2005-2006.

(Side note: It is 100% pathetic that this franchise has not had three consecutive winning seasons since 1988.)

For Matt Nagy’s program, getting to at least nine wins is crucial towards building a winning culture.


Improve Offensively

The coach is still an offensive head coach.

A lot of the players on this offense are coming back in 2020. (At least I think they are.)

This group needs to find some production if for no other reason than to rebuild optimism for next season, even if the quarterback is changing. Find some rhythm. And find some damn points. If they don’t, it won’t take long for Matt Nagy to go from Coach of the Year to Hot Seat.


Get Something Out of the Quarterback

Mitch is not the guy. But barring odd developments in the next six months, he’s going to be one of the guys in Bourbonnais next summer. The Bears should be signing a veteran starter in March and drafting a potential starter in April. But if Trubisky is coming to camp, the Bears want him to at least arrive with the belief that he can win the job.

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Saints at Bears Game Preview, Volume I: An Open Letter to Matt Nagy

| October 17th, 2019

Dear Mr. Head Coach,

Your offense sucks.

I know that’s an abrupt way to start a letter, and may discourage you from reading any further, but I’ve never been known for my subtlety. Your offense isn’t struggling. It isn’t sub-average. It just flat out sucks. It sucks in America. It sucks in England. It sucks. And being an offensive-minded head coach, that’s on you.

Your left tackle, a damn good player, looks like he belongs in the XFL.

Your most dynamic weapon, Tarik Cohen, has been useless for five weeks.

Your quarterbacks, both of them, look like they left their playbooks in the men’s toilet at Rossi’s.

But more than anything else, this entire offense

lacks coherence. If someone were to ask me right now, “What is the Bears offense” I would have no earthly idea how to answer. And I have the strange suspicion you’d stammer a bit as well.

You were brought to this organization to modernize the operation, specifically when it comes to moving the football. (Hell, we even co-authored a tee shirt proclaiming you’d do just that.) Pace and Fox built the all-world defense. You were the finishing touch on one of the most dramatic rebuilds in organization history. Year One was a massive success. You won 12 games. You won the NFC North. But the offense had very little to do with that.

Year Two was supposed to be the year the complete picture emerged. But through five games, the offense not only doesn’t look better than 2018…it looks significantly worse.

So, you know, fix it. Just fix the fucking thing. Get creative. Coach the players up. Make this unit better. You had the bye week to diagnose the ailments and this thing is quite diseased. Now load up the syringe with penicillin and jam it into your offense’s ass. No more excuses.

There are about 15 teams that can win the Super Bowl and you coach one of them. But that status currently exists despite the script you author each week. Fix it. Because while you’ve tried to absorb the blame for the struggles, you’ve yet to receive much criticism.

That won’t last much longer.

Sincerely,

Some Guy in Queens

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ATM: Pressure on Nagy to Fix Bears Offense

| October 8th, 2019

The weeks after the bye week will tell us a lot about the Bears head coach and whether he really is the genius he was portrayed as or just another in a long line of coaches who got off to hot starts, but couldn’t adjust.

Typically, teams with great coaches excel in the area of their coach’s expertise. That isn’t a good sign for Nagy, whose Bears are 28th in scoring and 30th in yardage through five games. That comes after they struggled for much of the second half last year, including just one offensive touchdown in a playoff loss.

The offense is broken and Nagy needs to fix it.

The problems start at the offensive line where the Bears made an offseason decision to swap Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, a move that has made them definitively worse at two positions. Add in the clear regression of Charles Leno Jr. and an aging Kyle Long and you have one of the worst units in the league.

Then, of course, there are issues at quarterback. The move to 202 stalled out when Nagy admitted they had to simplify the offense for Mitch Trubisky. A simplification isn’t a bad thing, but it’s the second time they’ve had to do that this year, cutting back after they broke training camp. We were told not to read too much into that.

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