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Training Camp Diary: Quinn Hurt (Again), Practice Intensity, Players Meet Media

| July 29th, 2021


Today, brief thoughts.

  • Robert Quinn was limited for the first practice with back issues. There is, of course, no reason to overreact to a knock in July but Quinn has not had a single healthy day as a member of the Chicago Bears. The man is paid a fortune at one of the sport’s premier positions. The roster construction doesn’t work on defense if the team gets no production from him again in 2021.
  • Nagy on Wednesday reiterated that practice will be of a higher intensity this summer and that players will see extended action in preseason games. The Bears lacked fire at times in 2020. This seems to be a cosmetic, if meaningful solution. (The easiest solution is just having a professional at the quarterback position.)
  • Khalil Mack is not blaming injuries for his lack of sack production recently. (But injuries are 100% to blame for his lack of sack production recently.)
  • Sadly, it seems Jake Butt has retired. His chances of making the Bears were greatly diminished by the arrival of “The Outlaw” Jesse James.
  • Eddie Goldman is back. And he missed football, per this report from Adam Hoge.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

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Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021


Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

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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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Bears Must Address Imbalanced Roster Construction

| November 20th, 2020


Yet again in 2020, we see that the Bears have one of the best defenses in the NF,L coupled with one of the worst offenses. This combines to give them a team that is not good enough. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, a continuation of 2018-19, all of the Lovie years, and the 1980s after Jim McMahon got hurt.

Normally I’d use the bye week to do an in-depth look at the numbers for Chicago’s offense and defense, but honestly I don’t see the point. Their defense is really good, their offense is really bad, and you don’t need advanced stats to tell you more than that. I’m sure I’ll still do some of that analysis in the offseason but for right now I want to focus on a bigger question: WHY is the defense so much better than their offense?

The answer here is really not that surprising: the Bears are investing more in the defense. The table below shows how much money they have invested in the defense compared to the offense, as measured in 3 ways:

  • 2020 cap dollars. How much current money is being spent.
  • Average yearly salary. This accounts for the fact that contracts don’t have even distribution of cap hits every year. For instance, Robert Quinn has an average salary of $14M per year in his contract, but only has a 2020 cap hit of $6M. This will give a better picture of true spending.
  • % of salary. This looks at how much of your total spending is focused on one side of the ball, based on the average annual salary of players. It’s a good measure of how lopsided your investment is on offense vs. defense.

The table below shows the Bears’ values for offense and defense in each category, as well as the NFL average and where the Bears rank. All data is from Spotrac.

A few thoughts:

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FOCO Week 10 Game Preview: Vikings at Bears, Volume II

| November 16th, 2020


FOCO is giving away the product above (full description available HERE) to the winner of tonight’s contest. It’s going to be a super cold winter across the country and having a hoodie that doubles as a mask will help.

So what is tonight’s contest? Guess the total yards COMBINED for Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney receiving. (Receiving only.) For context, their totals over the last three games are 183, 229 and 130. So a wide range is possible.

As always the rules:

  • Guess must be made in the comments section below.
  • Guess must be made in an isolated comment.
    • Do not make the guess in the body of a longer comment. Do not make the guess in the thread of another discussion. I’m not going searching for your guess.
  • Pay attention! Once someone guesses 169, 169 is dead. If you repeat 169, you’re guess is void.

Good luck! On to the remainder of the game preview!


On Matt Nagy Giving Up Play-Calling

As was broken in the comments section last week, Matt Nagy won’t be calling the plays tonight. It was the only move for him to make and it’s overdue.

Will this move fix the offense? Of course not. But when your offense is performing at a level this low, you have to empty the trunk and bring out the gimp. No move is too dramatic. If changing the play-caller means even two or three extra first downs a game, you do it.

Nagy didn’t want to . I get it. “I love it” he said repeatedly about calling plays. We take this game so seriously sometimes that we forget it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun for EVERYBODY involved. Nagy just relinquished the part of the game he loves most. That ain’t easy.

And as much as I fell this move was belated, it should still be applauded. A mature head coach is benching his stubborn offensive coordinator.


Haiku

Calling plays no more,

Nagy paces the sideline.

His headset, on mute.


Bears on the Hot Seat

Offense. Allen Robinson. There’s no doubting that Robinson is this club’s number one receiver but he is looking for Michael Thomas money. Is it too much to ask for him to win 50/50 balls? Is it too much to ask for him dominate an inferior opponent? The Bears don’t need 4-for-70 from ARob tonight. They need 11-for-140. And they need that production to occur while the game is still being contested, not in garbage time. You can blame the quarterback play all you want but great receivers elevate mediocre quarterbacks. Is Robinson a great receiver?

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ATM: Don’t Let the Defense Off the Hook for Monday Night Debacle

| October 28th, 2020

Last week began with comparisons between the 2020 and 2018 Chicago Bears defenses. This week begins with us finding there is no comparison.

There are two simple truths about Monday night’s beat down:

One. The Bears couldn’t realistically expect to win by scoring just three offensive points.

Two. The Bears couldn’t realistically expect to win by allowing 24 points.

Only one offense this season has scored more than 24 points against the Rams. That came in a weird Week Three game as the then-red hot Buffalo Bills took a huge lead early. Since then, the Rams have allowed 10 or fewer points in three of four — Monday night included. (As you read that, keep in mind that the Bears haven’t held a single opponent to 10 or fewer points yet this season.)

To win on Monday night, the Bears needed the game to be a low-scoring slugfest. Their offense looked only slightly worse than we should’ve expected going against a top-five defense. The Bears defense, however, couldn’t get off the field in the first three quarters allowing drives that either resulted in scores or flipped the field, leaving the offense in an inopportune position. Five of the Bears first six drives began inside their own 20. For the game, they had eight drives start inside their own 20 and five inside the 10. Imagine how fun that is for Nick Foles when the team is asking Rashaad Coward to block Aaron Donald.

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5 Reasons to Be Overly Excited About the 5-1 Start

| October 22nd, 2020

We’ve spent the last two days focused on where the Bears need to improve. Today, I come to celebrate these first six weeks.


The Pass Rush

Defensive success in 2020 is predicated upon rushing the passer with the front four and Football Outsiders ranks the Bears as the second best pass defense in the league, predominantly because of the success they’re finding in the pressure department. Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks have been as expected, and the Bears are getting pass rush contribution from unlikely sources like Mario Edwards Jr, James Vaughters and even Brent Urban.

What’s the most exciting thing about the pass rush? Robert Quinn is still being worked into the lineup and every time he gets on the field he makes an impact. When Quinn reaches 100% health, and sees his snap count tick up, the Bears will be the most feared front in the league.


The New Kyle Fuller

No one is surprised that Fuller is the team’s best cover corner, and one of the best cover corners in the league.

But did anyone see Fuller becoming the reincarnation of Ronnie Lott, delivering a crushing hit almost every week. Did anyone see Fuller making the kind of tackle he made on Teddy Bridgewater Sunday, keeping the Panthers’ quarterback out of the end zone and changing the course of the game?

Fuller, through six weeks, is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. (I’m just not sure Aaron Donald will ever lose that award again.)


The Quarterback Change

Has Nick Foles been great since taking over at quarterback? No.

Has there been a discernible change when it comes to leadership? Absolutely.

Let’s take a look at what Foles has done since taking over.

  • He led the comeback against Atlanta, throwing three touchdown passes.
  • He made the crucial read on the crucial drive – highlighted here by Emmanuel Acho – to beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs. (The kind of read his predecessor never made.)
  • He delivered a stirring press conference following the victory over Carolina that firmly established him as the team’s most vocal leader in years. This is what you expect from the quarterback position.

Foles will always be limited physically. He’s frequently going to take the quick, efficient option over the “shot”. But as the season progresses, and he becomes more comfortable with his receivers, the passing game should improve.

A tweet from Allen Robinson’s agent seems to sum up how important it was for the Bears to make this move WHILE ALSO winning.

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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume III: Defense & Playoff Odds

| October 15th, 2020

I already looked at a variety of statistics for the offense, including QB performance, run game woes, and explosive plays, and explored how Chicago has deployed their skill position players. Today I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference and think about Chicago’s playoff odds.


Missed Tackles

I highlighted missed tackles as a concern in the secondary heading into the season. As a team, the Bears are actually doing quite well with missed tackles right now; they rank 7th in the NFL with 22 through 5 weeks. The table below shows missed tackle stats (from Pro Football Reference) for all players with at least 10 tackle attempts, as well as cumulative totals for each position group.

For context, here’s how the positional averages compare to NFL peers over the last 2 years:

  • The median starting NFL DB misses right around 11% of their tackles, so Chicago’s secondary is about average here so far. That’s actually pretty good for them given the tackling concerns heading into the season with Kyle Fuller, Buster Skrine, and Eddie Jackson. Fuller in particular has struggled so far this year, but everybody else has been ok.

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Practice Notebook: A Different Summer, A Different World (8/31/20)

| August 31st, 2020

Saturday would have been the third preseason game; the final opportunity for those trying to grab the 2-3 spots at the bottom of the roster. Instead Saturday was just another Saturday, and the last time any laymen would have an opportunity to look at the 2020 Chicago Bears before their season opener.


How Different This Summer Has Been

Writing about an NFL team has a seasonal rhythm to it. After the dead period of May and June, July begins a slow, deliberate crescendo to the nervously thrilling first whistle of opening day. In my case, there’s always a boozy, beachy Labor Day weekend that serves as a calm before the season’s storm. Then that Tuesday it’s all day, every day, until the season ends. Not this year, except for the boozy bit.

No fans at training camp has meant no leaked video or secretive email reports. These usually start flooding my email box on the first day of camp and don’t stop. And honestly, they’re pretty helpful. Last year, while many were excited about the prospect of Riley Ridley making a rookie impact, I was getting word early on that the kid was completely overwhelmed by the professional game. Turned out to be the truth.

The media isn’t shown anything of worth anymore and now can’t say much about what they are shown. So we’re left with scraps of reports.

No joint practices or preseason games means there’s nothing to which we can tangibly react, which has predictably taken all the dramatic steam out of the quarterback competition. This summer, for the first time since I started doing this, I was excited for the preseason because it was going to determine the starting quarterback.

Instead the season will just…start. Sunday September 13th will come. We will all wake up, have our breakfast, settle into our routines, and the game will begin. And fans across the league will be surprised by what they see.


Statement from Chicago Bears Players

Like many in the sports world, the Bears took a pause on Thursday to meet and discuss the racial issues facing our country. Their statement:

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