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The Roquan Smith Game: Rapid Fire Reaction to Bears 41, Jags 17

| December 28th, 2020


Playoff scenario is clear. If the Bears win Sunday, they are in. If the Rams beat the Cardinals, the Bears are in. Simple as that. Somehow the team that many of us left for dead after an absurd collapse against the Detroit Lions is alive and well and living in January.

Some thoughts on Bears 41, Jaguars 17.

  • Yes, Trubisky is going to have several moments in almost every game that leave the world scratching their collective heads. But Mitch’s stat line for the season is now 1,803 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs, 95.3 rating. His 2018 stat line was 3,223 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs, 95.4 rating. This is what he is as a player and the Bears can win with that.
    • Until yesterday, I had never seen a quarterback attempt a Hail Mary from the 10 yard line. But that’s exactly what Trubisky did. How do you coach this out of a player? Is it even possible?
    • But it’s difficult not to be impressed with his bounce back drive coming out of the half. He had one incomplete pass, was pinpoint accurate and used his legs to get six. His short memory is becoming a real asset.
    • So is his hard count.
  • Was Roquan Smith motivated by his Pro Bowl snub? After a slow start from the defense, Roquan delivered his most dominant performance as a Bear. It will never make any sense that this franchise – which hasn’t had a franchise QB in sixty years – consistently churns out Hall of Fame inside linebackers. Oh and hey, I have a crazy idea! Maybe we should wait to choose who makes the Pro Bowl until after the season is actually over? If voting started today, Smith walks onto the Pro Bowl roster.

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  • The Bears’ identity on offense is quickly becoming clear: they are tough to tackle. David Montgomery. Cole Kmet. Even Darnell Mooney. These guys almost never go down on first contact. This has become a physical group.

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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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Positivity at the Bye: In Praise of Roquan Smith

| November 19th, 2020


Another Great Inside Linebacker.

It should come as no surprise that in this painfully-typical Bears season, a season defined by terrific defensive play and non-professional offensive output, it has been a middle linebacker, the franchise’s most-storied position, that has proven to be the revelation. And Roquan Smith has been nothing short of that in 2020.

There’s a bit of Brian Urlacher in Roquan. His ability to play in space, cover sideline-to-sideline, and track the sport’s best backs in the screen game have been hallmarks of his campaign. This is not just about speed, which Roquan has in abundance. It is about awareness. It is about football intelligence. And Smith displays both weekly.

There’s also a bit of Lance Briggs in 58. Roquan sheds blockers and attacks the line of scrimmage in the run game. (This is something Urlacher struggled with once the Bears changed to Lovie Smith’s system took the big bodies out from in front of him.) If there’s a criticism to be made of his season, it’s that Roquan has several times blown up runs behind the line of scrimmage and failed to finish the play. He finishes those 2-3 plays and his statistics land him as a no-brainer All-Pro in 2020. As it is, he should still be in the discussion for that prize. Per Kevin Fishbain’s Twitter feed from Monday night: The stop behind the line on Dalvin Cook on the screen was TFL No. 13 for Roquan Smith this season, one behind T.J. Watt and Vince Williams for the NFL lead.”

When reaching out to a scout friend who had to prepare for the Bears this season, I asked him what he saw when looking at Smith on tape. His answer: “He might be the most talented, versatile inside backer in the league right now. And he’s not reached his potential yet.”


Thayer Breaks Him Down.


There are many reasons to be dejected about the Chicago Bears. But even as higher-priced veterans leave this defense in the years to come, there is still a young core that can anchor this unit and keep them near the top of the league. Eddie Jackson. Jaylon Johnson. Eddie Goldman. But no player on this defense will be more important moving forward that Roquan Smith.

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Week 8 Game Preview: Oh When the Saints, Come Marching In!

| October 29th, 2020


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…defense.


Definitive Week for Matt Nagy, Caller of Plays

A friend of mine works for the New Orleans Saints in their scouting department. When discussing this week’s game, and the prospect of Matt Nagy relinquishing the role of play caller, he noted, “If they can’t move the ball vs our secondary next week…then it’s really time.”

Last week, Mike Davis had 7 carries for 12 yards against the Saints front. Let me just repeat that. Mike Davis, the starting running back for the Carolina Panthers, had 7 carries. For 12 yards. (New Orleans is the fourth-ranked rush defense in the league.) One would think that such a porous running game would have made it impossible for Teddy Bridgewater to execute the passing attack. But the opposite was true. Bridgewater – who pitched to a quarterback rating of about 50 against the Bears – was nearly perfect against the Saints. 23-28. 254 yards. 2 touchdowns. QB rating of 128.3.

You don’t need a running game to move the ball and score points on these Saints. And that’s good. Because the Bears don’t have one. If Nagy can’t draw up production from the passing game this week, it would be very difficult to see him calling the plays against the Tennessee Titans next week.


Nine Favorite Films of 1979, the Year of Drew’s Birth

(9) Monty Python’s Life of Brian

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(8) The Jerk

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(7) …And Justice For All

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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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ATM: 2019’s Five Most Indispensable Bears

| August 26th, 2019

The Bears roster is interesting because it’s incredibly deep at positions like running back, wide receiver and defensive line, but have almost no depth at cornerback, tight end and offensive tackle. Perhaps a trade could be in the works, but it’s much more likely that what we see is what we get. So, here are five players the Bears can’t be without:

Roquan Smith

I thought about using Danny Trevathan here because Trevathan makes the defensive calls — an underrated aspect of any defense — but I have little doubt that Smith could take that over. Smith is so good, I think he’s going to be what Ryan Pace considers a multiplier (players who make those around them better) very soon.

I’ve highlighted issues with depth before so I don’t need to go into it too much. I will say that it was nice to see Joel Iyiegbuniwe making plays last week.


Kyle Fuller

The Bears survived much of two games without Fuller’s counterpart Prince Amukamara last year but Fuller is a different story.

Both of the team’s starting cornerbacks are good, but there were times when Prince looked a step slow and committed some silly penalties down the field. Still, Kevin Toliver II was a noticeable downgrade from him last year, so it would be even more significant should they lose their best corner.

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ATM: If Leonard Can’t, Roquan Can.

| August 21st, 2019

Much has been written about the Bears needing one Georgia product — Leonard Floyd — to break out and complement Khalil Mack in the pass rush department. But if that doesn’t happen, perhaps Roquan Smith can ease the pain. While nothing of actual substance can be gained by watching preseason games, seeing Roquan burst through the line faster than anybody could react for a sack two weeks ago was a nice reminder of what the second-year linebacker is capable of when he’s sent after the quarterback.

Floyd’s lack of pass rush has been disappointing. But his ability to drop back in coverage and move in space is extremely rare for players at his position. His exceptional coverage skills will allow new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to do what he does best: design creative blitz packages. And Roquan has already proven to be exceptional at finding his way to the quarterback. Smith’s very first NFL play was a sack and he followed with four more, many looking similar to his sack in the preseason against Carolina.

Pagano never had a plethora of great pass rushers in Indianapolis, so he had to get creative. One year Jerrell Freeman had a career-high 5.5 sacks. The next year it was D’Qwell Jackson with four. Smith is a lot better than both of them and had five last year despite a coordinator who has been more conservative upfront than Pagano.

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Friday Thought Dump: Bears Approach in Minneapolis, Year-End Awards & More

| December 28th, 2018

This is such a weird week. Traffic is down because nobody is around. The game will have little-to-no juice unless the Niners make a game of it in Los Angeles. And we’re on the precipice of getting to big boy football. January football. Playoff football. So this is a Friday thought dump.

  • I’ve gone back and forth on how Nagy should handle Sunday a million times but I’ve settled on The Olin Kreutz Approach. The Bears legend believes (a) the Niners are not beating the Rams under any circumstances and (b) subsequently the Bears should sit Mack, Hicks, Cohen and Robinson while playing everybody else for the first half. This takes the game seriously while protecting the club’s most important assets going into the postseason.
  • A logical question: what about the quarterback? I’d argue Trubisky would benefit from facing that defense on the road, even if it’s only for two quarters. If the Bears are going to be playing in February they will more than likely need to win a tough game (or two) on the road. Experiences like Sunday could benefit the young QB.
  • “But Jeff, why not wait and see how the Rams/Niners game plays out?” Again, fair question. And I don’t have an answer. The value of the two-seed can not be overstated. The two-seed means win one game at Soldier Field, where the Bears have been dominant, and you’re in the NFC title game.

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Short-Handed Bears Beat Lions, Cement Lead Atop NFC North

| November 23rd, 2018

Not the most compelling game ever played but the kind of result good teams get. The Bears played three division games in twelve days and went 3-0, outscoring the Lions (twice) and Vikings 82-58.

This three-game stretch solidified them as one of the better teams in the NFC and it would now be a terrible disappointment if there was not a football game at Soldier Field in January. 

Rapid fire…


  • Chase Daniel did everything a team can ask from their backup quarterback. He moved the offense. He avoided crippling errors. Was he good? Not really. Even the touchdowns/big plays were not well-thrown balls. But he got the job done. In the modern NFL, teams need a backup QB that can hold down the fort and win some games for 2-3 weeks every season. With Daniel, the Bears have that.
  • 3rd and 1. Early second quarter. Stafford rolled to his left and had about six minutes to find an open receiver to move the chains. Why? Khalil Mack was floating in coverage. (And “floating” is the accurate word.) This is what Fangio’s defense is. Understood. But without a healthy Aaron Lynch, and with Leonard Floyd struggling to get to the quarterback, not allowing the game’s best edge rusher to rush from the edge feels negligent.
  • As Andrew pointed out on Twitter, the Bears were awful on 2nd and long all game, giving up chunk plays in the air and on the ground. This will be a focal point before they head to the Meadowlands.
  • Eddie Jackson has to be in the conversation now for DPOY now. Right now the award is Aaron Donald’s to lose, mostly because of Mack’s earlier injuries, but no defender has made more big plays in 2018 than Jackson.
  • Every week Roquan Smith makes another play. And every week it becomes more apparent Smith is going to be in the middle of the Bears defense for a long, long time.
  • The running game, or lack thereof, will be a major talking point over the next ten days. But look no further than Matt Nagy’s two-point conversion call to understand why that element is struggling. With an inaccurate backup QB, Nagy called a pass. And not just a pass. A quick, bubble screen that required timing and pinpoint ball placement. Despite what the head coach tells reporters, the answer is simple. The Bears don’t run the ball because the Bears don’t want to run the ball.
  • Taquan Mizzell is more valuable to Nagy than Jordan Howard.

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