158 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

208 Comments

How Will Bears Handle Massive Special Teams Turnover in 2021?

| May 21st, 2021

A whole lot of attention has been paid to Chicago’s offense and defense this offseason, but there hasn’t been much focus on the unit that will see the largest turnover from 2020: special teams.

Bears special teams were quietly very good last year; they ranked 8th in total DVOA according to Football Outsiders, and were among the 10 best NFL teams in field goals, kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, and punt returns.

This was not a usual result for Chicago, as 2020 was the first year they were ranked in the top 10 for ST DVOA since 2012. To put that in perspective, in 2012 Lovie Smith was still the head coach, Dave Toub the ST coordinator, Devin Hester the return man, Robbie Gould the kicker, and Patrick Mannelly the long snapper. Those were the days.

_________________________

General Changeover

So how did Chicago celebrate their 2020 special teams success? By changing over much of the unit. The specialists – K Cairo Santos, P Pat O’Donnell, and LS Patrick Scales – all return, but many of their core ST players will not. Just look at the table below, which shows all 12 Bears who played at least 30% of the ST snaps last year.

The players highlighted in red are no longer with the Bears, and make up nearly half the list (5 of 12). Two more core special teamers – RB Ryan Nall and OLB James Vaughters – saw additions made to their position this offseason that leave them with an uphill climb to make the roster again. If those two are not able to stick, then 7 of the 12 players on this list will be gone. That leaves a whole lot of special teams snaps that will need to be filled.

The good news is that the Bears have emphasized bringing in players with ST experience this offseason. The table below shows new Bears who were core ST performers at their last stop. An * indicates the ST experience was in college.



You can see fairly logical replacements for the players who are leaving from above.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

45 Comments

Unique Talent on Offensive Side Should Give Foles – the “Point Guard” – an Edge

| August 26th, 2020


Flip called Nick Foles a point guard. Nagy has praised #BDN’s ability to process information. It’s these two attributes that should make him the frontrunner to start against the Detroit Lions in a few weeks.

The reasons why are pretty simple.

(1) The Bears have a pretty standard 1-2 punch at wide receiver with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. But outside of that combination they’re going to be looking at a unique collection of players to move the football through the air. Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson are hybrid backs that present match-up problems. Jimmy Graham is a “tight end” who doesn’t block but has shown a propensity to be uncoverable down in the red zone. These are guys who need the football in their hands quickly, and in space. A second or two of indecision from the quarterback could cost the Bears a big play.

(2) This team’s offensive line is not as bad as many suggest but they’re not one of the league’s best units, especially on the outside. Both Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are good players but they’re unlikely to hold the edge for 4-5 seconds. It will be imperative for the signal caller of this offense to read the defense QUICKLY and get the ball out of his hands. This has been one of the more intense weaknesses in Mitch Trubisky’s game.

(3) Who is more accurate with the deep ball? It’s not very close. From Data a while back:

Both have a very low completion percentage, but Foles is around league average in yards/attempt, while Trubisky is awful there. This suggests that Foles takes deeper “deep” shots, and thus gets a higher yards/completion mark to make up for his low completion percentage.

Foles has higher than normal rates of both touchdowns and interceptions, which leaves him around the league average in TD:INT ratio on deep shots. I don’t put too much stock in these numbers for Foles due to a small sample size; he only has 89 deep passes compared to over 200 for every other QB in the table, so we’re talking a total of 8 TD and 6 INT here. Still, the data at least suggests to me that Foles is aggressive in his deep passes, giving his guys a chance to make a play but also leaving himself prone to defenders making a play on the ball.

And the Bears now have, in Teddy Ginn and rookie Darnell Mooney, two players capable of taking the top off every defense in the league.


This space will not be used only to argue for Foles starting over Trubisky. But unfortunately it’s incredible difficult to make the argument for the other side.

Tagged: , , , ,

120 Comments

How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Special Teams

| June 16th, 2020

The all-important third phase has mixed reviews for the Bears.

There is no question the Bears are the worst in the division when it comes to kickers, but they’re among the best when it comes to return men and punters, the latter not having much competition.

With an offense still expected to struggle, the Bears will desperately need this third phase to be productive.


Kicker

1. Detroit

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Chicago

While he’s 35 and coming off of a bit of an off year, Matt Prater’s ability to make kicks from basically anywhere puts him atop this list. Mason Crosby is coming off of a career year, but entered the season fighting for his job. His made field goal percentage seems likely to dip back down into the low-80s Dan Bailey also had to earn his job in camp, but he did so and missed just two kicks. He was three-for-three on 50-plus yarders.

The Bears still need to keep an eye out for a replacement for Eddy Pineiro, who not only had the worst field goal percentage in the division last year, but had maybe the easiest job with just nine field goals beyond 40 yards. He missed four of them.


Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

171 Comments

Combine Focus: A Deeper Dive into the Bears Need for Speed

| February 27th, 2020

The NFL gathers this week in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine (or Underwear Olympics, as Jeff prefers to call them), when fans throw out years of game film and focus instead on numbers from a few tests done without pads on watch eagerly to see how well their favorite players perform in a number of drills testing athleticism.

No drill is more popular than the 40 yard dash, the purest measure of straight line speed that we have. While results of these few seconds often get over-weighted, speed is lethal in the NFL, and one of the (many) problems with Chicago’s offense is that they don’t have enough of it among their skill position players – RBs, TEs, and WRs. To better illustrate that, let’s dig into the numbers.


What Counts as Fast?

To start with, let’s figure out what average speed looks like in the NFL.

Defining this is more difficult than you might imagine, because getting an average first requires defining a sample.

I was able to find two different studies that did this, with different samples and thus different results.

  • The first is MockDraftable, which provides the average for all Combine times at every position since 1999. However, not all players at the Combine end up playing in the NFL, and some not at the Combine do.
  • The 2nd study by Topher Doll looked at all players who appeared in at least 5 NFL games since 2000 and found, unsurprisingly, faster averages nearly across the board than just plain Combine averages.

The table below shows the average 40 time for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends for each study.

As we can see, those are quite a bit different. Since the Doll study is based on players who actually made it to the NFL, I think that’s probably a better reference value to use as average speed for a position.


Chicago’s Speed

Now let’s look at the 40 times for every player who recorded a carry or target for Chicago in 2019.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

218 Comments

Least Explosive Team in the NFL, or the Story of the 2019 Chicago Bears

| February 4th, 2020

I’ve been working my way through the Bears’ 2019 performance to see what changed from 2018 that caused them to slip from 12-4 to 8-8. Today, I want to look at explosive plays, which I found last season have a strong correlation to overall offensive performance.

There are a variety of definitions for explosive plays depending on who you ask, so I want to clarify I’m using parameters laid out by ESPN NFL Matchup, which counts any run that gains 15+ yards or pass that gains 20+ yards as explosive. Let’s start with a preliminary look at how the Bears did in 2019 relative to the rest of the NFL. All data is from Pro Football Reference, with explosive play information coming from the Game Play Finder. Pass percentages were calculated including sacks and pass attempts as pass plays.



That’s ugly.

If you want to compare to 2018, the Bears slipped across the board. They had 71 explosive plays in 2018, with explosive rates of 7% overall, 5.3% on runs, and 8.4% on passes. All of those numbers in 2018 were slightly below average, ranging from 18th to 21st in the league, while they are all bottom 2 in 2019.

So what happened to cause such a slump? Like I’ve done when evaluating both the running and passing games, I want to break down what it looks like for individual Bears players and/or position groups from season to season. That information is shown in the table below, with all cells formatted by 2018 / 2019 data. (I’ll note the pass rates are a bit higher for pass catchers than QBs because they are only out of targets and exclude sacks and throwaways.)


Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

302 Comments

What Changed in the Rush Game: Volume I

| January 15th, 2020

Chicago’s rushing attack was woeful in 2019, finishing 27th in the NFL in rushing yards (91 yards/game), 29th in yards per attempt (3.7 yards/carry), and 26th in success rate on rushing attempts (44%). All three marks showed a decrease from 2018, when they were 11th (121 yards/game), 27th (4.1 yards/carry), and 10th (48%) in those three metrics.

This happened despite having fairly decent consistency in personnel. The starting offensive line was the same (when healthy), and the Bears saw only three primary rushers in both seasons. Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky were 2 of the 3, with the main rusher changing from Jordan Howard in 2018 to David Montgomery in 2019.

Today I want to look at the running game from a variety of angles to try and figure out what changed to account for the dip in production.


Player vs. Player Comparison

Let’s start out by comparing each player from season-to-season. First, I’ll look at the players who accounted for the majority of rushing attempts each year: Jordan Howard and David Montgomery. Their usage and production was remarkably similar in the two seasons, as you can see in the table below.

Similar playing time, similar carries, similar efficiency. The two were basically indistinguishable from each other, at least on the surface. That really makes you question whether it was worth getting rid of Howard and trading up for Montgomery in the 3rd round last year. At least for 2019, the answer is a resounding no.

This post is focused on rushing, but look at those bottom two rows. One of the reasons to swap Howard out for Montgomery was supposed to be that Montgomery can feature more heavily in the passing game, and thus make the offense less predictable and harder to defend. That didn’t happen in 2019. One of Chicago’s big problems in 2018 was that they were too predictable based on personnel (Tarik Cohen = pass, Jordan Howard = run, Anthony Miller = pass, etc.). In 2019, the offense ran the ball 50% of the time when Montgomery was on the field and only 24% of the time when he wasn’t. For Cohen, those numbers were 25% and 52%. That’s too big of a swing in tendencies based on personnel.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , ,

199 Comments

Bears at the Bye: Offense

| October 14th, 2019

With five games under the belt, the Bears are roughly 1/3 of the way through the season. Let’s check in on how they’re doing, starting with the offense.


Explosive Plays

I wrote this offseason about the importance of explosive plays (passes of 20+ yards or runs of 15+ yards) to an offense’s overall success, finding there is a very strong correlation between explosive plays and points scored. Chicago’s offense produced explosive plays at a slightly below-average rate in 2018, and I believed they were poised to improve dramatically in that category this year, and thus improve overall as an offense.

So far, the exact opposite has happened, as you can see in the table below.

The Bears have turned into one of the least explosive offenses in the NFL. They currently have 11 explosive passes and 2 explosive runs, and their current explosive rates would have ranked 31st and 32nd of 32 NFL teams in 2018 (I didn’t have time to compile the numbers for everybody in 2019 so far).

The run game is particularly egregious, as the lowest mark in the NFL last year was 3.1%. 1.7% is not even in the same ballpark. The Bears are 20th in average yards per carry before contact and 29th in yards/carry after contact, but I’m inclined to blame the offensive line more than the runners. Most of the time first contact seems to come not from one player in space, which might give the runner a chance to break a tackle and keep going, but with multiple front 7 players hitting the RB at the same time. It’s worth noting that the Bears’ running backs haven’t been great either though; Player Profiler ranks David Montgomery 36th among running backs in juke rate (evaded/broken tackles per carry), while Tarik Cohen is 55th. In Montgomery’s defense, he is 9th in the NFL in broken tackles per carry, according to Pro Football Reference.

I wrote this offseason that getting rid of Jordan Howard would help Chicago’s run game be more explosive, but so far they’re producing explosive plays on the ground at less than half the rate they did last year. Part of the problem is that Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky – who combined for 14 explosive runs on 167 carries last year, have no explosive runs so far this year, but David Montgomery only has 1 in his 69 attempts, and that’s far worse than Howard’s rate of 1 every 25 carries last year (which was already one of the worst marks in the NFL).

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

55 Comments

In Appreciation of Tarik Cohen

| June 17th, 2019

Tarik Cohen followed up a solid rookie campaign with a really good sophomore season in 2018. Despite playing less than half of the available offensive snaps and getting fewer than 100 carries and 200 total touches, he finished with 1,169 yards from scrimmage, scored 8 touchdowns, and was one of the most explosive players in the NFL. For good measure, he was also a 1st team All Pro as a punt returner after leading the NFL in punt return yards and finishing 5th in yards per return.

Despite all of this, I think Cohen’s limited snaps and touches keep people from appreciating just how valuable he is to the offense. Cohen’s diminutive stature keeps him from being a conventional lead running back, but he still has a substantial impact on offensive production.

And there are actual numbers to back it up. The graph below shows the relationship between the total number of touches (carries or pass targets) that Cohen gets and how many points the offense scores. In order to account for different numbers of snaps in games, I looked at Cohen touches out of total snaps for that game. So if he got 10 carries + targets and the offense played 20 snaps, 50% of the plays went to Cohen.



There’s a pretty clear trend where the offense scores more points when more plays run through Cohen. We see that anecdotally as well, as the Bears scored 27 or more offensive points all 5 times Cohen was involved in 14+ plays in a game, and only 1 time in the other 12 games (including playoffs). An R2 value of 0.65 gives a strong number to support this correlation (a value of 0 would mean there is no relationship, while 1 would mean the relationship is perfectly linear).

Read More …

Tagged:

68 Comments

Mathematical Proof the Bears Need More Explosive Plays on Offense

| March 4th, 2019

I recently ran across this Tweet from NFL Matchup on ESPN – a terrific account you should definitely follow on Twitter if you want to be a better educated football fan. It got me thinking about Chicago’s offense and explosive plays.

Seeing as I’ve already written about Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles throwing the ball deep and Jordan Howard’s lack of explosive runs, I figured the Bears probably ranked towards the low end in this area. Using Pro Football Reference’s fantastic Game Play Finder, I was able to track these stats for every team in 2018 (full data here, slight discrepancies for the 17 teams shown in Tweet above, but all were within 1 or 2 plays).

As you can see in the table below, the Bears did indeed not do very well when it came to explosive plays.

We can see here that the Bears were slightly below average in every category, meaning there is need for improvement in explosive plays across the board. I’ll also note that percentages are calculated simply: (explosive plays/total plays)100; I figured this might be a useful metric since there is a some difference in how many plays teams run, especially when you split it up into run and pass plays.


Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,