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How Inconsistent was Chicago’s 2017 Ground Game?

| July 16th, 2018

On the surface, the Bears’ running game didn’t change much from 2016 to 2017.

  • In 2016 they ran for 1,735 yards (17th in the NFL) and averaged 4.6 yards per carry (6th).
  • In 2017 that shifted to 1,788 yards (16th) and 4.2 yards per carry (11th).

The total yards slightly increased, the yards per carry slightly decreased, but the overall run game stayed average to above average.

But sometimes total numbers don’t tell the whole story, and some fans felt like Chicago’s rushing attack took a step back in 2017 due to inconsistency. For every dominant game (222 yards and 2 TD against Pittsburgh, 231 yards and a TD against Baltimore) there was an absolute clunker (6 yards against Philadelphia, 20 yards against Tampa Bay). DBB reader Butch thought that this perceived inconsistency was particularly frustrating, and he asked me to look into it.

Quantifying inconsistency is actually fairly straightforward using standard deviation, which is a measure of how much variability exists in a set of numbers. Basically, the higher a standard deviation is, the more inconsistent the numbers in that sample are. To see where the Bears ranked, I looked at their rushing yardage and yards per carry for each game in 2017 and found the standard deviation for both sets; I also did the same thing for the other 31 teams in order to give some context to the Bears’ results.

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Who Could Be The 2018 Breakout Bears: Offense

| June 27th, 2018

The revamped and retooled Chicago Bears offense certainly has a fair amount of buzz surrounding it, but some of the “breakout” players just may be guys who were already on the roster. Yes, the team spent a lot of money and some prime draft assets on the offensive side of the ball and those players are largely expected to carry the load. But an entire offense can’t be built in one off-season. They’ll need some of last year’s players to step up. There certainly aren’t a lot of options to pick from, but the players and coaches the Bears added could help some of the returning talent take the next step.


Charles Leno Jr.

The hiring of Harry Hiestand created a lot of hype around a few different players, but the young left tackle may benefit more than anyone. Leno has already become a good starting tackle, steadily improving each year, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue and even be accelerated under the tutelage of one of the sport’s best OL minds.

While he was a late round pick, Leno is a very talented player and less than a year older then Cody Whitehair. The superior coaching he is going to get from here on really could make him one of the ten best left tackles in the league. If that happens, you can expect the Bears to have one of the best offensive lines in the league.


Kevin White

I know, I know, you’re sick of Kevin White. But what if Ryan Pace was right when he made White the seventh overall pick in 2015?

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How Might the Bears Dynamic Running Back Duo Be Deployed in 2018?

| June 26th, 2018

The Bears have two very good and very different running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard is a bigger, more physical runner, while Cohen is a smaller scatback. Both were effective in different ways last year, and today I want to dig a little bit deeper into:

  • How they were used differently.
  • Where they were most effective.
  • How they might best be used on the ground in Chicago’s new offense.

I’ll start by looking at where each player runs, with a special shout out to DBB reader EnderWiggin for this idea. Using the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder, I tracked how often both Howard and Cohen ran between the tackles vs. outside last year, and how effective they were doing so.

I also compared this to the NFL average in 2017 and the Kansas City average running Andy Reid’s offense (which Matt Nagy will presumably be doing in Chicago) from 2013-17. Results are shown in the table below (ypc = yards per carry).

A few thoughts here:

  • Tarik Cohen ran outside a whole bunch, and was very ineffective running between the tackles when asked to do so. That’s a potential problem going forward, and it will be interesting to see if it changes in 2018 and beyond. Cohen has noted he got most of his yards in college on inside zone runs.

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The Positional Quick 3: Running Backs

| June 8th, 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.


Running Backs

  • Folks comparing Tarik Cohen to Tyreek Hill need to calm down. They are not similar physically, as Hill’s size is what allows him to line-up outside as a de facto wide receiver. That’s not to say Tarik won’t be productive in the Nagy/Helfrich offense. He will. But I see most of that production coming from either (a) the backfield or (b) creative alignments by the coaching staff. Tarik is a toy the coaches will love playing with but I don’t see him as being one of the top two or three producers in this offense.
  • Jordan Howard is the best player on the Chicago Bears. Offense. Defense. Specials. Howard is their best player and he might be the best hand-off-and-hit-the-line running back in the game. While Nagy is coming from an Andy Reid program that seemed to abandon the run at the first sign of adversity, he and Helfrich need to recognize and embrace this basic fact. With the new weapons assembled on the offense, the coaches should put Howard in position to win MVP or offensive POY.
  • Prediction: Benny Cunningham, if he holds on to make this roster, will double his 20 catches from 2017 to 40 in 2018.

Monday: Wide Receivers

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s draft profile, day 3

| April 17th, 2018

The last in a three-part series, breaking down Ryan Pace’s approach to the NFL Draft when it comes to prospects. Today, day three, rounds four through seven.


Draft History

2015: RB Jeremy Langford (R4), S Adrian Amos (R5), T Tayo Fabuluje (R6)

2016: LB Nick Kwiatkoski (R4), S Deon Bush (R4), CB Deiondre’ Hall (R4), RB Jordan Howard (R5), S DeAndre Houston-Carson (R6), WR Daniel Braverman (R7)

2017: S Eddie Jackson (R4), RB Tarik Cohen (R4), OL Jordan Morgan (R5)


Trend 1

Prioritize Rounds 4-5

Under Ryan Pace, the Bears are averaging two round 4 picks per year and are currently slated to have two in 2018. They will potentially have more if Pace trades down in round 2 again, as is he wont.

The Bears also acquired a fifth round pick in the Brandon Marshall deal. These are the rounds where he likes to operate, and he has done quite well, landing five solid contributors in three years: Adrian Amos, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jordan Howard, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen.

On the flip side, Pace doesn’t seem to care much about round 6 or 7, where he has made only three picks total through three years. He’s made several trades sending these picks out.

  • 6th for Khari Lee
  • Throw-ins for a trade on day two that netted extra 4ths
  • 6th to move up for Kwiatkoski
  • Throw-in 7th to get 5th back when trading Brandon Marshall to Jets
  • Conditional 2018 7th for Inman that they kept in 2018.

Don’t be surprised to see one of those traded away, perhaps to help move up for a coveted player in round 4.

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Data Entry: What Passing Targets do the Bears Need?

| February 13th, 2018

There has been and will continue to be a great deal of talk about how the Bears need to add at least one stud wide receiver to their roster this off-season. Everybody wants a Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, with good reason, and the Bears are in desperate need of an upgrade in talent at the position after a season in which they finished last in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdowns, 25th in yards per attempt, and 26th in passer rating.

The Bears are going to add more talent at WR. But what exactly do they need? Should they look for one great player, two good players, or three plus capable players?

In an attempt to answer this question, I looked at how top passing offenses split their production among targets in recent years. After all, that’s the ultimate goal for the Bears, right? They want to become one of the top passing offenses in the NFL.

Accordingly, I looked at top 10 passing teams according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA for each of 2015, 2016, and 2017 and tracked how many receiving yards each of their top 5 leaders in that category had for the season. While this DVOA stat is not a perfect metric, it is an attempt to measure the efficiency of a passing attack instead of volume, which you would get from just looking at passing yards. The full list can be seen here.


No Clear Pattern

The first thing that jumps out is that there is no single defined way to have a top 10 passing offense. Some teams did it with one clear stud and a bunch of secondary weapons. Others had two dominant targets. Some had no clear dominant target at all.

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Data Responds: Bears at Vikings

| December 31st, 2017

Sorry for the break the last few weeks. I haven’t been able to watch games live due to various holiday scheduling hijinks. Darn that real life for getting in the way!

Before we get into today’s game specifically, reports are that John Fox will be fired today. I won’t miss you as Chicago’s head coach.

In general, this game looked very much like a disinterested team playing out the string on the road for a soon-to-be-fired coaching staff against a hungry opponent playing to lock up a first round bye.

Offense

  • The Bears got the ball to start and opened with a heavy set Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for no gain. On their 2nd drive, they followed that up with a Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for -4 yards. Shockingly, both drives ended in 3 and outs. Oh how I am not going to miss that.
  • On Chicago’s 3rd drive, they threw the ball on 1st down! You’ll be surprised to find out that not being incredibly predictable actually worked. Of course, the Bears followed that up with a FB dive into a 9 man box on 3rd and 1 (why is Michael Burton still a thing?), which lost yardage and forced a punt. Before they could get the punt off, the Bears took a delay of game penalty, because of course.
  • Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky had a bad rookie moment that resulted in a safety. Under pressure, he kept backing up until he was in the end zone, which was the mistake. He then threw the ball away to pick up an intentional grounding penalty, which is a safety in the end zone. My complaint is not with the grounding, but with the fact that he backed up into the end zone first. He could have taken the sack at the 3 yard line, and needs to know the field position situation there.
  • Trubisky also had a terrible throw in the fourth quarter where he missed a wide-open Dontrelle Inman because his feet were not properly set. Despite a clean pocket, he did something weird where he torqued his upper body, which caused him to put the ball far too wide and out of bounds. Those mechanical issues, and the corresponding accuracy concerns, have been a repeated problem this offseason, and are the #1 thing Trubisky needs to work on this offseason.

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Data Responds: Bears at Bengals

| December 10th, 2017

Is this real life?

The Bears dominated on both sides of the ball, scored 30 points for the first time in over two years, and generally rolled over the dormant Cincinnati Bengals.

I know Cincinnati is bad and banged up, but so are the Bears, and this was a lot of fun. More importantly, this as led largely by young players for the Bears, which bodes well for the future. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Offense

  • The Bears came out and threw it on their first 2 plays! The first resulted in an awful Jordan Howard drop (drink), while the second was a beautiful play action rollout to Josh Bellamy for a 1st down. This unsurprisingly caught the Bengals’ defense off guard, and they backed off the defense into standard 7 man boxes instead of loading 8-9 up. As a result, the Bears ran it the next two plays for about 40 yards and a touchdown. That marked the first time this season that the offense scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game.
  • Before I get too down on Howard, how about giving it up for a great game from Chicago’s stud running back? He had his 12th 100 yard rushing game in 26 career starts and passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 2nd year in a row, making him the first running back in Chicago history to start his career that way. That’s pretty remarkable when you think of the great running backs who have played in Chicago.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. 49ers

| December 3rd, 2017

The Bears led for almost the entire game, but pretty much everybody watching the game knew what was coming when San Francisco got the ball back down 14-12 with just over 4 minutes to go. The 49ers methodically marched down the field and longtime Chicago kicker Robbie Gould drilled his 5th field goal of the day to send Chicago to their 5th straight loss.

Offense

  • Chicago’s offense came out on the first possession and ran the ball twice in a row out of heavy sets. Anybody who’s watched Chicago this year can already guess how that ended: with Chicago in 3rd and long. That led to a sack of QB Mitchell Trubisky for a nice quick three and out.
  • Speaking of running on first down, the Bears did it 11 times in 14 chances today. Only one of those runs went for more than 3 yards; most went for 0 or 1.
  • It looks like any confidence rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky earned from the coaching staff completely evaporated after a bad game last week. They finally opened things up two weeks ago, and the offense shockingly had their best game of the year. Now they’ve had back to back terrible weeks after reverting to horribly predictable play calling.

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Bears Must Move On From John Fox. Today.

| November 27th, 2017

Five years ago the Chicago Bears fired a head coach because they deemed 10 wins in 16 games that season were not enough. Through 30 games of his Bears tenure, John Fox has 12 wins.

On October 16th 2016 this space advocated for the firing of Fox for many valid reasons. But primary among them was the Bears seemed ready to move into a new era – with a new, young quarterback – and Fox was clearly not the man to usher the organization through that era. It wasn’t so much an indictment of Fox’s job performance as a recognition that he’d done his part to bring the Bears back to respectability post-Argonaut and the time had now come to transition from respectable to competitive.

That was 2016. This is 2017. And now it’s ENTIRELY about job performance. Because the Bears are a terrible football team.

Is it worth going through the litany of things wrong with John Fox’s approach to game day football? No. We’ve been talking about the lack of preparedness and penalties and awful mismanagement every day over the three years he’s run the show in Chicago. But the deal breaker for the organization has to be that for the first time Fox has young offensive talent to work with and develop and he, as well as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, are squandering that opportunity on a weekly basis.

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