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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).

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Bears at Broncos Preview Volume I: A Call to Arms

| September 12th, 2019

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.”
                            -Shakespeare, Henry V

The moment is here for Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky.

This week.

Sunday.

In Denver.

1-1.

Don’t fuck around. Win.

Opening night was an offensive debacle. The coach was overwhelmed. The quarterback was over-matched. They were not ready to call or perform in a football game, respectively, period.

But this ain’t the 3 AM show in the lounge. This is ain’t the place to work on your material. This is the showroom and the gents are in top hats and tails. The Bears don’t have the luxury of time to figure things out.

They are in one of the best divisions in football.

They have the best defense in the league.

The moment is here.

Sunday.

In Denver.

This offense doesn’t have to be great to keep the 2019 vintage of the Chicago Bears on the league’s top shelf. It has to be serviceable, at least for now. It has to help this team stack wins until the season gets serious in November.

And doing that falls onto the shoulders of two men. Nagy. Trubisky.

Hey Matt, wake up. David Montgomery is a horse. Ride him. The quarterback is still inexperienced. Get him some quick, easy throws. You don’t get credit for the other side of the ball because it wasn’t built by you and it isn’t coached by you. Yours is the offense. Lead them.

Hey Mitch, enough. Enough with the silly throws into holiday weekend traffic. Enough with not calling your own number and getting easy first downs with your legs. Enough with making rookie mistakes because this is your third year in the league, second year in the system, and a few more rookie mistakes are going to lead to your rookie contract being your last contract in the league.

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Bears Need to Answer “Yes” to These 3 Questions

| September 11th, 2019

The Chicago Bears have played one game in 2019, and it was soul-crushing.It was also just one game.

Of course they can still be the team we hoped they would be this year, but there are three vital questions they need to answer. If it’s “yes” to all three, I don’t see why Chicago isn’t in the playoffs come January. If the answers are “no”, we could be in for a long season.


Can they stay healthy?

This is both completely obvious, and something the Bears have little control over, but it’s still one of the most crucial pieces to having success this season.

After Thursday it’s clear there’s no regression on the defensive front, and the only way they don’t continue to be one of the most formidable units in the NFL is if key players suffer significant injuries.

Similarly, even though the offense was an absolute embarrassment against Green Bay, we know there’s still plenty of talent on that side of the ball as well. Keep them healthy, and we’re sure to see it. With one game in the books and 15 to go, all we can do is hope the team stays as healthy as possible the rest of the way.


Can they find reliability and consistency at the kicker position?

The Bears’ search for a kicker defined their preseason, and after exhaustive tryouts they decided Eddy Pineiro was their best option.

Pineiro had an inconsistent training camp, a decent preseason, and against Green Bay went 1/1 with a 38 yard field goal before proceeding to send the kickoff out of bounds on the very next play. So far he’s been the very definition of mixed bag.

Pineiro seems like a good kid with a strong leg, and maybe, just maybe has the potential to be an upgrade from last season. That said, do I feel confident that he can march out there and reliably hit 40+ yard field goals in high pressure situations? Not yet, at least. There’s just not a big enough sample size. Fortunately for Pineiro, he has a whole season to prove himself. For both his and the team’s sake, he better.


Can Trubisky be good enough?

It’s been six days now, so there’s no need to belabor the point. Trubisky played like garbage in Week 1. Yes, Nagy called an awful game. Yes, the offensive line was atrocious. But he was still very bad. It was a frustrating, bewildering performance, and he deserves all the criticism leveled at him, but one game doesn’t give us the final answer here.

Because the question isn’t can Trubisky be great, or will he be better than Mahomes or Watson. Those are separate discussions. With the caliber of defense Chicago has they don’t need an Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. They proved that last year by going 12-4. What they need is a good QB who is comfortable in Matt Nagy’s offense.

There were multiple times last season where Trubisky looked to be exactly that, including his performance against Green Bay in Week 15 where he threw for 235 yards, two touchdowns, and helped the Bears clinch the division. That game counts in his evaluation just as much as Thursday night does.

We’re slowly getting to the point where we can start to say with some certainty what Trubisky’s baseline performance level is, but we’re not quite there yet. In a month to six weeks, if Trubisky is regularly playing more like the guy who showed up on Thursday than the guy in December of last year the Bears have a serious problem, but it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet.

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What Do You Say: Rapid Fire Recap of Bears Loss to Packers in Opener

| September 6th, 2019

This is going to be short because Thursday night’s opener was one of the worst football games I’ve ever watched and it doesn’t deserve an extended recap.


  • The Bears allowed ten points to Aaron Rodgers at Soldier Field. And lost. The Bears sacked Rodgers five times. And lost. The Bears gave up about 250 total yards to the Packers offense. And lost. The Bears have a brilliant defense and that defense is going to win them a lot of games this year. And that’s all I’m going to say about that unit today.
  • Matt Nagy called one of the worst games I’ve seen from a Bears head coach. Whatever that was on third-and-inches. Going for it on fourth-and-ten. Not giving the ball to David Montgomery AT ALL. Sometimes Nagy calls plays like he’s smarter than the guys on the other sideline. He needs to start calling plays that put the gentlemen on his sideline in the best position to be successful. There’s no way to argue he did that last night.
  • Mitch Trubisky was awful. Don’t feed me silver lining shit about a throw here or a throw there. Last night, Trubisky looked like a backup quarterback, called into action mid-game, scrambling to find his helmet. He threw one interception. He should have thrown four. He had zero command of the offense and less awareness of the defense. That’s a lethal combination. (I guess we can postpone that contract extension talk for a bit.)
  • 1st and 40.
  • The Bears better not have too many games like this. The best defense in football won’t stay calm and quiet as their brilliant, heroic efforts are wasted by a limp, futile offensive effort. A mediocre offensive performance beat the Packers by a touchdown. This isn’t new to Chicago. But with this coach and this quarterback, it was supposed to be different. Not only did it not look different Thursday night. It looked worst than it ever has before.

Sunday in Denver becomes becomes pretty close to a must win for the 2019 Chicago Bears. And it is definitively a must perform for the offense.

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ATM: Trubisky Has Earned Optimism

| June 25th, 2019

The Vikings kept bringing the heat, and Mitch Trubisky kept beating it.

Minnesota was playing for everything in Week 17 and all they needed was a stop and a score. They brought the heat and Trubisky dissected them, despite playing without his top three wide receivers.

After a Vikings touchdown made the score 13-10, the Bears young QB took over.

Third and five, the QB runs for 12.

Third-and-six, Javon Wims for 16.

Third-and-six again, Burton for nine.

Third-and-seven, Wims for nine and a first down at the eight.



Two plays later, Cohen runs in a touchdown before Trubisky drills a pass into the chest of linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski for the two-point conversion.

Ball game.

Trubisky’s 2018 season has been dissected over and over and those doing the dissecting have always been able to find enough evidence to come to their pre-reached conclusion. The season was enough of a roller coaster for Trubisky that almost anybody can find evidence to prove any opinion correct. What isn’t debatable, however, is the mastery Trubisky showed at the end of the season, specifically that final regular season Sunday against one of the three best defenses in the league.

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Five Thoughts on 2018’s Final Game From Inside the Building

| January 7th, 2019

Sunday’s loss to the Eagles is going to be discussed for a long time and Cody Parkey will remain the centerpiece of that conversation. But here are five (I think) unique observations from inside the building.

  • The crowd wanted to be the loudest and most intense crowd at Soldier Field in thirty years. But oddly, the defense deflated them constantly. The Eagles converted way too many third downs, and converted them with relative ease, with Foles throwing to wide open receivers under little pressure. Third down is when the lakefront faithful reached fever pitch. Building back up to that level, on a cold windy night, was not easy.
  • There was a distinct change in Mitch Trubisky after completing the 3rd-and-11 late. His confidence seemed shaken. His receivers were not winning on the outside. He wasn’t able to create with his legs because he was clearly nursing an injury. But after he completed that pass, he took control of the game. He was brilliant down the stretch and would have been the story of the game if…well, you know.
  • When the Bears spread the Eagles out, the Eagles had no answer. I wrote last week this was not a game the Bears should plan to win on the ground. That’s a great Eagles front. When Nagy spread them out, Trubisky had open receivers everywhere. Why didn’t the Bears change their approach in the second half? Why didn’t they recognize those mismatches? This was not a banner day for the coaching staff on either side of the ball.

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Looking Ahead to Trubisky’s Final 10 Games (Through Paul Simon’s Eyes)

| October 24th, 2018

This column comes not to defend the quarterback of the Chicago Bears because the quarterback of the Chicago Bears requires no defense. This column comes to defend three elements missing from modern sports discourse: patience, perspective and rational thought.

Mitch Trubisky is an inexperienced signal caller in his second year. Sunday was his 18th start – his sixth in a new, complicated offensive system. Through this period there have been plenty of good and plenty of bad to evaluate in the kid’s performances. And that puts Trubisky in the same category as just about every other young quarterback to come through the ranks of the NFL; a fact seemingly lost on the many social media football fans who believe Sean is the patriarch of the McVay Football Family.

Aaron Rodgers and Steve McNair were non-existent at this point in their NFL careers. Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning were throwing the ball to the other team far more than their own. Drew Brees, the league’s all-time passing leader, was so mediocre his team took a quarterback number one overall after his third season.

But fans are in a panic. Why? Because Patrick Mahomes has been an exception to this general rule. But the pre-professional experience of Mahomes/Trubisky should not be discounted. Mahomes threw 1,349 passes at Texas Tech. Trubisky threw 572 at North Carolina. The difference? Roughly Sam Darnold’s career at USC. As a current NFL GM texted me Monday, “You couldn’t draw up a better developmental path for a young QB than what Mahomes got.” Trubisky got a year of hand it off, hand it off, dodge a sack on third-and-long.

Nobody is arguing Trubisky is going to be better than Mahomes. But, honestly, who gives a shit? It’s not like Mahomes is in Detroit! Barring the two clubs both ending up in the Super Bowl, these two quarterbacks will be on the same field in their careers what, three times if both stick in the league for a decade plus?

(Side note: Notice nobody is yelling about taking Trubisky over Deshaun Watson anymore? That’s because Watson doesn’t look like he’s even going to physically make it to the end of his rookie contract. Sadly, many of us predicted this due to his frame and playing style. The league needs more Watsons, not less. But Watson should be a warning: the first seven games of one’s career do not a career make.)

Trubisky has work to do over the final ten games of 2018 because (a) he needs to get better, (b) the Bears can still achieve things this season and (c) the organization is building massive momentum for next season. And since I’m in a Paul Simon mood these days, I’m using the music legend to frame the discussion.


A Mile Out of Memphis

Accuracy has been Trubisky’s biggest issue through the first six games of the 2018 season and it’s been two routes in particular that have given him issues: the quick, mid-range out and the deep vertical, specifically over the middle.

Here’s the fact, though: Trubisky is not an inaccurate passer. He’s completing 65.9% of his passes, which is a higher rate than Ben Roethlisberger, Pat Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. And Trubisky is not tossing screens or easy dump-offs, even though he probably should be throwing more of both. He’s throwing the ball down the field. Just as he’s 15th in completion percentage, he’s 15th in yards-per-attempt.

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Not Quite Ready For Primetime Players: Bears Fall to 3-3 After Losing to Patriots

| October 22nd, 2018

Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/Boston Herald


Not a particularly difficult game to diagnose. So here comes the diagnosis:

  • Two special teams touchdowns. Nobody is beating the New England Patriots if they allow them 14 points on specials. Cody Parkey had been consistently knocking kickoffs through the end zone until Sunday and his failure to do so again cost the Bears dearly. Punt blocks simply can’t happen.
  • But that punt block and the Mitch Trubisky interceptions shared a theme: want to. The Patriots played with more heat, more fire, more passion. They wanted the fifty-fifty throws. They went after the punt. I wrote last week that the Bears needed to match the fever pitch of their fans in the building. They did not.
  • Trubisky had a truly strange game that will be difficult to evaluate until coach tape becomes available. He was harassed in the pocket and that harassment definitely caused accuracy issues. But without his ability to improvise and run, the Bears would have likely been blown out of this game. His scrambling touchdown run is one of the best plays by a Bears QB in decades.
  • The running game is broken. This has been coming all season long but yesterday, officially, it broke. Matt Nagy is still suffering through growing pains as the team’s play caller and utilizing his rushing attack is the biggest pain. Because Jordan Howard is never going to thrive on 12 carries a game. That’s not who he is as a player. Howard wears down the defense with his physicality. He’s a bruiser. And the Bears are using him like he’s T.J. Duckett.
  • Khalil Mack is hurt. And the team needs to sit him down and get him right. Using him as a decoy is not effective.

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ATM: Sunday’s Offensive Explosion Was Not a Fluke

| October 2nd, 2018

While there almost certainly won’t be another game quite like it, Sunday’s performance by the Bears offense was far from a fluke.

After falling behind Arizona by 14 points, Mitch Trubisky started to look more comfortable. Suddenly the pressure was off and it looked like the Bears had an actual offense. Here’s how the Bears did in that second half:

  • Punt
  • Touchdown
  • Field goal
  • Field goal
  • Punt — after trying to kill the clock.

From halftime in Arizona, the Bears scored on 11 of their next 16 drives. One of the non-scoring drives was a single play before halftime. Another was simply an attempt to run out the clock.

The Arizona game should’ve been a sign that something better was coming. They scored 13 points in the second half of that game, a good half for any team. And against Tampa Bay, it all clicked.

That isn’t a coincidence. Nagy and Trubisky got together and figured out how to turn three into seven, according to what the Bears coach told Peter King in his Football Morning in American column:

“Our lessons this week was let’s just sit together and let’s figure out why we’re struggling on our offense and see if we can find some answers,” Nagy said. “We on offense had by far our best week of practice all week long. More specifically, in the red zone, because that’s where we’ve been struggling.”

Here’s how the Bears opened against Tampa Bay:

  • Touchdown
  • Punt
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Field goal

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