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Thursday Lynx Package, Around the League [5/17/22]

| May 19th, 2022


Sometimes it’s good, especially this time of year, to take a look around the league and see what’s happening with the other franchises. And instead of weighing in on teams I have spent almost no time thinking about, I’ll provide links to those who cover them and try to stay away from paywalls.

  • Rashawn Slater, already one of the best tackles in the sport, spent some of his honeymoon trying to get better. What was he doing? “…pass sets in ankle-deep ocean water with a forest of tropical trees nearby.”
  • While the Bears understand year two of Justin Fields will come with continued growing pains, Zach Wilson is not being afforded the same space in New Jersey. “Joe Douglas has beefed up Wilson’s offensive line through free agency and the draft. He has gotten him an assortment of weapons in the backfield and split out wide, too. If Wilson falls short, it won’t be because of his receivers not having the talent to get open or his running backs not being able to hit a hole.”
  • Daniel Jones received support from Giants ownership, but the NY Post is already projecting his replacement in 2023.
  • Mitch Trubisky signed with the Steelers because it was – as he saw it – his best opportunity to start in 2022. But the writing is on the wall and word out of Pittsburgh is it is Kenny Pickett’s job to lose. (I still contend Mitch should have followed Daboll to New Jersey and beat out Jones this summer.)
  • Why did MVS choose Kansas City? “The opportunity within itself to go out and be a great playmaker,” Valdes-Scantling said. “Obviously, I had that opportunity anywhere I went, but I think this one was a better fit for me. Some of the things they do offensively was appealing to me — and obviously, a quarterback like Pat (Mahomes) who is going to be here for a long time, that also was appealing. So I think those two things — and then, obviously, getting here and meeting everybody and it seemed like a good fit. It seemed like home.”
  • Tom Brady is going to be roasted on Netflix.
  • Chris Ballard’s right-hand man, Ed Dodds, is showing a natural ability to work the media as well as his boss. Dodds – and many in the sport – believed he was getting the Raiders job. He did not. (He withdrew from the Bears process because the interview was a trainwreck.)
  • Believe it or not, there are still folks in Detroit who think Jeff Okudah is going to be a thing.
  • The talk of Minnesota’s OTAs? Dalvin Cook has been lining up at receiver in multiple sets. Could be nothing. Could be a significant change in his usage.
  • Is Trey Lance ready? Steve Young thinks it’s a complicated question. “When they say he’s not ready, it because there’s not that body of work of him being on the field. They see what’s on the field—like amazing talent, an amazing arm, and all the things, but there’s so much more to quarterbacking. So when someone says he’s not ready, it’s easy to say because he hasn’t done it.”

Not bad for a Thursday in mid-May.

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Dannehy: Scheme Alone Can’t Fix Bears Offense

| May 18th, 2022


Relying on a scheme change to fix a broken offense has proven to be a broken philosophy, especially when the person in charge of that scheme has never done the job before. Luke Getsy made reference to scheme being a reason to believe the offense — specifically the pass catchers — will be better, and while he should have confidence in his own ability, he surely knows the Bears need their players to be better if they’re going to score more points. Getsy is well regarded, but new play callers generally struggle and almost never get time to figured it out.

In the last decade, 26 non-offensive coaches have been hired. Nine of those went with offensive coordinators who were new to the job and the success rate of those coaches is not good. Of those nine, three were fired after just one season and two were canned during or after their second seasons. One was fired with the entire staff after the second season.

There are two young play callers entering with their jobs on the line in 2022.  Mike LaFleur needs his Jets to improve from being in the bottom six of the league pretty much across the board. Scott Turner took over in Carolina during the 2019 season and went to Washington with Ron Rivera, but his offenses have all been near the bottom-10.

The one real success story so far is interesting, as Matt LaFleur had a bottom-10 offense in his lone season running Mike Vrable’s unit in Tennessee before becoming the head coach of the Packers. LaFleur, of course, has been dominant in Green Bay, but we don’t need to talk about that.

As highly thought of as Getsy is, the same could be said for the likes of Joe Brady, Rich Scangarello, Geep Chryst and Rick Dennison.

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Do Justin Fields’ Rookie Fumbles Portend a Fumbler? Data Says It’s Unlikely.

| May 17th, 2022


Despite only starting 10 of 17 games last year, Justin Fields fumbled the ball 12 times, which was the 4th highest mark in the NFL. That’s a real problem. Since fumble recovery is random, meaning you will lose roughly half of your fumbles, that’s an additional turnover around once every two games. Given the strong relationship between turnovers and game outcome, this is a recipe for losing a whole lot of games.

But is this a problem that is likely to continue for Fields? Let’s see what history might be able to tell us.

Fumbling Rookies.

It is surprisingly common for rookie QBs to fumble the ball. A lot. Since 2001, there have been 24 instances of a rookie QB fumbling the ball ten or more times. Looking at the rookies who have played the most, there are 61 rookie QBs in that time span with at least 250 pass attempts, and 22 of them (more than 1/3) had at least ten fumbles.

So, in that regard, Fields is in good company. While many of the QBs on that list went on to bust status, there were plenty of successful QBs as well, including Lamar Jackson, Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, and Carson Wentz as long-time starters.

This led to a logical follow-up question: do QBs who fumble a bunch as rookies improve after that? In order to explore this, I tracked fumble rate through two methods:

  • Plays per fumble, which includes all pass attempts, sacks, and rushes. This is a measure of how often a QB fumbles compared to how often the ball is in his hands.
  • Hits per fumble, which includes all sacks and rushes as plays in which the QB got hit. This is a measure of how often a QB fumbles when exposed to contact with the ball in his hands.

I should note that this list only includes QBs who had 1000+ career pass attempts total, such that there was a large enough post-rookie sample size to gather meaningful data. This gave a sample size of 17, which includes over 8,000 rookie plays and 40,000 non-rookie plays.

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Breaking Down the 2022 Schedule into a Quartet of Games

| May 16th, 2022

The NFL schedule does not break into four, neat sections for most teams. Some have 5-6 week runs of easy games. Some face a brutal slate down the stretch. The 2022 Bears schedule seems to break into four uneven sections; a quartet if you will.


Section One: Weeks 1-6

The Games: home Niners, at Packers (SNF), home Texas, at Giants, at Vikings, home Commanders (TNF).

The Analysis: Vegas has opened the Bears as nearly a touchdown underdog at home to the Niners on 9/11. But remember, that line is based on the 2021 Niners, a very good football team, and not a potential Niners club with a question mark at quarterback and their best player residing on the Disgruntled List. It’ll be surprising if the Bears don’t have a chance to win their home opener.

After the opener, this first section features (a) two tough divisional games on the road and (b) three of the ten worst teams in the sport, a category in which the Bears might also find themselves. If the team intends to play meaningful games in late December/early January, one has to think they must come out of this stretch at .500 or better.


Section Two: Weeks 7-10

The Games: at Patriots, at Cowboys, home Dolphins, home Lions.

The Analysis: This is the most difficult stretch of what is generally considered an easy schedule.

Three of these four teams think they are contenders to win the whole thing this season. Belichick always does. Jerry Jones too. And the Dolphins had the most all-in offseason of any team in the sport. If the Bears struggle in the first section of the season, it is very unlikely they’ll improve enough to get the train back on the tracks here. But if the Bears have a respectable first six games, these next four could go a long way towards establishing what the team is capable of achieving in 2022.

(And while the Lions seem to be doing the right things as an organization, Matt Eberflus can’t let Jared Goff beat him at Soldier Field.)


Section Three: Weeks 11-13

The Games: at Falcons, at Jets, home Packers. 

The Analysis: The Falcons have designs on the first overall pick. The Jets added playmakers, but their coach and his defense were borderline non-professional in 2021. The Packers are still the Packers, but this season will test Aaron Rodgers as much as any before. (He simply doesn’t have the weapons outside.) This is the momentum section. The Bears could be coming home, to play their rival, on a two-game win streak. Even if the first ten games didn’t go well, this is the place in the schedule where the 2022 Bears can start building excitement for the 2023 Bears.


Section Four: Weeks 15-18

The Games: home Eagles, home Bills, at Lions, home Vikings.

The Analysis: The Bears will lose to Buffalo. Just accept it. The Bills are probably the best team in the league and their quarterback will relish playing at Soldier Field on Christmas Eve. He’s that kind of competitor.

These other three games are winnable, and that’s important for a team installing a new program. They’ll be looking to contend, of course, but they’ll be more focused on the progress shown from Week One to Week Eighteen. The 2022 Bears don’t belong on the same field as the 2022 Bills, but if this program is progressing well, they should be giving the other three opponents in this section one hell of a fight.


Overall Thoughts

  • The opener is going to set the tone for the entire season. If the Bears beat the Niners, it won’t be surprising to see them hover at or above .500 for most of the season. And that would be a very successful campaign for the new leadership.
  • This still feels like a middle of the road season, with somewhere between seven and nine wins. There are just too many questions on the offensive side of the ball at this point. Now, by midseason, we may have answers to those questions and if those answers are positive, the schedule is clearly positioned for the Bears to have a successful late-season surge.
  • Like always with this franchise, it’ll come down to the play of the quarterback.

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If Sustained Success is Entirely Dependent on QB Play, Ryan Poles’ Process for 2022 is Questionable

| May 12th, 2022

In his opening press conference as the general manager of the Chicago Bears, Ryan Poles boldly proclaimed his goal to “sustain success over a long period of time.” This is a fairly standard thing to say for a new general manager, because it’s what everybody in the NFL is trying to accomplish. But today I want to evaluate Poles’ approach to his first offseason in charge of a team with that goal in mind.


How to Achieve Sustained Success

Fact 1: Offense is far more stable than defense year over year. To put it another way, defensive success is not sustainable – a fact Bears fans should be intimately familiar with after the last five years. Thus, the main factor to drive sustained team success is going to be sustained offensive success.

Fact 2: Good offensive play is driven by good QB play. This makes perfect sense, and I think we all knew it, but it’s good to have proof to back it up.

Conclusion: The best path to sustained success is a good QB. A brief look at recent NFL history supports that notion:

If you consider making the playoffs to mean success, there have been 18 instances in the last ten years where teams made the playoffs at least three times in a four-year span. Ten of those involved a solid or better QB on a rookie deal as the primary starter, while six more featured future HOF QBs on veteran contracts.

Only two of 18, then, involved solid-but-unspectacular QBs who weren’t on rookie deals. Those were Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill and Kansas City with Alex Smith. So, it is possible to sustain success without a really good QB or cheap solid QB, but it’s a much less likely path.

It’s also worth noting that both of those two found very little success in the playoffs. Only three of nine playoff seasons featured a playoff win, and only one reached a conference championship game. So, if your definition of sustained success involves more than bouncing out of the playoffs early on, those don’t really meet it.

If you want to get more selective and look at playoff success as an indicator of success, this list gets even more QB-dependent.

  • 28 of 40 teams in the conference championship game featured a starting QB with at least one All Pro or MVP in their career, and that doesn’t include Andrew Luck (retired early before achieving either of those) or Joe Burrow (only two NFL seasons so far, seems headed in that direction).
  • Only eight NFL QBs have started at least two conference championship games in the last decade, and six of them have made an All Pro or won MVP.

Again, this doesn’t mean getting a really good QB is the only path to sustained success (see SF with Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick about a decade ago, or SF with Jimmy Garoppolo the last several years). It’s just the most likely path to sustained success.

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Dannehy: New Bears Regime Chose Familiar Path

| May 11th, 2022


You’ll never hear an NFL front office proclaim, in rich detail, the specific team they’re going to build, but the first offseason of the new Chicago Bears’ regime made it clear. The hiring of Matt Eberflus was the start of what turned out to be an entire offseason emphasis to build a defense-first team. That plan culminated at the draft when the team spent both of its second-round picks on that side of the ball. There’s an old saying that teams are built in the image of their coaches. The Bears seem to be embracing that line of thinking.

And while the 2022 season has been seen from the outside as one in which the Bears would write off as a losing campaign, securing the back end of their defense could help them field a competitive team. The picks of Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker put what should be high-level players at positions that were serious question marks. The Bears did not have a viable option across from Jaylon Johnson or next to Eddie Jackson. Now, they believe they do.

Cornerbacks can be hit or miss as rookies, but a scheme that emphasizes zone coverage – similar to what Gordon played in at Washington – should make his transition relatively seamless. Safeties are typically able to transition to the NFL quickly and Brisker gives the Bears a versatile player; a sure tackler who can cover a lot of ground. With Jackson, Johnson and Tavon Young in the slot, the Bears should have a solid secondary, with tremendous upside.

While they’re probably still a high-level front four player away from elite, it isn’t an overstatement to say Eberflus has had top ten defenses with less. In fact, Eberflus has almost always had top ten defenses. In four years with the Colts, his units had average rankings of ninth in scoring, second in takeaways and eighth in DVOA. For the sake of comparison, Vic Fangio’s Bears units were 14th, 19th and 17th in those same categories.

The Bears also selected two players who figure to be explosive return men. It isn’t unlike the 2006 draft when the first two players the team selected both excelled on special teams, including the greatest return man in NFL history. Both Velus Jones Jr. and Tristan Ebner give the Bears home run hitters on specials.

The offense is going to struggle this year, just like the offenses of Lovie Smith’s time with the team did. Hopefully, Justin Fields continues to show his ability to make big throws down the field and the running game can keep the defense fresh. The Bears will be relying on the defense to create takeaways and the special teams to give the offense good field position. That’s a terribly flawed long-term plan, but if Fields is as good as many think he is, it’s a plan that will have the team contending for a playoff spot in 2022, enabling them to load-up on the offensive side for 2023.

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Five Points for the Pending Schedule Release

| May 10th, 2022


The NFL has not only decided to delay the release of the 2022 schedule until mid-May, but they have also decided to allow the networks to trickle out their individual schedules in the days leading up to Thursday’s release. Why? Because the NFL is led by buffoons. That’s how Criss Angel ends up hanging from a rope at the draft. Someone on Park Avenue said, out loud, “What if we have the MINDFREAK dangle from a rope and do an escape act right before the draft starts?” Then another one of the brain surgeons in the home office responded, “Genius!” 

The release of the schedule is a very big deal to many NFL fans because it sets their travel agenda for the fall and winter; a point missed by most beat writers who have no choice but to attend every game and only concern themselves with how many Marriot points they can accrue in Atlanta. The Bears play two games in NJ this season. Fans want to know if the league will run those games back-to-back, creating a killer vacation in NYC and a chance to have a beer with me. Bears at Cowboys will have far more appeal to Chicagoans in December than early September.

Here are some things I’ll be looking to see as the schedules trickles out on social media over the coming days.

  • How many times does the league put the Bears in primetime? The Bears are a massive, national draw – no matter how good they are – but this figures to be a season where the NFL could err on the side of a developmental season and keep Chicago in a lot of early Sunday slots.
  • When does Josh Allen come to town? The non-division QBs on the home schedule are seriously underwhelming. Hurts, Lance, Wentz, Tua, and Mills aren’t going to be putting many asses in the seats. Allen and the Bills are the marquee attraction, and if that game is in December, I’ll have my flight and hotel booked Thursday night.
  • What is the December slate? Yes, the Bears are likely to be more competitive in 2022 than many – including myself – thought. (Especially with their secondary upgrades on draft weekend.) But 2022 will still be primarily about 2023 and how the team, and quarterback, finish this campaign could go a long way towards building fan enthusiasm for the off-season.
  • Could there be a hot start? NFL seasons are weird animals, and expectations can change quickly. What if the Bears find themselves playing the Giants, Jets, Texans and Lions in the first quarter? They could easily be .500 or better and dreaming of meaningful football in late December/early January.
  • The guaranteed losses. How many really are there on this schedule? Packers probably sweep them. Belichick handles this offense comfortably at home. The Bills are probably the best team in the league. It’s unlikely the Bears will be significant underdogs in any of the remaining 13 games.

This is going to be an interesting season for the Chicago Bears. By the end of the day Thursday, we’ll know where and when the story will play out.

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Hey, Velusy: Jones Reason to Be Excited About the Offense in 2022

| May 9th, 2022


As the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft rolled along, there were receivers available for the Chicago Bears. The Packers moved up – something Ryan Poles was NOT going to do – for Christian Watson. Many fans were calling for George Pickens, a player one scout called “a turd” during a text conversation with DBB. Many thought Skyy Moore’s route running prowess could catapult him into the back end of round one, where several WR-needy clubs resided. It did not.

The truth is that while many were calling this draft deep at wide receiver, the Bears (and several other clubs) didn’t particularly agree with that assessment. They rated Wilson, Williams, and Olave highly, the latter being their top player at the position. They liked the polish of Dotson and thought Burks might have the highest upside in the class. But they knew they were not in play for any of those players, and saw the gap between that group and the next group as cavernous.

Poles, with significant input from Luke Getsy, turned his attention to Velus Jones Jr. – the rare third-round receiver this brass believes can make an immediate impact on the football team. Why? Because Jones fits a specific role in this offense and is already well-accomplished in that role. What is that role?

First, he’s just a good receiver. From Jacob Infante over at WCG:

Jones broke out from a receiving production perspective in 2021, when he tallied 62 receptions, 807 yards and 7 touchdowns for the Volunteers. He proved to be a reliable kick returner over the course of his collegiate career, returning 2 kicks back for touchdowns and averaging 24.4 yards per return during his time in both Tennessee and USC.

There are concerns with Jones’ profile, turning 25 years old in May and not having an incredibly refined skillset as a route runner. That said, he’s a tremendous YAC threat with 4.31 speed, the lateral agility needed to change direction and make defenders miss, along with a powerful frame that allows him to shed would-be tacklers in the open field.

Second, there are two elements the Bears want to be hallmarks of their new offense: a diverse rushing attack and a quick, timing passing game. Jones projects to be a key aspect of both.

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Thank You, From DBB.

| May 7th, 2022


I took a shot.

And our loyal readers and Twitter followers delivered. The five-day pledge drive delivered in ways it was impossible to predict. And now it’s on me to keep delivering content worthy of that support.

Thank you.

We will have the drawing for the jersey in the coming weeks and our sticker will be drawn and produced before the season begins.

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