What Can Keep the 2024 Bears from Contending? Just the Sacks, Ma’am.

| May 17th, 2024

In February of 2019, the New England Patriots won the most boring Super Bowl game ever played, snoozing the nation with a 13-3 victory over a then dramatically overmatched, and now Scrooge McDuck-esque wealthy Jared Goff. That Pats team defied the statistical odds, specifically in one category: they were one of the league’s worst pass rushing units, finishing the regular season T-30 in sack total.

Sacks, many argue, are an overrated statistic. I do not endorse this argument. Pressure is great, numerically. But pressure doesn’t hurt. Pressure doesn’t lead to a frightened quarterback putting the football on the turf inside his own ten. Pressure doesn’t sideline your rival’s quarterback for multiple weeks in the stretch run. The threat of violence from a street corner bully can be incredibly effective, but your relationship to him is dramatically altered once he’s socked you in the jaw.

Since that New England Super Bowl dud, here are the regular season sack rankings of the Super Bowl champions:

2019 Chiefs: 11th.

2020 Bucs: T-4.

2021 Rams: 3.

2022 Chiefs: 2.

2023 Chiefs: 2.

Sack the quarterback, win the chip. The 2023 Bears were 31st in the sport, 30 sacks behind the league-leading Baltimore Ravens. So, what has to change? A significant amount.

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Recapping Rookie Minicamp

| May 13th, 2024

The Bears held their annual Rookie Minicamp over the weekend, and if you’re like me the festivities of Mother’s Day Weekend meant that today is a catch-up day for minicamp news. Here’s what you missed:

Rookie OT Kiran Amegadjie Will Not Participate In Chicago’s Offseason Program

Head Coach Matt Eberflus revealed that Amegadjie’s quad injury will keep him out of the entire offseason program. The news isn’t totally unexpected, but a bummer nevertheless — here’s wishing Kiran a swift recovery.

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With Caleb Williams Comes a “Little Bit of Star Quality”

| May 10th, 2024

“What’s new Buenos Aires?I’m new–I want to say I’m just a little stuck on youYou’ll be on me too!

I get out here Buenos AiresStand back–you ought to know what’cha gonna get in meJust a little touch of star quality!”

Evita, lyric by Tim Rice

What is star quality? How does one quantify it? Richard Zanuck, one of the producers of Jaws (and countless other non-shark films) tried to sum it, saying, “Star quality is one of the most difficult things to describe. It emanates from the person, and he may not even understand it himself. It’s a quality that separates the star from the rest of us.”

Star quality, when it comes to sports, is perhaps even more difficult to define than it is in Hollywood, but there are correlations. Michael Shannon and Campbell Scott and Cherry Jones are brilliant actors, but are they stars? Of course not. “I’m going to see the new Cherry Jones film” is a sentence that has never been uttered outside of my apartment. D.J. Moore and Jaylon Johnson are a brilliant wide receiver/corner combo, but how many tickets do you think the two players are responsible for selling? I would argue very, very few. If Jaylon Johnson walked into my local bar for trivia night, there’s a chance I wouldn’t even recognize him.

Brilliance does not equal stardom in sports, but it is a requirement, because stardom without brilliance is mere celebrity. The Kelce brothers are stars in the NFL not just because of pop star girlfriends, shirtless beer guzzling and a top podcast. That helps, and their personalities enable those things, but they are stars in the NFL because they complement those personalities with two of the greatest careers seen at their respective positions.

Baker Mayfield has the personality, but not the game. Justin Jefferson has the game, but not the personality. The list of those who combine both attributes is a short one and that’s what makes a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Mike Singletary, Ray Lewis, Deion Sanders, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Randy Moss, etc. so unique. Hell, Aaron Rodgers might three clubs (or more) short of a full golf bag but his stardom, and the attention it receives, are undeniable. (Joe Burrow and Cam Newton always struck me as fake stars. Great players who put on funny outfits to gain the attention they believe accompanies stardom.)

Cade McNown could have been the greatest QB to ever play but that “personality” was never going to breed stardom. Same with Rex Grossman and Mitch Trubisky. Jay Cutler had a remarkably unique personality, but he polarized the cities in which he played to such a degree that transcendent stardom seemed an impossibility. Justin Fields had electric moments on the field but offered very little elsewhere. Could you imagine Fields in these State Farm commercials Mahomes does?

Caleb already does the commercials. Dr. Pepper. Wendy’s. You name it.

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This Offseason Has Become Wonderfully Boring (And I Love It)

| May 9th, 2024

No arguments about quarterbacks.

No hand-wringing about (a lack of) pass-catchers.

No questions about the Bears’ future direction.

Instead, daily Bears conversation currently revolves around which cheap veteran EDGE/D-Lineman Ryan Poles will add to a 2024 roster that looks young, hungry, and ready to surprise.

It’s… dare I say, a comfortable time to be a Chicago fan. The Bears’ young core is exciting (on both sides of the ball!), their overall direction makes sense, and there’s enough veteran leadership across the roster to expect competitive Sundays while the rookies learn the ropes. On top of that, they’re up against the salary cap and aren’t likely to make any more major moves this offseason — their draft class will push them to within $8-$10 million dollars of the current cap ceiling, meaning that if we assume that Poles wants to keep a typical $5-10 million dollars on-hand for in-season signings next year Chicago’s cards have already been played.

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A Closer Look at New OC Shane Waldron: Personnel and Formation

| May 7th, 2024

In addition to adding 5 new starters on offense this offseason, the Bears fired offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and replaced him with Shane Waldron, who spent the previous 3 years holding the same position in Seattle.

In order to better understand what Chicago’s offense might look like in 2024, I’ve been digging into data about Waldron’s offenses at his last stop. I looked at down and distance play calling tendencies yesterday, and today want to explore personnel and formation trends.

Today’s data comes from Sumer Sports, which only has information for 2022 and 2023, so nothing from Waldron’s 1st season in Seattle will be included.

Personnel Groupings

Let’s start by looking at common personnel groupings, which looks solely at the listed position of players on the field and not where they are lined up. These groupings are commonly listed by 2 numbers, where the 1st is the number of running backs and the 2nd is the number of tight ends. Since teams play 5 skill position players at a time, the number of wide receivers is then implied. The 2 most common groupings are 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR).

The table below shows how frequently the Seahawks and Bears used and passed out of each grouping on 1st-2nd down in 2023, along with their ranks compared to the rest of the NFL. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are red. Seattle’s data from 2022 is included as well for comparison.

(side note: if the table gets cut off, click on it to view the full table in a new screen)

A few thoughts:

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A Closer Look at New OC Shane Waldron: Trends Based On Down & Distance

| May 6th, 2024

The Bears have seen a massive changeover in offensive personnel this offseason. QB Justin Fields, RB D’Onta Foreman, WR Darnell Mooney, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, TE Robert Tonyan, IOL Cody Whitehair, and IOL Lucas Patrick, who combined to account for over 4100 offensive snaps in 2023, are no longer on the roster.

The Bears have replaced those players with QB Caleb Williams, RB D’Andre Swift, WR Keenan Allen, WR Rome Odunze, TE Gerald Everett, IOL Ryan Bates, and IOL Coleman Shelton. It’s safe to say these players are a significant net upgrade, and the Bears invested heavily (draft picks 1, 9, and 144 and $45M in salary cap spending on the veterans) to make sure that would be the case.

In addition to changing over the players, the Bears brought in a new offensive coaching staff, and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will be tasked with turning this talent into a cohesive and effective unit. Since Waldron spent three years as the play caller in Seattle, this week I want to dig into his data to see what we can learn that might translate to Chicago. I am going to focus mostly on what his play calling tendencies were and less on how effective the offense was, because effectiveness will depend significantly on personnel and will be entirely different in Chicago.

We’ll start today by looking at Waldron’s down and distance trends, and will examine personnel groupings tomorrow.

1st down

Let’s start with examining what Waldron liked to do on 1st down. The table below shows how often Seattle called a passing play vs. a running play, how many of their passes went deep down the field (15+ yards past the line of scrimmage in the air), and how many of their runs were inside the tackles. A few quick notes:

  • To remove game situation as much as possible, I only looked at plays between the 20s in the first three quarters. This is a look at what Waldron liked to do in fairly neutral situations. These same criteria will apply to all data in this article.
  • I looked at Seattle for 2021, 2022, and 2023 so we could see what trends were consistent from year to year and what ones changed. This might give hints as to what Waldron will likely keep vs. what might shift depending on personnel.
  • I also showed what Chicago looked like in 2023, so we can get a general idea of how things might change compared to what we saw last year.
  • To put all these numbers in context, I provided the high, average, and low values for all 32 NFL teams in 2023, and where the 2023 Bears and Seahawks ranked in each category. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.
  • All data comes from Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

A few thoughts:

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