Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s Defense

| November 6th, 2017

Now the defense.

Chicago’s defense has generally been good so far in 2017. They’re 8th out of 32 NFL teams in yards per game and 14th in points per game. They have been pretty solid both against the pass (10th in yards per game, 16th in passer rating, 15th in yards per attempt) and run (11th in yards per game, 14th in yards per carry).

These basic stats are easy to look up, but there’s a lot of information that they don’t tell you. In order to break it down a little bit further, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s defensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing success by areas of the field to see both where they are targeted the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Run defense

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense so far in 2017. The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses (all ranks through week 8 only). The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12. Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.

This isn’t beautiful overall, but is a big improvement from Chicago’s 2016 performance, especially between the tackles. Let’s give it up for the improvements made by Chicago’s front 7 from 2016 to 2017. I have a few more detailed thoughts to share here, please feel free to add yours in the comments below.

  • The outside run defense has not been particularly good, although teams aren’t targeting them there much. I wonder if that will change as the season progresses and teams figure out Chicago is struggling there.
  • Teams seem very hesitant to run up the middle on Chicago, and with good reason. That is a nice change from 2016, when they were the 2nd worst team in the NFL defending those runs. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with a healthy Eddie Goldman.
  • I think Akiem Hicks primarily plays opposite the left tackle and left guard, which is surprising to me considering how much they’ve struggled in run defense there. This matches the same trend as last year, when the Bears were able to defend the right side better than the left.

Pass Defense

Here’s the data for Chicago’s passing defense so far this year. The number of plays, completion percentage, and yards per attempt are given for 6 zones. Each zone is colored according to the average of the yards per attempt and completion percentage (green = top 10, red = bottom 10, yellow = middle 12).

Here’s a few of my thoughts. As always, please add yours in the comments below.

  • Hello, Kyle Fuller! The resurgent CB has played almost exclusively on the right side this year. Teams have targeted that side often, but with little success. There are nearly as many plays toward the right (127) as the left and middle combined (135). I’m guessing the targets will start shifting more towards the middle and left side of the field, where Fuller is not and teams have had better luck.
  • For the other 2/3 of the field, the Bears have been somewhere between middling and bad in both completion percentage and yards per attempt. I think this generally reflects the bend but don’t break philosophy the defense generally employs, which has paid off well in limiting opponents’ total points scored.
  • Unfortunately, I don’t know what zones the touchdowns and interceptions have come in, so I can’t get a passer rating by zone. Those would vary wildly with relatively small numbers for some of the zones anyway; at that point, a single touchdown or interception would have far too big of an impact.

Overall Takeaways

In the 2nd half of the season, I’ll be watching to see if teams start to attack the Bears on outside runs and avoid throwing at the right side of the field more. Based on the 1st half of the season, those would be wise things for opposing offenses to do. Now let’s see if Chicago can be prepared to handle those adjustments.

What are your thoughts?

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