Bears at the Bye: Pass Catchers! Everywhere! Pass Catchers!

| October 9th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.

Now we focus on the wide receivers and tight ends, examining how much they’re playing, how effective they’ve been, and how they’re being utilized.

Snap Counts and Predictabilities

First I want to look at how frequently each target is playing, and how their presence on the field impacts the offense’s performance. Data is from The Quant Edge.

A couple things to note about the table below:

  • I’m using success rate here instead of yards per play. That is to account for down and distance context. A two-yard play on 1st and 10 is bad, while a two-yard play on 3rd and 1 is good. The general idea is that a successful play keeps you ahead of the chains, but an exact definition is available here if you’re curious.
  • I didn’t include Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, or Trey Burton here because they’re almost always on the field; they’re all playing least 83% of the offensive snaps so far. This is more to look at the players who are situational and how they’re impacting the offense.
  • Anthony Miller’s data only includes the 3 games for which he was active.

A few thoughts:

  • On the surface, it looks like Anthony Miller has hurt the offense. Maybe he has. But he basically only plays in 11 personnel groupings, where there are 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs on the field, and in general that grouping has been the least efficient passing formation in the NFL. In terms of the run game, I don’t actually know much about Miller as a blocker. It’s possible that he’s not blocking well and that’s hurting the run game, but it’s also possible something else is causing the difference.

  • Dion Sims has played a whole lot for somebody who only has 3 pass targets (on 54 pass plays), but he hasn’t hurt the offense. Yards per play are down when he’s in the game (not shown), but success rates are similar or slightly higher, indicating he’s mainly playing in short yardage situations and is doing his job. He’s playing Y tight end, which is basically a blocking only role in this offense.
  • The offense is better running the ball when Kevin White is on the field and worse passing it. This makes sense considering he’s their best blocking WR, which shows up in the run game, but doesn’t have a single pass target in 28 pass plays on the field.
  • None of these three players see a huge swing in the run/pass ratio when they’re on the field vs. off of it. That’s a good way the Bears are avoiding predictability.

Where Targets Line Up

Next I want to look at where Chicago’s pass weapons are lining up, again using data from The Quant Edge. I should note that, as far as I can tell, this data is only through week 3. But it still gives us a feel for how much the Bears are moving their WRs and TEs around.

A few thoughts:

  • Gabriel and Robinson move around a bunch, basically splitting their time evenly between both sides and the slot. This has given them a chance to go up against a number of different matchups and threaten defenses in different ways.
  • Anthony Miller and Josh Bellamy, on the other hand, are playing mostly in the slot. This makes sense given that they’re mostly playing in 3 WR sets, where Robinson and Gabriel are probably playing mostly outside.
  • Trey Burton is lining up all over the place too. He’s been a chess piece who has become a bigger part of the offense every week.
  • Dion Sims is playing basically exclusively as an in-line TE. He’s a blocker only, which is typical for the Y tight end in this offense. He saw 3 pass targets in week 1 and hasn’t gotten a single look since.

How Defenses Cover Them

Now let’s take a look at how defenses are covering the main pass targets, using data from Next Gen Stats. These are not necessarily metrics that show how good a WR or TE has been, but instead highlight how players are being used and what their skill set might be. Numbers in parentheses indicate where that player ranks out of 133 WRs and TEs. All numbers are measured in yards.

A few thoughts:

  • Allen Robinson is somebody who’s open even when he’s not. He gets a pretty small cushion and doesn’t get much separation, but it doesn’t matter.
  • Taylor Gabriel, on the other hand, gets a very large cushion, and still uses his speed to work his way to significant separation.
  • Anthony Miller has basically only been targeted on short passes. He has one of the shortest target depths of any WR or TE in the NFL this year.
  • Robinson and Gabriel have done a poor job of picking up yards after the catch (YAC). I’m not sure why that is. Gabriel in particular is somebody who I would think should be good at picking up YAC.

Routes Earning Targets

Finally I want to take a brief look at what routes are getting targeted the most, again using data from The Quant Edge. I’m not going to post an entire table, because there are too many routes for that too make sense, so instead I want to point out the top few routes for each main target.

  • Allen Robinson (32 targets): 11 curls, 7 go routes
  • Taylor Gabriel (29 targets): 6 screens, 4 curls, 4 go routes, 4 crosses
  • Trey Burton (15 targets): 4 curls, 3 corners, 2 go routes

I immediately note here that the Bears have run a lot of curls and go routes. All three primary targets have those as 2 of their 3 most targeted routes, and together they account for nearly half of the targets (32 out of 76). If defenses notice this and start keying in on those routes, the Bears need to be ready to counter.

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