Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s 2017 Offense

| February 6th, 2018

Chicago’s offense was generally bad in 2017. We all know this. They finished 30th in the NFL in yards per game and 29th in points scored.

Those types of basic stats are easy for anybody to look up, and they can help paint an overall picture of how effective a unit performed. They do not. however, tell a complete tale. It can be useful to look deeper and see in what areas the Bears might have struggled, as well as where they might have done well. This can be useful to help identify specific areas of strength to build on going forward, as well as areas that need to be addressed through personnel and/or scheme improvements.

In an effort to do this, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s offensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing attempts by areas of the field to see where they target the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Rushing Attack

Chicago’s overall run game was solid in 2017; they finished 16th in rushing yards, 11th in yards per carry, and 11th in touchdowns. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing attack 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. 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.

A few thoughts:

  • Despite a bevy of offensive line injuries, things didn’t really change much from where they were at the bye. That’s a credit to Chicago’s reserves and running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
  • What the heck happened on the right side? The Bears ran it well out there in 2016, but that was absolutely awful this year. It can’t all be blamed on right tackle Bobby Massie, though I think he did take a step back in 2017. Some of it might be due to poor blocking by wide receivers, but that didn’t seem to hurt them on the left, where they were good in both 2016 and 2017. My guess (though I don’t know of any way to numerically prove it) is that this is largely based on formation and tight end blocking. The Bears ran a lot of 2 and 3 TE sets this year, which usually resulted in runs. They often liked to load up heavy with tight ends to the right side when this happened. Between defenses knowing what was coming and Chicago’s largely new tight ends perhaps not blocking very well, bad things happened.
  • I hear a lot that left tackle Charles Leno is a finesse player who’s not good in the run game, but the Bears have consistently run the ball well off left tackle and left guard for two straight years. That’s certainly not all on Leno, but he’s heavily involved in all of those runs.
  • The Bears really don’t like running up the middle, something that hasn’t changed for two years now. To put into a little perspective how low their 32 attempts there were, the NFL average was 110, and all but 1 other team had at least 50. In terms of yards per carry, the Bears have been consistently good at these runs over the last two years, so I hope a new coach tries this a bit more.
  • Chicago was much better running off guard in 2017 than they were in 2016. At the bye, I attributed this to starters Kyle Long and Josh Sitton being healthier than last year, but that wasn’t the case down the stretch. Kudos to the Bears for making that work.
  • Chicago was consistently better at running left than right, but it appears they realized this and ran to the left more often. They ran to the left more in 2016 as well, despite similar success on both sides. I’ll be curious to see if a new coach with a new offensive system tries to change that or keeps rolling with a good thing.

Passing Attack

In contrast to the ground, the Bears were awful through the air in 2017. They finished last in passing yards, 25th in yards per attempt, tied for last in passing touchdowns, and 26th in passer rating. However, when we look at different areas of the field, we see that it wasn’t all bad.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s passing attack in 2017. 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).

A few thoughts:

  • This also hasn’t changed much since the bye, though the outsides did get a little bit less ugly in a few spots. We’ll tentatively credit that to growth by rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
  • Chicago consistently found their best success attacking the middle of the field, but they didn’t throw there very often. This could very much be due to small sample size-especially in the deep middle-but it’s something to keep an eye on for next year.
  • The Bears generally didn’t throw a ton, but their short/deep splits seem fairly typical. Their volume rankings in short vs. deep zones aren’t all that different. Unfortunately I can’t split this data by week and thus remove Glennon’s games, but I did find this nugget on Twitter that said Trubisky had about an average rate of throwing deep balls and the 6th highest completion percentage on such passes.
  • There’s not much else to say here. Their passing attack was bad. Next year will feature a new coach, new scheme, and several new pass targets, so it’s not like there are many lessons to take away going forward either.

Overall Takeaways

The Bears were better running to the left than the right and continued to avoid running up the middle despite being pretty good at it. They stunk passing pretty much everywhere but the middle of the field.

I’m more interested in the running trends, because there should be less personnel changeover this off-season to impact that going forward. We’ll see how things might change on both the ground and the air in 2018.

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