Examining 2018 Offensive Trends

| May 20th, 2019

The offseason is the perfect time to do a deep dive into what exactly we saw on the field last year, so today I want to look more closely at how frequently and effectively the offense used various formations and personnel groupings in 2018. We’ll look at it from a few different perspectives.

Shotgun vs. Under Center

(These stats all come from NFL Savant unless otherwise noted.)

The Bears operated mainly out of the shotgun in 2018, with just over 80% of their snaps (832 out of 1034) coming there. As I noted at the bye, this is in line with the Andy Reid offense that Matt Nagy brought over from Kansas City. Reid’s Chiefs teams have been 70-75% out of the shotgun in the last few years.

The table below shows how frequently and efficiently the Bears ran it out of shotgun vs. under center.

A few thoughts:

  • That looks a bit imbalanced to me, but is actually a better run/pass balance out of shotgun than any Reid team has shown in Kansas City.
  • I’m tempted to say the Bears should avoid going under center, but the low averages there are probably due to them mostly being in short yardage situations, when plays are designed to get 2-3 yards and a first down/touchdown. Success rates would be a good way to confirm if that is indeed the case, but unfortunately that information is not available with this kind of split.
  • The yards/carry split happened with both main running backs, according to Player Profiler. Jordan Howard saw 138 carries out of the shotgun and averaged 4.2 yards/carry, and averaged 3.1 yards/carry on his 112 carries from under center. Tarik Cohen averaged 4.7 yards/carry on 81 shotgun runs and 4.1 yards/carry on 18 runs from under center. New Bear Mike Davis saw 75% of his runs from shotgun last year and averaged 4.6 yards/carry, so there is reason to hope he will thrive in these runs as well.

  • I’m a bit disappointed that the Bears weren’t more effective passing from under center. Since they ran it so often from those formations, they should have been able to catch defenses off guard when passing. I have no way to prove this with numbers, but I wonder if it has to do with the players on the field in under center situations not being threats in the passing game. I’m looking at you, Jordan Howard and Dion Sims.

Personnel Groupings

This especially focuses on how many RB, TE, and WR are on the field, because there’s almost always 5 OL and 1 QB, but the combination of RB, TE, and WR that makes up the other 5 positions can change. The Bears stuck almost exclusively to three formations, and the table below shows some information about how frequently and how effectively they’ve been utilized. All data is from Sharp Football.

I should note that 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.

A few thoughts:

  • Close to 2/3 of Chicago’s snaps came in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs), with the other 1/3 mostly pulling off one WR for either an extra TE or RB.  This matches the NFL as a whole, where 65% of plays come in 11, 17% in 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR), and 8% in 21 (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs).
  • But notice that teams – including the Bears – are generally more successful throwing with fewer WRs on the field. This seems counter-intuitive, but reflects the fact that defenses will counter 3 WRs with a nickel package, which defends the pass more effectively but can struggle a bit against the run.
  • With that in mind, there’s an efficiency there for the Bears to exploit. They can run it more often after forcing teams into nickel looks, and throw it more often when they have defenses in base packages. New running backs David Montgomery and Mike Davis, who provide more run/pass versatility, should help in this regard.
  • The Bears’ use of 2 TE sets actually fluctuated a bit during the season. Early in the year, they utilized it quite a bit; 23% of their snaps in the first 4 games were in 12 personnel. That decreased dramatically because of Dion Sims’ ineptitude, dropping to 10% in the next 7 games as he was phased out of the offense and then got injured. As Adam Shaheen worked into the lineup over the last five weeks, it rose again to 22%. I think it’s safe to say the Bears would like to run more 2 TE sets, but need the TEs to do it (as Andrew Dannehy has written about). If Adam Shaheen can stay healthy, we should see more of this in 2019.
  • Overall, the Bears were generally not very successful running the ball compared to NFL average in any formation except 12, when they had 2 TEs on the field. Hopefully better TE play-and thus running that formation more frequently-can be part of helping improve the run game in 2019. Personnel changeover should also help, as David Montgomery and Mike Davis are both better fits for the inside zone scheme Nagy runs than Jordan Howard was.
  • When it comes to passing, the Bears were generally around league average in all three main formations.
  • It’s also worth noting that the Bears almost never had 4+ wide receivers on the field at one time. This only accounted for 10 snaps all year. I attribute that to several factors. First, they rarely played from behind, meaning they rarely needed to air it out to catch up or stay in the game. Second, the depth at wide receiver wasn’t very good behind their top trio (though that should definitely change in 2019). Third, and probably most important, they had non-WRs lined up in WR roles fairly often. According to Pro Football Focus, RB Tarik Cohen lined up in the slot or out wide on 184 snaps, and The Quant Edge had TE Trey Burton lined up in one of those spots 572 times. I imagine that will continue going forward due to the importance of Burton and Cohen to the offense, though the presence of better WR depth could lead to slightly more 4 WR looks.

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