Self-Scouting Matt Nagy’s 2019 Play Calling

| February 21st, 2020

The Bears’ offense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2019 for a variety of reasons. I have already highlighted issues with personnel at right guard, quarterback, and tight end, as well as problems with how coaches chose to use the personnel available to them.

Today I want to look at down and distance tendencies to see what we can learn about Matt Nagy’s situational play calling. With that in mind, I looked at how effective Chicago’s offense was in various situations compared to the NFL as a whole in 2019. All statistics are from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System and Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

First Down

The table below compares their performance on first down to the NFL as a whole. Success rate data is from Sharp Football.

A few thoughts:

  • The Bears were generally around average in terms of success rate, which is a measure of staying with/ahead of the chains (a successful 1st down play gains at least 40% of the yardage needed for a 1st down).
  • They lagged behind in yards/play both running and passing, which indicates a lack of explosive plays. This makes sense given they were the least explosive offense in the NFL in 2019. Indeed, they had 15 explosive pass plays (2nd fewest) and 6 explosive runs (2nd fewest) on 1st down.
  • The slightly lower run % is partially due to needing to throw it in the 4th quarter while chasing a deficit. If you only look at the 1st-3rd quarter, when that shouldn’t be much of an issue, the Bears ran it on 1st down 49% of the time. This is still lower than the NFL average, which indicates the Bears were generally more pass-happy than the average NFL team. That’s not really a surprise.

Second Down

When it comes to 2nd down, context is needed.

A 3-yard gain is great on 2nd and 2, pretty good on 2nd and 5, and awful on 2nd and 10. With that in mind, I split the data into 4 groups based on the distance required to get a 1st down. The table below shows the results. Numbers in parentheses indicate the NFL average for that group.

A few thoughts:

  • On 2nd and short situations, Chicago was very run-heavy. This shows they were focused on picking up the 1st down rather than making a big play happen. 2nd and short should be a prime chance to take a shot down the field since you can still have a good chance of converting on 3rd down if the pass is incomplete, but the Bears attempted a deep pass only 1 time on 35 such plays.
  • Of course, the NFL as a whole only threw the ball deep on 4.4% of such plays in 2019. This is still a higher rate than the Bears (1/35 = 2.9%), but the sample size is too small to really draw many conclusions there. As a whole, coaches could stand to be more aggressive on 2nd and short.
  • In other situations (3+ yards to go), the Bears generally threw it a little more than the average NFL team. This isn’t surprising given that they were generally a pass-happy team in 2019.
  • Generally the offense was horrible on 2nd and short and pretty decent in other 2nd down situations, though the lack of big plays again rears its head with consistently low 1st down rates for 2nd and long (7+ yards).

Third & Fourth Down

I grouped 3rd and 4th down together because the 4th down sample size was so small, and on both downs the objective is the same: pick up a 1st down.

Because of that, I ignored yards per play, and just focused on how often they met that objective and moved the chains. Again, NFL averages are shown in parentheses.

A few thoughts:

  • The Bears generally got into 3rd and long more frequently than the rest of the NFL. 54% of their 3rd down plays came needing 7 or more yards for a 1st down, while the league average was 49%. This is part of the reason why they were 25th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion % at just under 36% (compared to a league median of 40%).
  • The Bears were consistently pass-happy on 3rd and 4th down, which makes sense when you look at how bad they were converting when running the ball. They were actually pretty solid picking up 1st downs in most passing situations. Hey look, we found something the offense was not terrible at in 2019!

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