Self-Scouting Luke Getsy’s 2022 Play Calling

| August 2nd, 2023

The Bears’ offense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2022 for a variety of reasons. I have already highlighted issues with personnel on the offensive line, running back, and wide receiver, and looked in depth at some of the ways quarterback Justin Fields struggled in his sophomore campaign.

Today I want to take a closer look at play caller Luke Getsy to see what we can learn about how he masked and/or contributed to Chicago’s struggles. With that in mind, I looked at how Chicago’s play calling compared to the rest of the NFL at difference down and distance scenarios. All statistics are from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

Two quick important notes:

  • In order to keep game situation from skewing the data, I only looked at the first three quarters.
  • I also explored data only between the 20s to avoid field position impacting the play calls and how defenses played.

1st Down

Let’s start with a look at 1st down, which is about the most neutral situation an offense can be in. The table below shows how frequently and effectively the Bears ran and passed the ball compared to their NFL peers. Chicago’s rank is shown, and any values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • It should come as no surprise to see that the Bears were among the most run-heavy teams in the NFL on 1st down. Spoiler alert, but we will see that trend continue at pretty much every down and distance, which is no surprise to anybody who even casually followed Chicago in 2022.
  • When running the ball, the Bears were good but not great. They exceeded the NFL average in both average yards gained and the rate at which they picked up 1st downs, but were not among the best teams in either regard.
    • This is heavily skewed by David Montgomery leading the Bears in 1st down rushing attempts while averaging only 3.6 yards/attempt and picking up a 1st down on less than 4% of his carries. Field (5.6 yards/attempt, 1st down on 14% of carries) and Herbert (8.0 yards/attempt, 1st down on 18% of carries) were significantly more effective in these situations. Losing Montgomery is addition by subtraction for the Bears’ run game in 2023.
  • In the instances the Bears did pass, they were really bad. They got sacked a ton, and didn’t manage many yards even when avoiding sacks. That’s ugly, and begins to explain why Getsy called so many runs.

Overall, the Bears were one of the worst teams in the NFL on 1st down, both in terms of gaining yards and picking up a fresh set of downs. The table below shows how the Bears’ 1st down struggles left them for 2nd down.

It’s noteworthy here that the Bears rank very low in the best possible outcomes (1st down or 2nd and short), and very high in the middle outcome (2nd and medium). Their run-heavy play calling is clearly designed to keep them out of bad situations, and it somewhat worked, though they still found themselves in 2nd and long or turning the ball over slightly more often than usual. However, the trade-off from that is that Chicago self-avoided the best outcomes, which are more likely from passes than runs.

To become a good offense, they’re going to have to throw the ball more often, even when they aren’t in situations dictating they need to throw the ball, and I will be watching closely to see how aggressively Luke Getsy increases the pass calls this year now that he has the personnel to do it effectively.

2nd 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. Once again, the Bears’ rank is shown relative to the 32 NFL teams, and any values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while bottom 25% ranks are highlighted in red.

(Side note: sorry if the formatting is poor for the graph. You can click on it to see it in a new window in full if it’s not showing up right for you.)

A few thoughts:

  • Once again, we see that the Bears are among the most run-heavy teams in the league regardless of situation. That was especially true on 2nd and long, when they were the NFL’s only team to exceed 50% runs in the 7-10 range or 11+ range.
    • Here we see clearly just how much the Bears prioritized avoiding must-pass situations like 3rd and long. They would rather try to gain some yards to get into 3rd and medium than go for a 1st down.
  • And yet again, we see the Bears giving up a ton of sacks when they do try to pass (2nd and 1-2 yards to go is a weird sample size with only 4 pass plays), which limits the overall effectiveness of their passing game.
    • Small sample sizes can make this a little weird when splitting up by down and distance, but if you just look at 2nd down as a whole, the Bears averaged 8.2 yards/pass attempt on 2nd down, which is actually quite good. However, they gave up 10 sacks on 74 dropbacks (14% sack rate), which is awful, and when you factor in those plays and the yardage lost, that drops them to 6.4 yards/pass play. To be fair, that’s actually a decent number, though decidedly not a great one, and it speaks to the Bears perhaps being able to exploit defenses expecting runs by catching them off guard and throwing the ball.

When you add it all up, here’s how the Bears’ 2nd down plays left them for 3rd down.

Once again we see the Bears doing a very poor job of getting into the really good scenarios, as their run-heavy approach leaves them heavy in the middle ground while helping them at least somewhat avoid the really bad outcomes. Overall, this left the Bears around average in 3rd down distance to go, which is good considering their personnel limitations, but they were among the most likely teams to need a 3rd down since they were so bad picking up a new set of downs on 1st or 2nd down.

3rd + 4th Down

Let’s move now to 3rd down, which the Bears are very likely to reach because they don’t do a good job of picking up a new set of downs on 1st or 2nd down. I added in 4th down too, 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. Once again, the sample is split up by distance, and the Bears are ranked relative to the 32 NFL teams, with any ranking in the top 25% shown in green and bottom 25% shown in red.

A few thoughts:

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Bears were among the most run-heavy teams in the NFL in most of the 3rd and 4th down distance groups.
    • That’s actually a good thing on 3rd and short or medium, where you can see the average conversion rate is higher for runs than pass plays. The Bears did an excellent job of converting their runs in both of these instances, though they were really bad passing in these same scenarios.
    • The Bears were also pretty run heavy on 3rd/4th and long (7+ yards to go), though that’s mainly because Game Play Finder counts QB scrambles, which were called pass plays, as runs. 11 of the 16 runs Chicago had in these situations were deemed scrambles.
  • One thing that didn’t fit in the table, but is worth pointing out, is just how bad the Bears were at passing when opposing teams knew they had to pass. Media talked about that quite a bit in terms of Chicago’s 4th quarter passing struggles when they were trailing late in the game last year, but we see it show up earlier in the game when the Bears were behind the chains as well. On 3rd and 11+, when the defense is expecting pass, the Bears averaged less than 3 yards per pass attempt, not including giving up a sack on 20% of their dropbacks. It turns out there’s a reason Luke Getsy worked so hard to keep the Bears out of these bad spots.
  • Overall, the Bears did a decent job on 3rd and 4th down, picking up a 1st down 42% of the time. This ranked 11th in the NFL, and was slightly better than the league average of 40%.

Lessons Learned

The 2022 Bears liked to run the ball, regardless of down and distance. They really struggled passing the ball except in instances where they could catch the defense off guard while they were expecting a run, and they were really bad when the opposing defense knew they had to pass.

The run-heavy approach did a decent job of helping the Bears avoid getting too far behind the chains, but also limited how frequently they picked up early 1st downs, which make the offenses’ job easier. Still, avoiding the really bad situations left the Bears in reasonable 3rd down spots more often than not, and they did a solid job of converting on those 3rd down situations.

None of this is probably a huge surprise to anybody who watched the Bears closely in 2022. Their offense had very clear limitations in the passing game, and their play calling reflected that. What gets really interesting to me is thinking about where this will go in 2023 now that the Bears have added DJ Moore, Chase Claypool, Robert Tonyan, Darnell Wright, and Nate Davis to the offense. Will those new faces allow the passing game to take off, and if so, will the play calling better take advantage of the fact that passing is generally better than running in the NFL?

2023 is a big year for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. He showed in 2022 – his 1st time calling plays in the NFL – that he is capable of helping avoid really bad outcomes on offense. Now he needs to prove that he can weaponize his play calling to consistently threaten defenses and help a talented offense on paper translate to a potent one on the field.

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