After Months Of Waiting, It’s FINALLY A Chicago Bears Football Monday

| August 7th, 2023

Football is back this weekend, baby! Thank goodness!

Since it’s impossible for us to know what players & teams are working on during camp sessions, “evaluating” the videos we see from practice (especially the videos from practices without pads) feels rather silly. Thus, after reading Training Camp reports for ~2 weeks, I’m ready to watch downs where the stats get recorded.

The Preseason may not count towards the Bears’ overall record, but it’s full of:

  • Padded Reps
  • In a game-like setting
  • Where we can assume that players all over the roster are going to try their best to win each down (as opposed to workshopping new techniques that they haven’t yet readied via practice)

That’s not a perfect recipe for glimpsing the future of the 2023 Bears’ season, but it should be more than the scraps we get through Twitter X on the day-to-day.

The players seem to take the preseason seriously (well, as seriously as you can take a team you aren’t game-planning for) as evidenced by the comfortable play of QBs like Patrick Mahomes preseason (222 yards and 3 TDs while completing 18 passes on 26 attempts), Tua Tagovailoa (179 yards and 1 TD while completing 15 passes on 16 attempts), Geno Smith (256 yards and 0 TDs while completing 39 passes on 45 attempts), and plenty of other QBs where strong preseason showings very quietly signaled good things to come.

Don’t take the above paragraph too seriously, preseason performance certainly isn’t a sure thing, but this time of year is all about fun anyways — let’s have some this weekend!

I can’t wait to see what surprises Saturday afternoon has for us. Will Chase Claypool carry his camp dominance into the game? If the starters don’t play, does that mean multiple series of Tyler Scott, Ja’Tyre Carter, and other young guns? At which position (and when in the game) will Terell Smith get his first reps? My mind is racing just thinking about the possibilities.

To Help Pass The Time…

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Never Get Too High (Or Too Low!) On Training Camp Reports

| August 1st, 2023

I don’t know about you, but I loathe uncertainty.

Will Justin Fields take the next step this year?

Can any of the Bears’ young DL step forward and save their pass rush?

Chicago will finally beat the Packers on Week 1, right?

Questions like this eat at me whenever I think about the 2023 season, and for good reason — each question’s answer is a massive domino that could swing Chicago’s year.

But as excited as I am that the Bears are back in pads today at Halas Hall, I want to caution everyone from drawing any hard conclusions from these football practices — after all, Training Camp isn’t the indicator we tend to want to make it, for better and for worse.

Us fans, so starved for football after 7 long months of offseason, want to take every video clip and use it as proof of QB progress, the skill of a rookie WR, or even the efficacy of a Defensive Back, but in reality these football practices are so full of chaotic experimentation, new installs of offensive/defensive terminology, coaches pushing boundaries, and rapid chemistry-building on both sides of the ball that mistakes become common (even intended) and lead to sloppy practices like the Bears had just yesterday.

To some, Fields throwing multiple INTs in a practice may seem like cause for alarm. On that note, take a look at early reports from the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals’ first day in pads and see what beat reporters had to say about the soon-to-be AFC Champions:

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A Closer Look at WRs, Part II: Depth, Downs, and Dimensions

| July 6th, 2023

In Part I, we saw that DJ Moore is a legitimate WR1 who should excel with better QB play, Darnell Mooney is a quality WR2 who is pretty well-rounded, and Chase Claypool can be a solid starter if he rebounds from a disastrous 2022 season. Today, we’re going to look at their involvement in the passing game through a number of other lenses.

Targets by Depth

Let’s start by looking at how frequently and effectively Chicago’s WRs were targeted at various depths of the field. The table below shows their stats compared to 80 NFL WRs with 50+ targets in 2022. Areas where they ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while areas in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF). 

(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:

    • The first thing that stands out is that all three WRs saw a high percent of their targets deep down the field. This fully matches with where Justin Fields likes to throw, and should make for some fun football in 2023 as the Bears live out every Madden player’s fantasy and go bombs away.
      • Of course, the efficiency each WR posted on those downfield passes was not as stellar as the volume.
        • Moore was generally above average in the 20+ yard range after being around average in volume and effectiveness in 2020-21. It’s worth noting, however, that More has spent his last three years in Carolina catching passes from a poo-poo platter of QBs, and his overall deep efficiency has been much better than anybody else on the Panthers. It is reasonable to expect that he will be better on deep balls in 2023 catching passes from a better deep ball passer.
        • Mooney was generally below average on deep balls in 2022, which was disappointing considering how well Fields did overall throwing to that area. Mooney was much better on deep passes from Fields in 2021, which gives hope that he can rebound now that he is no longer the WR1 drawing the bulk of defensive attention.
        • Claypool really struggled on deep balls (and pretty much everything else) in 2022, but he was much better in 2020-21, when he saw an even higher 25% of his targets 20+ yards down the field and posted respectable catch rates (35%) and yards/target marks (12.6).
      • On the flip side, Moore and Mooney saw a very low rate of their targets on short passes 0-9 yards downfield, which is an area where Fields has really struggled so far in his career. All three players also struggled when they were targeted short. That may not mesh well with helping Fields grow and improve.
        • It is worth noting that the short game was a big change for Moore in 2022. In 2020-21, he saw 40% of his targets in this range, and posted a highly respectable 72% catch rate and 7.7 yards/target. This gives hope that Moore’s short struggles in 2022 were more due to the offense and QB play than any deficiency on Moore’s part.
        • Likewise, Claypool saw much different short target usage prior to 2022, seeing far fewer targets in this range (39%) but being much more effective with them (78% catch rate, 7.4 yards/target).
      • For the 2nd year in a row, Mooney saw a high rate of targets behind the line of scrimmage but posted poor efficiency on those targets. I’m sure coaches are thinking that getting him the ball on screens gives him a chance to use his blazing speed to pick up easy yards, but it doesn’t seem to be working well, so hopefully we see less of that in 2023.

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A Closer Look at WRs, Part I: Total Usage, Man vs. Zone

| July 5th, 2023

All of a sudden, the Bears’ WR room looks fairly solid, as they return Darnell Mooney, their leading receiver over the last two years, added Chase Claypool in a midseason 2022 trade, and traded for DJ Moore from Carolina this offseason. As you can see in the table below, this gives Chicago three WRs who put up starting-caliber (top 96, or 3 per team) production in 2022.

Of course, volume isn’t everything.

It is also worth exploring how efficient a player was with the targets they received. The table below shows some basic efficiency stats for Moore, Mooney, and Claypool in 2022, as well as ranks relative to the 80 NFL WRs who saw at least 50 targets. The spread of outcomes for those 80 players is also shown to give more context overall. Any areas where a player ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • At first glance, the efficiency for all three players looks pretty poor. Mooney was around average in all three metrics, while Moore had a low catch percentage but was otherwise fine and Claypool was bad across the board. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that all three were in bad passing offenses last year, largely due to poor quarterback play.
    • Moore spent his season catching passes from Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and PJ Walker. As a team, the Panthers finished 31st in completion percentage, 15th in yards/attempt, and 27th in passer rating.
    • Mooney spent 2022 in Chicago catching passes from Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian, Nathan Peterman, and Tim Boyle. The Bears were 30th in completion percentage, 21st in yards/attempt, and 26th in passer rating, so within that context producing average efficiency overall is a big win for Mooney. As we saw during Fields in Focus, Mooney was one of only two competent targets the Bears had last year, and there was definitely a clear split in efficiency throwing to Mooney/Kmet and everybody else.
    • Claypool split his season between Chicago and Pittsburgh, where he caught passes from Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. The Steelers finished 19th in completion percentage, 28th in yards/attempt, and 30th in passer rating.

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An Open Letter to the DBB Community

| June 28th, 2023

Dear DBB,

How else could I start

My term on this great website

But with a Haiku?

I’m still in shock that this is happening. For those that don’t know, my name is Robert Schmitz and my journey to writing this blog post began with me chattering so ceaselessly about Chicago’s professional football team in 2018 that my wife pushed me to start a podcast “so that you can find someone else to talk to about this”. That podcast became Bear With Me, and after recording 3 episodes and posting them to Windy City Gridiron’s Fanposts section, Lester Wiltfong Jr. brought me aboard and I joined a team of three podcasts that, within a month, became just one (mine).

I didn’t know anything about football at the time, but I thought I did! And as I covered the Bears for my first season in 2019, I slowly found out that my preseason Super Bowl predictions were nothing but a sham. Mitch wasn’t “the guy” and, as it turned out, neither was Matt Nagy. It was a heartbreaking season, like so many other bad Bears’ seasons we’ve endured since 2006, but worse was that I really thought I knew football well enough to have seen the bad news coming — I didn’t. And because of that, I had spent the entire offseason hyping up Bears fans just like my younger self about the dawning of a dominant Bears age that never came. Just like my younger self, those fans felt the door to a dynasty slam shut in their face. That’s a visceral feeling.

I took being that wrong personally. I still do (or, at least I try to). And now, through detailed study of everything from All-22 footage to the innerworkings of advanced NFL metrics, my aim is to scratch and claw every day in search of new Bears understandings, new Bears insights, and new ways to fall in love with the game we’re all so passionate about.

I don’t expect everything I write to be perfect, but I guarantee you I’m going to try my best to unearth new truths and new viewpoints about this great team while consistently showing you the work that led me to those answers. I’ll use videos, audio (podcasts), twitter posts, anything I can to help build the best blog posts possible for your discussion — that’s where you come in, because you and I are a team as we build this site together.

Every post will create discussion, and that discussion will create community. That community fosters intense camaraderie, something Bears fans can never get enough of — after all, we all remember who we commiserated with after the Double Doink. I want that camaraderie for every Bears fan that doesn’t yet realize that no matter who they are or where they are, there’s always a group of wonderful people they can discuss their team with only a few clicks away.

I don’t expect you to agree with me all the time, but frankly our discussions would be boring if you did. Let’s build something awesome together.

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Chase Claypool, and the Problem of Soulless Aggregation

| June 20th, 2023

True story. About a year ago (I think) I got word from a source close to Ted Phillips that the former team president was cutting his workday short to pay a visit to Virginia McCaskey. Virginia’s family was concerned the illness with which she was suffering at that time might be the one to finally take her out. Ted, essentially a member of the McCaskey family, did not want to miss what might be a final opportunity to thank the matriarch of the Chicago Bears for giving him the opportunity to lead the franchise he loves. I wrote a column about it called In Praise of Virginia McCaskey. I never wrote “Virginia McCaskey is dying.” As a matter of fact, I deliberately did not speculate on her health, even joking about the notion of “good health” for someone in their late-90s. And yet days after my column posted, I was inundated with folks on social media criticizing me for Virginia McCaskey’s continued existence.

You see, what happened was, nobody read the post. Nobody read what was, in fact, my attempt at a living eulogy, a column I have been told Virginia read and enjoyed immensely. They simply read the first paragraph and ran with, “DaBearsBlog says Virginia McCaskey will be dead in minutes.”

I don’t know Marc Silverman (Silvy) personally, but I feel like I do, and he has been a pivotal part of the success of DBB. Here’s what I imagine happened last week. Someone in Lake Forest told Silvy that the team is frustrated with Chase Claypool’s progress. Silvy went on his radio show and shared that information. But he didn’t say, “CHASE CLAYPOOL IS A BUST AND THE BEARS REGRET THE TRADE!” He actually said there were frustrations, which there usually are when injuries are involved, and the ball was now effectively in Claypool’s court. He sounded, at least to me, completely measured and perfectly reliable. But the next thing you know, it is a nationally aggregated headline and the whole of #BearsTwitter is “forced” to respond, themselves having no earthly clue what anyone inside Halas Hall thinks about anything.

Here’s what I know about Chase Claypool. I know he was an incredibly productive receiver over the first two years of his career, averaging 60-860-5. I know Ryan Poles loved his unique set of skills enough to deliver the Steelers a second-round draft pick in the middle of the 2022 campaign. And I know that Claypool was relatively unproductive in the months that followed, unsurprising since he joined the worst team in the league and his quarterback fought through injuries over the final month. Do I think Claypool is going to be a star in Chicago? I have no idea. Do I think Claypool is going to be out of Chicago after the 2023 season? I have no idea. But I am willing to wait until he has a full off-season with a quarterback who likes him a quite a bit so that I can judge him over the course of a full campaign.

And I can tell you what someone inside Halas Hall told me about the Chase Claypool story: “They are out there running around in shorts. What is there to be frustrated about?” (This person was on vacation and accompanied their text response with a picture of blue water and a green beverage.) The subtext of this comment: frustrations with Claypool, and Claypool’s overall production, are not that important big picture. If wasting a second-round pick brings this building down, the structural integrity never existed at the start.

So why did this innocuous Silvy comment gain such traction? The answer is not complicated. The sports media landscape is now a conglomerate of aggregators; folks who do none of their own research, cultivate none of their own sources, write at about a seventh-grade level, and get paid by the click. They scavenge the internet for anything they can turn into a search result on Google. It seems a miserably hollow existence to me, but to each their own. These aggregators feed off the notion that NFL fans are the most impatient human beings to be found in the whole of the sports world. Everything has to be a scoop. Every post has to be posited as news.

These aggregators also believe fans are stupid and more often than not they are proven correct. I’ve always said about the phrase “snake oil salesman” that we only know that phrase because people bought a ton snake oil! Off the record, the folks doing this work will tell you their mandate is simply to create as many posts as possible. They don’t care about the veracity of the content because they are shielded by the notion that it is not their content. They’re just the messengers. Google Chase Claypool and here is what the aggregators will tell you.

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Friday Lynx Package [6/2/23]

| June 2nd, 2023

Another week in the books! Another round of links from around the world of the Chicago Bears.

  • Interior demolition has begun at Arlington Park, and the process of moving the Bears to the suburbs continues. And for those of you who think this is going to be simply brilliant, Taylor Swift played in the suburbs of NYC this past weekend and the traffic halted everything in the area.
  • Former Bears linebackers coach Bill McGovern has passed.
  • Max Strus is in the NBA Finals. He’s also a lifelong Bears fan with serious opinions.
  • The Bears are coming to Fortnite. (I don’t know what Fortnite is, but I’m sure some of you do.)
  • ACTUAL BEAR NEWS: A bear in Connecticut stole 60 cupcakes at a bakery.
  • Early word from the practice field? Roschon Johnson has a chance to be the starting running back for the 2023 Chicago Bears. (This is the kind of thing that always happens in the short camps, but the team is seriously impressed with the versatility Johnson brings to the position.)
  • From A to Z Sports: “Chase has improved tremendously, just from the end of last year to now,” Fields said. “That’s one thing I’m truly proud to say, just seeing his work ethic, his attitude change, you can just see he’s taken another step. Definitely excited for that.” Claypool has taken so much criticism from Twitter experts. There’s no player I’ll be rooting harder for in 2023.
  • When there’s nothing to write about this time of year, folks starting writing about NEXT year. And the topic du jour is whether the Bears will pick up their quarterback’s fifth-year option. Does this require an article? No. If Fields is good in 2023, they will. If Fields is not good in 2023, they likely will not.

A final note:

A few weeks back, the Tribune’s Rick Pearson “won the Chicago Headline Club’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award along with three other veteran journalists who have covered Chicago for decades.” Rick is a terrific guy, a brilliant journalist, and a good friend. Since first meeting him with Reverend Dave at the Billy Goat over a decade ago, getting together with Rick at the Goat has been the only “must do” thing on every one of my trips to Chicago. He IS Chicago to me, and I want to congratulate him on this much-deserved honor.

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Fields in Focus (8/8): Final Takeaways and the Future Outlook

| May 12th, 2023

Today is the last of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.

Lessons Learned

Let’s start with a brief recap of some of the main takeaways from the series so far:

  • Fields experienced moderate growth as a passer from his rookie season but did not make “the leap” that you typically see from great quarterbacks in year two.
  • Fields shows very clear strengths (throwing the ball deep, running) and weaknesses (short, quick passes and taking too many sacks). This leads to plenty of big plays but also far too many negative ones.
  • Evaluating Fields becomes difficult due to the poor supporting cast around him.
    • This especially showed up with the offensive line in the pressure data. Fields is always going to be a quarterback who holds the ball for a bit longer than most, meaning that he is particularly dependent on a quality offensive line to make that style work.
    • This showed up most clearly with the pass catchers when looking at how bad Chicago’s non-Mooney WRs were against man coverage. Nobody else was able to get open, and Chicago’s entire offense suffered as a result.

Year Three Growth

Now let’s look at how Fields compares to a trio of recent QBs who had year three breakouts: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Allen. The table below shows their statistics in year two vs. year three of their careers, and Justin Fields’ data for year two in 2022.

A few thoughts:

  • Looking at the other three QBs, I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa is a very good comparison. He doesn’t use his legs much and is generally a shorter passer with a high completion percentage. His year three breakout was driven by a new coach/offense and pushing the ball deeper (his average target depth increased from 7.0 yards to 9.6 yards), and none of that is related to Fields.
  • Hurts and Allen, on the other hand, are pretty similar stylistically to Fields in that they hold the ball longer and push the ball down the field, which generally results in a lower completion percentage. Their year two stats line up pretty well with Fields’, with the exception of Fields being sacked significantly more.
    • Improvement for both in year three coincided with them taking more of the easy stuff. According to PFF, Allen and Hurts both increased their rate of short throws (54% to 58% for Allen, 52% to 61% for Hurts) and decreased their deep shots (15% to 13% for Allen, 16% to 13% for Hurts). They didn’t completely change their play style but became a bit more willing to take the easy yards underneath, which helped them complete more passes, gain more yards per attempt, and avoid more interceptions. Fields had a similar year 2 passing profile (55% passes behind the line or short, 16% deep), and he should look to make those same changes in 2023.
    • Hurts and Allen both saw their rushing efficiency decrease in year three compared to year two, which is also a reasonable expectation for Fields after his rushing came close to setting NFL records last year. This study found that running QBs often see passing efficiency improve in year three, and that these QBs become less dependent on needing to use their legs as they become more effective through the air.

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Fields in Focus (6/8): The Explosive Plays

| May 10th, 2023

Today is the sixth of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.

All data comes from Pro Football Reference‘s Game Play Finder, unless otherwise noted.

Explosive Plays

I’ve been tracking explosive plays for several years because I found they have a strong correlation to total points scored by the offense. Therefore, they’re an important indicator of offensive success; by and large, good offenses produce more explosive plays.

The exact criteria I use for explosive plays are runs that gain 15 or more yards and passes that gain 20 or more yards. This is borrowed from ESPN Stats.

The table below shows how the Bears ranked in explosive runs, explosive passes, and total explosive plays compared to the other 31 NFL teams last year. Areas where they were in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • Fans might remember that Justin Fields missed two games with injury last year, and these numbers change ever so slightly if you look only at the 15 games Fields started and extrapolate those to a 17-game season. That would bring them to 73 total explosive plays, which would rank 16th.
    • Most of this series has been looking at Fields from week 5 on only, since there was such a noticeable change in his performance after a dismal first month. Focusing on those games would slightly bump the Bears up to 74 explosive plays (15th) when extrapolated to a full season.
  • These numbers are not different enough to change the general conclusions. The Bears had one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the NFL but were one of the least explosive passing games. This is probably not a surprise to any Bears fans who watched the games last year. Overall, that worked out being around average in total explosive plays.

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Dannehy: Bears Should Prioritize Offensive Line

| January 26th, 2023

There is no foolproof method to build an NFL team, but as the Chicago Bears head into a crucial offseason, they should prioritize strengthening their offensive line.

As the debate about offensive line vs. wide receiver rages across the Twittersphere, it’s important to take a step back, look at what the Bears have on their roster and how they can best maximize that talent. That starts with quarterback Justin Fields, who has flaws as a passer, but has shown great touch on deep balls and is as electric a runner as there has been in the league, at any position.

Playing his first two seasons behind a subpar offensive line hasn’t allowed Fields to showcase his ability as a passer. At Ohio St., he did most of his damage from inside the pocket – his 4.4 speed was seen as a bonus. But there haven’t been clean pockets to work from in Chicago, which has made evaluating the quarterback that much more difficult.

When the Bears have kept the pocket clean, Fields has shown the ability to go through his progressions and make the right read. Furthermore, it allows the team to open up his greatest asset as a passer: the deep ball.

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