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Dannehy: Scheme Alone Can’t Fix Bears Offense

| May 18th, 2022


Relying on a scheme change to fix a broken offense has proven to be a broken philosophy, especially when the person in charge of that scheme has never done the job before. Luke Getsy made reference to scheme being a reason to believe the offense — specifically the pass catchers — will be better, and while he should have confidence in his own ability, he surely knows the Bears need their players to be better if they’re going to score more points. Getsy is well regarded, but new play callers generally struggle and almost never get time to figured it out.

In the last decade, 26 non-offensive coaches have been hired. Nine of those went with offensive coordinators who were new to the job and the success rate of those coaches is not good. Of those nine, three were fired after just one season and two were canned during or after their second seasons. One was fired with the entire staff after the second season.

There are two young play callers entering with their jobs on the line in 2022.  Mike LaFleur needs his Jets to improve from being in the bottom six of the league pretty much across the board. Scott Turner took over in Carolina during the 2019 season and went to Washington with Ron Rivera, but his offenses have all been near the bottom-10.

The one real success story so far is interesting, as Matt LaFleur had a bottom-10 offense in his lone season running Mike Vrable’s unit in Tennessee before becoming the head coach of the Packers. LaFleur, of course, has been dominant in Green Bay, but we don’t need to talk about that.

As highly thought of as Getsy is, the same could be said for the likes of Joe Brady, Rich Scangarello, Geep Chryst and Rick Dennison.

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Do Justin Fields’ Rookie Fumbles Portend a Fumbler? Data Says It’s Unlikely.

| May 17th, 2022


Despite only starting 10 of 17 games last year, Justin Fields fumbled the ball 12 times, which was the 4th highest mark in the NFL. That’s a real problem. Since fumble recovery is random, meaning you will lose roughly half of your fumbles, that’s an additional turnover around once every two games. Given the strong relationship between turnovers and game outcome, this is a recipe for losing a whole lot of games.

But is this a problem that is likely to continue for Fields? Let’s see what history might be able to tell us.

Fumbling Rookies.

It is surprisingly common for rookie QBs to fumble the ball. A lot. Since 2001, there have been 24 instances of a rookie QB fumbling the ball ten or more times. Looking at the rookies who have played the most, there are 61 rookie QBs in that time span with at least 250 pass attempts, and 22 of them (more than 1/3) had at least ten fumbles.

So, in that regard, Fields is in good company. While many of the QBs on that list went on to bust status, there were plenty of successful QBs as well, including Lamar Jackson, Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, and Carson Wentz as long-time starters.

This led to a logical follow-up question: do QBs who fumble a bunch as rookies improve after that? In order to explore this, I tracked fumble rate through two methods:

  • Plays per fumble, which includes all pass attempts, sacks, and rushes. This is a measure of how often a QB fumbles compared to how often the ball is in his hands.
  • Hits per fumble, which includes all sacks and rushes as plays in which the QB got hit. This is a measure of how often a QB fumbles when exposed to contact with the ball in his hands.

I should note that this list only includes QBs who had 1000+ career pass attempts total, such that there was a large enough post-rookie sample size to gather meaningful data. This gave a sample size of 17, which includes over 8,000 rookie plays and 40,000 non-rookie plays.

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If Sustained Success is Entirely Dependent on QB Play, Ryan Poles’ Process for 2022 is Questionable

| May 12th, 2022

In his opening press conference as the general manager of the Chicago Bears, Ryan Poles boldly proclaimed his goal to “sustain success over a long period of time.” This is a fairly standard thing to say for a new general manager, because it’s what everybody in the NFL is trying to accomplish. But today I want to evaluate Poles’ approach to his first offseason in charge of a team with that goal in mind.


How to Achieve Sustained Success

Fact 1: Offense is far more stable than defense year over year. To put it another way, defensive success is not sustainable – a fact Bears fans should be intimately familiar with after the last five years. Thus, the main factor to drive sustained team success is going to be sustained offensive success.

Fact 2: Good offensive play is driven by good QB play. This makes perfect sense, and I think we all knew it, but it’s good to have proof to back it up.

Conclusion: The best path to sustained success is a good QB. A brief look at recent NFL history supports that notion:

If you consider making the playoffs to mean success, there have been 18 instances in the last ten years where teams made the playoffs at least three times in a four-year span. Ten of those involved a solid or better QB on a rookie deal as the primary starter, while six more featured future HOF QBs on veteran contracts.

Only two of 18, then, involved solid-but-unspectacular QBs who weren’t on rookie deals. Those were Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill and Kansas City with Alex Smith. So, it is possible to sustain success without a really good QB or cheap solid QB, but it’s a much less likely path.

It’s also worth noting that both of those two found very little success in the playoffs. Only three of nine playoff seasons featured a playoff win, and only one reached a conference championship game. So, if your definition of sustained success involves more than bouncing out of the playoffs early on, those don’t really meet it.

If you want to get more selective and look at playoff success as an indicator of success, this list gets even more QB-dependent.

  • 28 of 40 teams in the conference championship game featured a starting QB with at least one All Pro or MVP in their career, and that doesn’t include Andrew Luck (retired early before achieving either of those) or Joe Burrow (only two NFL seasons so far, seems headed in that direction).
  • Only eight NFL QBs have started at least two conference championship games in the last decade, and six of them have made an All Pro or won MVP.

Again, this doesn’t mean getting a really good QB is the only path to sustained success (see SF with Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick about a decade ago, or SF with Jimmy Garoppolo the last several years). It’s just the most likely path to sustained success.

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Using Historical Trends to Guide Chicago’s Draft Approach

| April 28th, 2022


Let’s look at historical trends to see where the Bears can expect to find positional value at various points in the draft. This builds very closely off work I’ve done each of the last two years, and here’s a quick recap of the approach:

  • I looked at the last 15 drafts (2007-21) to see how many players at each position were drafted in the top 50 (their 2nd round picks are #39 and 48), top 70 (their 3rd round pick is #71), and top 150 (their next picks are #148 and #150). I didn’t look at the 1st round because the Bears don’t have a 1st round pick this year.
    • My source for this data did not differentiate between CB and S, so I combined those into DB.
    • They did differentiate between interior offensive line and offensive tackle, so I kept those separate.
  • I then used The Athletic’s composite big board, which averages rankings from a number of different draft sources, to compare to historical trends. I focused especially on positions which I believe are the primary needs for the Bears. The idea here is that positions with more players than usual ranked in a given range are more likely to have somebody highly rated slip through the cracks, while positions with fewer players than usual ranked in a given range are more likely to have somebody reach for them to fill a need.

This is my third year applying this approach to the draft, and I was a bit hesitant about it at first, because it seems risky to rely on draft rankings from people who don’t work in the NFL. It’s quite possible that people in the NFL view these players entirely differently. However, I think the track record has been pretty solid over the last two years. For instance:

  • In 2020, I found the Bears should look to grab a defensive back early, because the depth on day three was not very good, and they landed Jaylon Johnson in round two. I also found the value at WR should be good throughout the draft, so the Bears could add there at any point, and they found Darnell Mooney in round five.
  • In 2021, I found the QB class was loaded at the top but not deep, so the Bears should look to take a QB early. At the same time, I found the OT class was historically deep, so they should look to draft one early and another late. They ended up with Justin Fields, Teven Jenkins, and Larry Borom all contributing as rookies.
  • Of course, it hasn’t all been great. In 2020 I said the Bears would not find value at TE in round 2, and they landed Cole Kmet, who has at least been a capable player (even if I don’t think he’s particularly great).

This is definitely an inexact science, and we don’t want to put too much stock in it, but I think it’s a useful exercise to see what positions might have more good players than usual, and thus possibly value for the Bears.


Round 2 (Top 50)

Here is the data for players drafted in the top 50.

  • Because every draft is different, I provided a range from the least to most players at that position drafted in the top 50 picks since 2007, as well as an average.
  • The last column shows how many players from that position are ranked in the top 50 right now according to the composite big board linked above.
  • Positions that are particularly good or bad are highlighted in colors (red for historically low, orange for near the low end of the range, light green for near the top end of the range, and green for historically good).

A few thoughts:

  • It’s a good year for the Bears to need a WR, especially at the top of their draft. There are nine WRs ranked in the top 50 on the composite big board, there have been eight or fewer WRs taken in the top 50 13 times in the last 15 drafts. If history holds here, the Bears should have some solid value options at WR with either of their second round picks.
  • There also seems to be pretty solid value at defensive back, where 12 players are ranked in the top 50 and 13 of the last 15 drafts have seen 11 or fewer DBs selected in that range. The Bears could use starters at outside CB, nickel CB, and safety, so they may look to fill one of those spots in the second round.
  • The rest of the Bears’ biggest need positions are right around their historical averages, meaning there may or may not be value present for the Bears, depending on how the draft falls.

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The Dannehy Draft Guy: Georgia WR George Pickens

| April 27th, 2022


With as many needs as the Chicago Bears have, it would be hard for them to go wrong, regardless of which positions they pick Friday night. But the one player who could drastically change how the team looks going forward is Georgia wide receiver George Pickens.

Pickens is the complete package: size, speed and even blocking ability (something that will likely be important to the Bears). He would provide the Bears and Justin Fields with a big target (six-foot-three) on the outside who can get deep and make plays after the catch. When is the last time the Bears had a receiver like that?

Pickens led Georgia in receiving as a freshman and a sophomore and scored 14 touchdowns in his first 20 college games. He averaged 15 yards per catch for his career, despite some questionable quarterback play.



There seems to be little question that Pickens is one of the 20 most talented players in this draft. The only reason the Bears have a realistic shot at him is because of injuries. He missed most of his junior season after tearing his ACL in March. He came back at the end of the year but wasn’t quite up to speed. He also missed two games as a sophomore.

There have been some reports of character questions with Pickens, though those remarks could also have come from teams hoping he falls — believe very little of what you hear this week.

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My Draft Crush: Memphis WR Calvin Austin III

| April 26th, 2022


It’s no secret that the Bears need a WR, but I would take it even further; they should enter the weekend with the goal of drafting two wideouts they think can contribute right away.

One of those has to be a bigger-bodied WR, which they are sorely missing right now, but my draft crush does not fit that bill.

In fact, Memphis WR Calvin Austin III comes in at the other end of the spectrum for WRs. He stands only 5’7″ and weighed in at the Combine at only 170 pounds. If you’re going to be that small, you need to be an athletic freak to make it at the NFL level, and Austin certainly fits the bill.



This is Austin’s Relative Athletic Score, or RAS, based on his Combine performance. RAS scales everything against historical players at your position from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). As I’ve already said, Austin is tiny, but he scores in the top 8% amongst WRs in literally every athletic testing metric (credit to Kent Lee Platte for RAS data), placing him in the top 6% overall in total athletic ability.

That athleticism certainly shows up when you watch Austin play. He’s both fast and quick, and his change of direction abilities are noticeable in tight spaces. This speed and acceleration lets Austin excel after the catch, as he had the 5th highest yards after the catch/catch mark of all WRs in the 2022 draft.

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Can Cole Kmet Be More Than a “Useful” Player?

| April 22nd, 2022

Chicago Bears TE Cole Kmet saw his production jump across the board in his 2021 sophomore campaign, as his targets, receptions, and receiving yards all more than doubled from his rookie year. This left him ranking among the top 20 NFL TEs in the main three receiving categories, as you can see in the table below.

Of course, those are all volume stats, and high volume does not necessarily mean that you are a top player. Chicago’s receiving options were extremely limited in 2021, and the former coaching staff had a vested interest in getting Kmet the ball to justify their second-round investment in him, so of course he saw a lot of balls thrown his way. But how effective was he with those targets?

In order to dig into that question, I’m going to take a closer look at Kmet’s underlying metrics to see how well he performed. This will be very similar to what I recently did with Darnell Mooney, the only other returning pass catcher on the Bears.


Man vs. Zone

Let’s start by looking at how Kmet did against man and zone coverages compared to his peers. I split the overall TE group based on how many targets players earned, and the sample broke down like this:

  • 50+ targets: 25 TEs fell in this group. With 32 NFL teams, this is more or less the starting TEs.
  • 20-49 targets: 33 TEs fell in this range, meaning these are generally the second TEs on a team.
  • Less than 20 targets: 64 players fit in here, so these are the depth TE on a team.

The table below shows how TEs in those groupings performed in a variety of metrics against both man (orange) and zone (blue) coverage. All stats are from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

A few thoughts:

  • Like we did with Darnell Mooney, it’s important to take the offense into consideration when evaluating Kmet’s stats against his peers. The Bears as a team ranked in the bottom five in the majority of passing categories, so it’s not really a surprise to see some of his efficiency stats looking low. For example, the Bears were about 4% lower than the NFL average in completion % (catch % here) and 0.4 yards below the NFL average in yards/attempt (yards/target here).
  • Given that context, Kmet served as a capable weapon against zone coverage. His catch percentage and yards/target mark are fairly solid, if unspectacular, though it’s worth noting his poor YAC (yards after catch) performance. Time will tell if that’s a scheme issue from last year (Andy Dalton and Justin Fields ranked 21st and 31st, respectively, in YAC/completion of the 33 QBs with 200+ passing attempts in 2021) or a Kmet issue, but it’s worth noting Mooney did not have the same YAC issues. Kmet’s average catch against zone is also a bit shorter down the field than most starting TEs, which is notable considering how Justin Fields had one of the deepest average passes in the NFL last year.
  • Kmet’s man metrics, on the other hand, are unquestionably poor. His catch rate was just fine, but his average catch against man was very short, indicating he was only able to produce against man coverage on dump-offs underneath. This is in line with the TE2 and depth TE group, not the starters. Kmet’s YAC here was also laughably bad, indicating he was unable to consistently break tackles and turn those dump-offs into more meaningful gains.

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With Floor Established, Where is the Ceiling: A Closer Look at Darnell Mooney

| April 21st, 2022

After a promising rookie campaign, Chicago Bears WR Darnell Mooney had a breakthrough sophomore season in 2021. He posted the first 1000-yard season of his career and, as you can see in the table below, was among the top 20 WRs in the NFL in the three main receiving categories.

Of course, these are all volume stats, and high volume does not necessarily mean you are a top player. Mooney was the only not-terrible WR in Chicago last year, so he naturally saw a lot of balls thrown his way. As the only returning WR in 2022, I think it’s worth digging a bit into the advanced statistics to see how well Mooney did with those passes.


Man vs. Zone

Let’s start by looking at how Mooney did against man and zone coverages compared to his peers. I split the overall WR group based on how many targets players earned, and the samples broke down like this:

  • 100+ targets: 33 WRs fell in this group, and with 32 NFL teams, this was basically the WR1s.
  • 50-99 targets: 56 WRs are in this group, making it the WR 2 + 3 for each team. These are generally starters, but not the top targets.
  • 30-49 targets: 28 WRs are in this group, making it roughly a teams’ WR4. These are the top backups.
  • Less than 30 targets: 117 WRs (about 3.6/team) fell in this group, and these can be viewed as depth pieces.

The table below shows how WRs in those groupings performed in a variety of metrics against both man (orange) and zone (blue) coverage. All stats are from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

A few thoughts:

  • It’s important to take the offense into consideration when evaluating Mooney’s stats against his peers. The Bears as a team ranked in the bottom 5 in the majority of passing categories, so it’s not really a surprise to see some of his efficiency stats looking low. For example, the Bears were about 4% lower than the NFL average in completion % (catch % here) and 0.4 yards below the NFL average in yards/attempt (yards/target here).
  • Even given that context, Mooney’s catch percentage is still quite low against both man and zone coverage. In man, this can be explained by his deeper targets (higher air yards/target), but that’s not true in zone. Mooney’s drop rate was not an issue (4.7%, 12th best of 33 WRs with 100+ targets), so I’m inclined to chalk this up to a high rate of uncatchable passes (Justin Fields was one of the least accurate passers in the NFL last year).

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Dannehy: Expect New Bears Leadership to Target “Trench Guys” Next Week

| April 20th, 2022


While fans debate which wide receiver the Chicago Bears should draft, the trench guys running the team just could go in a different direction. Matt Eberflus indicated as much in his interview with Cris Collinsworth, released last week:

“Ryan (Poles) and I are really clear on our vision for the football team,” Eberflus said. “He’s an ex-offensive lineman so we believe in the line play, we think that it starts up front and we believe in that. We believe in the physical punch that it takes from the offensive line running off the ball and same thing on defense. So that’s going to be a very important part to us in terms of determining who we are, what our identity is as a football team.”

It could be pre-draft manipulation, but that doesn’t really seem to be the new coach’s style. It seems more likely than not they’re going to beef up the offensive and defensive lines.

As Eberflus said, Poles is a former offensive lineman. Have you ever heard of a former offensive lineman who doesn’t think building up the offensive line is one of the two most important factors in having a successful offense? Flus was a linebacker. How many linebackers gush about the importance wide receiver play? These are trench guys and you can bet that they won’t tolerate fielding a team that is weak at the line of scrimmage.

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Dannehy: If Bears Sincerely Like Montgomery, Expect Extension

| April 13th, 2022


If the Chicago Bears actually like David Montgomery, you can bet they’ll end up paying him.

The team will likely wait until after the season, though that could be a mistake if they’re able to get their running game going. While fans have argued about if Montgomery is good enough or if any running back should be paid, in general, the fact of the matter is teams who run the system the Bears are going to run usually end up paying their running backs.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy comes from Green Bay where the team spent a second-round pick on AJ Dillon and then paid Aaron Jones a contract that averaged $12 million per year. That wasn’t an exception to the rule. Other running backs from the same system who have gotten large contracts include Dalvin Cook, Todd Gurley, Jerick McKinnon, Arian Foster, Davonta Freeman and Derrick Henry. The Cleveland Browns paid both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

The people who run this offense value running backs, even if fans do not. The question isn’t if they’ll be willing to pay a running back, it’s if they’ll be willing to pay Montgomery.

Getsy didn’t say much when he was introduced; at one point he even questioned the idea of what a playbook is. Head coach Matt Eberflus was effusive in his praise of Montgomery when he met the media at the owner’s meetings.

“You talk about motor and mean, yeah, he is that guy,” Eberflus said. “Serious. A pro. Worker. He’s going to be exciting to work with, and he’s going to fit right in. He’s the kind of guy that just says, ‘Hey, watch me go. I’m not going to say a whole bunch of things, but just watch me do my job.'” Eberflus has spoken about adding more running backs to the mix, but it’s clear he likes Montgomery. A lot.

Perhaps it’s just offseason talk or a smoke screen; we can’t really rule anything out right now. But if Eberflus is sincere, and Montgomery plays well in 2022, he’s going to be in Chicago beyond next season.

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