The Draft Starts In Mobile!… Next Week

| January 22nd, 2024

With the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs wrapped up, 28 out of 32 fanbases are free to pivot towards previewing the NFL Draft. And if you know anything about the Reese’s Senior Bowl… you know ‘The Draft Starts in Mobile, Alabama’.

I’m credited to cover the Reese’s Senior Bowl again this year, which means I’ll spend next week watching some of the 2024 NFL Draft Class’s best prospects as they showcase their skills in practice sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The Senior Bowl rarely features players sure of their draft status (like last year’s Myles Murphy or this year’s Marvin Harrison Jr), but all kinds of talent will be present next week — last year we saw Darnell Wright, John Michael Schmitz, Keanu Benton, Jayden Reed, Michael Wilson, Tyrique Stevenson, JuJu Brents, and plenty of other soon-to-be high-rounders compete and win throughout the sessions, and I expect to see the same this year.

But if you read this blog consistently, you know that I couldn’t go to Mobile unprepared — I’ve been drinking down as much college film as I can stand to fit into my life over the last two weeks and, throughout this week, will do my best to get you caught up on names I’ve found to watch throughout draft season.

You probably know the big names — players like LSU WR Malik Nabers or Washington WR Rome Odunze need no introduction, but it’s players like:

  • Georgia Z/Slot WR Ladd McConkey
    • One of the nastiest route runners in an already loaded class
  • Texas A&M Z/Slot WR Ainias Smith
    • Heady route runner that blocks like he hates his opponent
  • South Carolina’s massive Z WR Xavier Legette
    • Massive, dynamic athlete with great hands
  • Auburn Free Safety Jaylin Simpson
    • Whose tape I’ve loved
  • Penn State CB Kalen King
    • His tape can be messy, but he’s got all the natural physicality of a Tyrique Stevenson-type plus more agility than most CBs his size
  • Rutgers CB Max Melton
    • Brother of Bo Melton, Max is long, physical, and fast. High-motor player

That may be under your radar right now. They’re the names to know, because they could very well be targets in the key Day 2 rounds (2nd & 3rd) that fuel a draft class’s success.

I’ll be focusing on skill position players this year — practices in Mobile are split, with DBs & WRs in one endzone and OL/DL in the other, so I won’t try to be everywhere at once. As I prep for my trip, I’ll post as many draft cut-ups as I can — if draft prep is starting for me, it might as well start for you too!

Here’s to a great 2024 draft season! Now back to the film room — I’ll see you soon.

Your Turn: What position are you most looking forward to drafting after Round 1?

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World’s Smallest Caleb Williams Breakdown

| January 17th, 2024

It’s draft season and Caleb Williams is on my mind — I’ll have a longer, more thorough breakdown out later this offseason, but today I wanted to highlight his play from within the pocket. Specifically, whenever I watch him I see the following:

  • Quick, natural release
  • Throws with consistent anticipation when targeting his first read (if open)
  • Patient within clean pockets, works through progressions naturally
  • Strong pocket footwork that creates problems for opposing EDGE rushers’ angles
  • Arm talent that can naturally push the ball down the field on command

Couple that with his tendency to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling, even when under duress, and you’ve got a very dangerous modern passer that looks like he’d fit right in on NFL Playoff Weekend after a bit of refinement in 2024.

One more I just found: the QB in Wisconsin has made plays like this famous over the last few weeks. Here’s the same throw under pressure made against one of the best defenses in college football.

Editor’s Note: My son has been sick with stomach flu over the last few days, so I appreciate your patience within website content. It’s draft season, so I’ll see what I can whip up as I prep to head out to the Senior Bowl in a few weeks.

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Grading Chicago’s Final Exam: Nobody Passed

| January 8th, 2024

If the Bears’ visit to Green Bay was intended to represent a benchmark for their 2023 season’s progress, they failed their final exam quite emphatically.

Chicago’s report cards are currently under review and will be returned to our students throughout the next week. Until then, let’s review yesterday’s season finale one last time.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • The Silver Lining… is that there is no Silver Lining. There’s no easy excuse for why Chicago lost — after all, the ball bounced the Bears’ way early and often:
    • Packers’ K Anders Carlson missed an early Field Goal
    • Green Bay’s rookies allowed the clock to run out on the 1st half before picking up extra points
    • Packers’ WR Bo Melton dropped a sizzling TD pass that hit him in the hands
    • A Packers’ DB dropped an end-zone INT as Chicago rallied
    • And then on 4th & 1 I thought the officials credited Chicago with a first down they may not have actually gotten.
  • Still, despite all of this, Chicago lost an emphatic 9-17 game. George McCaskey, Ryan Poles, and Kevin Warren are going to have to look this loss in the eye — they have no one to blame for it but the players in the locker room and the coaches that lead them. Do they think this plan would’ve worked if the team had more talent on it? Do they think this Quarterback gives them their best chance at success going forward? These questions felt easier to answer last week than they do now… and that’s likely for the better. If they can’t beat Green Bay, what’s the point?
  • Tyrique Stevenson, have a day. The Bears’ 2nd round pick felt like the only reason the game remained close during the first half of yesterday’s game — his pass deflection in the endzone robbed Green Bay of 7 points, then he stole another 3 points just before the first half ended. As if that wasn’t enough, he created the game’s only turnover as well by dislodging the ball from Jordan Love’s grasp in the mid-3rd quarter — He came to play.
    • On a day where Chicago’s DBs struggled to compete with Green Bay’s receivers, Stevenson stole downs back for the Bears throughout the game and I loved watching him do it. Hopefully the All-22 paints as rosy a picture of his performance as watching the game seemed to.

The Bad

  • Same song, different verse. Chicago opened the season with a game-plan in mind: stop the run with our front 4, play Cover 2 & Cover 3 behind them, and make opponents grind their way down the field. Early in the year, that’s exactly what opponents did.
    • Then, as the defense delivered one underperformance after another, the defense pivoted to running more Man Coverage defenses paired with blitzes up front — this worked, shutting down the offenses in the middle of the Bears’ schedule. As Chicago dominated lesser offenses, they rode this mix of Man Blitzes and Zone-Drop looks to becoming the NFL’s leader in Interceptions.
    • But then, for reasons I cannot explain, it is as if Matt Eberflus grew tired of the risk involved with his pressure packages and reverted back to his early-season game plans — after all, the media was so mean to him about Justin Jones dropping into coverage that one time, how could he possibly call plays like that again?
    • Thus, the door opened for Green Bay to exploit holes in soft zones with a quick-hitting pass game paired with a wide-hitting run game and, unsurprisingly, Matt LaFleur had no issues walking through that door. The vaunted Bears defense gave up 400+ yards, including a 6-minute backbreaker of a drive that closed the game, as Matt Eberflus’ best-laid plans unwound in front of his eyes.
  • Luke, I think it’s over. A Week 18 performance with less than 200 yards of offense feels like it should seal Getsy’s fate in Chicago. His tenure has been mired by poor communication across the offense, an inability to adjust to mid-game defensive changes, and a seemingly frayed relationship with the Bears’ signal caller… but at least we got a few nice opening game scripts.
  • Coffee is for closers only. Maybe I’m writing this out of frustration, maybe I have a point, honestly it’s hard to tell. But yesterday would’ve been a great day for Justin Fields to make a statement with his play in the 4th quarter. Instead, his two final drives resulted in a would-be interception and the final punt of the season.

The Ugly

  • The future seems far too uncertain. It’s easy for me, a writer, to write pretty words about the failings of Chicago’s head coach, but do George McCaskey, Kevin Warren, and Ryan Poles see things that way? Surely they can’t be satisfied with verdicts against quality teams always seeming to break away from them, but with Eberflus’ recent string of victories I can’t help but wonder if the front office is willing to move on. It feels like the perfect time to make a change to me, but I’m not the one signing the org’s checks. We’ll see what Black Monday brings.
    • With a new Quarterback likely waiting in the wings and a reset coming at both defensive and offensive coordinator, this feels like the perfect time for the Bears to pick a new direction at HC — either Jim Harbaugh, Bobby Slowik, Ben Johnson, or whoever else you may have in mind would then have the opportunity to customize the team to their needs via Free Agency before drafting a Quarterback that, theoretically, would become the best QB in Chicago’s history given the environment Ryan Poles may craft for him using free agent money and draft capital. But is the front office willing to fire Eberflus ‘one year early’ rather than ‘one year late’? Only time will tell.

Postgame Podcast:

Nick and I recorded a podcast where we talked through the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs of Chicago’s latest loss here:

Your Turn: How do you feel about yesterday’s game?

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Previewing Chicago’s Final Exam…

| January 4th, 2024

Why would the year end any other way?

At this point, all that’s left is to see how the chips fall.

Nick & I take you through the matchups, the stakes, the ins, and the outs of what promises to be a massive Bears season finale in Lambeau on the latest episode of Bear With Us — check it out below.

Your Turn: How are you feeling about this weekend’s game?

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Bears Should Move on from Matt Eberflus

| January 3rd, 2024

Chicago’s season will come to a close in Green Bay on Sunday, when the Bears will finish without a winning record for the 5th season in a row and 10th time in the last 11 years. Since the Bears are already out of the playoff race, the game itself is fairly inconsequential for them, but the offseason that follows it will be hugely important, as Chicago will have to decide whether to stay the course or make a change at both head coach and quarterback.

I already examined Chicago’s decision about Fields yesterday, so today I want to take a look at head coach Matt Eberflus. The decision on Eberflus will actually come first, as the Bears will likely officially announce whether he is fired or returning for 2024 in the 1st half of next week.

In-season turnaround

Through the 1st four weeks of the season, the Bears were 0-4, had been outscored by 62 points, and looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Since then, they are 7-5, have outscored their opponents by 57 points, and look like a dangerous team. It’s a real credit to Eberflus that he kept the team focused and resilient so they could bounce back from their disastrous start to the season.

However, there are 2 points to consider here:

  1. If Eberflus deserves praise for the Bears’ good stretch starting in week 5, then he also deserves significant blame for their 0-4 start. Why did it take a month for his team to look like they belonged in the NFL?
  2. It’s also worth noting that Chicago has faced a remarkably easy schedule this year.
    • Their opponents cumulatively have a win % of 0.461, which is the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL.
    • When the Bears have played decent teams, they have really struggled, posting a 1-7 record against teams who are currently .500 or better.
    • To be fair, 4 of those games were the 0-4 stretch to start the season (though 3 of those 4 teams are exactly .500 right now, so not exactly stellar), but the Bears are still 1-3 against .500 or better teams since then, compared to 6-2 against sub-.500 teams in the same stretch.

Defensive Improvement

The other main point in Eberflus’ favor is that Chicago’s defense has gotten really good since he took over calling plays. It took a few weeks for him to find his footing, as Eberflus took control of the defense in week 2 but the turnaround didn’t start until week 5. From weeks 1-4, Chicago’s defense gave up 29 points/game (which would be 31st in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 31st in expected points added (EPA) and 26th in success rate. Since week 5, Chicago’s defense has given up 17.4 points/game (which would be 3rd in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 3rd in EPA and 6th in success rate.

Read More …

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Bears Should Move on from Justin Fields

| January 2nd, 2024

The Bears still play one more game this season, but not much is riding on it. They’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs and locked in the #1 pick in the draft thanks to their offseason trade with the Carolina Panthers. Beating Green Bay to keep them out of the playoffs on Sunday would be fun, but it doesn’t ultimately matter for the Bears’ future.

Accordingly, it’s time to shift attention to the monumental offseason that Chicago faces. The Bears are in a great position right now. They showed in 2023 that they are ready to compete, yet they also hold two 2024 1st round draft picks – including the aforementioned 1st overall pick – and have significant salary cap space (currently slotted for $62M, 8th most in the NFL, but both of those numbers will change significantly as teams make cuts and sign players to extensions).

Chicago has all the ingredients of a team poised to become a significant factor in the NFC over the next few seasons, provided they utilize their resources at hand well. That work will begin this offseason with two franchise-altering decisions: what to do at quarterback and head coach. I want to examine both of those decisions this week, starting with QB Justin Fields today and moving to head coach Matt Eberflus tomorrow.

Justin Fields Has Clearly Improved

Let’s start by noting that Fields has made clear improvements as a passer each season, as you can see in the table below.

A quick glance at these stats shows that Fields has developed into roughly a league average passer this year, though he still takes sacks at a higher than average rate. When you factor in his rushing ability, that has real value. Fields has shown that he is clearly a starting QB in the NFL.

QB Comparison

With that in mind, let’s compare Fields directly to his peers. While the table above looked at all passes thrown in the NFL this year, the table below shows how Fields compares only to the 31 QBs who have thrown the ball at least 230 times. His ranks compared to these peers are shown in parentheses, and any ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while any in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. A few notes:

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My New Year’s Resolution? Beat The Atlanta Falcons

| December 28th, 2023

Matt Eberflus continues his final stand this Sunday as he takes on an Atlanta Falcons team that finds itself in a similar position to your Chicago Bears — neither team controls their playoff destiny despite playing in lackluster divisions, both offenses added weapons in the offseason and have subsequently underperformed, but the play of each team’s defense has kept each team alive despite the turmoil on the other side of the ball.

Neither team can make the playoffs with a win this weekend… but both teams will likely be eliminated from contention with a loss. Thus, for both Matt Eberflus & Arthur Smith, this New Years’ Day matchup is do-or-die. That sets the stage for a riveting football game.

Nick and I dove deep into this matchup (and the current state of the Bears) within the latest episode of Bear With Us, including discussion topics like…

  • What went well against the Cardinals on offense? How did they score so easily early? What did Arizona do to curb the offense in the 2nd half?
  • Who played well on defense last week? Who played poorly?
  • Where do the Bears match up well with Atlanta on defense? What weak links in the Falcons’ offense can they exploit?
  • How does Chicago’s offense match up with Atlanta’s defense? What kind of day will this be for Chicago?
  • Holiday chatter & game score predictions
  • And much, much more…

It’s one of our best episodes yet — check it out and let me know what you think!

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Previewing a Christmas Eve Dance with the Desert Birds

| December 21st, 2023

The playoff push may have ended before it started, but with 3 games remaining on Chicago’s schedule backs are truly against the wall now — Matt Eberflus now has three late-game collapses in a 2023 season where, had Chicago taken care of business with all three fourth-quarter leads, he’d have firm control of the NFC’s 6th seed & might be a weekend away from clinching a playoff spot.

It’s hard to imagine the powers that be at Halas Hall aren’t every bit as disappointed as we fans are, leaving three critical weeks for Eberflus to make his final statement — if his team finishes the year with three strong wins, they might just save their coach’s job.

Eberflus’ final stand begins this Sunday as he takes on a hapless Arizona Cardinals team that should be easy prey… but this is the NFL. Nothing’s ever easy, is it?

Nick and I dove deep into this matchup and the state of the Bears within the latest episode of Bear With Us, including discussion topics like…

  • What was Luke Getsy doing throughout that game in Cleveland? What could he have done better?
  • Who played well on defense last week? What went wrong at the end?
  • Where do the Bears match up well with Arizona on defense? What weak links in the Cardinals’ offense can they exploit?
  • How does Chicago’s offense match up with Arizona’s ragtag defense? Should this be a big day for Chicago?
  • A review of Matt Eberflus’ defense against the Lions, including the driving forces behind Chicago’s success.
  • Holiday chatter & fan Q&A
  • And much, much more…

It’s one of our best episodes yet — check it out and let me know what you think!

Read More …

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Checking the Tape: Bears @ Browns

| December 19th, 2023

Happy All-22uesday, folks!

Tonight at 8PM CST I’ll be going through the Bears’ game as usual — come join for an evening of breakdowns & analysis of:

  • Where the Bears won on defense
  • Where the Bears lost on defense
  • Who’s to blame within Chicago’s offense?
  • And much, much more

See you there!

Editor’s Note: With Christmas approaching, this week may be a bit content light. Be sure to enjoy time with family and those around you this week!

Your Turn: How have your feelings changed about Sunday’s game over the last day?

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