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Lovie Returns to Soldier Field (Again): Week Three Game Preview, Volume I

| September 22nd, 2022


He has a beard now. A glorious, white beard. It terrifies young babies. So…

Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears this Week?

I.

Always.

Like.

THE.

Chicago.

Bears.


Lovie vs. Opposing Quarterbacks

In the first two weeks of the season, Lovie’s defense has faced Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson, both times as substantial underdogs. Their passer ratings?

Ryan: 83.1

Wilson: 66.5

That ranks the Texans seventh in the league in opposer passer rating, a pretty decent stat when evaluating a pass defense. For those thinking this is a “get healthy” week for Justin Fields, that just isn’t the case.

But Houston is allowing 163.5 on the ground so don’t be surprised if the game plan for the Bears in Week 3 is relatively similar to what we’ve seen so far in September.

Knowing Lovie, expect the Texans to sell out to stop the run and dare Fields to sit in the pocket and beat them. If Fields has a good afternoon, the Bears could have a big offensive output.


Other Early Stats that Could Matter

  • Lovie’s teams always get off the bus running the ball but through two games the Bears have actually run it substantially more, to the tune of 64-46 total carries. (Fields runs a lot. Davis Mills runs less.) Bears are also averaging a yard more per carry.
  • Keep an eye on third down defense. Texans are allowing conversions on exactly a 33.3% of attempts. The Bears are allowing conversions on 50%. Small sample size, sure, but those numbers projected out are devastating for the Bears.
  • Both the Bears (28.6% conversion) and the Texans (25% conversion) are in the bottom six in the league in third down offense.
  • Underrated stat: total plays per game. Houston is averaging 63.5 (T-15) and the Bears are averaging 48.5 (31). If the Bears want to improve their offensive performance, it would be helpful to run some offensive plays.

Additional Notes (Links) from the Houston Press

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Four Young Bears Off to Cold Starts (Non-Quarterback Category)

| September 20th, 2022

Again, Tuesdays are a good spot in the week to assess the development of young players on this young roster and a few concerning trends have begun to emerge.


Darnell Mooney/Cole Kmet

Where are they?

That’s serious question worth asking after two games.

Where are they?

There was no scenario wherein the Bears could be a productive offense in 2022 without serious production from Mooney and Kmet and, through two games, they have been utterly invisible. How much of that do they own? How much of that is on the quarterback? How much of that is on two difficult defensive opponents?

Whatever the reasoning, it has to stop. The next two games – home to Houston and at the Giants – need to be games where these two players are fed the football. Scheme them open if necessary. The Bears need to find out just how many weapons they need to acquire this off-season.


Roquan Smith

In the winter, Aaron Judge played hardball with the New York Yankees. He wanted a zillion dollars over a zillion years. The Yankees only wanted to give him 3/4 of a zillion over slightly less than a zillion years. Nobody budged. No deal. And now Judge is having the greatest contract year in the history of professional sports.

Roquan Smith is off to the opposite campaign. He is getting blown off the ball repeatedly, including by backs and receivers. He looks slow in coverage, normally a major strength. And the tenacity that has come to define his game is absent. Roquan is 25 years old and should be a long-term answer on this defense. But playing at this level, it’s becoming more and more likely he is elsewhere in 2023.

Imagine the criticism that would befall Ryan Poles were Smith to be playing at this level after being given $100 million.


Larry Borom

With a nod to Dave Wasserman, I believe I’ve seen enough. Borom is not a starting offensive tackle.

Teven Jenkins looks good inside. Braxton Jones is holding his own at left tackle. But Borom is a severe liability on the right side and the Bears need to start thinking about an upfront construction that doesn’t land him in the starting five. (This might take Alex Leatherwood’s return from mono.)

This shouldn’t be read as a striking criticism, either. Borom was a late-round pick and is a perfectly capable swing tackle. He is a roster asset. But in a league where the athleticism on the defensive edge seems to increase tenfold yearly (have you seen Micah Parsons play?), Borom simply can’t handle the role four quarters a week for 17 weeks plus.

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Four Positives, Three Concerns from Sunday’s Victory Over the Niners

| September 13th, 2022


There is no reason to overreact to the first game of an NFL season, especially when a substantial period of that game is played in a deluge. But when a season is going to be defined by the development of a young roster, it is worth tracking that developing week-to-week. Tuesdays will be the day we do that on DBB.

Four Positives

  • Dominique Robinson. Scout friends, with much more developed football brains than my own, have been telling me about Robinson since the Bears took him in the fifth round. Well, Robinson had a jump off the screen debut Sunday and Senior Bowl Jim Nagy took notice.

  • Justin Fields. The quarterback was brutal in the first half against San Francisco, but once again he has shown the ability to forget the bad plays and forge ahead. His second half line? 5-for-8, 102 yards, 2 TDs, 0 sacks and a 145.8 passer rating. (And this second half would have likely been even better if the fourth quarter didn’t feature a large boat and two of every animal.)
  • Eddie Jackson. Not only did Jackson make the game-changing interception, but he was active and aggressive in run support, even making some noise on contact. This wasn’t EJ the finesse player. This was EJ the defensive leader and after one game it seems no Bears defender has been more significantly (read: positively) impacted by the implementation of Matt Eberflus’ program.
  • Khalil Herbert. After struggling this summer, Herbert was the best Bears running back Sunday and he seems to have a burst that David Montgomery lacks. It will be worth monitoring the allocation of carries moving forward.

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Prelude to a Preseason Game: Things to Watch on Saturday

| August 12th, 2022


The official DBB talking points when it comes to the preseason are well established. These games are glorified practice sessions. The “schemes” are vanilla. The intensity is non-existent. The value is nil. But the 2022 Chicago Bears find themselves in an interesting place as they begin their preseason calendar tomorrow. Here are a few things worth looking at as the Chiefs come to Soldier Field.

  • Braxton Jones. The new regime is not repeating the mistakes of the previous one. They have spent the early days of camp trying to firmly establish a starting five across the offensive line. That line looks to be Jones-Whitehair-Patrick (Mustipher backing up)-Schofield-Reiff. But with young tackles waiting in the wings (Borom, Jenkins) Jones can ill afford to lose the confidence of his coaches, or quarterback, in the weeks leading up to the regular season. The job is his to win. A few stable efforts in these practice games should achieve that.
  • Darnell Mooney’s Reps. Calling the Bears thin at wide receiver would be a massive understatement. They have Mooney, a rookie with significant potential (and speed) and a bunch of fourth options. Oh, and most of the fourth options are dealing with injuries. Any significant injury to Mooney would relegate this position group to worst in the league status. And not just worst WR group. Worst position group, period. Flus and Getsy are playing with fire if Mooney has pads on tomorrow.
  • The Opening Drive on Offense. Doesn’t it just feel like this group could use some points to start things off? They don’t need a touchdown, even, just a nice 30/40-yard drive and an easy field goal. Get some first downs. Develop some rhythm. Don’t get the quarterback hit. Something. A start.

Coach Flus has said the starters will receive substantial playing time tomorrow. So, as always, the most important part of this ball game is the Bears coming out of it as healthy as they go into it. With the season still a month away, it would be difficult to argue for the importance of much else.

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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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Money Mooney: Friday News & Notes Around the Chicago Bears

| March 18th, 2022


Free agency is underway, and somewhat underwhelming. But there are still things to discuss.

  • I’ll never understand the sentiment that Darnell Mooney can’t be a number one receiver in the NFL. In his rookie season, with a good Allen Robinson on the other side, he went 61-631-4. In his second season, with a terrible Allen Robinson on the other side, he saw those number leap to 81-1055-4, while developing a serious rapport with Justin Fields. Why do fans believe his ascension won’t continue?
    • Cooper Kupp’s second year: 40-566. His third year: 94-1161.
    • It took Stefon Diggs four seasons to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
    • Take a look at the progression of Davante Adams’ career in Green Bay.
  • This is not to suggest that Mooney profiles as a Justin Jefferson or J’Marr Chase – players with the tools to physically take over every game they play. But there are only a handful of those in the world. If Fields continues to feed Mooney, Mooney is going to produce at top of the league levels. And production, not profile, is what constitutes being a number one receiver in the NFL.
  • Pat O’Donnell has left the Bears for the Packers. This should provide you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the legendary leg of Matt Araiza at San Diego State. (This is a deep punter class.)

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Mitch, Matt & Missing Playmakers: Why the Ryan Pace Era Should Be Over

| December 6th, 2021


Dave Wasserman is the savviest political analyst in the country. He’s not a partisan hack, pontificating endlessly to halfwits like Chuck Todd about why Issue X plays in rural Virginia and Issue Y doesn’t in Maricopa County. Wasserman is focused on the numbers, the data, and made his bones focusing on congressional redistricting maps. (His Twitter feed is aptly handled @Redistrict.) On election nights, Wasserman pours through the data, county-by-county, and is often able to call races (accurately, mind you) well before the networks. When he’s ready to make the call, he turns to his catchphrase: I’ve seen enough. 

Well, I’ve seen enough.

Forget reassignment. Forget restructuring the front office. When George McCaskey finally fires Matt Nagy, he must also fire Ryan Pace. Pace has done several valuable things as GM of the Chicago Bears, but this organization’s dearth of talent at several key positions – positions vital to the development and success of Justin Fields – can no longer be overlooked. It is time for a new direction.

There are two fatal flaws of the Pace tenure: he drafted Mitch Trubisky and he hired Matt Nagy. Those mistakes have been discussed ad nauseum and need not be reiterated here. But watching the Bears fall to the Cardinals Sunday, a third fatal flaw became all-too-apparent once again. The Bears have simply failed to add enough game-changing playmakers in his seven years on the job.

Darnell Mooney is a terrific player and will thrive in a more coherent offensive system next season. But is there another pass catcher on this roster that even mildly concerns opposing defenses? Allen Robinson is headed towards a one-year prove it deal in New England. Goodwin, Byrd and Grant are practice squad players for the top teams in the league. Cole Kmet is a viable piece of an offensive attack but he’s not in the conversation with the marquee tight ends and he never will be. (To Kmet’s credit, that was not the expectation of him coming out of college.)

Their backfield is good. David Montgomery is a brilliant running back and there will be teams calling for his services this off-season. But while Tarik Cohen’s production earned him a hefty payday, his injury seems to have completely derailed any semblance of an explosive screen game. The Bears valued that role to the tune of $17 million but have seen no reason to replace him in the lineup. Has anyone asked why?

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2021’s Ten Most Important Bears (Other Than Justin Fields)

| September 8th, 2021

The 2021 season probably won’t be one the Bears highlight, but it could be important for determining the future of the franchise. They have an odd mix of veterans and young players, all needing to prove themselves. They have key positions that didn’t have battles, but also don’t have sure things locked in.

We know Justin Fields is ultimately going to be the straw that stirs the drink, hopefully for the next two decades. But the Bears need to determine two things: (a) who will be surrounding Fields and (b) how will they make life easier for the quarterback.

With that, here are the ten most important Bears of 2021, other than Fields, of course.


10. Akiem Hicks

Hicks flashed greatness last year, then seemed to run out of gas.

His job was different last year without Eddie Goldman; teams were able to focus more on him in the running game. But then you’d see the spurt; he’d throw a guard three yards back and take out a running back in the backfield.

Hicks is in a contract year and the Bears have to know what he has left before deciding what to do.


9. Sam Mustipher

Mustipher was a legitimately good center last year and could be a building block going forward. The team didn’t consider replacing him. He needs to reward that confidence.


8. Darnell Mooney

If teams are going to take Allen Robinson away, Mooney needs to make them pay. The wide receiver needs to take a significant step in his sophomore season.

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Predictions & Projections for the 2021 Chicago Bears

| September 7th, 2021


No reason to bury the lede.

If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.

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What Would Starting Fields Do?

This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.

With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.

Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.

And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.

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