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Friday Lynx Package [5/26/23]

| May 26th, 2023


Safe travels to all who are traveling this Memorial Day Weekend. And if you have a few pops, don’t get behind the wheel of your car. It has never been easier in this world to find a ride from one place to another. Don’t put your life, or the lives of others, in jeopardy.

Now, some reading material for the weekend.

  • From Jahns and Fish over at The Athletic: A thorough look at the relationship between Justin Fields and the folks running the Chicago Bears. Some terrific insights in here on something DBB has pointed out repeatedly over the last year: the fans have fixated over Fields “proving” he was the guy in year two; the Bears never worried about it.
  • Giving CHGO a bump here (even though I don’t 100% understand what these guys provide that isn’t available in 12 other places): Here is the OTAs recap video from Hoge and Moreano.
  • NBC: David Montgomery says losing “sucked the fun out” of the game for him in Chicago. So he joined the…Lions? Montgomery was no longer wanted in Chicago because he’s actually a limited football player. His new team confirmed this by drafting a player at his position with their first pick in the draft.
  • ACTUAL BEAR NEWS: Great video in this article of a bear emerging from under a deck in a New Bedford, Mass home.
  • Did you know Richard Dent was now working in the energy sector?
  • New president Kevin Warren apparently botched the Big Ten television contract pretty badly before bailing on the conference. (Nothing that happens in college football matters to me, and this is no different.)
  • VOTING ENDS SATURDAY FOR MASCOT HALL OF FAME! Let’s get Staley, the legend, into this illustrious club. (I have no idea what other mascots are in.) Click that link, however, because the videos the Bears have been making for Staley have been pretty damn funny.

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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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The Value of David Montgomery: Volume III, Proposed Role & Contract

| February 2nd, 2023

Proposed Montgomery Role

Based on everything we’ve seen so far; we can say this about David Montgomery’s NFL profile:

That has a place on an NFL roster, but it should not be as an every down back who gets 200+ carries a year, which has been his role for the last 4 seasons. A ratio of 201 carries to 41 pass targets, like Montgomery saw in 2022, makes him a net negative for the offense, but he could be valuable if used correctly. The Bears last year insisted on using all of their running backs in an every-down situation, rotating them on a per-drive basis. The lead back (Montgomery if healthy) would play every snap for 2 drives, and then the backup would play every snap for 1 drive. This doesn’t play to either Montgomery or Herbert’s strengths, as it forces both to play in situations where they are not effective.

If the Bears insist on using both of their main backs on a per-drive basis, then they need to find a better runner than Montgomery to be their lead back. If, however, the Bears decide that they want to bring Montgomery back, they will need to reconfigure how they use their running backs. They can rotate them situationally, such that Herbert is naturally on the field in more run-heavy situations and Montgomery is naturally on the field in more pass-heavy situations, and thus use both their strengths better.

Take, for instance, this very basic situational split:

  • Khalil Herbert could play in more neutral situations that will favor the run:
    • 1st and 2nd down for the 1st 3 quarters, except the last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
    • When the Bears have a lead in the 4th quarter and are trying to run out the clock.
  • David Montgomery could play in situations that favor the passing game and short yardage runs:
    • 3rd and 4th down for the 1st 3 quarters.
    • The last 2 minutes of the 1st half.
    • When the Bears are trailing in the 4th quarter.

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The Value of David Montgomery: Volume II, Pass Game

| February 1st, 2023

This is the 2nd in a 3-part series looking at David Montgomery. In part 1, we saw that Montgomery is bad at running the football. Today, we’re going to explore his impact in the passing game. 


Receiving

Let’s start by looking at how effective each Bears running back is catching the ball. The table below shows a host of advanced statistics for Montgomery and Herbert, as well as how they compared to the 67 running backs who ran at least 100 routes in 2022. All data is from Pro Football Focus, and values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while values in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • This is a complete reversal from the running data. David Montgomery is one of the better receiving backs in the NFL, while Khalil Herbert is one of the worst.
  • Montgomery’s efficiency here makes sense. Even though he’s slow for a running back, he’s still faster than most linebackers, who are the defenders typically covering him. And when he does break a tackle, he doesn’t have the whole defense already flowing to him from nearby, so he’s able to pick up more yards. Throwing him the football is a way to get him the ball in space, which lets him take advantage of his strengths while minimizing the lack of speed that makes it hard for him to get to open space on a handoff.
  • I find it very odd that Montgomery saw so few pass targets considering how bad Chicago’s WRs were and how good he is as a pass catcher. And this isn’t just due to the Bears not passing much; Montgomery was solidly below-average in routes run/target, which means the ball didn’t go his way very often even when they did throw it.
  • Khalil Herbert is a mess here, which is why I don’t think the Bears can count on him as their primary running back going into 2023, regardless of how good he is running the ball.

Pass Blocking

Catching the football isn’t the only part of the passing game a running back impacts; they are also tasked with helping in pass protection. Let’s take a look at how effective Montgomery and Herbert were in this area, once again using PFF for statistics. Ranks are compared to 59 running backs with at least 25 pass blocking snaps, and once again top 25% values are highlighted in green, while bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • These are small sample sizes, so it’s hard to say too much definitively about the data. But I did find it interesting that Herbert was asked to block more frequently than Montgomery when they were on the field for passing plays, even though Herbert is a worse pass blocker. I am going to guess that is largely due to Montgomery being so much more useful as a pass catcher than Herbert.
  • I put blocking grades in here because there’s just not much data otherwise. I find it odd that Montgomery and Herbert had similar blocking grades despite Montgomery giving up 4 pressures on 54 blocking snaps, compared to 4 on 32 snaps for Herbert.
  • No matter how you look at it, Montgomery is an adequate pass blocker, but doesn’t seem like anything special. Herbert, on the other hand, seems to struggle here a bit as well.

Tomorrow, a potential role and contract for Montgomery.

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The Value of David Montgomery: Volume I, Run Game

| January 31st, 2023

After four productive years in Chicago, David Montgomery is now a free agent, which leaves the Bears in the difficult situation of trying to figure out how much they are willing to pay to keep him around. On the surface, he has the case to command a sizable contract. Since entering the NFL, Montgomery has 915 carries (6th in NFL) for 3,609 yards (10th) and 26 rushing touchdowns (15th). Montgomery has also contributed 155 receptions for 1,240 yards and 4 touchdowns, bringing his rookie contract totals to an impressive 4,849 yards from scrimmage and 30 TDs.

Of course, volume stats don’t tell the full story, so this week I want to take a closer look at David Montgomery’s performance to see if we can get a better idea of how good he is, and thus how large of a contract he might be worth. We’ll start today by looking at his contributions in the run game, follow-up tomorrow with a look at his role in the passing game, and finish with an examination of what a realistic free agent contract could look like.


Advanced Rushing Statistics

Volume stats are nice, but to really understand a player’s value, we need to examine their efficiency. Thankfully, we have a whole host of data available to us, including a number of advanced statistics.

Before we look at the data, I want to mention that RYOE is Rushing Yards Over Expected, which is based on both the position and the movement of all 22 players on the field at the time of handoff. Basically, it projects how many yards an average NFL running back would get in a given carry based on historical data, and then compares how that specific running back did on that play. RYOE % is then the % of carries where a back exceeds the expected rushing yards.

The table below shows how Montgomery fared in a host of advanced rushing statistics compared to 48 running backs with at least 90 carries in 2022. Khalil Herbert’s statistics are also shown for good measure. All RYOE stats are pulled from Next Gen Stats, while yards before run, after run, and broken tackles are from Pro Football Reference. Any values in the top 25% (top 12) are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are in red.

A few thoughts:

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Three Things Bears Need to Do on Offense Over Next Few Weeks

| October 18th, 2022


By now, most fans have come to terms with what the 2022 season is going to be. And what it’s going to be is ugly. But this season won’t be a wasted one if the team drains every ounce of evaluative sweat out of this gym towel of a roster. What do they need to do short-term?

(1) Get Velus Jones into the offense. It is understandable to want his speed involved in the punt return game, but that experiment has failed with gusto. Jones brings a dimension to the offense – speed – that doesn’t currently exist. Oh, he’s struggling with the playbook? Adjust the playbook! You’re telling me Jones is incapable of running 3-4 go routes a game to take the top off the defense? You’re telling me he can’t consistently motion as a decoy? He’s the only player on this roster capable of turning a bubble screen into a 25-yard gain. Play him and commit to getting him five touches a game.

(2) Acknowledge David Montgomery is not your best running back. DBB’s Data has been all over this, for seemingly years, but it’s now obvious that Montgomery is not a better running back than Khalil Herbert. Is he more valuable in the passing game? Yes. And that should guarantee him a role in the offense. But if the Bears are considering giving Montgomery big money, they have completely lost the plot. (For the record, I don’t believe they are.) Start Herbert. Work Montgomery into the game. Start thinking about 2023.

Read Wood’s thread on the issue HERE.

(3) Get Sam Mustipher off the field / Alex Leatherwood on it. Move Lucas Patrick – if healthy – to center and bring the former Raider on to play guard.  It is time to start experimenting with this offensive line at just about every position but the two tackles, where the Bears benefit from seeing Braxton Jones and Larry Borom with a full season of work. Leatherwood’s early career has been a disappointment, but he plays with aggression and that aggression should work for this rushing attack. (And if Leatherwood doesn’t work out, stick Riley Reiff into the lineup. That’s still a move for the future as Patrick profiles better at center than guard, long-term.)


The Bears are seeing, with Kyler Gordon, the importance of letting young players play. Gordon looked like the worst corner in the sport for four weeks but has completely turned his season around. Get as many of these kids on the field as possible and keep them there.

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Dannehy: Opener Displays the 2022 Recipe for Success

| September 14th, 2022


If you are hoping, for the first time in your life, to see a Chicago Bears team air it out, the 2022 edition is unlikely to fulfill those desires. But there does exist an offensive recipe for this vintage to succeed and it was almost on full display Sunday. The defense will fly to the football. The offense will generate big plays in the passing game. The Bears will run it a ton. They did two of three successfully against San Francisco and laid the groundwork for the rest of the season, monsoon or not.

With a defensive head coach, the defense is probably going to remain the straw that stirs the drink. While that may bring a collective groan from Bears fans, it shouldn’t. If they can run the ball and Justin Fields can keep making big plays, they will be competitive each week. But perhaps the most interesting part of the postgame reaction, though, was Matt Eberflus saying flat out that the team needs to be better.

There were a number of blown coverages that Aaron Rodgers is going to take advantage of in Week Two, assuming his receivers catch the football.

Fields put the team on his back at times, but he also had one horrible interception and barely avoided a couple more – including on his first pass attempt of the game, a screen in which the ball was thrown high with several Niner defenders closing in. He has to learn from those mistakes in a way past young Bears quarterbacks haven’t.

While it was Flus’ first win, the coach wasn’t puffing a victory cigar. He has an eye on next week and the future of the team. We’ll see what’s cooking for the rest of 2022. The recipe looks simple enough.


Herbert v. Montgomery

The hottest take to come from Sunday’s game was that Khalil Herbert is better than David Montgomery. That is a conversation that has more layers than their yards per carry averages though.

There is no question that Herbert was better running with the ball on Sunday. He was decisive and got whatever yardage was available. Montgomery seemed to have a difficult time finding the line of scrimmage at times.

But there is another factor. While NFL GSIS shows Herbert as having the most positive influence on the Bears running game, he was the biggest negative in the passing game. Herbert’s struggles in that regard aren’t just about catching passes. He has also had issues as a blocker.

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Fields Takes the Stage: “Dress Rehearsal” a Rousing Success for Young QB

| August 28th, 2022


It’s hard to get excited for a “dress rehearsal” when the opponent announces none of their stars will play and several of your own stars won’t play either. They don’t have dress rehearsals for a production of Hamlet and let the Claudius and Gertrude sit them out. Nevertheless, we watch.

Quarter One.

  • Dante Pettis returns the first punt. He’s been reliable in that job this summer and he seems to have a solid spot on the roster.
  • Why does David Montgomery need preseason reps? We know how limited the shelf life of running backs is in the league. Why would you subject one to a single hit they don’t need to take?
  • Second drive for the offense provided a sense of how Getsy wants to approach the field. This is not an offense that will exist between the tackles. They want to use every inch, from sideline to sideline.
  • Justin Fields taking cheap shots in the preseason. That seems valuable.
    • Fields’ touchdown strike to Ryan Griffin was on a rope. The kid has a remarkable arm.
    • He also played an extremely composed quarter. He sat in the pocket. He surveyed the field. He delivered the football accurately.
  • Hard to really gauge what this defense will look like without seeing Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith out there. But they are checking all the boxes when it comes to intensity.

Quarter Two.

  • David Montgomery looks quicker, but there was no reason for him to STILL be carrying the football in the second quarter.
  • Fields to Pettis for the second touchdown. Another strike, after Fields looked all other options.
  • Never overreact to preseason action but Jaquan Brisker has some superstar potential. He’s as good in run support, pursuing the player, as he is in coverage, pursuing the football.
  • Fields throws a touchdown pass to a wide-open Cole Kmet. But the play was made by Fields’ patience. He had the checkdown early. But he didn’t take it. He allowed the play to breath. It did. Touchdown.
  • Really strong performance all around from Justin Jones.
  • Same for Kindle Vildor, who looks like he’ll have a significant role in the defense.

There is only one story of this half, and subsequently, game. The Bears saw what Justin Fields can be in this league. And what he can be is a top tier starting quarterback.


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Montgomery.

| August 5th, 2022

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Dannehy: Five Bears on Hot Seat in 2022

| July 7th, 2022


A new year, scheme and regime could have several players could leave some formerly key contributors looking for new jobs in 2023.

The new coach and general manager have nothing invested in the current players; surely a scary thought to some of the youngsters on the team. There are no certainties. Nothing is guaranteed. We thought John Fox and Ryan Pace were inheriting young talent like Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Both were gone before Fox’s third season. Matt Nagy was greeted by Jordan Howard and Adam Shaheen was supposed to be his Travis Kelce — neither made it to his third season.

In some of these cases, the players may be one-and-done if they don’t produce in 2022. In others, they might get a second year to prove themselves simply because their contracts make it difficult to move on. In any case, these players will have pressure to perform in 2022.


David Montgomery

Entering a contract year, Montgomery is an obvious candidate for this list.

The previous regime loved Montgomery because of the leadership he provides off the field and his versatility on it. (Eberflus has already praised Montgomery’s character.)

However, there have been some questions as to whether Montgomery fits this new scheme. He isn’t Aaron Jones-like, nor is he A.J. Dillon — the two running backs new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy worked with in Green Bay.

There is also some question about Montgomery’s talent level. His career 3.9 yards per attempt certainly doesn’t look worthy of a second contract and advanced statistics are somewhat mixed on his performance.

With the lack of playmakers available, Montgomery figures to have plenty of opportunities to make plays. The team needs him to be more efficient than he has been.


Cole Kmet

There’s no real reason to think Kmet won’t continue to improve, but that isn’t always how it works.

Kmet had rather exceptional production for a 22-year-old tight end, but there’s still questions regarding his receiving ability. He certainly looks the part physically, but his hands aren’t always reliable, and his routes aren’t always smooth.

The third-year Notre Dame product is a solid blocker and possesses good straight-line speed, but the Bears need him to create more big plays and find the end zone. (Throwing him the ball down there should help.)


Eddie Jackson

Jackson is finally returning to a scheme that keeps two safeties back and he needs to show that he can still attack the ball.

Once Vic Fangio left, Jackson’s position changed. He still played safety, but Chuck Pagano wanted to move him around more. That didn’t really work. Sean Desai liked to keep him back, but in a single-high approach with man coverage all around him. That didn’t work.

There’s truth to the thought that opponents have been avoiding Jackson, but we’ve also seen him fail to make plays that have been available.

The Bears might be tied to Jackson contractually through the 2023 season — it depends on how much dead cap space they’d be willing to eat. In any case, he turns 29 during the 2022 season and needs to show he can still play.


Trevis Gipson

Is Gipson a starter or a solid backup? That’s what the Bears need to find out in 2022.

Regardless of what happens with Robert Quinn in 2022, it’s a safe bet that the veteran won’t be on the team in 2024 and probably not in 2023. Do the Bears need to find one new starting defensive end before then or two? Al-Quadin Muhammad signed just a two-year deal and really should be a backup.

This Cover-2 scheme relies on the front four being able to get to the passer; the Bears need to know if they have defensive ends who can do that. Gipson flashed with seven sacks and five forced fumbles in 2021 after barely playing as a rookie. Can he build on that?


Justin Fields

Regardless of what anyone thinks the Bears think of Fields, nobody outside of Halas Hall actually knows.

Hell, they might not even know inside Halas Hall.

The hard truth is that, while he showed flashes, his rookie season did nothing to guarantee that he is going to be a franchise quarterback. The Bears certainly didn’t bet on him becoming one this offseason, unlike the last regime did with Mitch Trubisky.

Whether the Bears 2022 season is a success or failure is going to depend largely on Fields. If he can build off success of late last season, the team might be OK. If he can’t, they’ll have a very high draft pick and, very likely, will be looking at another talented quarterback prospect.

It’s fair to say the Bears haven’t given Fields the necessary tools to succeed.

It’s also fair to say that really good quarterbacks make the players around them better.

The worst thing that can happen — which is perhaps what the Bears have set themselves up for — is that they still don’t know what kind of player Fields is following this season. In that case, they’d probably jump on the opportunity to draft another top quarterback prospect and trade Fields.

But, make no mistake, the current long-term plan has to be for Fields to be the guy and he has the opportunity to make sure that is the case. We know he can make big plays; we need to see more consistency on the routine concepts.  His performance in 2022 doesn’t have to be judged by statistics; he needs to show leadership and the ability to come through for his team when it needs him the most. We need to see more performances like the one he had in Pittsburgh.

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