155 Comments

Dannehy: Bears Can’t Ignore Defense as They Build Around Fields

| March 16th, 2022


The signing of Larry Ogunjobi was telling in that it shows the new Chicago Bears regime knows it has to maintain a solid defense for the development of Justin Fields, or whoever the long-term quarterback may be. Ogunjobi will fill a critical position in the Matt Eberflus defense, profiling as the prototypical three-technique, responsible for pressure up the middle. The contract, reported to be three years and $40.5 million, caused some uproar. Why? Because 2022 should rightfully be all about quarterback and it’s hard to argue a defensive tackle helps a quarterback. But this addition will help take pressure off of Justin Fields.

And the new defensive tackle is a very good player. He has had ten or more tackles for a loss, five sacks and at least 13 quarterback hits in three of the last four seasons. He essentially replaces Akiem Hicks, who hasn’t had ten tackles for loss or five sacks since 2018.

Trading Khalil Mack certainly sent mixed signals.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

79 Comments

ATM: Colts Drafts Paint Picture of Coach E’s “Type”

| March 2nd, 2022


If the draft history of the Indianapolis Colts is any indication, Matt Eberflus is going to target front seven players who are exceptionally fast with long arms. In four years with Eberflus as their defensive coordinator, the Colts drafted six edge players and six linebackers. The sheer number of players at those positions in four years should be enough to raise eyebrows, but he also seemed to have a specific type, which could key Bears fans into some prospects after the NFL Scouting Combine this week.

Bears fans would be wise to begin familiarizing themselves with the linebackers in the 2022 draft. The Colts almost always took one and that’s surely because Eberlus — a former linebackers coach — prioritizes the position. (We saw in the mid-2000s how important having Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher were to the Bears.)

  • The Colts seemed to prioritize the ability to cover a lot of ground as their linebackers were, for the most part, long and fast. Both of Indianapolis’ top linebackers have arms that are longer than 34 inches.
  • Three of their picks were below 32 inches, but all were barely six-feet tall, meaning their limbs were still long for their frames.
  • What was most interesting about the linebackers is that the slowest still ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. The next slowest clocked in at 4.63.
  • They all had broad jumps of at least 10 feet and vertical of at least 33.5 inches.
  • While heights ranged from 6’0 to 6’4”, the Colts drafted players on the lighter side as none weighed even 240 pounds.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

514 Comments

Dannehy: Eberflus Must Fully Control His Defense

| February 2nd, 2022


The most significant thing to come out of Monday’s introductory press conference was that Matt Eberflus won’t be calling the defensive plays, even while the team converts to the 4-3 defense he ran in Indianapolis. There are no issues with Eberflus delegating; many head coaches find it easier to manage the whole of the game while doing so. But Flus still must maintain full control of this defense. He would not be a head coach without his success as a defensive coordinator and not using those skills would be a waste.

Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh are two common examples of defensive coaches who do not call plays. (Many forget that the season before Harbaugh was hired in Baltimore, he was no longer coaching specials in Philly. He was coaching the defensive backs.) In those cases, though, both teams already had outstanding defenses and the new head coaches retained their staffs.

Eberflus doesn’t have that luxury. The team is bringing several coaches from Indianapolis to fill out the defensive staff, including expected defensive coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears are going to try to mimic the success Eberflus had with the Colts, but the new head coach must understand it won’t be easy without the same guy (him) pushing the buttons.

And for every Tomlin or Harbaugh, there is a Leslie Frazier; a defensive coach who delegated the responsibilities in Minnesota, even though the team probably would’ve been better off with the head coach handling the job. Frazier is a notable example because he entrusted the same person Eberflus is expected to hire and it didn’t go well. The first year was okay, as Williams’ defense with the Vikings ranked 16th in yardage, 14th in points allowed and 22nd in takeaways. The second season, they were in the bottom-five in all three categories. Williams, specifically, was blamed not just by media members and fans, but by players.

The next year, with many of the same players and Mike Zimmer as the coach, the Vikings fielded a top-15 defense.

Read More …

Tagged: ,

158 Comments

Advanced Defensive Stats: CB Pass Coverage

| July 1st, 2021

Finally, let’s end with a look at the cornerbacks, who will have some personnel changes from 2020. Gone are veterans Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine, while Desmond Trufant has been brought in to compete with a host of late round picks from the last few drafts.

____________________

The table below shows 2020 coverage stats for all 2020 Bears and Desmond Trufant, who was in Detroit last year. The * for Vildor and Shelley indicates that I included their playoff stats to increase their sample size, since they only played the last few games of the regular season. The rank compares their yards/target mark to all NFL CBs. The median value is included on the bottom, but you can view the full data here.



A few thoughts:

  • Losing Kyle Fuller, who was a cap casualty this offseason, is a massive blow for a secondary that was already full of questions. He was the best player in the secondary by a wide margin last year, and his departure leaves a cornerback group with nothing but questions.
  • However, there are some reasons for optimism among the cornerbacks, if you look closely enough. Desmond Trufant was very good in 2018 (6.2 yards/target) before struggling through injuries the last 2 years. He’ll be 31 at the start of the season, but maybe he can buck the odds, stay healthy and regain his prior form.
  • At nickelback, losing Skrine isn’t actually a problem, as he was not good last year. Skrine missed the last 5 games of the season (including playoffs) in 2020, and Duke Shelley stepped right in and matched his production.
  • Of course, that’s not to say Shelley was good, as he also ranked below average in yards/target. However, if you want to be optimistic, you can point out that Shelley was pretty solid outside of getting torched by Justin Jefferson in one game against Minnesota. In that one game, Shelley gave up 101 yards on 8 targets (11.2 yards/target), but he only allowed 75 yards on 14 targets (5.4 yards/target) in the other 4 games combined. Those other 4 games look good, but you can’t just ignore that he got destroyed by the best WR he faced.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

116 Comments

Advanced Defensive Stats: S and LB Pass Coverage

| June 30th, 2021

Let’s continue our quick tour of Chicago’s defense by honing in on pass coverage.

____________________

At a surface glance, Chicago’s pass defense was just about the definition of average in 2020. They gave up 64% completion (14th in the NFL), 7.2 yards/attempt (16th), 28 touchdowns (16th),  had10 interceptions (23rd), and allowed a passer rating against of 94.9 (20th). They were 21st in Pro Football Reference’s Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, which accounts for sacks, touchdowns, interceptions, and yards, and 13th in Football Outsider’s pass DVOA rankings, which is intended to be a one-stop measure of pass defense overall.

A closer look at advanced statistics from Next Gen Stats shows how QBs playing against the Bears played relative to the rest of their games and the NFL average.



A few thoughts:

  • Opposing QBs generally didn’t see any change against the Bears in terms of how long they held the ball before throwing it. This means that Chicago’s pass rush wasn’t forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly, but also didn’t let them hang onto it forever. Again: average.
  • In terms of where QBs threw the ball against Chicago, opposing QBs typically threw it slightly deeper against the Bears than other opponents, though the difference is pretty subtle (for context, individual QBs ranged from 5 to 11 yards for average pass depth). That small difference was completely eliminated when looking at average completion depth.
  • Opposing QBs also threw into tight coverage (aggressive throws) slightly more than normal against the Bears, though again that’s not a huge difference. For a little context, individual QBs on the year ranged from averaging 11% to 22% on aggressive throws.

Now that we’ve firmly established the overall pass defense was around average, let’s look at how individual players fared in coverage last year to see where Chicago might have strong and weak spots. We’ll go position by position, using advanced data from Pro Football Reference.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

154 Comments

Advanced Defensive Stats: Missed Tackles

| June 29th, 2021

Continuing our tour of advanced statistics about Chicago’s 2020 defense, today I want to take a look at missed tackles.

____________________

The Bears excelled in the missed tackle area last year, finishing with only 89, the 6th lowest mark in the NFL. To go more in-depth, let’s hone in on how individual players and units contributed to that, building on work I did last offseason. The setup here is fairly simple:

  • Split players into positions (DL, LB, and DB).
  • Compare their missed tackle rates to how everybody else around the NFL fares at their position.

You can see the full data here, but generally the positional medians for missed tackle rates are 10.8% for DB, 9.5% for LB, and 8.5% for DL. With that in mind, let’s look at how Chicago’s defense did last year.

____________________

Defensive Backs

The table below shows all Chicago defensive backs in 2020, as well as how they did overall as a unit. Players with 20 or more tackle attempts were ranked based on how they fared relative to all NFL DBs.



A few thoughts:

  • Eddie Jackson continued to struggle with missed tackles for the 3rd year in a row. It’s not his strength, but that’s fine if he continues to excel in coverage, which is far more valuable (spoiler alert for upcoming article: he did not excel in coverage in 2020).
  • Tashaun Gipson struggled with missed tackles in both 2018 and 2019, but was excellent here in 2020. The Bears will need him to continue to excel in that area given the tackling question marks around him.
  • Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson were both awful with missed tackles in 2020. That continued a long-time pattern for Fuller, but was a bit of a surprise for Johnson, who rarely missed tackles in college. However, I should note that 6 of his 9 missed tackles came in the last 4 weeks as he played through a shoulder injury before it shut him down for the year. In his first 9 games, he had a missed tackle rate of only 10%, which is around league average.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

147 Comments

Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

352 Comments

Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021


Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

179 Comments

ATM: Bears Defense Must Fix Run-Stopping Issues to Meet Expectations

| September 29th, 2020


The Chicago Bear recipe for a successful 2020 season always included one absolute necessity: great defense. Three games into the season, they’ve been far from great.

The rankings? They don’t look that bad.

  • 9th in points allowed.
  • 12th in takeaways.
  • 15th in yardage.
  • Allowed the fewest passing touchdowns: 2. (two)
  • 2nd in opponent passer rating (71.4), despite playing three solid quarterbacks.

The biggest problem is the run defense, as the Bears have allowed a shocking five yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns. And numbers alone don’t tell the story.

The statistics don’t tell you about how in each of the Bears first three games, the other team was missing its best offensive player. They don’t tell you about the dropped touchdown in Detroit or the fourth down failures that allowed the Giants to get within 10 yards of a win. The numbers don’t tell you that Atlanta was without two of its top three wide receivers for the second half and went uber-conservative.

(In fairness, they also don’t tell you about the bad calls that took a pick-six away, or two very iffy roughing the passer penalties — one of which took away a strip sack. But you can bet every team has similar arguments.)

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

25 Comments

How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Defense

| June 10th, 2020

If the Chicago Bears are going to be relevant in the NFC North in 2020, it’s going to be because of their defense.

Last week I published a ranking of the teams in the NFC North positions on offense and the Bears didn’t fair well. They were ranked last in two positions — including the most important in the sport — and weren’t first in any. While the hope and expectation is that the Bears climb out of the bottom-10 when it comes to offensive efficiency, the reality is that expectations going into 2020 should be that the team will still have its struggles and will very likely be the worst offense in the division.

But the defense is a very different story.


Edge

1. Chicago

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Detroit

Not only are the Bears first in the most important defensive position, it isn’t really all that close. That isn’t to throw shade at Green Bay’s duo of Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but breakout seasons don’t necessarily put them ahead of two guys who have actual Hall of Fame credentials.

We need to start talking more about the Robert Quinn addition.

While it’s easy to focus on his down year with Miami, Quinn has 80.5 career sacks in 106 starts and has added 25 forced fumbles and 20 passes defensed. He averages more sacks per game than Julius Peppers did in his career.

What Quinn should do is take pressure off of Khalil Mack, who became the only front-seven defender offenses had to worry about last year after Akiem Hicks went down. Mack is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and should be expected to return to that form. Even in a down year, he was among the league leaders in pressures.

There’s no question Za’Darius Smith is a star, his combined 35.5 quarterback sacks and knockdowns are incredible. There should be some question about if Preston Smith can repeat his 2019 season in which he got nearly a third of his career sacks.

The Vikings have some questions opposite Danielle Hunter. Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks last year, but those are all he has for his career. The Lions paid Trey Flowers to get to the quarterback, but he has never had more than 7.5 sacks in a season and he’s their best pass rusher.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,