Notes from Bears @ Buccaneers

| September 18th, 2023

This Bears season has gotten off to the worst start possible — they haven’t just lost two winnable games, they haven’t just watched the coaching staff struggle, but the QB that carried the weight of the franchise into the 2023 season looks like the most worry-fraught version of himself imaginable. Right now, every part of this football team is ugly to watch.

Worse yet, if you listen to the early portion of the Twitter Spaces that Jeff and I recorded pre-game, it’s as if we could see this loss coming. After so much struggle in Week 1, how far could the team truly bounce back in Week 2?

It’s heartbreaking. If Chicago loses to the Chiefs next week (and certainly if they lose to the Broncos the week after), the season may be over before it fully started. So how do we assess the blame?

The Head Coach

Let’s start at the top. Matt Eberflus took over for Alan Williams as the defensive playcaller in yesterday’s game, but the results were every bit as uninspiring as they were the week before.

It’s not as if the Bears didn’t try to make changes — Matt Eberflus called quite a few blitz/pressure looks early, but Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers offense handled the extra rushers and punished the Bears with the brutal efficiency of a bona fide NFL offense.

Now 2 weeks into the 2023 season, the Bears’ defense has allowed an almost perfect passer rating on 3rd & 4th downs — that’s unacceptable. It’s one thing to understand that Chicago’s defense lacks talent in the front 4, but to invest the money and draft picks that they did into their defense & produce so poorly on key downs is untenable for a coach that specializes in that side of the ball.

Expectations for this defense were never high, but after signing 3 new defensive linemen in Free Agency (DeMarcus Walker, Yannick Ngakoue, Andrew Billings) and drafting 2 more with Top 70 picks (Zacch Pickens, Gervon Dexter Sr) I think it’s fair to expect better from this unit than what what may be the worst results in football for the 2nd year running.

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Game Preview: Bears, Packers, 9/11 Pictures & Some Prognostications for the 2023 Campaign

| September 8th, 2023

There will be column writing from me throughout the season, but I am going to relegate most of my work to these game previews. I’m incredibly proud of the consistently excellent work being produced under the Schmitz regime at DBB and I hope I’ll now be able add some of my own flavor to the mix.

Why do I like the Chicago Bears this week?







Three Things the Bears MUST Do on Sunday

  • Win the ground game.
    • The Bears had one of the league’s best rushing attacks in 2022, while also fielding one of the league’s worst rush defenses. In their two meetings with the Packers last season, they were outgained on the ground 203-180 and 175-155. Matt LaFleur is going to do everything in his power to make Jordan Love’s debut easier and that will include a healthy dose of the run game, putting pressure on Chicago’s weakest unit, their DL. If the Bears can’t slow Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon down, it’s unlikely they’ll slow down the Packers writ large.
  • Catch interceptions.
    • Barring a few nice throws, Love has looked nervous this preseason, and that’s unlikely to change come the opener. When he gives the secondary opportunities, they must take advantage of them. For too many years we have watched the Bears drop easy interception after easy interception, often originating from the right hand of a Packers quarterback en route to the Hall of Fame.
  • Get the fans excited early, and often.
    • This is going to be a Soldier Field ready to celebrate the dawn of a new era and the Bears have to meet the moment. Mount some promising early drives. Get points from those drives. Show that the Chicago Bears are finally ready to join the ranks of modern offensive football. (If the team comes out and runs it unsuccessfully on first and second down to open the game…well…it would be about the most tone-deaf play calling one can recall.) Too often the Bears have sent the home crowd into a lethargic malaise. Big, exciting moments on offense change that.

September 11th on Screen

Paul Schrader argues, in his seminal essay on film noir, that the “genre” is unique to America, and specifically to a post-war period (mid 40s to late 50s) that found a generation of heroic men returning from war to an uncertain future, and unsure identity. But as we commemorate the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 on Monday, it is interesting to look at a series of films made in New York City in the years after those attacks as questioning not only what it means to be a man in a post-traumatic environment, but also what it means to be the city unfairly targeted as representative of a national political identity to which it often did not and does not ascribe.

There are four films I would recommend looking at in this regard.

25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)

Unfaithful (Adrian Lyne, 2002)

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)

Before the Devil Know You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)

As this is a topic for a broader research project of mine, I will not wallow in the weeds here. But these are four films that I consider four of the best of this century. If you’re interested in the aforementioned discussion, feel free to email me: jeff@dabearsblog.com.

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Breaking Down The Matchups Within Packers @ Bears

| September 7th, 2023

There’s nothing quite like NFL Week 1, is there?

After months of roster additions, subtractions, and schematic changes, the NFL’s 32 Teams will finally take the field this weekend and show us who’s here to content, who’s here to pretend, and everything else in between.

But between you and me, 15 of the 16 NFL games scheduled for this weekend might as well not exist — the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers this Sunday at 3:25PM in the first game since Aaron Rodgers’ departure and it’s the only game on my mind.

How are the Bears going to attack the Packers’ defense? What are the Packers looking to do on offense? Moreover, who’s going to win? Nick Whalen & I put together a hell of a game preview on today’s episode of Bear With Us, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts in print. Let’s get into it.

Before the Teams Take the Field…

Keep an eye out for the Packers’ official Friday injury report. Explosive Packers WR Christian Watson was listed as a practice non-participant on Wednesday (hamstring injury), and if either he or WR Romeo Doubs (DNP — hamstring injury) can’t play on Sunday Jordan Love will be left throwing to rookies in his first 2023 NFL start.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it isn’t — with TE Tyler Davis already on IR, Love’s Sunday receiving weapons could consist of:

  • Rookie TE Luke Musgrave
  • Rookie TE Tucker Kraft
  • Rooke WR Jayden Reed
  • 2nd year (7th round pick) WR Samori Toure
  • Rookie WR Dontayvion Wicks, who was limited on Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury

The Packers also need OT David Bakhtiari (knee) and EDGE Rashan Gary (knee) to play big roles on Sunday’s game despite injury limitations, which may be difficult for each veteran based on what their bodies can do and where each player is within their recovery timeline.

If I had to guess, I expect one of the Packers’ 2nd year WRs to make it to gameday (likely Doubs, as his hamstring injury occurred before Green Bay’s 3rd preseason game), but the absence of even one 2nd year WR puts tremendous pressure on the Packers’ rookies to carry the offensive load on Sunday. And, as we’ve learned, featuring rookies can be a scary prospect.

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Reviewing Titans @ Bears: Let’s talk Offense

| August 15th, 2023

Today we pick up where we left off yesterday as we break down Saturday’s offensive standouts. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Editor’s Note: Check back with this article throughout the day — as I produce more All-22 cutups, I’ll update this article to include more analysis 

Carter Cruises:

  • On a day where Justin Fields didn’t throw an incomplete pass and DJ Moore scored his first touchdown in Chicago, who would’ve guessed that the man wearing #69 would’ve been one of the brightest stars on the offense? Ja’Tyre Carter showed off great footwork in both the run and pass game, great hand usage as a pass-protector, and an extra helping of violence as a combo blocker that led to a few destructive finishes.
    • Nothing dismantles an NFL offense like injuries on the offensive line, so a depth lineman like Carter playing well is the best possible thing that could’ve happened over the weekend. Time will tell if his positive play was a product of legitimate growth as a player (rather than a product of playing the Titans 2nd & 3rd string), but his game against Tennessee was a drastic step up from his late-year showing and that’s exactly what you want to see out of a second-year player.

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After Months Of Waiting, It’s FINALLY A Chicago Bears Football Monday

| August 7th, 2023

Football is back this weekend, baby! Thank goodness!

Since it’s impossible for us to know what players & teams are working on during camp sessions, “evaluating” the videos we see from practice (especially the videos from practices without pads) feels rather silly. Thus, after reading Training Camp reports for ~2 weeks, I’m ready to watch downs where the stats get recorded.

The Preseason may not count towards the Bears’ overall record, but it’s full of:

  • Padded Reps
  • In a game-like setting
  • Where we can assume that players all over the roster are going to try their best to win each down (as opposed to workshopping new techniques that they haven’t yet readied via practice)

That’s not a perfect recipe for glimpsing the future of the 2023 Bears’ season, but it should be more than the scraps we get through Twitter X on the day-to-day.

The players seem to take the preseason seriously (well, as seriously as you can take a team you aren’t game-planning for) as evidenced by the comfortable play of QBs like Patrick Mahomes preseason (222 yards and 3 TDs while completing 18 passes on 26 attempts), Tua Tagovailoa (179 yards and 1 TD while completing 15 passes on 16 attempts), Geno Smith (256 yards and 0 TDs while completing 39 passes on 45 attempts), and plenty of other QBs where strong preseason showings very quietly signaled good things to come.

Don’t take the above paragraph too seriously, preseason performance certainly isn’t a sure thing, but this time of year is all about fun anyways — let’s have some this weekend!

I can’t wait to see what surprises Saturday afternoon has for us. Will Chase Claypool carry his camp dominance into the game? If the starters don’t play, does that mean multiple series of Tyler Scott, Ja’Tyre Carter, and other young guns? At which position (and when in the game) will Terell Smith get his first reps? My mind is racing just thinking about the possibilities.

To Help Pass The Time…

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DJ Moore Is A Very Good Wide Receiver And I Can’t Wait To See Him Play

| August 3rd, 2023

Based on reports from around Chicagoland, the offense struggled in yesterday’s practice — so much so that Justin Fields mentioned in his presser that “It’s really good to have days like this.” and that in his opinion it’s good for the offense to go through adversity in these early stages of training camp.

Here’s my issue: I don’t want to wet blanket everyone else’s wet blanket attitude, but we’re talking about football practice. This builds on Tuesday’s article, but the toughest part about this time of year is how much we, as outside observers, could never know about what’s going on in practice.

Is Justin Fields working with new throwing mechanics for the first time? Is Fields going out of his way to force tighter-window throws than usual in effort to get comfortable on gotta-have-it throwing downs? Would he have attempted these throws if he wasn’t wearing his red jersey? If he would’ve, does that make the practice picks (that many NFL pundits think are a consistent sign of pushing limits in Training Camp) better or worse?

Personally, this week has felt full of unnecessary hand-wringing by anxious Bears fans — I get it, we’re all dying to know whether Justin Fields has taken that elusive QB “next step” or not, but unfortunately we’re going to see our answer displayed on the practice field over the next few weeks.

Procedurally, I like hearing that the Bears are working Fields as a pure passer (sounds as if they aren’t letting him scramble in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills and the defense isn’t leaving a spy to cover him, which tests Fields’ arm as much as possible) and trust that they’re doing all they can to help him succeed at all levels. Whether he does or not is up to him.

In the meantime, I treated myself to a bit more of DJ Moore’s tape and had a lot of fun digging up gems. Here’s a few of my favorites:

1. DJ Moore is the whole package as a WR, and on this route he:

  • Beats his CB across his face
  • Powers through contact as he releases
  • Bursts downfield before recognizing the pass is underthrown
  • Stiff-arms his DB downfield to subtly push off and create a football-sized bucket for Darnold to throw into, which he collects for the TD.

He’s the real deal, should be fun next year.

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Never Get Too High (Or Too Low!) On Training Camp Reports

| August 1st, 2023

I don’t know about you, but I loathe uncertainty.

Will Justin Fields take the next step this year?

Can any of the Bears’ young DL step forward and save their pass rush?

Chicago will finally beat the Packers on Week 1, right?

Questions like this eat at me whenever I think about the 2023 season, and for good reason — each question’s answer is a massive domino that could swing Chicago’s year.

But as excited as I am that the Bears are back in pads today at Halas Hall, I want to caution everyone from drawing any hard conclusions from these football practices — after all, Training Camp isn’t the indicator we tend to want to make it, for better and for worse.

Us fans, so starved for football after 7 long months of offseason, want to take every video clip and use it as proof of QB progress, the skill of a rookie WR, or even the efficacy of a Defensive Back, but in reality these football practices are so full of chaotic experimentation, new installs of offensive/defensive terminology, coaches pushing boundaries, and rapid chemistry-building on both sides of the ball that mistakes become common (even intended) and lead to sloppy practices like the Bears had just yesterday.

To some, Fields throwing multiple INTs in a practice may seem like cause for alarm. On that note, take a look at early reports from the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals’ first day in pads and see what beat reporters had to say about the soon-to-be AFC Champions:

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A Closer Look at WRs, Part II: Depth, Downs, and Dimensions

| July 6th, 2023

In Part I, we saw that DJ Moore is a legitimate WR1 who should excel with better QB play, Darnell Mooney is a quality WR2 who is pretty well-rounded, and Chase Claypool can be a solid starter if he rebounds from a disastrous 2022 season. Today, we’re going to look at their involvement in the passing game through a number of other lenses.

Targets by Depth

Let’s start by looking at how frequently and effectively Chicago’s WRs were targeted at various depths of the field. The table below shows their stats compared to 80 NFL WRs with 50+ targets in 2022. Areas where they ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while areas in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF). 

(Side note: sorry if the formatting is poor for the graph. You can click on it to see it in a new window in full if it’s not showing up right for you.)

A few thoughts:

    • The first thing that stands out is that all three WRs saw a high percent of their targets deep down the field. This fully matches with where Justin Fields likes to throw, and should make for some fun football in 2023 as the Bears live out every Madden player’s fantasy and go bombs away.
      • Of course, the efficiency each WR posted on those downfield passes was not as stellar as the volume.
        • Moore was generally above average in the 20+ yard range after being around average in volume and effectiveness in 2020-21. It’s worth noting, however, that More has spent his last three years in Carolina catching passes from a poo-poo platter of QBs, and his overall deep efficiency has been much better than anybody else on the Panthers. It is reasonable to expect that he will be better on deep balls in 2023 catching passes from a better deep ball passer.
        • Mooney was generally below average on deep balls in 2022, which was disappointing considering how well Fields did overall throwing to that area. Mooney was much better on deep passes from Fields in 2021, which gives hope that he can rebound now that he is no longer the WR1 drawing the bulk of defensive attention.
        • Claypool really struggled on deep balls (and pretty much everything else) in 2022, but he was much better in 2020-21, when he saw an even higher 25% of his targets 20+ yards down the field and posted respectable catch rates (35%) and yards/target marks (12.6).
      • On the flip side, Moore and Mooney saw a very low rate of their targets on short passes 0-9 yards downfield, which is an area where Fields has really struggled so far in his career. All three players also struggled when they were targeted short. That may not mesh well with helping Fields grow and improve.
        • It is worth noting that the short game was a big change for Moore in 2022. In 2020-21, he saw 40% of his targets in this range, and posted a highly respectable 72% catch rate and 7.7 yards/target. This gives hope that Moore’s short struggles in 2022 were more due to the offense and QB play than any deficiency on Moore’s part.
        • Likewise, Claypool saw much different short target usage prior to 2022, seeing far fewer targets in this range (39%) but being much more effective with them (78% catch rate, 7.4 yards/target).
      • For the 2nd year in a row, Mooney saw a high rate of targets behind the line of scrimmage but posted poor efficiency on those targets. I’m sure coaches are thinking that getting him the ball on screens gives him a chance to use his blazing speed to pick up easy yards, but it doesn’t seem to be working well, so hopefully we see less of that in 2023.

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A Closer Look at WRs, Part I: Total Usage, Man vs. Zone

| July 5th, 2023

All of a sudden, the Bears’ WR room looks fairly solid, as they return Darnell Mooney, their leading receiver over the last two years, added Chase Claypool in a midseason 2022 trade, and traded for DJ Moore from Carolina this offseason. As you can see in the table below, this gives Chicago three WRs who put up starting-caliber (top 96, or 3 per team) production in 2022.

Of course, volume isn’t everything.

It is also worth exploring how efficient a player was with the targets they received. The table below shows some basic efficiency stats for Moore, Mooney, and Claypool in 2022, as well as ranks relative to the 80 NFL WRs who saw at least 50 targets. The spread of outcomes for those 80 players is also shown to give more context overall. Any areas where a player ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • At first glance, the efficiency for all three players looks pretty poor. Mooney was around average in all three metrics, while Moore had a low catch percentage but was otherwise fine and Claypool was bad across the board. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that all three were in bad passing offenses last year, largely due to poor quarterback play.
    • Moore spent his season catching passes from Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and PJ Walker. As a team, the Panthers finished 31st in completion percentage, 15th in yards/attempt, and 27th in passer rating.
    • Mooney spent 2022 in Chicago catching passes from Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian, Nathan Peterman, and Tim Boyle. The Bears were 30th in completion percentage, 21st in yards/attempt, and 26th in passer rating, so within that context producing average efficiency overall is a big win for Mooney. As we saw during Fields in Focus, Mooney was one of only two competent targets the Bears had last year, and there was definitely a clear split in efficiency throwing to Mooney/Kmet and everybody else.
    • Claypool split his season between Chicago and Pittsburgh, where he caught passes from Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. The Steelers finished 19th in completion percentage, 28th in yards/attempt, and 30th in passer rating.

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Friday Lynx Package [6/16/23]

| June 16th, 2023

Another Friday. Another post with a cat pun title.

  • AP: “The Athletic, a subscription sports outlet owned by The New York Times, is laying off about 4% of its newsroom staff as part of reorganization efforts, the company confirmed on Monday.” The venture capitalist structure does not work in the media. Any media. The Athletic was never going to be able to develop a subscriber base that validated the breadth of their talent investment. Are there GREAT people working for The Athletic? Of course. They have the best Bears team in Chicago. But the numbers don’t add up.
  • Now Waukegan is throwing their hat in the ring for the new Bears stadium. Will it happen? No. Folks inside Halas Hall still believe Arlington Heights is the most logical outcome. (The team’s meeting with Brandon Johnson went well but without public money, the team isn’t building a new structure in the city.)
  • NBC Chicago: NFL.com named Justin Fields and DJ Moore a top-15 duo and I think they’ll be solidly in the top ten this season. Said one source who has been at these practices: “They are going to field the ball to Moore like he’s one of the best receivers in the league.”
  • ACTUAL BEARS NEWS: A young black bear swam onto the beach in Destin, Florida and it is a pretty remarkable video.
  • Justin Jones wishes Aaron Rodgers were still in Green Bay so he could beat him. He also decided to call their fans “shitty”. There have been a lot of incredibly dumb things said by Bears players over the years but this ranks near the top. First, the Bears never beat Rodgers. Ever. And they wouldn’t have beaten him this season either. Second, why are players taking shots at opposing fans? It is beyond childish.
  • Hadn’t noticed that Ryan Poles purchased a home in Lincolnshire for $2.07M.
  • Jack Sanborn was one of the rare positives on the defense in 2022, but early reports suggest he’ll be in a tough competition with Noah Sewell to stay on the field. Bigger point: it doesn’t matter. Sanborn is a that cliche we often hear, he’s a “football player.” He will find a way to be a contributing member of this roster.

Enjoy your weekend!

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