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A Deep Dive into the WRs, part I: Total Usage + Man vs. Zone

| May 20th, 2024

After lacking talent at the wide receiver position for the better part of the last decade, the Bears have completely revamped the room in the last two offseasons with the additions of DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, and Rome Odunze, and they now boast what might be the best WR trio in the NFL.

This week I want to dive into the WRs, with an in-depth look at:

  • How efficient they were
  • How frequently and efficiently they played in the slot
  • How they performed against man and zone coverage
  • How frequently and efficiently they were targeted at different depths of the field
  • 3rd and 4th down production
  • Red zone usage

We’ll examine the first three areas today, with a follow-up piece tomorrow looking at the latter half of the list.

I want to note that the analysis will mostly focus on Moore and Allen, since they have NFL production that is easier to analyze and contextualize. I’ll provide some Odunze stats when relevant, but it’s hard to say for sure how college production and/or usage will translate to the NFL.

Overall Stats

Let’s start with a basic look at overall production in 2023. The table below shows how Moore and Allen ranked compared to all NFL wide receivers in the basic receiving stats.

At first glance, it is easy to see that both players were among the most productive in the NFL in 2023, and that wasn’t a one-year fluke either. Moore is currently averaging over 1000 yards per season in his career, and Allen is as well if you don’t count the season when he only played one game.

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Disappointed, But Not Surprised

| November 6th, 2023

I’ve been trying to come up with something passion-fueled to say this morning, but honestly yesterday’s Bears game was one of the most ho-hum performances I’ve ever seen.

The Bears’ offense surprised early and moved the ball with ease, but ultimately their UDFA Rookie QB struggled with turnovers late and became yet another Bears QB that can’t seem to score points in the 4th quarter.

The Bears’ defense held the Saints’ offense to a hair over 300 yards on the day (and a very solid 4.9 yards per play), but when you take a look at Derek Carr’s passing chart it becomes clear that Chicago didn’t challenge the Saints to do anything dangerous and the Saints offense willfully obliged. For the fourth time in the Eberflus era, this resulted in zero sacks and zero takeaways on what must’ve felt like an easy day for New Orleans.



This game played out so similarly to the rest of the Matt Eberflus era that I don’t have it in me to get mad about results like this anymore. You could say it was ‘Disappointing, but not Surprising’ and I’d agree with you. Chicago’s defensive head coach needed his offense to be the leaders today, and ultimately that was too tall an ask for a Rookie UDFA QB playing against DVOA’s 8th toughest defense in football. As usual, that added up to a loss.

Oh well. Onwards to Thursday!


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


The Good:

  • Cole Kmet, Take A Bow. Kmet has been a lightning rod for criticism ever since Matt Nagy picked him in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but against New Orleans the 24-year-old tight end stepped up in a huge way. He capped off the Bears’ first drive with the most physical catch of his life (turning a potentially dangerous throw into a touchdown in the process), added another score just two drives later on a perfect block/release route, and stacked big first downs for his quarterback throughout the rest of the game.
    • Most Fantasy Football experts have identified a Tight End’s ‘breakout age’ to be between 25 & 26 — could Cole Kmet’s best days be ahead of him? Days like Sunday make you believe he just might have a ‘next step’ in him.
  • Who doesn’t love good offensive line play? Darnell Wright played another stout game on the right side, Teven Jenkins buried multiple defenders in the run game, and Braxton Jones slotted in at Left Tackle as if he hadn’t missed any time at all… until his coaches pulled him and set him & Larry Borom on another one of the OL Rotations we’ve become accustomed to in Chicago. Still, the young core of the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game — nothing could be more important for the Bears’ future than seeing that become consistent.
    • NFL Next Gen Stats has Tyson Bagent’s Time To Throw clocked at 3.29 seconds, yet the young QB only took 2 sacks on 30 dropbacks — I’d call that a credit to Chicago’s offensive line, especially since New Orleans’ EDGE Rushers are a difficult pair to keep at bay.
  • The Defense tackled well, but I’m waiting for the All-22 to assign credit. Everyone flew around throughout the day — Jack Sanborn, TJ Edwards, Montez Sweat, and all the DBs made tackles chasing down RBs and cutting down underneath WRs. Ultimately the performance wasn’t enough to keep New Orleans at bay, but the broadcast copy didn’t seem to point the finger at any particular defensive player moreso than the scheme itself. The players played the scheme admirably.

The Bad

  • Tyson Bagent, rookie or not, was too chaotic down the stretch. Tyson Bagent had a fabulous first half — he distributed the football, he took shots past the line of scrimmage, he targeted NFL windows, and he navigated pockets with poise. Unfortunately, as the Saints defense shifted away from Zone coverage and mixed in more Man coverage looks, windows got tighter for Bagent as the clock ticked down and it seems nerves got the better of the young signal caller. Suffice to say, no QB is going to succeed when they turn the ball over three times in the 4th quarter.
    • A big-picture note on Bagent: Too many on the internet laid unreasonable expectations on a UDFA rookie and are now acting disappointed that he looks like a rookie QB. I’m not a fan of that. Tyson Bagent only started repping the Bears’ in-season offense 6 weeks ago (he was surely running scout team until he was named the backup in Week 5), so he’s learning what he can & can’t do against NFL starting defenses on the job. If anything, I’m surprised a performance like this didn’t happen sooner.
    • In the bigger picture, Bagent showed during the first half that he can operate an NFL offense efficiently when his run game is working for him and the score is close. That is much more than anyone should’ve expected from a UDFA Rookie QB, especially given that his background compares better to 5th round pick Clayton Tune and UDFA Veteran Backup Brett Rypien than other starters around the league. The moment he started getting compared to Justin Fields, Brock Purdy, and other starters was the moment he’d already vastly exceeded expectations — don’t let four nasty turnovers in his 2nd road start seal your opinion of him.
  • I hate this staff’s willingness to rotate OL. I’ve never seen an organization so willing to create chaos on the offensive line for the sake of ‘getting a guy some work’ — the only traditional times we see offensive lines change mid-game is when players get hurt, but this Bears org willingly creates that change when they rotate in offensive linemen coming off of injuries. I don’t want to be blind to an injured player’s stamina/conditioning, but is it really so surprising that Tyson Bagent’s strip sack came with Larry Borom in the game? I can’t (and won’t) pretend to understand how the rotation helps.
  • The defensive game plan will never stop frustrating me. Eddie Jackson ‘said that on film, [the Bears] saw a Saints team that threw it downfield. They expected more chances at INTs’. I don’t know why they expected that after a week where Justin Herbert checked the ball down to extreme success. The Bears’ defensive willingness to call Cover 2/Tampa 2 with a 4-down rush opens them up to major gashes underneath when they don’t tackle. It also opens up the middle of the field when their linebackers overreact to Play Action handoffs. Want to guess where New Orleans made their hay?

The Ugly

  • ‘Playing the Vets’ defeats the purpose of the season. Gervon Dexter & Zacch Pickens got less than 15 snaps each despite Dexter clearly making strides. Tyrique Stevenson got benched as the game got close despite Carr rarely testing the outside boundary. Matt Eberflus clearly smelled a chance to win his 6th game in his Bears tenure and elected to play experienced players over the rookies that stand to be part of this organization for longer than he does, and I see that as a glaring lack of understanding.
    • I mean no disrespect to Jaylon Jones in saying this — the former UDFA has played well when given chances throughout the 2023 season, and you truly can never have too many good DBs. But I didn’t see Tyrique do anything bench-worthy before Jaylon got sent in the game. To me, this felt like a coach under pressure trying to ‘control what he can control’ — I’m not a fan. Do what’s best for the organization and get rewarded by the rest of the league.
  • The Bears’ inability to close out games is a disease. The Quarterback has changed, the Wide Receivers have changed, the Offensive Line has largely changed, but one truth still remains — once the 4th quarter starts, the Bears’ offense can’t pass the ball. The defense gave them four chances to simply tie the game, and all four ended in either a turnover or a 3-and-out. Eventually, the coaching staff has to answer for results this consistent.

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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Everything Is Better When It Ends With A Win

| October 6th, 2023

Amidst swirling rumors that foretold Matt Eberflus’ impending doom, the Chicago Bears shook their fist at destiny and blew out the Washington Commanders on the road. Given that the Bears were 5.5 point underdogs, it’s safe to say that no one expected this result — but this morning? I’m much happier for it all the same. Who doesn’t love a win?

The Bears’ big Thursday Night victory brings up a series of questions the team will look to answer over their next few weeks:

  • Where has this level of play been all season?
  • Now that he’s decidedly not-fired, how long is Matt Eberflus’ leash for the rest of the year?
  • What will it take for Justin Fields to declare himself ‘The Guy’ in Chicago going forward?
  • Has the locker room fully bounced back from the 0-4 start to the season?

But rushing to answer any of these questions too soon could lead to a foolish answer in the long run — for now, let’s all sit back and enjoy a weekend of stress-free football. Cheers!


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


The Good:

  • DJ Moore is the offensive weapon that Chicago has dreamt of for years. On 10 targets, Moore caught 8 passes for 230 yards & 3 TDs. Need I say more? He broke tackles, he hauled in difficult passes, he accounted for ~81.5% of Justin Fields’ passing yardage, and he produced throughout all 4 quarters of the game. From start to finish, Moore looked nearly unguardable — in fact, Commanders HC Ron Rivera benched the rookie corner guarding him (Emmanuel Forbes) on account of his struggles. I don’t know if a greater hat-tip exists in the league.
  • Justin Fields followed up his Broncos game with another great day. Fields’ role was more the steward than the superstar role on Thursday Night, but when his 1st passing option plays like DJ Moore played last night I’ll never fault him for feeding his playmaker the ball and getting out of the way. Quintessential quarterbacking.
    • Fields finished the day with another 4 TDs and a combined 339 yards between passing and rushing — he was efficient when throwing downfield & picked up key first downs with his legs, proving that his athletic toolkit can create sustainable offense outside of an over-reliance on splash plays.
    • The most impressive thing Fields did, in my opinion, was keep the Bears out of disaster on offense — Cody Whitehair’s snaps weren’t perfect and there wasn’t always an open man downfield (I assume), but Fields managed to throw away dangerous footballs when necessary and consistently caught the bad snaps, even turning a particularly bad one into a rushing first down. Sometimes a QB’s job is simply to keep the offense on schedule, and that’s exactly what Fields did.
  • No Turnovers from the offense. Hell yeah.
  • Darnell Wright, Nate Davis, Tevin Jenkins, take a bow. The Offensive Line is always hard to pick apart on the live watching, but it seemed as if Fields had consistent pocket time and the Bears ran the ball without issue. Remember, Washington’s Defensive Line is full of stars — for Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, and Teven Jenkins to hold their own like they did is remarkable. Hopefully they can keep it up.
  • Gervon Dexter Sr & the Rookie Class stepped up when needed. Wright has been as good as you can ask a rookie OT to be. Both Bears starting CBs in today’s win came from their 2023 Rookie Class and each player held their own. Gervon Dexter Sr. contributed 3 pressures tonight. It was a banner day for Poles’ latest draft class — hopefully the group keeps it up.

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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?

I.

Always.

Like.

THE.

Chicago.

Bears.


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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