Setting up the Study
I’ve been tracking explosive plays for several years now 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.
Normally I just track total explosive plays over an entire season, but that’s a little harder to do here since Fields only played in 12 of 17 games, and only started 10 of them. So, I’m going to take a slightly different approach and look at explosive plays per game and per play. I’m going to split the Bears’ season into three groups, and consider each group separately:
- Games Fields started and finished. There were nine.
- Games Dalton or Foles started and finished. There were six.
- Games split between Fields and Dalton. There were two: Cincy (Week 2) and Baltimore (Week 11). These are getting ignored, since I can’t easily figure out who was on the field when explosive plays happened.
This will allow me to compare Fields’ explosive play production to the NFL as a whole, but also to how the exact same offense functioned with a different QB.
I want to start with a graph for visual effect, because I think it’s hilarious.
I’ll get to a more typical table with concrete numbers in a second, but for now the graph below shows how many dropbacks (pass attempts + sacks) were needed to produce an explosive pass for all 33 QBs with 200+ passing attempts in 2021. The two Bears samples (Fields and the Dalton/Foles combo) have their dots shown in orange.
As you can see, Fields is right about in the middle of the pack, but look at the Dalton and Foles sample sitting way out to the right by itself! They’re farther away from 32nd place than 32nd is from 1st. Those QBs are truly in a league of their own.
OK, enough making fun of the crappy veteran QBs that Chicago’s last regime somehow thought were the answer to their problems the last 2 off-seasons. Now for some actual numbers. The table below shows this same data as the graph above, but also includes the Bears from 2020 and 2019, so you can see that this is not a new problem for Chicago.
A few thoughts:
- Chicago’s passing game has been among the least explosive in the NFL for years. I’m not sure if that’s due to bad scheme or bad quarterback play, but in reality, it’s probably a combination of both.