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Dannehy: Passing Game Failures are Everyone’s Fault

| September 21st, 2022


If Week One was a giant victory for the Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus era, Week Two was a terrible defeat.

There is a lot of blame to go around for Chicago’s failures against Green Bay. It starts by looking at the rosters. When you compare Green Bay’s defensive front to Chicago’s offensive line, and their secondary to Chicago’s receivers, it is a total mismatch.

That said, it isn’t like the Bears have a bare cupboard. The fact that Justin Fields has fewer than 200 passing yards through two games is, well, shocking.  Nobody will say Fields was great as a rookie, but in his last two games in 2021 he had more than 500 passing yards and three touchdowns. We can talk all day about the players the Bears don’t have, but they do have two who should be good options in the passing game in Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. Both were able to produce last year and can’t even get the ball thrown their way this year.

Was Matt Nagy that good or is Luke Getsy that bad?

That isn’t to absolve Fields, Kmet, Mooney or any of the other players. We’re simply learning that they aren’t good enough at this point. That also shouldn’t be a surprise. If you go back to the early reports from camp, they were all about how much the Bears were working on their running game and not their passing game. How could anybody expect mediocre — if we’re being generous — talent to produce against elite talent when they haven’t even put the time in on the practice field?

The NFL season is guaranteed to have 17 tests and the Bears have gone through two of them. The team’s front office and coaching staff is well aware that they aren’t going to be contending for the Super Bowl this year. They knowingly took the slow path to success and, unfortunately, that means there will be games like Sunday night.

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Do Summer Performances Raise Expectations for 2022? Maybe.

| August 29th, 2022


The Bears played terrific defense in each of their three preseason games, doing so mostly without the involvement of their two best defensive players, Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn. The veterans (Morrow, Jones, Muhammad, etc.) contributed consistently and the kids (Brisker, Gordon) were the summer’s shining light. If this group can find enough pass rush, still a significant if, they will be a unit easily slotted into the top half of the sport.

The Bears also looked solid on specials in their preseason games and on the Lake Forest practice field. Cairo Santos is one of the most reliable kickers in the league. Trenton Gill is looking like a seventh-round steal, especially considering that the more ballyhooed punter in the draft, Matt Araiza, has now been accused of participation in a gang rape and is out of the sport. And the team has what you want when it comes to return men, the steadiness of a Dante Pettis and the explosiveness of a Velus Jones Jr. (Coverage units are difficult to evaluate during the summer because they are formed by the bottom third of the roster.)

When it came to the competitiveness of the 2022 Bears, it was always going to come down to the offense. Would the quarterback take the next step? Could the young line hold up? Do they have enough playmakers on the outside? How long would it take this group to grasp Luke Getsy’s system – a system that has historically struggled in year one? Questions, questions, questions, questions. But did the summer provide any answers?

Yes, I think one could argue it did.

The quarterback had his moment Saturday night. And it was a moment many inside the building were desperate to see. He was poised in the pocket, processed the field well, and was decisive and accurate with his throws. It was still a practice game, and it’ll be forgotten by the middle of the week, but it has to instill a tremendous amount of confidence in Justin Fields as he embarks upon the journey of his sophomore season.

The young offensive line has looked just fine and should improve when Lucas Patrick makes his expected return in September. This group is going to have its struggles. Braxton Jones is a rookie. Teven Jenkins is playing his first season at guard. Larry Borom probably shouldn’t be a starting tackle, but the team’s future will be better served getting him on-field experience this year. There will be drives that frustrate fans and drives that enthrall fans. That’s the story with young starters in the NFL. But this unit has certainly not been the liability this summer many predicted.

As for playmakers, of course the Bears don’t have enough. Not even close. Look at the talent outside for contenders like the Bucs, Rams, Bengals, Bills and the entirety of the AFC West. “Why can’t the Bears contend for a title this year?” is often asked by the most optimistic of fans on social media. (They must know, but they ask anyway.) This is the answer. But a few things should be noted here. First, a Larry Mayer tweet:

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Dannehy: Aaron Rodgers Doesn’t Like Bears Scheme & Other Preseason Thoughts

| August 24th, 2022


While fans have celebrated the offensive scheme change the Chicago Bears have implemented, count Aaron Rodgers as one who thinks it is a downgrade. In a somewhat recent interview with Pardon My Take, Rodgers went on a tangent about how the West Coast offense — which the Bears ran under Matt Nagy — is better than the scheme Luke Getsy is bringing from Green Bay.

“This scheme has flaws,” Rodgers said. “I grew up in the West Coast offense, which I think is the most beautiful offense ever created. It’s about timing and rhythm and balance and everything makes sense protection wise. You know where your hots are, you know where your eyes are going every single time, you know how the concepts fit together.”

Rodgers was drafted by Mike Sherman, who ran a variation of the West Coast he learned from Mike Holmgren. Mike McCarthy then took over, bringing a version that he learned from one of the scheme’s originators, Paul Hackett. Rodgers offered many complaints about the Shanahan-style outside zone scheme implemented by Matt LaFluer, when he was hired in 2019.

“This is a schematic offense. That (West Coast) was not a schematic offense. That was built on timing and precision and rhythm and guys being in the right spot at the right time and putting the ball on the proper number,” Rodgers said. “(It is) predicated on winning one-on-one matchups and being accurate throwing the football.”

Roughly translated, it sounds like Rodgers prefers the West Coast because it’s more about Jimmy’s and Joe’s than X’s and O’s. He probably has a point.

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Dannehy: History Says Fields May Need Time to Learn This Offense

| June 3rd, 2022


Everything is on the table for the 2022 Chicago Bears, including the possibility that Justin Fields will initially struggle to learn a new offense. That is not a comment specifically about Fields, but instead based on the historical trends of this offense around the league. The Bears have spoken extensively about playing to what Fields does best and last week Cole Kmet detailed what that might entail. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, and history shows it’s unlikely to be quick.

While Matt Nagy’s offense was rightly criticized, saying the new offense fits Fields’ strengths better is mostly a projection. As Fields said himself, what the Bears did last year was familiar to him.

“I think the only different thing with our offense is that at Ohio St., we did signals from the sidelines so actually getting in the huddle and calling the play out is the only different thing,” Fields said in a press conference May 21, 2021. “Everything else is pretty much the same when it comes to concepts and stuff like that.”

It’s likely that Nagy had sound offensive concepts, and coming from the world of Andy Reid, that would be expected, but he couldn’t coach the execution. The scheme Nagy wanted to run works, he just wasn’t able to successfully teach it or call it in the framework of an actual ballgame.

This new scheme should better fit what Fields can do well at the NFL level. Getting him out of the pocket on more designed rollouts and emphasizing play action should, in theory, benefit Fields, but this scheme doesn’t always click right away. Luke Getsy comes from Green Bay, and even they, with one of best quarterbacks ever, had issues in the first year.

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Dannehy: Scheme Alone Can’t Fix Bears Offense

| May 18th, 2022


Relying on a scheme change to fix a broken offense has proven to be a broken philosophy, especially when the person in charge of that scheme has never done the job before. Luke Getsy made reference to scheme being a reason to believe the offense — specifically the pass catchers — will be better, and while he should have confidence in his own ability, he surely knows the Bears need their players to be better if they’re going to score more points. Getsy is well regarded, but new play callers generally struggle and almost never get time to figured it out.

In the last decade, 26 non-offensive coaches have been hired. Nine of those went with offensive coordinators who were new to the job and the success rate of those coaches is not good. Of those nine, three were fired after just one season and two were canned during or after their second seasons. One was fired with the entire staff after the second season.

There are two young play callers entering with their jobs on the line in 2022.  Mike LaFleur needs his Jets to improve from being in the bottom six of the league pretty much across the board. Scott Turner took over in Carolina during the 2019 season and went to Washington with Ron Rivera, but his offenses have all been near the bottom-10.

The one real success story so far is interesting, as Matt LaFleur had a bottom-10 offense in his lone season running Mike Vrable’s unit in Tennessee before becoming the head coach of the Packers. LaFleur, of course, has been dominant in Green Bay, but we don’t need to talk about that.

As highly thought of as Getsy is, the same could be said for the likes of Joe Brady, Rich Scangarello, Geep Chryst and Rick Dennison.

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Dannehy: If Bears Sincerely Like Montgomery, Expect Extension

| April 13th, 2022


If the Chicago Bears actually like David Montgomery, you can bet they’ll end up paying him.

The team will likely wait until after the season, though that could be a mistake if they’re able to get their running game going. While fans have argued about if Montgomery is good enough or if any running back should be paid, in general, the fact of the matter is teams who run the system the Bears are going to run usually end up paying their running backs.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy comes from Green Bay where the team spent a second-round pick on AJ Dillon and then paid Aaron Jones a contract that averaged $12 million per year. That wasn’t an exception to the rule. Other running backs from the same system who have gotten large contracts include Dalvin Cook, Todd Gurley, Jerick McKinnon, Arian Foster, Davonta Freeman and Derrick Henry. The Cleveland Browns paid both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

The people who run this offense value running backs, even if fans do not. The question isn’t if they’ll be willing to pay a running back, it’s if they’ll be willing to pay Montgomery.

Getsy didn’t say much when he was introduced; at one point he even questioned the idea of what a playbook is. Head coach Matt Eberflus was effusive in his praise of Montgomery when he met the media at the owner’s meetings.

“You talk about motor and mean, yeah, he is that guy,” Eberflus said. “Serious. A pro. Worker. He’s going to be exciting to work with, and he’s going to fit right in. He’s the kind of guy that just says, ‘Hey, watch me go. I’m not going to say a whole bunch of things, but just watch me do my job.'” Eberflus has spoken about adding more running backs to the mix, but it’s clear he likes Montgomery. A lot.

Perhaps it’s just offseason talk or a smoke screen; we can’t really rule anything out right now. But if Eberflus is sincere, and Montgomery plays well in 2022, he’s going to be in Chicago beyond next season.

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Fields in Focus Part II: Play Action

| February 15th, 2022

Today is the second of seven articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ rookie season, looking at how his performance fared in play action vs. standard dropbacks and also how he performed throwing quick passes as opposed to slow-developing plays. All stats are from Pro Football Focus (PFF) unless otherwise noted.


Play Action

Let’s start by looking at how Justin Fields did on play-action dropbacks compared to standard passing plays. Before I present the full data, I want to briefly explain two PFF stats that will be used:

  • Big Time Throw: these are best described as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window. In other words, these are really good, difficult passes that should result in highly valuable big plays. A higher % here is better.
  • Turnover Worthy Play: These include fumbles in the pocket, interceptions thrown, and interceptable passes that were not caught. A lower % here is better.

Both of these stats will admittedly have some subjectivity inherent, but they provide a useful glimpse into how frequently a QB makes a really good play vs. a really bad one.

The table below shows how Fields performed in a wide variety of statistics in play action (blue) vs. other dropbacks (orange), and also includes Fields’ rank out of 39 total NFL QBs who had at least 20% of the pass attempts of the NFL leader. Information on the spread of all NFL QBs is also provided for each stat. Cells highlighted in green indicate Fields was among the top 10 QBs in this category, while those in red indicate Fields was in the bottom 10 QBs.

A few thoughts:

  • Fields’ accuracy and completion percentage were very poor in both samples, but that is to be expected given his accuracy issues, which we looked at in part one of this series. Relatively speaking, he was a little better in play action than out of play action here.
  • We also see consistency in Fields pushing the ball down the field regardless of the play time. His average pass was the 3rd deepest in regular passes and the deepest on play action. This is also expected given what we’ve already looked at. Fields likes to go deep.

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Dannehy: It Doesn’t Start at the Top. It Starts Under Center.

| February 9th, 2022

While some voices around the Chicago Bears have lost their voices shouting IT STARTS AT THE TOP, the Cincinnati Bengals serve as a reminder that, in reality, it starts under center.

Sunday, the Bengals have a chance to win their first Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. They’re doing this after winning a combined six games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. They have the same coach, the same coordinators, a six-person front office and the cheapest owner in the sport. Yet here they are. Because now they have a Joe Burrow.

The Bears have a chance at a similar turnaround, but Justin Fields will need to make a similar leap.

The Bears offseason and coaching search was seen as something that would be centered around Fields. Fans clamored for an offensive head coach who could, in theory, “develop” Fields into an elite quarterbacks. But NFL coaches don’t make bad quarterbacks good, or good quarterbacks great. That is left mostly up to the player himself. (The 2011 CBA limited the amount of time coaches have with players in the offseason.) Mike McCarthy used 10-hour days to help refine Aaron Rodgers’ mechanics, but that is no longer possible in the current NFL. Quarterbacks have had to rely on personal coaches to refine their mechanics. It’s what Josh Allen credits for his development.

Chicago has been criticized for hiring a defensive head coach with a first-time offensive coordinator and an inexperienced QB coach. In all, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko have just three years total working with quarterbacks. John DeFilippo had 11 himself as a coordinator or QB coach, Bill Lazor had 12 and Matt Nagy had nine. The Bears went from a team of expert QB coaches — who had gotten MVP-caliber seasons from the likes of Alex Smith, Nick Foles and Carson Wentz — to an unknown.

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