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Data Entry: Zooming in on the Run Defense

| July 1st, 2022

 


Wrapping up our look at returning players and new veterans on defense, today we’re going to explore stopping the run.

This can be difficult to quantify, because much of what goes into run stopping doesn’t get measured. When Eddie Goldman holds his own against two blockers, he frees up a linebacker to make the tackle, but nothing Goldman did there shows up on a stat sheet. So I want to be clear from the start that this is not going to be a perfect science, and I make no claims that it is.

However, Pro Football Focus (PFF) does track some data that can give us an idea of how often a defender is directly involved in stopping a run play. We’ll look at basic metrics that are fairly self-explanatory, like how often a player makes a run tackle or misses a tackle, but also some more advanced data including how far downfield the average run tackle they make is.

One unconventional stat PFF uses that I want to briefly discuss is a “run stop.” PFF defines this as a solo tackle that counts as a “win” for the defense. I can’t find anything definitively saying what makes a play a “win,” but you can imagine this is probably similar to success rate, where it keeps the offense from picking up a certain % of the yards needed for a 1st down. In other words: a defender made a tackle to keep the run short and force the offense behind the chains.

I will examine every Bears defender who had at least 200 run defense snaps last year, whether in Chicago or somewhere else. This allows for a large enough individual sample size that the values have some meaning, but also a large enough sample size for comparing players from a position to their peers. The 200 snap threshold gave a sample of 74 interior defensive linemen (2.3/team), 52 edge defenders (1.6/team), 66 linebackers (2.1/team), 75 cornerbacks (2.3/team), and 70 safeties (2.2/team). That adds up to 10.5 defenders/team, or roughly those who played starter-level snaps.


Interior DL

Let’s start with a look at the defensive line, where the Bears return Angelo Blackson and added Justin Jones in free agency. The table below shows how they both fared in a variety of run-stopping metrics last year, as well as their rank compared to 74 interior defensive linemen who played at least 200 run snaps. To give a broader frame of reference, the best, average, median, and worst values among that 74-player sample are also provided for each statistics. Categories highlighted in green indicated the player was in the top 25% relative to their peers, while red indicates the player was in the bottom 25%.

A few thoughts:

  • Angelo Blackson seems like a decent enough, if not great, run defender. He’s not overly good or bad in any of the areas. His missed tackle rate is a little higher than you would like to see, so hopefully that can improve a bit going forward.
  • Justin Jones is very active in run defense, as evidenced by his high amount of run-defending tackles. However, he struggles with missed tackles, and very few of his tackles count as “wins” for the defense, which means they’re happening farther down the field than you would like.


Edge Rushers

Let’s switch gears and examine the edge rushers now, where the Bears have three notable players: returnees Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson and newly signed Al-Quadin Muhammad. The table below shows their performance against the run in a variety of metrics, including their rank compared to 52 positional peers.

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Data Entry: Zooming in on the Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2022

Almost everything I’ve looked at so far this offseason has been about the offense, so now I want to shift gears and give some attention to returning players and new veterans on defense. That starts today with a closer examination of the pass rush.

In order to do this, I’m using data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) that examine pressures, wins, sacks, and pass rush productivity. Here’s a quick explainer of what PFF means by some of those that are less obvious:

  • Pressure: This is a measure of how often a player bothers the QB – makes him move off his spot, hits him, or sacks him.  It will be defined through the % of pass-rushing snaps that count as a pressure, QB hit, or sack.
  • Win: this is a measure of how often a player beats their block to impact a play within 2.5 seconds. It will be defined through the % of pass-rushing snaps that count as a win.
  • Pass Rush Productivity: this accounts for all sacks, pressures, and QB hits on a per-snap basis, with an added weight given to sacks. PFF doesn’t give an exact formula for how much extra sacks are weighted, but generally a higher number is better.

I’ll examine both all pass rushing snaps and only what PFF defines as true pass sets. These are basically set up to only look at 4-man rushes on standard passing plays, so all screens, play action, designed rollouts, blitzes, 3-man rushes, and exceptionally fast (ball thrown in <2 seconds) or slow (ball thrown in >4 seconds) plays are removed. PFF says that these values tend to be more stable year-to-year, since they are more indicative of actual pass rushing ability.


Edge Rushers

Let’s start by examining edge rushers, where the Bears have three notable NFL veterans: returners Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson and newly signed Al-Quadin Muhammad.

The table below shows how all three fared in a variety of pass rushing stats in 2021, as well as their rank compared to 93 NFL edge rushers with at least 200 pass rush opportunities. To give a broader frame of reference, the best, average, median, and worst values among that 93-player sample are also provided for each statistic.

Categories highlighted in green indicated the player was in the top 25% of edge rushers (top 23), while red indicates the player was in the bottom 25% (bottom 23).

A few thoughts:

  • If you ignore sacks and look more at the pressure and win rates – which are more stable season to season – Quinn was more good than great as a pass rusher in 2021. That feels weird to say for somebody who finished 2nd in the NFL in sacks, but the extremely low pressure/sack ratio tells us that he produced more sacks than expected based on the pressure he generated, and pressures are generally more consistent than sacks.
    • This tracks with other data showing that Quinn generally took longer to get to the QB than the NFL’s elite pass rushers.
    • Quinn also has a fairly established track record of season-to-season inconsistency. He’s never produced an above-average pass rush productivity ranking in two consecutive years during his career, and he hasn’t had back-to-back seasons with 8+ sacks since 2014.
    • Add it all up, and I think a regression from Quinn is highly likely in 2022. The Bears would be wise to sell high on him now rather than waiting for the trade deadline if they are hoping to get value in return.
  • Trevis Gipson honestly was fairly comparable to Robert Quinn in most of these statistics, which is pretty impressive. He had a very solid year in 2021. His sample size was much smaller (229 pass rush snaps vs. 402 for Quinn), so I’m eager to see if he can repeat that performance. It’s worth noting, however, that his pressure/sack ratio was about as low as Quinn’s, so he could play better this year and still see a dip in sacks.
  • Al-Quadin Muhammad is a bad pass rusher. I really hope the Bears aren’t planning on him doing much to bother the QB, because 2021 was actually the best season rushing the passer of his career, and it was still bad.

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Dannehy: Bears Need Real Value To Trade Quinn

| June 15th, 2022


With news that Robert Quinn isn’t likely to attend the Chicago Bears mandatory camp practices, it seems likely that he would prefer to play elsewhere next season. But the Bears shouldn’t trade him unless they get equal value in return. Based on media reports and what r Ryan Poles has said, the team didn’t prioritize value when Khalil Mack was dealt. They can’t do that again.

Quinn is coming off of a season in which he broke the franchise record with 18.5 sacks, doing so as the only serious pass rush threat for much of the season. While his cap charge is currently slated to be near $18 million — fifth highest at his position — his average salary is tied for 23rd with Randy Gregory (among others). Gregory is 29. Quinn just turned 32. Gregory has fewer sacks in his career than Quinn had last season.

While moving Quinn would guarantee the team is punting on the 2022 season — a tough sell in the locker room — the Bears would save nearly $13 million in salary cap space. Had they done the trade earlier in the offseason, the cap saving was less than $4.5 million. While the free agent market is nearly depleted, the Bears could use those savings in the 2023 offseason, when Quinn’s value likely won’t be as high.

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Bears at Lions Thanksgiving Game Preview, Vol. III: Predictions!

| November 24th, 2021


There are only two possible outcomes for this game.

Outcome #1. The Bears win and nobody cares. (Maybe some young players flash and that will be exciting, but honestly, who cares?)

Outcome #2. The Bears lose and it becomes impossible for Matt Nagy to coach the team for the remainder of 2021. (Honestly, I’m not sure Nagy or Pace will still be employed Friday if this is the result Thursday. When I floated the scenario to someone in the building they responded with the simple, “Buckle up.”)

Three predictions:

  • David Montgomery has 24 carries for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  • Robert Quinn adds another 1.5 sacks to his ledger, bringing his total to 11.5 on the season.
  • Matt Nagy avoids a midseason firing with an ugly win in front a national audience. And he will hear about it loudly from the Soldier Field faithful on December 3.

Chicago Bears 20, Detroit Lions 16

 

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Bears at Bucs Game Preview: Covid, Cale, Cover.

| October 22nd, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears this Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

But let’s be honest: it’s quite difficult to like the Bears in this spot. The Bucs are inevitably going to score a bunch of points and the way to beat them is to score more. Does anybody believe a Matt Nagy offense can win a shootout, even with a rookie quarterback who looks like he’d thrive in that situation?

The Bucs are scoring 32.5 points per game. A great Bears defensive effort should be able to keep them in the 24-8 range. So the Bears will need 30. Do they have it? Doubtful.


HughesReviews: The Velvet Underground

I’ve always thought the great documentaries fall into two categories. The content docs captivate you with information. Alex Gibney is the master of this form (Enron, Client 9, Going Clear, etc.), but the binge-worthy, true crime doc drug – of which I must admit an addiction – has elevated the medium from high art, coffee shop conversation to pop culture phenomena. (Tiger King felt like the most talked about documentary in the history of the country.)

The form docs are a trickier enterprise. Whether it’s Errol Morris’ interrotron locking into the eyes of Robert McNamara or DA Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall witnessing Elaine Stritch’s cast recording breakdown or Barbara Kopple’s penetrating look at the coal miners of Harlan County, the form docs seem to change the way we look at the world by changing the way that world is framed for us, the viewer. (Great recent examples are 2019’s American Factory and Minding the Gap.)

The great music docs almost exclusively fall into this latter group. Sure, The Sparks Brothers was an intriguing look at an intriguing band, and History of The Eagles was endlessly entertaining, but ultimately those films are limited by how much the viewer actually cares about the work the band produced. (In both the aforementioned cases, my level is somewhere near zero.) The great music docs – The Last Waltz, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Stop Making Sense – captivate you with the originality of their storytelling.

What is so stunning about Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground is how intimate the experience feels. (It definitely helps that I saw it in a theater and not on my couch, with the ability to pause and take piss breaks.) The filmmaker’s decision to rest the faces of his subjects on screen for extended periods of time had a near-hypnotic effect. You find yourself studying Lou Reed and John Cale as younger men. You find yourself searching their faces for clues to a puzzle that’s never been solved. And all the while they are mapping out their journeys to the band. It’s thrilling.

I’ll write more about this film in the year-end piece. But I want to use this space to encourage you to see the film. (It is on Apple+ if you can’t find it in a theater near you.) Whether you like the band or not – and I do not – it’s one of the more remarkable documentaries every produced.

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Thoughts on Falling to 3-3 After Another Loss to the Green Bay Packers

| October 18th, 2021


It wasn’t a particularly unique affair. The Bears have lost this game to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers plenty of times. If you need additional details beyond which is provided below, search the archives and find all the recaps of those games.

  • Justin Fields continues to show signs, and that’s all you are asking for each week from a rookie quarterback. The touchdown drive he led in the fourth quarter, that could easily have been derailed by a nonsense holding penalty on Sam Mustipher, was a thing of beauty.
    • The Bears have to open up this offense for Fields moving forward and that should start Sunday against Tampa. The Bucs have a terrible secondary but are impossible to run against.
    • The clock still has to speed up for Fields. Sunday, his “run clock” was there. When he saw the space, he took it. But he’s still struggling to recognize how fast these pass rushers are. He ain’t playing Rutgers anymore. Once he starts to feel it, and it’ll be soon, he’ll stop taking unnecessary sacks.
  • The refs were not to blame for this Bears loss. But they were dreadful.
    • Has an offsides ever been missed before? There are officials literally staring down the line of scrimmage pre-snap.
    • The hold on Mustipher and pass interference on Jaylon Johnson were both nonsense.
    • I still don’t understand the OPI on Green Bay, or how that touchdown catch was originally ruled incomplete. Neither were close calls.
    • Why was Justin Fields’ timeout attempt rejected? I have never seen that before.
  • Aaron Rodgers was the best player on the field. Again. And it’s not surprising when the best player on the field wins, especially when that player is a quarterback. That’s the goal for the Justin Fields Chicago Bears. They have to get there.

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The Reemergence of Robert Quinn

| October 5th, 2021


Myles Garrett.

Chandler Jones.

Danielle Hunter.

Justin Hargrave.

TJ Watt.

Those are the only five players with more sacks on this early season than Robert Quinn, the early frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL. (Being that he “played” most of 2020, he’s probably not even eligible for the award but symbolically the point is made.) A second look at the players above Quinn reveals an even more significant truth.

Garrett has 6 sacks, but recorded 4.5 in a single game, against the Chicago Bears. Jones has 5 sacks, all coming in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Hunter had 3 of his 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Only Hargrave, Watt, and Robert Quinn have delivered as pass rushers in each of the first four games of the 2021 season. They have been the most consistent performers off the edge, with Quinn’s teammate Khalil Mack a half-sack behind and right there in the same conversation. But Quinn’s appearance on this list is something of a revelation, and a shocking revelation at that. Let’s follow the timeline.

  • March 2020. Bears sign Quinn to a 5-year, $70 million contract. After years of Leonard Floyd failing to fulfill his pass rush promise, the Bears had seemingly solved the issue opposite Mack.
  • May 2020. Quinn is already dealing with injury issues. (Folks forget how early the injury word began trickling out of Halas Hall.) Was it his back? His hip? Why wouldn’t anyone say definitively?
  • Camp 2020. Quinn is nowhere to be found. He never practiced, never appeared in the preseason and things seemed to be pointing in consistently bad directions for his season.
  • Season 2020. Useless, and it is coupled with that fact that Leonard Floyd’s 9-sack performance in Los Angeles. Ryan Pace takes the majority of the criticism.
  • December 2020. Brad Biggs cracks the code, finally reporting that Quinn is suffering from something called “drop foot”. The article landed me on the Mayo Clinic’s website, learning that “Foot drop, sometimes called drop foot, is a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk..”

Now, through four games of the 2021 season, Quinn has 4.5 sacks and could easily have 2-3 more. He’s well on his way to the double-digit sack campaign the Bears paid him to reach. But from a gameday perspective, Quinn’s reemergence is going to allow the Bears to stay competitive in at least 75% of the games they play this season. With a secondary comprised of Jaylon Johnson, a mediocre Eddie Jackson and a bunch of street guys, the only hope for this defense is a multidimensional pass rush and Quinn is finally providing that needed second dimension opposite Mack.

This will also allow the Bears to start Justin Fields without him needing to throw 50 passes a game to stay competitive; a completely untenable situation with the offensive line as currently composed.

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