191 Comments

Week Four Game Preview, Volume II: Can the Bears Find Their Way to 3-1?

| September 30th, 2022


Five Things I Think Will Happen:

  • Robert Quinn only has one sack this season but Sunday, against Houston, he was close to a breakout performance. The breakout comes in the Meadowlands with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
  • The Giants will rush for 128 yards and a touchdown. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are coaching their quarterback in a similar fashion to what is happening in Chicago. The trust isn’t there. They throw when necessary.
  • The Bears will rush for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Statistically, through three games, this is a mismatch the Bears should exploit.
  • Giants DC Wink Martindale will confuse Justin Fields, leading to 3-4 sacks on third and long. Wink will disguise coverages. He’ll bring pressure from unlikely sources. If Fields isn’t ready and willing to get rid of the football quickly, it’ll be another long afternoon for the quarterback. (And what evidence do we have that he’ll be ready and willing to do that?)
  • The stat that defines the game: tight end production in the passing attack.
    • Daniel Jones is starting to trust Daniel Bellinger and the Bears didn’t have any answers for the Houston tight ends.
    • Cole Kmet was open all day Sunday and the Giants allowed 5-56 to Dallas tight ends Monday night.
    • Neither of these teams offer much at wide receiver.

Both of these teams play slow, ugly football games. And that’s exactly what we’ll see in NJ.

Chicago Bears 23, New Jersey Giants 20

Tagged: , , ,

160 Comments

Training Camp Thoughts, Volume II: Quinn’s Value, Harry’s Potential & More.

| July 29th, 2022


  • Quick note on Robert Quinn. Do the Bears want to trade him? Not necessarily. Are they open to trading him? Of course. But the team is walking a tight rope. Trading off Khalil Mack was easy. His body and production have been in decline for years and the team couldn’t risk NOT being able to deal him after the 2022 season. It would be very hard for Flus to convince his team their goal is to win games if they unload Quinn for anything else than his current value. And coming off what is arguably his best season, that value is high.
    • And for those buying the whole, “I want to be a Bear, I don’t want to be traded” thing…really? When he was actually asked if he was always planning to report to training camp, he said, “I mean, I’m here. So, I mean, whatever I planned, I’m here. That’s what it is.” He’s at camp because he’s been given assurances from Ryan Poles that he’ll be dealt if the value is there. Otherwise, he’s a Bear. (The quote above was pulled from the Twitter feed of Courtney Cronin.)
  • N’Keal Harry: “I got a real chip on my shoulder. I’m looking to come in and prove that I can help this team win.” Two things can be true at the same time. (1) Harry’s career in New England, as a first rounder, was abject failure. He was terrible. (2) A motivated Harry is an intriguing proposition. Remember, the kid is only 24 years old. Justin Fields is 23. The Bears aren’t asking Harry to be a dominant player. They’d be thrilled if he’s a competent role player. Would you take a repeat of his sophomore season and 30-300-2? The Bears would.
  • Also from Cronin, re: Harry: “Bears OC Luke Getsy said that he has been impressed with WR N’Keal Harry’s mentality. “He came in here with a purpose.”
  • Eddie Jackson getting called out by Flus for effort is going to be a trend this summer. Integrity. It’s coming to the Bears.
  • More Cronin: “Cole Kmet said the pass he caught down the seam today in between 2 defenders is one he and Justin Fields ended every private workout with.”

Tagged: ,

182 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

169 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

121 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: ,

160 Comments

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

 

Tagged: , , , ,

173 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,