Bears Re-Sign DeAndre Houston-Carson

| March 20th, 2022

A few thoughts on this decision by Poles and Flus:

  • Houston-Carson has always seemed a player that deserves more snaps on defense, and a natural complement to Eddie Jackson’s game at safety. He’s a playmaker; what he might lack physically down-for-down he can overcome by rising in the bigger moments. (The pick above, the pick to ice a victory over the Panthers, etc.)
  • Chris Tabor referred to DHC as the “straw that stirs the drink” on specials and I’m not sure a more glowing review can come from a third phase coordinator.
  • The Browns gave Jakeem Grant a three-year deal worth up to $13.8 million. The Packers needed to clean up their horrific special teams and brought in Pat O’Donnell at $2 million a year. Those are the kinds of moves that make sense for contenders – teams looking to patch their few holes for a championship run. The Bears can fill those two spots with Khalil Herbert and an undrafted free agent (or late pick). The signing of DHC suggests the Bears see him as an essential piece.
  • There’s been some conversation about the Bears being in a “rebuild” but there’s an absent nuance to that conversation. In baseball, a team can definitively rebuild by dealing off veterans for prospects. But football doesn’t have prospects; it has lottery tickets called draft picks. The Bears didn’t deal Khalil Mack for the second-round pick. They dealt Khalil Mack to clear $25 million (or whatever) off their books next off-season. Everything Poles is doing is geared towards next off-season. Would he love for Pringle, St. Brown and DHC to become reliable contributors? Of course. But signing them to low-risk, one-year deals gives the coaching staff a year to evaluate them up close, while giving them full roster flexibility next off-season. When folks talk of rebuilds, they seem to suggest multi-year projects. Those don’t exist in the NFL. If Justin Fields takes a significant step in 2022, the Bears can absolutely be contenders in 2023. And Poles, wisely, recognizes that.

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Dannehy: Bears Can’t Ignore Defense as They Build Around Fields

| March 16th, 2022

The signing of Larry Ogunjobi was telling in that it shows the new Chicago Bears regime knows it has to maintain a solid defense for the development of Justin Fields, or whoever the long-term quarterback may be. Ogunjobi will fill a critical position in the Matt Eberflus defense, profiling as the prototypical three-technique, responsible for pressure up the middle. The contract, reported to be three years and $40.5 million, caused some uproar. Why? Because 2022 should rightfully be all about quarterback and it’s hard to argue a defensive tackle helps a quarterback. But this addition will help take pressure off of Justin Fields.

And the new defensive tackle is a very good player. He has had ten or more tackles for a loss, five sacks and at least 13 quarterback hits in three of the last four seasons. He essentially replaces Akiem Hicks, who hasn’t had ten tackles for loss or five sacks since 2018.

Trading Khalil Mack certainly sent mixed signals.

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For Poles and Coach Flus, the 2022 Off-Season is About Justin Fields

| March 4th, 2022

Winning is important. Winning breeds more winning, creates a positive environment, and is the only way to establish the type of culture that produces sustained success. Joe Judge, in some bizarre, late-season pressers, tried to sell the cultural shift he authored in New Jersey to Giants ownership. They canned him. Why? He didn’t win enough. All reports from inside the building were positive. All results from on the field were not. The latter is all that matters, ultimately.

Football is a sport and sports are about winning and losing. That’s why they spend all that money on those fancy scoreboards. But for the new Bears leadership, 2022 should be about one thing and one thing only: finding out if Justin Fields is “the guy”. Finding that out while winning is, of course, the ideal scenario, and if he is “the guy” they will win. But the decisions made in the coming months should be geared towards the former, not the latter.

The Bears should spend money. But they should spend money on young offensive linemen and outside weapons that can grow and develop with Fields in the years to come. This isn’t the time for a 34-year-old guard or a veteran wideout on a one-year deal. The Bears are not championship contenders next season, despite what the Bengals achieved this past one. The money spent in 2022 needs to be relevant in 2023, 2024 and maybe even beyond.

And they shouldn’t spend a nickel on defense. (Hyperbole, yes, but you get the point.) The players they have rostered on defense for 2022 are plenty good enough to field a unit with a middle-of-the-pack floor, especially if Coach E is worth his salt at the top of the pyramid. Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson (in this defense) are a terrific defensive core. Play Thomas Graham. Draft a corner. Find a good off-ball LB in the middle rounds. This unit is going to require significant overhaul upfront in the coming years. Adding a high-priced talent now doesn’t make any sense.

Folks like to throw around the word “rebuild” in the NFL but rebuilds don’t really exist. A team’s championship clock starts the second they decide who the quarterback of their future will be. The Bears should have made that determine the second they drafted Fields, putting the likes of Mack and Allen Robinson on the trading block moments later. They didn’t.  They self-inflated the value of their roster. They thought they could contend in 2021 with Andy Dalton. (I can’t believe that sentence is even possible to type.) And they wasted a year.

They don’t need to waste another second. Make ’22 about 1. If that project is successful, the years that follow will be too.

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Fields in Focus Part III: Under Pressure

| February 16th, 2022

This piece will examine how frequently Fields was pressured, who was to blame for that pressure, and how Fields performed when under pressure. All stats are from Pro Football Focus (PFF) unless otherwise noted.

Pressure Frequency

Fields was one of the most heavily pressured QBs in the NFL as a rookie. PFF had him pressured on 43% of dropbacks, the 3rd highest rate of 39 qualifying NFL QBs (34% median, 45% worst). Pro Football Reference, which is more selective with what they consider a pressure, had him at a 27% pressure rate, the 5th highest mark in the NFL (23% median, 31% worst).

The table below shows how much of the pressure for each QB PFF blamed on each position. Fields’ stat is provided, and his rank compared to the other 39 QBs, as well as the range of the other qualifying QBs.  Cells where Fields ranked in the top 10 are highlighted in green, while cells where Fields ranked in the bottom 10 are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • By and large, Fields was not particularly to blame for the pressure he faced. PFF only credited him with being responsible for 13% of his pressures, which was the literal middle of the pack for the 39 QB sample.
  • Pressures may not have been his fault, but many sacks were. Fields allowed 24% of his pressures to turn into sacks, which was the 6th worst mark in the NFL (median 17%). This matches Lester Wiltfong’s Sackwatch series, which blamed Fields for 9 of the 36 sacks he took in 2021. If you go back and look at the film breakdown for those (which Lester does for all of them), the majority came when the initial pressure was not his fault, but then Fields could have gotten the ball out or escaped and didn’t.
  • In general, the pass blocking from the offensive line ranged from average to below average (again, 20th is the middle of a 39 QB sample). Two spots stood out from that: right guard was pretty good (it’s worth noting RG James Daniels is a free agent) and center was pretty bad. Sam Mustipher has to be upgraded this offseason.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the tight ends allowed a high rate of pressure compared to other QBs. When looking at tight ends, PFF had Cole Kmet ranked 43rd and Jesse James 30th in rate of pressures allowed out of 68 total qualified tight ends, which is around average for both, so I’m not sure what happened here. Maybe it’s a small sample size thing, where the tight ends gave up most of their pressures when Fields was in at QB (as opposed to Dalton or Foles).
  • I think sample size with running backs (the majority of the other) was probably an issue too. PFF had David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert 25th and 23rd, respectively, in rate of pressures allowed out of 64 qualified running backs, which is a little above average but nothing spectacular.

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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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The Poles Haikus.

| February 6th, 2022

Undrafted, was he.

Signed by the Chicago Bears. 

Now he runs their show.

Rented a sailboat,

with Katie, off Navy Pier.

“Will you marry me?”

If you play for Poles,

you pick up your quarterback.

Or go somewhere else.


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After Monday’s Press Avails, the Bears Have Become Justin Fields’ Team

| February 4th, 2022

The Press Conference.

It was what Justin Fields said. And what Justin Fields didn’t say.

What he said:

“I think last year was kinda weird, just me not starting the season being the starting quarterback. It was kind of a weird leadership role. I think me and Andy would kind of switch off. But now that I am starting off the season as a starting quarterback, I think I’ll be more comfortable playing that leader role. There’s no more, ‘Oh, he’s a rookie, this and that’. It’s tie now, so I’m excited like I said before and I can’t wait to get to work.”

What he didn’t say:

“I should have been the quarterback from day one last season. And I wasn’t the quarterback from day one last season because the last coach didn’t have the slightest clue what he was doing. But he’s gone now. And so, we rejoice.”

In 2015, when John Fox was announced as the new head coach of the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler was not in the room. He did not speak to the media. In 2018, when Matt Nagy was introduced, Mitch Trubisky was nowhere to be found. But Monday, after Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus addressed the media, Justin Fields sat on the dais and spoke, at length. The owner had spoken. The GM had spoken. The head coach had spoken. And now it was the quarterback’s time. That is the hierarchy of every NFL team and Monday, for the first time, Fields ascended into that structure.

And he knew it.

The Future.

Fields’ comments mirrored everything reported about the kid since his time at Ohio State; an immense talent complemented by a tireless work ethic and an understanding of where he struggles on the field. Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com wrote an excellent column, detailing Fields’ excitement for the future with this new leadership in place.

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David Montgomery is an Inefficient Running Back.

| February 3rd, 2022

Bears running back David Montgomery has one year remaining on his rookie contract, meaning he is eligible for an early extension if the Bears want to give him one. After George McCaskey specifically praised Montgomery and linebacker Roquan Smith (who is also looking to get paid this offseason) at his end of season press conference in January, many fans speculated that both were about to get paid.

On the surface, an extension could make sense for Montgomery. Since entering the NFL in 2019, he is 6th in the league in carries, 9th in rushing yards, and 12th in rushing touchdowns. But those are volume stats and say nothing about Montgomery beyond his ability to stay healthy and handle a heavy workload. Today I want to take a closer look at Montgomery’s efficiency to see if he is a good running back or just a running back who gets a lot of touches.

Overall Efficiency

Let’s start with a general look at Montgomery’s overall efficiency, measured both in yards/carry and rush yards over expectation/carry (RYOE/carry).

RYOE/carry is a new stat in the last few years, and it’s based on both the position and the movement of all 22 players on the field at the time of handoff. Basically, it projects how many yards an average NFL running back would get in a given carry based on historical data, and then compares how that specific running back did on that play. All RYOE/carry stats are pulled from Tej Seth’s website mfbanalytics.

The table below shows Montgomery’s yards/carry and RYOE/expectation marks for all three of his NFL seasons. It also compares him to the average NFL running back each season, looking only at backs who get 150 or more carries on the year (close to 1/team, so roughly starting NFL running backs).

A few thoughts:

  • As you can see, Montgomery has not generally been very efficient. He ranks in the bottom half of all starting running backs in both yards/carry and RYOE/carry in all three seasons.
  • You could try to explain away a poor yards/carry mark by pointing out that Chicago’s offensive line, offensive scheme, and offense as a whole have been bad for Montgomery’s career. Those are fair points, which is why I didn’t just want to look at his yards/carry mark when evaluating Montgomery. If that is bad but his underlying metrics are good, it would indicate a good running back trapped in a bad offense.
  • RYOE, however, doesn’t support that idea. This stat in particular is intended to isolate the running back’s performance, since the expected yards mark takes into consideration where every other player (both offense and defense) is at the time of handoff, as well as where they’re moving. Therefore, this should remove scheme and the caliber of talent around you from being a significant factor. Consistently underperforming your RYOE mark is an indication of a below-average running back.

Explosion and Consistency

It feels weird to call David Montgomery a below-average running back. Just writing that is jarring. After all, we’ve spent three years cheering for him and loving how he runs. So maybe there’s something else out there that can highlight what Montgomery is good at.

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Did George McCaskey Finally Become the Owner of the Chicago Bears? Well, Maybe.

| February 1st, 2022

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

About twenty days ago, George McCaskey said he was “just a fan” of the Chicago Bears and that comment was met with an array of outrages. How could this man, the Chairman of the franchise (an official, paid position), be so naive as to suggest he does not bear responsibility for the franchise’s success on the field? Why hadn’t this man, tasked with leading the organization, used all the resources at his disposal to not only be more than a fan, but to be one of the more knowledgeable football men in the league?

It was the most damning moment in his tenure and two things happened in the immediate aftermath of that press conference. Ted Phillips and McCaskey had a heated conversation, as the club’s president made clear to its oblivious owner just how bad the press conference had gone. Then, McCaskey left Halas Hall, leaving Ted alone to discuss the GM candidates with the hiring team and organize their schedules. (Ted didn’t leave the building to well after midnight. McCaskey was not in contact.)

The tension thawed. McCaskey was on the Zoom for every GM candidate, although his participation was extremely limited. One source says the questioning broke down about 70-30, with Bill Polian asking the majority of the questions and Phillips asking the Bears-specific stuff. (Ryan Poles’ comments at his introductory presser mirrored the responses from most candidates, in that Polian was an exceptional leader of these calls.) Ted encouraged George to get more actively involved. George resisted, again not believing it was his place to do so.

Then, something changed.

The Bears interviewed Ryan Poles.

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