Football

AKA #Chuckstrong

The Bears dropped from the 1st overall defense in DVOA in 2018 down to 8th in 2019, the first year under Chuck Pagano’s watch. Why is that? Was it the offense constantly trying to get off the field as quickly as possible? Was it the key injuries to certain starters, or the loss of half the secondary in free agency? Was it due to the Bears playing Football Outsiders’ #1 toughest schedule of 2019, or simply just statistical variance?

I don’t know, if I did I’d be coaching the Bears defense (spoiler alert: I run a lot of 0 coverage so I’m sorry in advance). However, I did smoke a bunch of LEGAL weed and read PFF and Football Outsiders to get to the bottom of this hypothetical question.

The Good:

Roquan Smith is gonna be the fuckin dude in the middle, y’all. The Bears numbers against the run aren’t very impressive on paper, but metrics put the Bears as the 3rd and 6th overall defense from the Second-Level and Open Field metrics (runs beyond the defensive line). Pagano is letting his second level swarm to the ball, and the groundwork is there for the Bears to once again have the best LB corps in the league, provided they resign Danny Trevathan.

The defense looked good against the teams they should have. I know, that seems like a backhanded compliment, right? It’s not. 2018’s loss to the Giants (even with Chase Daniel at QB) was caused by a defense that could not stop Saquon Barkley and an awful Giants offense. This year’s Bears defense put shitty teams down and held them there, but of course the offense still managed to blow it against both LA teams, Oakland (debatable), and the first Packers game. As Bears fans, we gotta take pride in beating the teams they should beat because this franchise plays down to their opponents so much you’d think it was commonplace.

This is where I officially state my case for Leonard Floyd: he is absolutely a starting-caliber outside linebacker. His numbers as a pass rusher are not great, but Pagano utilized him in the best possible way: setting the edge in the run game. He was most certainly not worth the price the Bears paid for him in the draft, but if he walks the Bears will most likely downgrade with his replacement.

The Bad:

If we can expect variance to be part of the year to year process, we see it in turnovers. The Bears simply did not take the ball away like they did last year. The Bears averaged 1.2 takeaways per game in 2019, compared to 2.2 per game in 2018. The other defenses with a 1.2 takeaway per game average in 2019? Jacksonville, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia. The Eagles were the only team that made the playoffs that finished outside the top 13 in that stat. If the Bears defense wants to come back to elite status, here is where the change needs to come.

Pagano was touted as a man-blitz schemer, but these Bears only blitzed on 23.5% of snaps, the 8th lowest percentage in the league. Going back to the Leonard Floyd bit, Pagano needs to scheme this guy free with blitzes or some other wizardry, because he still has elite closing speed (though sometimes struggles to finish). The Bears have elite blitzers in the back 7 at all levels, and Pagano needs to bring that heat from weird places more often.

According to Football Outsiders, the Bears ranked 22nd in the league in pass rush efficiency, and I’d say that’s about right. The loss of Hicks and the preponderance of man-coverage fronts instead of the Fangio Man/Zone hybrids created less pressure from the Bears 4 man rush. As a result, this defense didn’t play up to the lofty expectations we all had.

The Weird:

Pagano let the DBs play their preferred style all year long, which is maybe a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure so I’m putting it here.

The Future:

Here are the names of the starting players on the defense with expiring contracts:
Trevathan
Clinton-Dix
McManis (special teams counts and you know it)
Kwiatkoski

You gotta assume at least two of these players leave, right? There’s no way the team splits their core special teams up entirely by getting rid of Kwit and McManis, so one of them stays. I think the Bears re-sign Danny and McManis, and they will look to get another one year prove it deal with a former first round safety. My money is on Karl Joseph.

Football

Well, no one can say Ryan Pace has no idea what he’s doing. He locked in All-Pro Safety Eddie Jackson on a Four year, $58M contract extension on Friday afternoon and managed to deflect at least a little bit of the unsilent majority that’s been killing him for his NYE press conference the last few days.

Jackson takes home $22M in guarantees at signing and $33M overall, so you can assume he’s been given a healthy bonus, small cap number in 2021 (unless this tears up his 2020 $735K of his final rookie year, either way the team will really need it) and the first two years at least fully guaranteed. Jackson, deservedly so, becomes the highest paid Safety in football at just under $15M/season.

Jackson earned that top-salary-in-the-league title with his play, starting way back in 2017 when he picked off Cam Newton and scooped up a fumble, taking both to the house with each TD return going over 75 yards. That’s a single game NFL record and Jackson did nothing but build his resume as a playmaker and takeaway specialist from there. He had monster pick-six returns in huge moments to seal wins down the stretch for the 2018 Division Champion team, though he didn’t record a TD in 2019  as opposing teams avoided throwing his way almost exclusively. Not matter, Jackson just set a career high with five tackles for loss as Chuck Pagano used him more in the box and mixed him in with blitz coverages closer to the line. And the whole “don’t throw at Eddie” game plan helped the Bears hold opponents to a top three finish in plays of 20+ yards at 40 total.

Eddie Jackson is the real fucking deal and he earned this contract. The team is better with him in it, period.

So what does this mean for the rest of the offseason? Well, it’s definitely good that Pace got this order of business out of the way early in the offseason and didn’t let anything linger into OTAs or training camp and the specter of a hold out. Jackson would have gotten all this and possibly more if he’d hit UFA status, so the deal is timely and warranted. This could, however, impact what they do at the opposite Safety position. Jackson is now the lone (true)Safety on the books for 2020 and beyond, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson all UFAs come March.

Bush and Houston-Carson should be cheap enough to bring back, assuming they’d both like to be here. Dix is the more curious case, as he didn’t exactly shine in his new home. He was very steady, though, and didn’t really show the issues of poor tackling that have plagued him in the past. Pace would do well to lock him and one of the lesser depth Safeties up next to save himself from scrambling later this offseason, though he doesn’t have a ton of cap room to work with. If Dix wants a big, 3+ year deal he’s likely going to have to find it elsewhere, so it might come down to how much he wants to continue with his Alabama alum partner and the rest of this defensive core.

You can probably bet that this move will seal Danny Trevathan‘s fate unless he takes a huge pay cut, but Nick Kwiatkowski is also due new money and he showed he’s ready to step into that role after Trevathan and Smith’s injuries this season. The offense is noticeably absent from the any discussion of core players locked up. Pace would be wise to prioritize a new deal for WR Allen Robinson, who was arguably the only good thing the Bears can point to from 2019 on his side of the ball.That, though, can be left for later as everyone celebrates Steady Eddie and his new paper. This gives the Bears a very sound, solid defensive core locked in through at least 2022 including Jackson, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman and to a lesser extent Buster Skrine and Bilal Nichols.

Enough of the future what-ifs, enjoy some of Eddie’s best work. Congrats to #39. Roll Damn Tide.

 

 

Football

Tony Martin: Today’s matchup post is going to look a little different than usual- since this year has been anything but normal, we are having to seriously discuss how to spend our Sunday afternoons. I just started a new job, I’m still in grad school, and I still play in multiple bands- that time of the weekend would be perfect to spend it on anything other than shitty football that I’m emotionally invested in.

Yet I know for a fact that I’ll be parked on the couch this Sunday, watching the lifeless Bears play against the Giants. I’m not sure if I’m watching to see if they have something to prove or if I do it out of sheer tradition. I feel like if there was a Dawn of the Dead style zombie apocalypse, instead of lurking to the mall you’d find my dead ass sitting on the couch with a half cashed bowl and a LaCroix within arms reach of my rotting arms, waiting for the Bears to come on.

What do the Bears have to prove over these last few games? Is this just a talent evaluation process by now? It could be. I’m thinking they need to assess what options they have at so many different positions- both sides of the line, tight end, linebacker, kicker, and the defensive backfield. At this point, let’s see what this team has going forward. A lot of what Pace and Nagy should be focusing on where the holes in this leaky sink are coming from, because even though Mitch is the most glaring problem, the reason we are where we are is deeper than bad QB play. If Kyle Orton can win games as a starting QB, so can Mitch, but the franchise needs to build and play to his strengths. A great game plan can help mitigate a lot of deficiencies if done right.

This team absolutely has a playoff core, but Pace/Nagy need to spend the offseason figuring out what the identity of the franchise actually is and then building towards it. The end of last season covered up a lot of the problems with this roster from an identity standpoint on offense. They had a bruising running back and then a scatback, an all-star caliber wide receiver and a bunch of undersized speedsters, and a tight end that was not worth the money. All they did was replace the running back with a much better prospect that fits the offense, but they get away from running as soon as they fall behind, even if it’s by something as small as a first half field goal. Now might be the time to find those things to build upon, but it’s going to be boring as shit from a fan perspective to see it.

To wrap this part up, I’ll tell you what I’m looking for as the Bears play us off (insert Bill O’Reilly impression here):

-Is there an NFL-caliber tight end on the roster?
-Is Anthony Miller consistent enough to warrant a spot as the starting slot WR?
-Which defensive linemen could create pressure on their own in the absence of Khalil Mack?
-Does Leonard Floyd still play for this team?
-Eddie Goldman somehow has a grade of 74.3 so far from PFF- how much of 2018’s 88 rating from PFF was aided by the presence of Akiem Hicks?
-Do the Bears look to extend any of the following players: Danny Trevathan, Haha Clinton-Dix, Aaron Lynch, Nick Williams, Nick Kwiatkoski, or Roy Robertson-Harris?
-Are the Bears interested in taking a harder look at Javon Wims or Ryan Nall?

 

Wes French:Tony, I have to admit – If there is a Dawn of the Dead style scenario, I’d like to come find that couch and help you finish off your party favors. Barring a Hollywood situation on Sunday, though, I think I’m checking out on the Bears for a week.

It’s the Sunday before what’s basically a holiday week – yeah, I’ve got to work a few days at the beginning, but am I REALLY working? Fuck no. And the fact the Bears don’t really seem to be working the last month+ makes me unsure about investing another 3-4 hour block of my weekend, especially against a putrid trash heap like the New York Giants. I guess this might be the BEST time to check in, since the Bears should be able to get a W against the rookie-QB led G-Men, but the last time we had that narrative was all of two weeks ago against Detroit and that game was about as entertaining as a wet fart. Plus we’ll get that same wet fart four days later, bright and early before we’re all stuffed.
Am I interested in another slog between trash teams trying to sort out how exactly to best use the players they employ? No, no I’m not. Tony outlined plenty to look for in terms of WHY you may want to check in to this game on Sunday, and beyond the Bears sorting themselves out for a hopefully more spirited run in 2020 I could see you being mildly interested in who this Daniel Jones character is playing QB for NYG and wanting to see the sometimes electric Barkley do what he does. Outside of those two, the Giants have nothing to hold the interest of anyone but the diehards in the Big Apple and even those dummies are probably on to other things by week 12 of a 2-8 season. The Giants are pretty terrible and deserve no one’s attention, and in the immortal words of Local H – And Fuck New York, Too.

So what else should you be doing on Sunday? I’m going to play hockey and casually catch a nice dose of Red Zone with NINE noon games. Why the NFL can’t sort themselves out enough to have a better division of games through the day (there are only TWO late afternoon contests, but one is DAL @ NE) remains a mystery, but I digress. There are some strong teams on bye this week (KC/MIN), but while the schedule at first glance looks like a mirror of Bears/Giants, I’d say we’re in for a noon slate of some wild football with goofy fun matchups galore: 
– SEA @ PHI: The best game on paper at noon, Seattle looks to keep the Eagles down as they chase the 49ers for the NFC West/#1 seed. The Eagles are maddening, but always capable of a breakout performance and still have a shot at their own shitty Division
– TB @ ATL: Human Turnover Machine/Piece of Shit Jameis Winston goes into Hotlanta, quietly one of the best defensive units in the league since Week 5; I’ll guarantee at least 3 INTs and a DEF TD
– DEN @ BUF/ OAK @ NYJ: On the surface, the Bills and Raiders should cruise, but the Broncos have proved a difficult out and the Jets are scoring in bunches of late. The Bills and Raiders also remain the Bills and Raiders, so place those bets cautiously
– PIT @ CIN: A once fierce rivalry reduced to Mason Rudolph against Ryan Finley. I’ll be honest, this one excites even less than the Bears, but it does produce a decent opportunity for the Bungals to get their first win…it could totally be worse, Bears fans
– CAR @ NO: This sees two teams heading in wildly opposite directions, with the Panthers looking like they might be onto their third QB of the season and just about dead in the NFC at 5-5. Saints are aiming for NFC’s top spot. Divisional games can be weird, though
– MIA @ CLE/DET @ WSH: These two matchups pit four of the leagues worst franchises (of late, at least) against each other, and while on the surface the matchups look shit you should NEVER discount a game between the worst of the worst. How will Cleveland respond after the brawl to end last week’s game? Can Miami make it 3 wins in 4 after starting 0-7? Will the Lions continue to be the tonic that aids young/under-performing QBs for Dwayne Haskins and the Racial Slurs???
TUNE IN TO FIND OUT
Football

Sigh! For the next six days, Chicago can revel in the relaxation of knowing that the Bears are not as bad as we thought they were; the Washington Redskins on the other hand…ho-lee-shit are they terrible.

A victory on Monday Night Football saw a LOT more good than bad, but it was far from perfect. That said, a 31-15 (which didn’t feel nearly that close, until it did for a few minutes) win on national TV is exactly what this team needed for their own collective mental health.

What set the tone for the Bears offensive breakout was Matt Nagy’s decision to come out of the gate going up-tempo, no huddle. This change in philosophy got Mitch Trubisky and the entire offense into an early rhythm that they never got out of. Along with going up-tempo, Nagy got Trubisky out of the pocket far more than he had in the first two weeks. This change obviously caters to the QBs athleticism but also affords the Bears O-Line the chance to get away from their natural pass-pro sets, which have been lacking at various times this season.

Although the first Bears drive didn’t result in a score, the defense handled the points on the next possession as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix turned a Case Keenum overthrow into a 37-yard pick-6 up the Redskins sideline. At this point in the season, the Bears defense had as many TDs as the offense – sooooo, that kinda sucked – but who cares? The Bears were winning a football game and actually looking OK doing it.

After penalties, and more penalties, and a missed kick, and some unwatchable periods of football, the Bears were able to do something they haven’t done since last January 6th – throw a touchdown pass. What was even more encouraging about this play was that it wasn’t the Trubisky’s first, second, or maybe even third read. Mitch was given a lot time, stayed composed in the pocket, went through his progressions, and made the right throw to Taylor Gabriel. This drive, while still littered with some inaccurate throws, was certainly the most promising of the season.

Seconds later, Khalil Mack did some Khalil Mack shit – which is beat his man off the line (again), swipe at the ball on a fly by, and force a fumble. Danny Trevathian recovered the ball deep in Washington territory, which led quickly to another Trubisky TD throw to Taylor Gabriel on a well-designed play action pass. This was the moment you could feel a collective sigh in and around Chicago. The Bears were the better team tonight, and unless they would suffer a historic meltdown over the remaining 35 minutes, a 2-1 record heading into week 4 vs. Minnesota at Soldier Field was a given.

After yet another forced turnover by the best defense in the league, Trubisky & Gabriel continued their historic night as the duo connected on a 36-yard TD pass. Gabriel became the first player ever with three receiving touchdowns in the same quarter in the long history of Monday Night Football. The Bears were now up 28-0, which is 9 more points than they had in their first two games combined.

Aside from a seven-minute span where Washington decided to act like a real-life NFL team, the 2nd half was largely uneventful. The Redskins eventually returned to being the Redskins and this “get-well” for the Bears game was on ice – a 31-15 road win that could have not come at a better time.

Bear Scats
• There are extended periods of time when the only reason to watch this team is to see how dominant the Bears defense is. They are a unit, that with any sort of help from a competent offense, can win a Super Bowl. It’s a rare thing in sports these days to see a defense which is more entertaining to watch than an offense – but this what we are lucky enough to be witnessing in Chicago this season.

• My personal highlight of the Redskins 3rd drive was Adrian Peterson getting stuffed on yet another 1st down run attempt and showing his frustration with his horseshit O-Line. Fast forward then to the 3rd quarter where Peterson was visibly pissed about not getting any red zone carries. To be honest, I’m not sure how much longer we are going to see Peterson in a Redskins uniform. Even though he seems to think its 2009, he’s not a featured back at this point in his career – which means he’ll probably get released, sign with the Patriots, and average 100 yards per game.

• Why was Booger McFarland incessantly calling for the firing of Jay Gruden? Say it once, fine. But to continue to say it over and over shows there is more to his comments than just his own professional opinion. I am a big Jay Gruden fan – I played for Jay and he’s a great dude. He hasn’t exactly been put in a position to succeed in Washington, and on top of that, his boss is a certified weirdo how still doesn’t know how to run a professional football franchise after all these years.

• Mitch Trubisky finished 25/31 for 231 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT – he was much better tonight against a very bad defense, but I still don’t trust his accuracy. Even a handful of his completions were poorly thrown balls, which gave his receivers no chance at any YAC numbers. Sunday afternoon vs. Minnesota will give us all a very good picture of where we are with Mitch Trubisky as the starting quarterback of a team that has very strong Super Bowl aspirations.

• Remember when Tarik Cohen & Anthony Miller were the offensive weapons of the future? How’s this working out? Cohen rushed four times for -2 yards. Miller had one catch. Matt Nagy needs to get these two guys involved if he not only wants to keep them happy, but also wants to see this offense flourish this year and beyond. Aside from QB play, the lack of production from Cohen and Miller is very disheartening.

So, What Does It All Mean?
The Bears won a game they had to win against an opponent that deserved to lose. I am not sure how much we learned this week, but it’s better than the alternative, which would be knowing for certain that Trubisky and Nagy and the O-Line all suck and this teams has no chance. Minnesota on Sunday will be a realty check for this team. I am excited to see how they respond.