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Self-Scouting the 2018 Bears Offense

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Self-Scouting the 2018 Bears Offense

5fb7dabcc9ddb6eb415d87bdfbe6736d?s=16&d= Johnathan Wood | May 13th, 2019

https://dabearsblog.com/2019/self-scouting-chicagos-2018-offense#more-22353

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Chicago’s offense was generally mediocre in 2018. We all know this. They finished 21st in the NFL in yards per game, 9th in points scored (a number buoyed by a bunch of defensive touchdowns), and 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Those types of basic stats are easy for anybody to look up, and they can help paint an overall picture of how effective a unit performed.

They do not, however, tell a complete tale.

It can be useful to look deeper and see in what areas the Bears might have struggled, as well as where they might have done well. This can be useful to help identify specific areas of strength to build on going forward, as well as areas that need to be addressed through personnel and/or scheme changes.

In an effort to do this, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System and Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder to look at Chicago’s offensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing attempts by areas of the field to see where they target the most and how successful they are.

Rushing Attack

Chicago’s ground game was not very good in 2018. Though they finished 11th in rushing yards and tied for 7th in rushing touchdowns, they were 27th in yards/carry, indicating those first two totals were more a product of volume than a true sign of success. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing attack in 2018.

  • The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses.
  • The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12.
  • Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.

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Of course, yards/attempt can be clouded by when you’re running in a specific direction. A 2 yard run on 1st and 10 is bad, but it’s a positive outcome on 3rd and 1. To account for that, I also looked at success rate, which takes down and distance into consideration and categorizes every play as either a success or failure based on how well it helps you stay ahead of the chains (full explanation here). The following chart was pulled from Sharp Football and looks at the Bears’ success rate by direction. The numbers on the bottom indicate how that compares to the NFL average.


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A few thoughts:

  • The rushing attack was particularly bad between the tackles, but that’s where the Bears had most of their runs. 54% of their rush attempts were between the tackles, and they were consistently among the least efficient teams in the NFL at those carries in terms of yards/carry. I’m not sure if this is due to the offensive line or Jordan Howard. Howard had 170 of Chicago’s 240 carries between the tackles, and he averaged 3.3 yards/carry on those runs. Note that they were decent in success rate relative to their NFL peers, which indicates they ran it between the tackles a lot in short-yardage situations.

 

  • The outside runs were more effective, especially when you consider the ranks relative to their peers. Some of this might be buoyed by Mitchell Trubisky scrambles, who had 36 carries (at 8.2 yards/carry) outside. It’s also worth noting Tarik Cohen saw most of his work outside; 61 of his 99 carries were outside the tackles, and he averaged  4.7 yards/carry here. Howard had 73 carries outside the tackles and averaged 4.0 yards/carry.
  • I wrote last offseason that Andy Reid’s offense typically relied more on inside zone runs, but new coach Matt Nagy would be wise to shift to more of an outside zone-type attack like Philadelphia utilized under Reid protege Doug Pederson. Unfortunately, it appears Nagy disagreed, and it hampered Chicago’s offense. We’ll see if the move to swap Howard out for David Montgomery and Mike Davis – both of whom have been good between the tackles – changes that in 2019.

Passing Attack

Chicago’s 2018 aerial attack was almost the definition of average. They finished 14th in passer rating, 17th in yards/attempt, and 14th in touchdowns.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s passing attack in 2018. The number of plays, completion percentage, and yards per attempt are given for 6 zones. Each zone is colored according to the average of the yards per attempt and completion percentage (green = top 10, red = bottom 10, yellow = middle 12).


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A few thoughts:

  • Again we see a whole lot of average. At least they were consistent in that regard.
  • One thing I do note is that Trubisky likes to attack deep outside. Those were the two areas where the Bears had the highest rate of passes relative to their peers. Unfortunately, he wasn’t particularly effective in those throws, as previously noted. Hopefully that can improve a bit going forward.
  • There’s been some talk the last few years about Trubisky being unable to throw left. While these numbers don’t really back that up, it is worth noting that he throws it right more frequently (mirroring the same trend we saw in 2017). The overall breakdown for him for the season was 146 throws (34%) to the left, 109 throws (26%) to the middle, and 172 throws (40%) to the right.

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While the production of the offense wasn't exactly inspiring, it was a definite improvement and a solid starting point at least. I said I was disappointed in their production overall as they had they had the best defense in the league backing them up and helping put them in a LOT of great positions, way more talent on offense than we have had in years, and just had some stretches of poor playcalling.

But it was his first full season as an playcaller and the first time he installed the offense himself. The latter is a big deal. This offense is complex on a level with PHI and NE's, and he was taking a QB with very little college and NFL experience, who had been essentially running a simple offense his whole life. Nagy admitted he threw WAY too much on Tru's plate too quickly, showing that Nagy was still new to installing the offense and having realistic expectations, but also that he is able to reflect and self-reflect enough to see those failings. In comparison, McVay has had very productive offenses with a fairly simple scheme, but when challenged he has completely failed to adjust in game and sometimes for weeks to make these adjustments. THAT is key in his success as a playcaller. He got too cute at times, trying to show he could outsmart DCs with regularity, but rather than try to inflate Tru's passing TDs he took advantage of the battering ram we had in Howard and got 9 TDs in the old-school way. To me that means he is going to keep putting W's ahead of his own ego.

All things being said, he doesn't deserve the credit for the defense dominating, Pace and Fangio deserve that. His offense had creativity and showed significant improvement through the season even if it wasn't as productive as hoped for. There are guys who probably could have moved the offense forward faster and put up more points than what he did - McDaniels, Carmichael, etc. But anyone actually following the team sees something that none of those coaches were - Nagy is a true head coach. His players love him and will run through walls for him. You can always adjust the scheme and playcalling, potential is always there for improvement. But you rarely ever learn to be a "leader of men" if you're not already one. McDaniels is undoubtedly one of the best minds in football but his DEN fiasco was marred with his own failings due to his ego and generally abrasive personality. Carmichael has routinely helped one of the best offenses in the NFL stay one step ahead of defenses and has spent a long time under Payton - an offensive genius. But he rarely gets looks even in an offense driven league due to questions over things like leadership. He may be the next Marc Trestman if he becomes a HC. With Nagy you're not worried about that, he has helped change the culture in Chicago and that will allow him to keep being an attractive location for FAs (unlike how Fox made it incredibly difficult to get FAs of note without overpaying in the end) and he should be able to keep the players all going in the same direction, so to speak.

The offense wasn't what we hoped for, but it was about what we - in the Bears forum at least - expected. It was a solid foundational year but it is years 2 and 3 that are going to be telling if Nagy really is a brilliant offensive mind or simply a leader with some creativity on offense. Regardless, one way or the other, Chicago looks like they have one hell of a Head Coach. That, like QB and EDGE, is worth your weight in gold.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Sugashane said:

While the production of the offense wasn't exactly inspiring, it was a definite improvement and a solid starting point at least. I said I was disappointed in their production overall as they had they had the best defense in the league backing them up and helping put them in a LOT of great positions, way more talent on offense than we have had in years, and just had some stretches of poor playcalling.

Yeah, that sort of thing affected the offense, and probably cost them a couple of wins. I'd be stunned to see that again next season. 

Edited by Heinz D.

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2 hours ago, Heinz D. said:

Yeah, that sort of thing affected the offense, and probably cost them a couple of wins. I'd be stunned to see that again next season. 

Yeah, the defense bailed us out numerous times, you're absolutely right about that.

 

I look at it like this - he was used to playcalling with crazy athletes all around, but didn't have the same level of speed here that he had there.

 

Hill is far more explosive than Robinson, Burton is good but comparing him to Kelce is laughable, Howard vs Hunt isn't even close, etc. Then the level of game experience between Mahomes and Tru was massive. Basically, he was spoiled with the cast he had in KC and I think he had a bit of shock at how he had to adjust here. Granted, we now have a damn fine and skilled roster it seems, but it is a different playstyle and literally the first year that specific scheme was ever implemented - even by Nagy. Add in all the input from Childress and Helfrich and there had to be rough parts. 

 

Reid, McDaniels and Payton/Carmichael have some average to poor stretches and they are the best in the league IMO, so I expect that to happen as he gains experience. As long as the number of bad playcalls drop and his good calls continue to rise though (which I expect), then he is just getting better as a playcaller and the ceiling and basement for the offense both rise. He should really reflect on the LAR game, which was a putrid game overall to me. Elements against them, he tries to force big plays and there is an INT deep and on the opposite side of the field. Rather than get Tru into a groove with short timing routes he immediately keeps trying to be super aggressive. It was just a really terrible game for him last season, but it may be the best game for him to learn and grow from for the rest of his career from last year.

 

Definitely excited about the upcoming season.

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Posted (edited)

It seems to me the defense was rebuilt to order first with some solid players but really took a quantum leap with the addition of Mack and Smith last year and the explosion of Fuller and Jackson as playmakers in the secondary. Now all Pagano has to do it maintain.  The heavy lifting has been done.

As for the offense across the board there were issues to consider as far as those being stumbling blocks.  Where do we start?

New offense, inexperienced NFL QB, 100% turnover in starting WR/TE core, a #1 RB who wasn't an ideal fit, rookie LG and our best OL/RG injured again for half the year.  To have done as well offensively as we did makes me quite optimistic about 2019 because all of that now appears to be fixed.

We still need to stay healthy and Mitch still needs to progress, as does Nagy as a play caller, but IMHO much like the defense entering into the 2018 season the table has at least been set.  Now let's see what they can do with it.

Edited by soulman

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