Glynn Morgan

Bear PAWS: Reflecting on the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the Bears' matchup with the Saints

Bear PAWS: Reflecting on the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the Bears' matchup with the Saints

When reflecting on the 2017 NFL draft, the Shakespearean quote, “what’s past is prologue” comes to mind — a concept suggesting that previous events set the stage for what is happening in the present. During that 2017 draft, the decisions made by both the Bears and Saints helped reshape each franchise. Chicago’s bold moves shook the branches of the NFL tree, and the Saints, albeit indirectly, benefited greatly, as well. Another chess piece involved in the framing of this drafting drama was the San Francisco 49ers, as they were able to ride a wave of additional picks to revitalize a depleted, listless organization with talent and depth.

The 49ers aside, this Sunday matches two teams that garnered the most from the 2017 draft, Chicago and New Orleans. Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Stats), let’s examine the impact of the Bears’ draft day machinations.

The Browns, 49ers and Bears were the first three teams slotted to make selections in 2017. Once Cleveland chose DE Myles Garrett with the first pick (and not a quarterback) Bears GM Ryan Pace made his move. Despite San Francisco being a spot ahead of Chicago, Pace was determined to choose the next player. Aggressively, he swapped the Bears’ third overall pick with the 49ers second spot to select QB Mitchell Trubisky, while also sending the Bears’ 67th and 111th picks, and a 2018 3rd rounder (70th) to San Francisco.

According to Pace, “...when you have conviction on a guy you can’t sit on your hands.” Either emboldened by his selection of Trubisky, or because of the surrendered picks needed to acquire him, Pace continued making trades to widen his draft options. The Bears traded their second (36th overall) and seventh (221st overall) round picks that year to the Cardinals for their second (45th overall), fourth (119th overall) and sixth (197th) round selections, and a 2018 fourth round pick (115th overall), to boot.

In addition to those moves, Pace shipped out his 117th and 197th overall picks in a trade with the Rams to move up to the 112th spot (fourth round). When the dust settled, Chicago possessed one pick in the second round (45th overall) and two picks in the fourth round (112th and 119th overall), along with their original 5th-round selection (147th overall). The key players taken from these moves were QB Mitchell Trubisky (with the No. 2 pick), TE Adam Shaheen (45th), S Eddie Jackson (112th), and RB Tarik Cohen (119th).

Initially, because the Bears relinquished several mid-round picks to move up just one spot (arguably for a player that may have still been available), the general consensus was that Pace got fleeced by 49ers rookie GM John Lynch. Perhaps to support a colleague, Lynch stated afterward, “Kudos to the Bears, they saw a player they wanted at a really important position.”

Clearly, the 2017 draft for Pace and the Bears was about securing a franchise quarterback to build around. But in the process, Pace landed two all-pro talents in Jackson and Cohen, as each made their first Pro Bowl in 2018, with Trubisky making the trip as an alternate. No “fleecing” here!

Ironically, Pace’s 2017 draft moves created a “butterfly effect” — when a small localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere — by strengthening his former employers, the New Orleans Saints. When the 49ers traded away the 67th overall pick they received from the Bears to the Saints, New Orleans used that spot to select RB Alvin Kamara. Kamara went on to become the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and has already garnered two Pro Bowl selections early in his career. New Orleans had two first round selections that year, choosing CB Marshon Lattimore (11th) and OT Ryan Ramczyk (32nd). Both players have been starters since being drafted, and in 2017, Lattimore was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Another significant draft-day selection was S Marcus Williams at the 42nd spot. Williams, too, has been a starter from the very beginning of his pro career. Undoubtedly, these core four players fortified the Saints’ roster infrastructure and propelled them to division championships each of the past two seasons. 

However, buried within the trade minutia between the Bears and 49ers is another move that may have saved the Saints from themselves: San Francisco traded their 34th pick and the 111th pick (formerly the Bears’ selection) to the Seahawks for Seattle’s first round choice (31st overall) and drafted LB Reuben Foster. The Saints had the very next pick at No. 32, and needed serious help on their defense, having finished dead last the previous season.

The Saints, in need of a pass rusher, were eyeing DE Takkarist McKinley, but the Falcons traded up and drafted him. Reuben Foster’s stock was dropping, due to off-the-field concerns, but his talent was too hard to ignore. So the Saints primed themselves to select him, until the 49ers moved up (armed with Chicago’s fourth round pick ) and grabbed Foster. Having both defensive interests taken ahead of them, New Orleans ‘settled’ on the next best talent off their draft board, OT Ryan Ramczyk. Well, Foster was released by the 49ers in just his second year and is currently on IR with Washington. Ramczyk, on the other hand, has been an anchor for an offensive line that pass blocks for Drew Brees and run blocks for Alvin Kamara. Thanks, Chicago! Sure, it’s great to speculate on what-ifs… If the Bears don’t make that trade with San Francisco, do they possibly take Kamara at 67th instead of Cohen at 119th? Or, could another team have shot up to the second overall pick to take Trubisky instead of Chicago, leaving the Bears ‘settle’ on QB Deshaun Watson? Could the Bears have had a backfield of Trubisky and Kamara... or Watson and Kamara?

Regardless, the Bears did a good job in 2017, which paved a path towards an even more successful 2018 campaign, as evidenced by a division title, playoff appearance and multiple postseason accolades. Yet, this season the Saints are thriving at 5-1 without Drew Brees, while Chicago hovers precariously with a 3-2 record. Why is that? Talent! The Saints (with Chicago’s unwitting aid) drafted better in 2017. There is a metric (AV — approximate value) that gives a numeric rating to players, approximating their value to their own teams. A player’s AV can be influenced by the number of starts they have, big plays they’ve made, awards they’ve won, etc.

The Saints’ players taken in the 2017 draft have significantly higher AVs than do the Bears’ selections. Taking the top 4 players’ AVs  from each squad, we see: 

Saints - Marshon Lattimore (14) Ryan Ramczyk (25), Marcus Williams (12), Alvin Kamara (30). 

Bears - Mitch Trubisky (20), Adam Shaheen (1), Eddie Jackson (20), Tarik Cohen (16).

Despite the Bears’ immediate concerns at quarterback, the offensive line, and a banged-up defensive front, Chicago still has a dominant defense and is coming off a bye week. The

Saints are faced with injury issues beyond Drew Brees, and Alvin Kamara not playing greatly improves Chicago’s chances of winning at home. Chicago is getting back 20 AV with the return of Trubisky from injury, whereas the Saints lose 30 AV with Kamara sitting on Sunday.

So, this weekend’s game may actually be won by the most talented roster on the field after all.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

PAWS Week 5: No. 4 leads Bears into London

PAWS Week 5: No. 4 leads Bears into London

In numerology, No. 4 represents conscientiousness plus responsibility, and those infused with its energy possess a keen sense of focus. Well, this weekend in London, both teams’ quarterbacks wear the No. 4 jersey and will have to raise their “focus” in order to win on Sunday. The Raiders’ No. 4, Derek Carr, will most definitely have to concentrate on a Bears’ defense that allows only 11.2 points per contest. While Chicago’s No. 4, Chase Daniel, must raise his level of awareness against an Oakland defense that’s had an entire week to prepare for his skillset.

Each team’s No. 4 at quarterback faces scrutiny that might be best bridged in London by using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Stats) to alleviate their concerns.

Derek Carr was selected in the second round (36th overall) of the 2014 NFL draft by the Raiders, and during his six seasons has become their all-time leading passer (19,627 yards). Paid like a franchise quarterback, Carr and the Raiders have only had one winning campaign and one playoff appearance during his tenure.

Oakland’s lack of success doesn’t lie solely at Carr’s feet, because the absence of continuity is reflective in the number of coaches (four) he’s had since being drafted. Carr is currently on his fourth head coach (Jon Gruden) and the team is showing some progress with a 2-2 record.

As a starting NFL quarterback, Carr has proven to be an above-average talent with solid numbers to complement his abilities and accomplishments. In 82 games played he’s completed 63.2 percent of his passes, thrown 128 touchdowns to 57 interceptions, and captained 16 game-winning drives. Ranking 11th in the league in “money throws” – passes requiring exceptional skill and execution of critical throws in clutch moments – Carr has also completed 78.6 percent of his attempts in the red zone for a total of six touchdown tosses.

Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams has caught four touchdown passes from Carr, and as a team Oakland ranks fourth in the NFL with a low rate of incompletions per game (nine).

Despite a modicum of improvements on offense, the defensive side of the ball is surrendering an average 25.2 points per game. Such a lackluster unit places increased pressure on Carr and the Raiders’ offense, as they square off against Chicago’s No. 2 ranked defense. Leading the 2019 version of the Monsters of the Midway is former Raiders’ first-round selection Khalil Mack, with his four quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks.

The Bears as a team average 4.2 sacks per contest and are fourth in the league in sack percentage at 9.66. Last season, the Raiders were the fourth-most sacked team in the league, so facing a ferocious pass rush like Chicago’s can be disconcerting, to say the least.

Besides generating pressure on passers, Chicago is also adept at forcing turnovers on an elite level. Mack is tied for first in the NFL in forced fumbles with four, while defensive backs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kyle Fuller have a total of four interceptions this season. Conversely, the Raiders are fourth-worst at creating takeaways with a paltry 0.8 forced turnovers per game. Oakland’s lack of identity on defense is something Daniel must readily identify and exploit in order to secure a victory this Sunday.

Ironically, the Bears are Chase Daniel’s fourth NFL team he’s played for, yet he’s only started four games in his ten-year career. Over those four games he’s completed 67.7 percent of his passes, with four touchdowns thrown in two wins and two losses. Mixed results from career backups are to be expected, but if the Bears are to challenge for an NFC crown, Daniel must take advantage of a Raiders’ pass rush that ranks 31st overall in team sack percentage.

Daniel proved to be a solid game manager last week against the Vikings, completing 73.3 percent of his passes and tossing a touchdown. Much like the Raiders’ defense, the Bears’ offense has struggled to forge an identity and progress in a decisive manner. This weekend presents an excellent opportunity for Chase to utilize his 10 years of experience and direct Chicago’s offense towards their fourth win in five games.  

Mack may be the only person that wants to beat the Raiders more than the Bears and their fans. To insure a win across the Atlantic on Sunday, the Bears must:

-Maintain or increase their 4.2 sacks per game (No. 3 in the NFL)
-Force more incompletions between Carr and his receivers (Carr has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for third in the NFL)
-Score repeatedly on an anemic defense that is allowing 25.2 points per game (ranked 24th in the league)

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Bear PAWS: Containing Cook key against Vikings

dalvin-cook-vikings.jpg
USA Today

Bear PAWS: Containing Cook key against Vikings

Let’s be real, who doesn’t like getting “100” on a quiz or test, right?  Furthermore, I’ve yet to meet the person that would refuse to accept a freely-offered $100 bill.  Everybody loves a large stack of Benjamins! Speaking of stacking “hundreds” together, that’s exactly what Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings is doing this season. He is stringing together 100 yard-plus games one after another, leading the NFL in rushing as the fourth week commences.

Well, I’m going to keep it 100 (a colloquialism for keeping it real, or authentic), and use P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Stats) to illustrate how controlling the number 100 is key to winning on Sunday.

For those who are unaware, Dalvin Cook is the real deal and his skillset makes the Vikings’ offense formidable.  Last season, Minnesota averaged 93.3 rushing yards per game, while this year its risen to 193.7 yards per contest on the ground. That’s a one hundred yard increase due in large part to Cook’s versatile running acumen. Taking the last three games of 2018, along with this season’s first three matches, the Vikings have a 4-2 record when they reach or exceed 100 yards rushing against their opponents. 

This year, Cook has rattled off three straight 100 yard-plus games (111, 154, 110), and is the NFL front-runner in rushing yards (375) and yards per attempt (6.6). He’s also caught 90 percent of passes thrown his way, and accumulated four touchdowns on the year. Whew! Dalvin is definitely “Cook-ing” this season and the Vikings are certainly benefitting from his efforts.

Even Capt. Obvious realizes the vast majority of Minnesota’s offense flows through Cook. He dominates the landscape of their offensive output to such a degree, that his rushing total is 101 yards more than both starting wideouts have receiving yards… combined. Ridiculous! Viking receivers Adam Thielen (173) and Stefon Diggs (101) have a combined 274 receiving yards after the first three games played. 

Remember, Cook currently leads the league with 375 yards rushing this season. On top of that, his longest run from scrimmage this campaign is an impressive seventy-five yards. Whereas, Thielen’s longest catch (35 yards) and Diggs’s (45 yards) add up to eighty yards combined, just five yards more than what Cook gained individually on his best scamper of the season.

According to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, Cook runs at a 3.18 efficiency rate. A runner’s efficiency is calculated by taking the total distance traveled on a rushing play per rushing yards gained. Basically, a low number means less time is wasted moving sideways, or running in an east/west manner. So, essentially, the stat highlights more effective north/south runners, who get positive yards more quickly than the next player. Saquon Barkley leads the NFL in this category, while Cook is tied for sixth with Ezekiel Elliott.

The point being, Cook is a decisive runner who hits the open hole quickly and heads upfield, as his explosive 75-yard run this year demonstrates.

Cook’s emergence this season has helped mask the struggles of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. He is only completing a pedestrian 58.7  percent of his passes, while averaging 101.3 fewer pass yards per game than what he produced last year. Due to an inept passing attack, Cook faces more eight-men fronts from defenses attempting to stifle Minnesota’s running schemes; he’s encountered such defenses approximately 26.3 percent of the time in 2019, according to Next Gen Stats, good for ninth-most in the NFL.

Undoubtedly, Cook is a dangerous and explosive player; however, any offensive weapon can be neutralized with the right defense. Drafted by Minnesota in 2017, Cook and the Vikings are 7-2 when his combined totals (rushing and receiving yards) reach or exceed 100 yards.  Conversely, their record is 2-7-1 when his combined yardage is under 100 yards. Against the Bears, Cook and the Vikings are 0-2 and have been statistically dominated in the run game. In the two games versus Chicago, Cook ran for a total of 51 yards (2.5 YPC) with zero touchdowns and caught seven passes for only 19 yards. The Vikings as a team rushed for a total of 85 yards (2.9 YPC) against Chicago in 2018.

The Bears are stout against the run (currently fourth in the league) allowing only 206 yards (3.1 YPC) with zero touchdowns through three games. Chicago must remain true to their defensive identity if they are to have success Sunday against the NFL’s leading rusher. Knowing where Cook is lined up at all times will certainly go a long way in containing him and hindering the Vikings’ offense.

Minnesota rarely has Cook rush out of the shotgun formation, gaining only 21 yards in four attempts. Instead, the bulk of his carries originate from under center, where he’s had 53 rushes for 354 yards, including 13 first downs and four touchdowns. Chicago as a team has a missed tackle percentage of 10.2, which is tenth-best in the league. They will have to do better than even that respectable rate and make sure they don’t miss any tackling opportunities on Cook. Otherwise, this sizzling talent will roast the Bears on Sunday.  

The Bears will win if:

-They prevent Dalvin Cook from amassing 100 combined yards of offense (Chicago is 2-0 when Cook is under 100 yards combined)

-They force beleaguered QB Kirk Cousins to pass for scores (Cousins has three touchdowns to two touchdowns on the season)

-They limit the Vikings from scoring points in the 1st half (Vikings average 17.3 points in the 1st half, 4th-best in the NFL; only averaging 8.7 points in the 2nd half)

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.