Glynn Morgan

Bear PAWS: Lessons for Bears to learn from Vikings' 2018-19 turnaround

Bear PAWS: Lessons for Bears to learn from Vikings' 2018-19 turnaround

“Hindsight being 20-20” is an age-old adage implying something is more easily understood after the situation has already occurred. D’oh! Yes, I’ve resorted to quoting Homer Simpson, because the Bears’ 2019 season resulted in a massive 'd’oh' — an exclamatory remark epitomizing something foolishly done and not realizing it until later — moment. This comical saying fittingly applies to the Bears’ 2019 campaign and tangentially to this past offseason.

Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics), let's see if we can improve upon the Bears vision for the 2020 season. 
 
What a difference a year makes. The Bears were an elite team defensively in 2018, ranking in the top 10 statistically in six major categories. Although not elite in 2019, the defense still ranked top 10 in four out of six categories and acquitted themselves well amidst some key injuries. The onus for this underachieving 2019 campaign rests solely on an ineffectual offense, which ranks 23rd or lower in six major offensive categories.  
 
During the 2018 season, Chicago finished in the top half of five key offensive categories. So what happened? How did an up-and-coming offense with an imaginative head coach/offensive coordinator and his protégé quarterback regress and fall out of favor so quickly? Well, the Bears never carved out an identity for themselves and in the process failed to impose their collective offensive skill set on opponents.  

The Bears were much more aggressive running the ball last season, creating positive gains and accumulating a 12-4 record in the process. They ran for over 100 yards 11 times in 2018, whereas this season it’s the exact opposite, posting 11 sub-100 yard games and a 7-8 record. It matters because commiting to the run helps control time of possession, lessens chances for turnovers and improves the likelihood of facing shorter third down scenarios, allowing for a higher conversion percentage. The Vikings' last two seasons demonstrate how maintaining an aggressive running scheme works favorably for teams.  

Last season, Minnesota won six games when they possessed the ball for 30+ minutes a game. They did not exceed 100 yards rushing in half of those victories. The Vikings lost each game where their time of possession was under 30 minutes and rushed for under 100 yards. Overall, Minnesota finished 6-2-1 when they held the ball for 30 or more minutes, and they were 2-5 when possession was less than 30 minutes. 
 
This season, Minnesota has compiled 11 100-yard games and are 8-0 when they’ve controlled time of possession and gone over the century mark in rushing. They're 1-3 in games when they didn’t reach 100 yards rushing and under 30 minutes in time possession. The Vikings figured that out by utilizing a healthy running threat in Dalvin Cook, minimizing quarterback Kirk Cousins’ passing attempts and leaning on a top 10 defense that could better control a game’s narrative. The Vikings learned from last season’s struggles, adjusted and are headed to the playoffs.  

On the surface, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s stats don’t look horrible, but compared to last year’s numbers and the amount of defensive help he received, one can see a pattern of inefficiency. Trubisky threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for another three scores in 2018, surrendering 15 turnovers. Last season, the Bears' defense forced 36 turnovers, providing cover for Trubisky’s mistakes on the field. This year, he has 11 turnovers and the Bears' defense has generated only 16. 
 
Fifteen games into last season, Chicago rushed for 1,769 yards and 16 touchdowns. This year going into the last game of the season, they only have 1,300 yards rushing and a meager seven touchdowns on the ground. Minnesota, on the other hand, reversed their negative rushing output from last season. After 15 games in 2018, the Vikings rushed for 1,430 yards and eight touchdowns, while this year, they've amassed 1,959 yards and 18 touchdowns. 
 
The Bears' third down conversion rate and red zone scoring percentage differ dramatically from 2018 to 2019, too. They converted third downs at a 41 percent rate last year, scoring 36 touchdowns in the red zone (66.7 percent). The Bears' rushing struggles this season decreased their efficiency on third down (35 percent) and in the red zone, where Chicago only scored 23 times (56.1 percent). 

Last season, the Vikings finished with a 35.8 percent third down conversion rate, but with a renewed running attack this year, improved to converting 42.7 percent of third downs. In the red zone, the Vikings scored 27 times (54 percent) last year, but this season they’ve totaled 33 scores (64.7 percent) in the same high-pressure area. 
 
Sunday's game means little overall to both teams. The Vikings are playoff bound, locked into the No. 6 seed, and the Bears are eliminated from the postseason. However, with some reflection and a bit of hindsight, the Bears can apply some foresight into personnel changes and develop an offensive identity.

If you don’t know who you are, then you’re only fooling yourself. Over and over again teams are victimized by their own ineptitude, forgetting that at times the genius of one’s success is in the simplicity of its execution. Looking ahead with clarity for the 2020 season begins for Chicago on Sunday, just like it did a year ago for the Vikings. 

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Bear PAWS: Escaping the shadow of the past vs. the Chiefs

Bear PAWS: Escaping the shadow of the past vs. the Chiefs

I am personally connected to Peyton Manning. Yes, that Peyton Manning, future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. I met and talked with his dad, Archie Manning, and because of the “Six degrees of separation" theory — whereby any person on Earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries — I’m connected to the Manning clan.

Nice theory to help my shameless name-dropping, but in this era of shameless social media, those degrees of separation are probably smaller. Yet, somehow, the Bears and Chiefs might be forever defined by their eight degrees of draft separation. Chicago chose Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft; Kansas City, you guessed it, took Patrick Mahomes eight picks later in the No. 10 spot. Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics) we’ll discover how much No. 8 separates these two teams.

Mahomes is a transcendent talent. Last season, his first starting at quarterback in the NFL, he passed for over 5,000 yards and threw 50 touchdowns. He performed a feat only one other person (2013 Peyton Manning: 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns) has ever accomplished in the history of the game. Conversely, Trubisky — who is in his third season starting for the Bears — has only thrown 48 touchdowns in his career. Ouch!

Entering Saturday, Mahomes is eighth in passing yards (3,606) and his 8.5 yards per pass attempt is third in the league. Trubisky, on the other hand, is 23rd in passing (2,774 yards) and his 6.2 yards per pass attempt ranks 30th overall. There is a lot that separates these two players, but what probably widens the gap is the amount of explosive plays generated within the offenses.

Explosive, big-play passes are considered to be 25+ yards per attempt by NFL standards. The Chiefs’ 40 big-play passes rank second league-wide, with Mahomes accounting for 32 of those. On the other hand, the Bears are 24th in the league with 23 explosive pass plays (Trubisky taking part in 19). The fact that the three top rushing teams in the NFL all have more explosive passing plays than the Bears (Ravens - 25; 49ers - 33; Seahawks - 25) adds context to Chicago’s struggling offense this season. For these chunk plays to have success, the receivers targeted must be capable and productive, too.

Between the two teams, Bears wideout Allen Robinson is the most targeted receiver. His 130 targets are eight more than the Chiefs’ top receiver, tight end Travis Kelce (122). Robinson also has nine big-play receptions to his credit, one more than the eight chunk receptions by Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. Close behind Hill in explosive plays are his teammates, Kelce and fellow wideout Mecole Hardman, each with seven big plays to their name.

Both teams show a quick-strike ability to attack downfield, so having a defensive deterrent to limit each teams’ scoring punch is necessary. The Bears are eighth in the NFL in yards allowed, giving up 324 per game, and eighth in preventing third down conversions at a 34.9 percent rate. They're even better at home, where they allow only 31.6 percent of third downs to be converted.

On the season, the Bears have eight interceptions and have recovered eight fumbles. However, the Chiefs rank eighth in takeaway differential (+7) because they’ve forced 21 turnovers while only surrendering the ball 14 times.

Unfortunately for Chicago, they are eighth-worst in sack percentage at 5.7 percent and trail the Chiefs, who are sacking teams at a 7.2 percent rate. Kansas City has collected 39 sacks in the process, while Chicago is eight behind with only 31 sacks on the year. Believe it or not, the Bears have actually run eight more plays (908) than the Chiefs (900). The fact that the Chiefs are the fourth-highest scoring team (28.1 ppg) and the Bears are the seventh worst (18.3 ppg), makes efficiency with each offensive possession key to winning Sunday night.

The Bears are 7-5 against the Chiefs all-time. A victory Sunday will, ironically, be No. 8 for the Bears this season, as well as the overall lifetime series between the two franchises. Matt Nagy has the same record (19-11) as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had after his first 30 regular season NFL games coached. If Nagy is going to improve upon his +8 career victory total on Sunday, he’ll have to outduel his former mentor by creatively doing these few things:

● Score early and often in the first half. The Bears only average 8.4 points in the first half of home games. Conversely, the Chiefs average 18.1 points on the road in the first half.

● The Bears’ defense must continue to limit opponents’ passing touchdown percentage. They currently rank eighth at 51.7 percent

● Nagy and Trubisky must be their best “selves” and not get caught up in the comparisons to Reid’s and Mahomes’ successful careers to date.

Hopefully for the Bears, Nagy won’t suffer from separation anxiety as he faces off against his former boss. Plenty of years coaching together will forever connect him and Reid, but come kick off, Nagy will have his opportunity to separate from the shadow of his mentor.

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Bear PAWS: Overcoming bad mojo in Green Bay

Bear PAWS: Overcoming bad mojo in Green Bay

When we think about or hear the number “13,” it makes us reflect on any number of negative things that could possibly happen in a given situation. We imagine black cats crossing our path and shattered mirrors creating bad luck environments. Even Jason Voorhees, a boogeyman character from the “Friday the 13th” franchise, enters our mindset, unnerving us with portents of doom and unfortunate circumstance.

Thirteen generates an apprehension similar to the feeling most Bears fans get when the team goes to Green Bay and “has” to win important, playoff-qualifying games. Sometimes numbers, the stars and our fates align with the weird and unexplainable, producing outcomes that are inexplicable. Fortunately, we can use P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics) to explain how No. 13 and Green Bay may disrupt the Bears’ immediate future.

After 13 games this season, the Packers are ranked 13th both in scoring offense (300 points) and defensive points allowed (270). Coincidence? I think not! Mysteriously, this year’s first game — played to kick-start the NFL’s 100th season —  ended with a grand total of 13 points scored collectively between the rivals. Strangely, the Packers produced 13 first downs in a victory, while Chicago generated 16 first downs, yet still lost. During the same game, Packers running back Aaron Jones led all rushers with 39 yards on...13 carries! Conversely, the Bears’ passing attack led to 13 targets for wide receiver Allen Robinson (102 yards, no touchdowns), coupled with an interception in the endzone that cemented the outcome.

Looking further down the rabbit hole, we find Packers’ wide receiver Allen Lazard, who wears jersey No. 13. Sure, he’s only seventh on the team in receptions (24) and fifth in receiving yards (349), but he’s second on the team in yards per reception (14.5) among players with 15 or more passes caught. Eerily, Lazard had his best pro game during Week 13, amassing 103 yards on three receptions (34.3 YPC), and one receiving touchdown. Yes, it's almost time to cue the shrieking violin music followed by inaudible whispered voices.

All is not gloom and doom for the Monsters of the Midway, as the Bears can still positively impact their playoff fate by beating the Packers on Sunday. Although Green Bay is 13th in scoring average (23.8 PPG), Chicago averaged 24.7 PPG over their last three games to rank 12th in the league during that span. The Packers are completing passes at 64.5 percent, 13th in the NFL. The Bears completed exactly 70 percent of passes thrown in their last three contests, winning each game.

Green Bay, too, has its struggles with 13 and its negative effects. When it comes to third down conversions, the Packers are 13th-worst, converting only 35.7 percent of their chances. The Bears convert at a higher rate on the road (38.9%) and over the last three games, the Bears’ 43.2 percent conversion rate is top 10 in the NFL. The Packers have noticeably struggled stopping the opposition’s running attack. The Packers rank 25th in stopping the run, allowing 122.8 yards per game and are even worse at home, giving up 139.3 yards per contest at Lambeau Field.

Friday was Dec. 13, and while that may raise the hackles on one’s neck — or increase the number of goosebumps — each team must rise above superstition in order to win. The Bears can either look around for good omens to reveal themselves or they can beat the Packers by:

● Taking advantage of a Packers pass defense ranked 21st in passing yards allowed per game (245.1) - the Bears are ranked 13th, allowing 230.2 yards per game.

● Improve in red zone completion percentage. Last year, Mitch Trubisky was 13th in the league at 64.1 percent, while this season he has a lowly 53.2 percent rate (33rd in the NFL). 

●Stop or at least contain Jones. He’s averaging 13.5 rush attempts per game, and it’s the first time in his career he’s started all 13 games. The Packers are 14-11 when he starts.

Just like Jason Voorhees, Rodgers and the Packers are hard to finish off. The Bears must overcome this constant horror show by playing to their capabilities and not succumbing to indecision and thoughts of past failures. It’s far past time to put this Rasputin-like team to rest.

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