Bears

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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Bears lost the Nick Foles trade according to one prominent NFL writer

Bears lost the Nick Foles trade according to one prominent NFL writer

Every city needlessly hates on the national media, but it feels like Bears fans are going to blow a fuse if another prominent NFL writer comes out and rains on Ryan Pace's expensive parade. The latest? ESPN's Bill Barnwell, who weighed in on the recent Nick Foles trade in a column on Wednesday afternoon. You can read the entire thing right here, though he hits on the trade right from the top. In particular, it's the contract that Barnwell takes issues with: 

There's nobody else on a veteran contract like this in football. Foles has most of his third year guaranteed, and when players get three guaranteed seasons, they're usually being paid like superstars. Borderline starters like Foles rarely get more than one guaranteed year on their deals. He is essentially guaranteed to get top-level backup money for two years and what will be mid-tier backup money in the third. That's not necessarily a bad deal in itself and it's much more in line with Foles' established level of play than his prior deal.

He gives the Bears a C- for the deal, which isn't outrageous as much as it's the latest in an endless line of reminders what teams have to deal with when they get their QB evaluations wrong. The real kicker is giving the Jaguars an A- for "getting out of the Foles pickle." As for the blockbuster quarterback competition coming to Lake Forrest at some point in the future, Barnwell suspects that "the Bears still badly want Trubisky to win the job and traded for a quarterback who was just good enough to push him without being good enough to clearly push him aside." An exciting time to be a Bears fan! 

And if you think that's bad, you can probaly just skip over Barnwell's evaluation of the Jimmy Graham signing. Just keep reminding yourself that that C's do actually get degrees, or even concentrate on the B's he gave to the Robert Quinn and Germain Ifedi deals. Just don't read the Jimmy Graham blurb. 

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Why Bears made Robert Quinn their big signing in NFL free agency

Why Bears made Robert Quinn their big signing in NFL free agency

Only five players were guaranteed more money in free agency than Robert Quinn, whose five-year, $70 million deal with the Bears includes $30 million guaranteed. Somehow, general manager Ryan Pace and cap guru Joey Laine managed to land one of the biggest free agents of 2020 despite not having a ton of money to spend. 

But why Quinn and not a cornerback, safety, right guard, tight end or quarterback? The Bears entered free agency with true, glaring needs at those five positions. So it was not only surprising that the Bears landed a big fish, but also that it was Quinn. 

Meanwhile, Ryan Pace went bargain shopping with Artie Burns and Tre Roberson at cornerback, and Deon Bush/DeAndre Houston-Carson/Jordan Lucas at safety. See also: Germain Ifedi at right guard. Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham weren’t cheap, but also weren’t Teddy Bridgewater or Austin Hooper. 

RELATED: Adam Hoge's #10BearsThings

But looking at how free agency played out, the Bears’ call to go with Quinn (and jettison Leonard Floyd) does make sense.  

“We just feel like Quinn’s a proven pass rusher,” Pace said. “He’s got excellent edge speed. He’s got outstanding ability to bend the corner and I think we can take a position of strength on our defense and we make it even stronger and more dangerous when you add Quinn and you combine him with the players that are already up there, especially up front.”

The Bears’ 2020 defense feels like a bet on an elite pass rush covering for some potential deficiencies in the secondary. Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller are still there, but can a battle between Kevin Toliver II/Burns/Roberson/TBD draft pick produce a true starting-caliber corner? Or can Bush slide into a starting role next to Jackson after spending the last three seasons almost exclusively as a backup?

It’d be ideal for the Bears if the answers to those questions were yes. But what if opposing quarterbacks don’t consistently have enough time to throw because Mack, Quinn, Hicks, Roy Robertson-Harris, etc. are wrecking things in the pocket?

There’s certainly a thought in some NFL circles that great coverage is preferable to a great pass rush — it’s worked well for the New England Patriots, after all — but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Not every team gets to have an in-his-prime Khalil Mack. The Bears do. Signing Quinn to help maximize Mack’s impact makes a lot of sense. 

The money makes sense, too. Quinn is guaranteed $30 million, sure, but his $6.1 million cap hit in 2020 ranks 32nd among this year’s free agent signings. That’s really how the Bears made this work — big-ticket cornerbacks James Bradberry and Byron Jones are in the top five of 2020 free agent cap hits, while Bridgewater’s $14 million bargain is more than double Quinn’s cost. 

So all those factors led the Bears to Quinn. This feels like the right kind of signing, one that’ll help give the Bears a top-five defense — even if there may still be some holes in the back end of it. Floyd wasn't cutting it, despite his run-stuffing and coverage skills. The Bears needed to make their pass rush better, and did with signing Quinn.

Good thing that coin flip (metaphorical or not) wound up on the Bears’ side of things. 

“It's always been a defensive kind of team what was always presented to me about the city,” Quinn said. “So that was always an exciting thing going into a town like that where they love to see defense. Points of 0 versus 100, you know. So that's always exciting, plus the talent they already have there. Who can't get excited to join up with guys like Mack, Fuller, (Akiem) Hicks, (Eddie) Goldman, (Danny) Trevathan?”

 

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