Bears

Final thought: How the Bears have made sure Mitch Trubisky is rarely getting sacked

Final thought: How the Bears have made sure Mitch Trubisky is rarely getting sacked

Mitch Trubisky has been one of the most well-protected quarterbacks in the NFL this year, an achievement that speaks to not only strong offensive line play but his own skills. 

Among quarterbacks with at least 400 drop backs, Trubisky has been under pressure on only a little under 30 percent of the time, which ranks sixth in that group behind Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Baker Mayfield. And he’s been sacked fewer times (21) than any qualified quarterback this year.

“Oh (wow),” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “That’s pretty damn good. I didn’t know that.

“That’s just a testament to the five guys up front and with Mitch, we’ve made him comfortable in the pocket for him to sit there and make the throws downfield, and to coach Harry (Hiestand) for coaching us up and getting us ready to go on Sundays.”

No doubt the Bears’ offensive line deserves a ton of credit for protecting Trubisky this year. Massie and left tackle Charles Leno have been solid — among tackles with at least 400 pass blocking snaps, Massie ranks eighth in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking efficiency, while Leno ranks 21st. Massie has allowed one sack, two hits and 23 total pressures, while Leno has allowed four sacks, two hits and 27 total pressures, per PFF. 

“I don’t think Leno and Bobby get enough credit for what they do,” Trubisky said. “They’ve shut down a lot of really good pass rushers this season and kept people out of my face. They just do and awesome job and we know how important they are to the team, and I wish they would get more recognition because they deserve it.”

Plenty of credit needs to go to the interior of the Bears’ offensive line, too, which only found continuity with the two guards playing next to Cody Whitehair until Week 10, when Bryan Witzmann’s rotation with Eric Kush ended at right guard. James Daniels has played every snap at left guard since Week 7, too. Whitehair’s improved communication with Daniels and Witzmann is noteworthy, as is his solid play, too. 

“Cody’s just really smart,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “He’s seen a lot, he’s seen just about everything that teams can bring.” 

The Bears could potentially get Long back for next week’s season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, and/or for the playoffs in January, which would provide a boost, too. 

But there’s another factor in the Bears avoiding sacks as an offense: Trubisky himself. He’s steadily improved over his two years in terms of identifying and calling out protections to help his own case, for starters. 

“He’s leaps and bounds from when he first got out there,” Massie said. “He was like a deer in headlines early on, rightfully so, just starting off playing in the NFL. But he’s become a great player and it’s going to be an amazing thing to see what he does later on in his career.”

And then there’s Trubisky’s uncanny knack for not only sensing pressure, but been able to avoid it. He avoided blitzing members of the Green Bay Packers a few times last week, turning one of those plays into a highlight-reel 23-yard strike to tight end Adam Shaheen. 

“There’s some times where he should be sacked, where I’d miss a block and he, I don’t know, just sidesteps and he’s free,” Daniels said. “It’s just things like that that he does and that’s very helpful for us.”

So even when the pocket isn't necessarily clean, Trubisky is still able to make plays. And that's not necessarily something that can be coached. 

“To me, that’s an innate ability to see behind you,” Daniel said. “It’s pretty impressive what he’s able to do. He’s very shifty in the pocket and guys have a hard time bringing him down.”

One more player who deserves credit for those clean pockets and low sack total: Jordan Howard. He’s been a physical presence in pass protection, replacing Benny Cunningham as the Bears’ go-to running back to block a blitzing linebacker or defensive back and help make sure Trubisky has time to throw. 

“He does a great job studying the different opponents and the blitzes and their tendencies and how they want to try to attack us,” running backs coach Charles London said earlier this month. “And he’s done a really good job for us in protections all year.” 

While the Bears’ offensive line has been on the hook for far too many negative runs this year, the collective ability of that group, Trubisky and Howard to avoid negative plays on drop-backs has been important in keeping this offense on schedule and ahead of the chains all year. 

“It’s just growing over time,” Leno said. “It’s just like everything — like me getting engaged, it’s a start, but it’s gotta take time and a lot of reps to get better at it. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

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Taking a post draft, rookie-minicamp look at the Bears 2019 opponents: Weeks 11-17

Taking a post draft, rookie-minicamp look at the Bears 2019 opponents: Weeks 11-17

A lot has changed since the NFL released the 2019 schedule. Teams have added through the draft and free agency, and learned more about their rosters with rookie minicamps. Now with all that behind us, let’s take another look at which opposing rookies could make an impact in 2019. We’ll go over the first five opponents on Wednesday, the next four on Thursday and the last four on Friday.

Week 11 at Rams

If LA doesn’t re-sign Ndamukong Suh they’ll have a major vacancy on their defensive line: enter fourth-rounder Greg Gaines. The Rams traded back into the fourth round to snag Gaines, so clearly they think highly of the first team All-Pac-12 DL who had 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season at Washington.

Week 12 vs. Giants

The Giants made the biggest splash of the draft by selecting Daniel Jones No. 6 overall. Reactions to the picks in the media and on social media were very similar to when the Bears traded up to pick Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, and Trubisky has already publicly given Jones advice for how to deal with the negative attention. Will Jones follow in Trubisky’s footsteps and have replaced Eli Manning under center by the time the Giants visit Chicago?

Week 13 at Lions

See Thursday’s preview of Bears’ opponents. 

Week 14 vs. Cowboys

Fourth-round pick Tony Pollard is the lesser-heralded running back from Memphis rather than Darrell Henderson, but he can run and catch. Over his last two seasons, he put up 782 rushing yards, 994 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. He also adds much needed depth to the Dallas running back room, as the leading rusher behind Ezekiel Elliott last season was Dak Prescott with 75 attempts for 305 yards. After that, it was Rod Smith with 44 attempts for 127 yards.

Week 15 at Packers

See Wednesday’s preview of Bears’ opponents.

Week 16 vs. Chiefs

If Tyreek Hill doesn’t play this year due to domestic violence allegations, second-round pick Mecole Hardman could get a lot of snaps at WR in his stead. Hardman can blow by defenders, like Hill, and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine. That number was good for fifth-best among all participants this year. On the field for Georgia, he caught 35 balls for 543 yards and seven touchdowns. He added a punt return touchdown, as well.

Week 17 at Vikings

See Wednesday’s preview of Bears’ opponents.

Numbers game: What recent data tells us about expectations for David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. 

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USA Today

Numbers game: What recent data tells us about expectations for David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. 


A line has often been drawn between David Montgomery and Kareem Hunt, with the Bears’ third-round pick’s current and former coaches making that favorable skillset comparison. Both have similar running styles, both are adept pass-catchers, both were third round picks, both played for the same coaching staff in college, etc. 
 
“There are some clips that you can go back and forth and watch and say man, (Montgomery) kind of reminds me of Kareem," Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. "And you go back to cuts from (Hunt) too and you’re like man, that’s kind of strange, it looks a little like David there in that sense. They’re different, but I do think there are some similarities.”


The Montgomery-to-Hunt comparison carries with it lofty expectations. Hunt’s dynamic rookie year — under the watch of then-Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy — saw him gain a league-leading 1,327 yards on 272 carries (4.9 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns, as well as catch 53 passes for 455 yards with three touchdowns. That level of production is the dream scenario for the Bears with Montgomery.

Hunt’s rookie year was, clearly, well above average. But how much above average was it? That was the question this article set out to answer. We wanted to build a baseline for what Montgomery’s rookie expectations should be. What it turned into was a dive into how all 257 rookie running backs who were on a 53-man roster in the last seven seasons fared, from Saquon Barkley to Taquan Mizzell. 

We’ll start here: Only running backs whose rookie seasons fell from 2012-2018 were included, given 2012 was the first draft conducted under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. Plus, it’s recent enough to account for the NFL’s gradual (but hardly total) shift away from placing a high value on running backs. 

Receiving stats weren’t taken into account here, given how different offenses use different running backs in the receiving game — and how the Bears can reasonably expect Montgomery to be an above-average pass-catcher as a rookie. So only running statistics were used, which also hold the most importance for the 2019 Bears after Jordan Howard’s uneven 2018 season. 

Also, compiling these numbers wouldn't have been possible without the essential Pro Football Reference Play Index. 

Beginning with a wide lens, the average production for a rookie running back over the last seven years — drafted or undrafted — is 56 carries for 243 yards (4.3 yards per attempt) with 1 1/2 touchdowns. But that’s not a totally useful measuring stick, given it includes 121 undrafted free agents, and 47 of those UDFAs didn’t receive a single carry in their rookie seasons. 

The 136 running backs who were drafted from 2012-2018 have a meatier average: 88 carries, 371 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 2 1/2 touchdowns. Or, another way: That’s about a third of Howard’s 2018 totals (250 carries, 935 yards, 9 touchdowns) while improving his average yards per carry by a half yard. 

Drilling deeper: Third round running backs — 18 players, highlighted by Hunt — put together an average season of 108 attempts, 473 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and 2.9 touchdowns. That feels like a good starting point for Montgomery, especially if he’s being used as part of a time-share with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen. 

Perhaps something closer to what Arizona’s David Johnson did his rookie year is better, adding a few more carries and removing a couple of touchdowns (125 carries, 581 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns). If that’s what Montgomery winds up doing in 2019, it’ll be an improvement over Howard — and an even more pronounced one if Davis winds up being effective, too. 

What about Kerrith Whyte Jr.?

The thought here is we’ll see Whyte battle with Mizzell in the coming weeks and months for a roster spot that carries with it a small role in Nagy’s offense (Mizzell, for all the consternation about him, only played 6.5 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in 2018). He’s not the first, second or third option, but as a speedy change-of-pace guy he does carry some intrigue as another weapon in Nagy’s arsenal. 

It’s rare for seventh round running backs to make much of an impact on the ground their rookie years, with the Eagles’ Bryce Brown having the best season not only in this timespan, but in the last 20 years, with 564 yards on 115 carries (4.9 yards/attempt) with four touchdowns in 2012. Only four of the 18 seventh round running backs in the last seven seasons have averaged more than four yards per carry. 

Round-by-round data

Ryan Pace has picked a running back in the third round (Montgomery), fourth round twice (Cohen, Jeremy Langford), fifth round (Howard) and seventh round (Whyte) during his five years as Bears’ general manager. The three guys who’ve played — Langford, Howard, Cohen — were all rookie-year successes, to varying extents: Howard’s 1,313 yards in 2016 are the sixth-most for a rookie running back since 2012; only two fourth-round picks in the same timespan rushed for more yards than Langford’s 537 in 2015 (Andre Williams, Samaje Perine). Cohen’s impact, of course, goes beyond his on-the-ground production. 

The point here being that Pace has a track record of finding productive mid-round running backs, even if we’re only talking about three players here. That’s a good skill for a general manager to have; plenty smart observers consider it wasteful to use a first round pick on a running back, let alone a top 10 selection, which Pace had in his first four drafts. 

Naturally, though, it’s easier to find an immediately productive running back earlier in the draft than later. But that there have been standout players to come from nearly every round of the draft (and from the undrafted free agent pool) bolsters the compelling case for not using high picks on running backs. The round-by-round averages are:

First round (11 players): 212 attempts, 934 yards, 4.4 YPC, 7.4 TDs
Best season: Ezekiel Elliott (322 attempts, 1,631 yards, 5.1 YPC, 15 TDs)

Second round (19 players): 135 attempts, 572 yards, 4.2 YPC, 4.2 TDs
Best season: Jeremy Hill (222 attempts, 1,124 yards, 5.1 YPC, 9 TDs)

Third round (18 players): 108 attempts, 473 yards, 4.4 YPC, 2.9 TDs
Best season: Kareem Hunt (272 attempts, 1,327 yards, 4.9 YPC, 8 TDs)

Fourth round (26 players): 82 attempts, 312 yards, 3.8 YPC, 1.9 TDs
Best season: Andre Williams (217 attempts, 721 yards, 3.3 YPC, 7 TDs)
— Includes 1 player who did not receive a carry


Fifth round (22 players): 71 attempts, 310 yards, 4.4 YPC, 1.8 TDs
Best season: Jordan Howard (252 attempts, 1,313 yards, 5.2 YPC, 6 TDs
— Includes 2 players who did not receive a carry


Sixth round (23 players): 43 attempts, 183 yards, 4.3 YPC, 1.0 TDs
Best season: Alfred Morris (335 attempts, 1,613 yards, 4.8 YPC, 13 TDs)
— Includes 6 players who did not receive a carry


Seventh round (18 players): 28 attempts, 109 yards, 3.9 YPC, 0.6 TDs
Best season: Bryce Brown (115 attempts, 564 yards, 4.9 YPC, 4 TDs)
— Includes 5 players who did not a receive a carry


Undrafted free agent average (121 players): 20 attempts, 88 yards, 4.4 YPC, 0.5 TDs
Best season: Phillip Lindsay (192 carries, 1,037 yards, 5.4 YPC, 9 TDs)
— Includes 47 players who did not receive a carry


If you want a look at the full, raw data, click here.

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