Kirk Cousins

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: Containing Cook key against Vikings

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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)

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Cousins wants to be Vikings QB for “next decade”

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USA TODAY

Cousins wants to be Vikings QB for “next decade”

Kirk Cousins wants to be the Vikings QB for the next decade.

And all of Chicago rejoices.

Cousins was singing the praises of rookie lineman Garrett Bradbury, the team’s first round draft pick who will reportedly get the chance to win the starting center job, when he painted a scenario that would have Bears fans rushing to sign on the dotted line with the collective force of Khalil Mack’s one-handed knockout of Riley Reiff.

“I told (Bradbury), ‘I’d like to work together for about the next decade,’ ” Cousins said according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I just tried to set that vision for him and say, ‘You be the guy here for the next decade and let’s not have to worry about having anybody else snap for the quarterback.’ ”

The Bears sacked Cousins six times in two games last season, so someone just let Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman know to blow past Bradbury so quickly that they won’t wrinkle his game day wardrobe.

“He tucks his shirt in every day,” Cousins said. “I think that sends a message right there. He is ready to work. I respect that.”

That’s where everything went wrong in a Vikings' Week 17 collapse with everything on the line against the Bears - a team-wide dress code violation.

It’s good enough news for the Bears that the Vikings are stuck with Cousins for two more years for the rest of his fully guaranteed 3-year $84 million contract. But the idea of making it a full decade?

Yeah, we like that.

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