Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but they can help guide your process when analyzing a team and their tendencies. With that in mind, I dug into the analytics and what they had to say about the Chicago Bears. I came away with four nuggets and what they mean for their matchup with defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
BLOCK ‘EM UP
The Bears’ have enjoyed some of the best pass protection in the league, ranking 2nd on the year in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking efficiency metric. Right tackle Bobby Massie has only allowed 1 sack and 25 pressures in 585 snaps, ranking 11th among tackles. Center Cody Whitehair is tied for 4th in his position with only 10 pressures in 2018.
They’ll be challenged by a talented Eagles’ front four known for forcing offenses to work quick passing games. Pressure impacts all quarterbacks, but this is especially true of Mitch Trubisky. His 58% accuracy rating when feeling the heat ranks 36th of 38 in the league.
If the Bears can’t hold up in the trenches, Trubisky will have to win with his legs. Only one quarterback (Lamar Jackson) has more runs for first downs (18) on money downs than Trubisky.
Last year there was a lot of speculation about if the Oakland Raiders moving Khalil Mack around to take advantage of the Eagles’ offensive line. Jason Peters was out for the season and Halapoulivaati Vaitai had taken over at left tackle. The Raiders didn’t move Mack to Vaitai’s side that day, but Mack’s static alignments have ended since joining the Bears.
Khalil Mack has seen his snaps from a left alignment (RT side) drastically reduced (80% > 52%) as the Bears move him around. Regardless of what side he's on, his speed-to-power is eye-popping - pic.twitter.com/L4JCEH7SWN— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) January 3, 2019
This creates a big issue for the offense, who must play “Where’s Waldo” before every snap and set their protections to avoid the game-wrecker. The Eagles will have to have a solid plan in place to deal with Mack coming into the game and the home crowd will only make things worse on them. If their communication is lacking, it could get ugly, even if they take care of Mack.
The Mack Slide Protection - pic.twitter.com/oSRn8qT2l3— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 12, 2018
It’s simple math and all the cool kids are doing it. They’re counting box numbers. When they can match the number of defenders with the number of blockers or have an advantage, they run. That’s something the Bears have utilized to keep their ground game going. It shows up in the data.
Next Gen Stats tracks how often a running back is forced to carry the ball into 8+ man boxes. For Chicago’s two primary ball-carriers, their numbers are among the lowest:
Jordan Howard = 14%
Tarik Cohen = 5.05%
In fact, Cohen’s IS the lowest, just under Wendell Smallwood’s 6.9%. Remember, all the cool kids are doing it. Even when the Bears’ have five blockers plus Trubisky to handle six defenders, they still read alignments to ensure they aren’t running into a disadvantageous situation.
Easy money on 1st & 10 for #DaBears, motion gives man/zone indicator & numbers center-right favor pass. LB Blake Martinez (#50) over plays OZ via alignment & post-snap flow. Tons of grass for the slant. pic.twitter.com/HwjItluk6G— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 31, 2018
MORE CUSHION FOR THE PUSHIN’
Taylor Gabriel hasn’t been a consistent deep threat throughout his career, but teams have still shown a lot of respect for his 4.4-flat speed. The average 7 yards of cushion he’s seeing ranks 4th in the NFL. Why do they give Gabriel so much room to operate? Well, it might have something to do with how quickly he can blow past cornerbacks when they decide to test him up close.
Two summers ago I was going through the Scouting Academy. As part of completing the wide receiver module, I was tasked with reviewing his 2016 film with the Atlanta Falcons and writing up a comprehensive evaluation. In that write-up I noted his below average release.
“Marginal release; lacks plan of attack, wastes steps against off coverage and frequently releases around press coverage which leads to landmarks being hit late.”
As you can see from the clip above, Gabriel releases through the defenders initial alignment by manipulating him inside, not around him like had in the past. This area of his game improving his dangerous for the Eagles.
If you play him off, as the Eagles are known to do with their corners, he can eat you up with the short stuff.
Gabriel has an average separation of 3.5 yards on his targets, which ranks 10th, and is likely a product of the cushion he’s receiving. The Bears’ will take what you give them, but they’ll also body blow you for 11 rounds before looking to set up a 12th round KO. Despite struggling with declining downfield accuracy, Trubisky still ranks 2nd in deep ball frequency (16.8%). When he takes those shots, Gabriel has hauled in all 6 of his catchable deep targets for 235 yards.