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Is It Time To Bail On The Bears?


In what seems to happen to a number of teams in the league, the Chicago Bears massively exceeded expectations last season. Their defense was firing and stopping teams momentum, and the offense was able to sustain drives. Hell Mitch Trubisky even looked like a competent quarterback! They won the highly competitive NFC North division before narrowly losing in the playoffs to Philadelphia.

However, moving onto this season and they are struggling. The defense seems to be spending more and more time on the field, because the offense is stalling out and failing to give the defense the required time to rest.

So is it time to move away from all the Bears on your roster? Let's take a look

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Defensive Struggles

The Chicago Bears' success was built on the ability of the team's defense to limit the gains of the opposition and get off the field. This season the Bears have given up an average of 22 first downs to their opposition, last season that was 18 in the same period. Looking at the game splits highlights the disparity even more.

 

Week One was the opening matchup against the Green Bay Packers, which I think was an outlier. The Packers were installing their new offense, having essentially missed part of the pre-season. Taking that game out shows the team has given up considerably more first downs than last season. If your defense is on the field then that isn't good for the team, as you can't really expect to put up points if your quarterback is on the sidelines.

Looking at the reasons why the team is struggling is interesting. Part of that is the loss of certain individuals on their unit who the Bears were able to count on, with the departure of Adrian Amos in the secondary being one of the most influential. However, arguably the largest part of the struggles on defense was the loss of Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. Chuck Pagano was the man to replace him, and while he was the coach of the 2011 Baltimore Ravens Defense, which ranked third in the league, he wasn't really able to make an impact in Indianapolis on defense in his time as head coach.

During the game in London Akiem Hicks was injured and is now on injured reserve, which is another big loss for the team. Unfortunately, this unit isn't likely to turn things around any point soon, and until it does it will continue to force the offense to take on more of the burden to get results.

 

Offensive Line

Before we dig deep into the rest of the offense we have to consider the offensive line in the value for the players. I covered the Chicago Bears offensive line in my rankings article after their game in London, so if you haven't read it, you can check it out here.

To summarize, essentially the line isn't able to stop defenders getting into the backfield and the team had conceded 13 sacks in the opening five games for the team. That can be seen easily in basic film analysis, but it's important to remember that when trying to value the players for dynasty leagues, offensive lines can be improved quickly if the right pickups (be that free agency or draft picks) are made. But for the time being, this line has a long way to go, and in redraft leagues it is causing serious issues right now.

 

Trubisky's Change Of Play

Trubisky has been inconsistent since entering the league and is really yet to find his feet in one of the most demanding positions in sports. His rookie season can almost be discounted, with the team completely devoid of talent and poor coaching (both in development and play-calling), but some of those struggles are repeating themselves this year.

The Bears quarterback last season looked like he was set to impress in the scheme Matt Nagy brought in, looking further downfield than previously and completing more of his passes. Looking at his Next-Gen Stats charts its noticeable that those improvements were shortlived. In particular comparing two games where he had roughly the same number of passing attempts, with around 50 in each game shows the change in mindset.

Trubisky last season was looking downfield with a number of passing attempts (by that I mean attempts beyond 20 yards from the line of scrimmage) and he only attempted two passes behind the line of scrimmage. This season? It's a complete u-turn. Trubisky is asking more of his receivers to make the play themselves rather than putting them in space.

15 of Trubisky's pass attempts in the Week 7 game against the New Orleans Saints were around the line of scrimmage, which is vastly more than the three he had last season in a similar game. Looking at his Pro Football Reference advanced passing metrics, he is targeting players a full two yards shorter than he was last season.

 

Running Back Play

There are a number of things to consider in this backfield. The offensive line isn't great, but the biggest barrier to being able to rely on any of the players is that they all have their own roles in the offense.

Snap Counts

The Chicago Bears made changes in their backfield this season. They brought in Mike Davis during free agency, before trading up to select David Montgomery, and let veteran Jordan Howard go. One player that has remained in town is the electric Tarik Cohen. However, all of those three backs can't be on the field at the same time, leading to a rotation system occuring.

Davis started the season as the team's lead running back on early downs but has since fallen off and rarely sees the field. For the time being it seems that the roles have been set, with Montgomery taking the early-down work and Cohen being used on the gadget and passing plays.

Fantasy Scoring

The roles that each player has been given mean that at best this backfield would be a dual-threat of Montgomery and Cohen (Davis has been marginalized effectively with lack of opportunity). However, that split of work limits the ability of all of the backs to be the reliable fantasy options. Looking at the scoring for each of the backs per touch shows how that split of work affects them.

Cohen tracks generally above Montgomery, which is expected given that generally receiving work has a higher expectation of points. However, considering that in the above graph Cohen has had 17 more receptions the split isn't as bad as it first looks.

Conclusion on the backfield

This is a tough one to call. Montgomery is getting more rushing work and that should really lead to him being a flex play most weeks. However, Cohen is the higher scoring option most weeks, but that lack of safety is pushing him more towards an option in deeper leagues. It is a frustrating situation all around.

 

Wide Receivers

Target Share

The issue with the Bears is that the team does not have a true second receiver behind Allen Robinson. In fact, the person with the second-most receptions is their running back Tarik Cohen.

The over-reliance on Robinson downfield and Cohen out of the backfield makes the Bears offense relatively easy to scheme against. Have a safety to limit the ability of Robinson to go over the top, and pull a linebacker in coverage on Cohen, then you've boxed Trubisky into making a tight throw or a check-down.

Equally, the lack of targets for other receivers on the team means that it is incredibly difficult to have confidence in selecting any of them in your lineup.

Over-reliance On Allen Robinson To Move The Chains

Having a one-dimension attack might be good for target share, but overall it doesn't give the fantasy production that owners would hope for. One of Robinson's more effective games this season was the game in London against the Oakland Raiders.

Looking at his next-gen chart it's clear to see that the ability of Robinson to catch the ball in tight windows is key to the offense being able to move the ball. However, that type of production cannot be relied upon consistently, especially once teams start to cover him more closely.

Looking at Robinson's advanced receiving stats, Robinson has a shallow yard before catch (YBC) number this season by 0.6 yards and his yards after catch (YAC) is 1.7 yards below what we saw from his last year.

.

That shortfall on this season, if applied on Robinson's receptions across the season equates to 105.8 yards that have been left on the field (roughly 15 more yards per game).

 

Conclusion

The Bears operate in one of the toughest divisions in the league and have found it difficult to deal with the expectations of fans on both the defense and offense. This struggle has led to the Bears being an ineffective fantasy option compared to last year. The team needs its defense to start making stops and getting off the field. Until it does it will continue to put pressure on their quarterback. That, in turn, means that the only reliable pieces of the offense to own are David Montgomery and Allen Robinson.

If you are able to move any of the Bears on your roster for a more meaningful and reliable option you should do it, before the defense starts to pick up more injuries and becomes even more unreliable.

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